By all rights, Dynasty Warriors should be an impossible series to screw up. You have a few thousand mooks on each side, a variety of maps, some fun mission objectives, and a lot of colourful heroes. The formula is an effective one as it can be adapted to a variety of settings and characters, with the likes of Fire Emblem, Gundam and Legend of Zelda getting in on the action. Looking at Dynasty Warriors 9, however, you would be forgiven for thinking Koei Tecmo was attempting to torch its own franchise.
The story is the same song and dance we all know and love. It’s the three kingdoms era China and people are fighting. There’s a Yellow Turban Rebellion you need to kill off early on, and the story changes depending upon who you pick out. The real charm is seeing just how this alters with each faction and getting used to the widely diverse fighting styles of the various heroes. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely the case anymore. Oh you still have plenty of heroes, but almost everything fun and exciting has been surgically removed.
Every unique weapon and mechanic has been turned down until it’s a balal shadow of its predecessors. The gigantic baton by Zhuge Dan has been completely removed, along with Dong Zhuo’s bombs and Zhang He’s wolverine claws. In its place we have repetative copy-paste jobs from one to the next, with a sizable chunk of the cast stumbling about with a ball and chain. The unique artistic elements and colourful visual qualities of the past series are still there, but it’s bereft of any direction, focus or actual talent, resulting in battlefields which look as if they have been built out of Unity engine stock assets.
Amazingly, the game even manages to get the basic idea of taking on hordes of enemies at a time wrong. The much promoted “open world” aspect is to Dynasty Warriors 9’s detriment, turning previously populated and engaging environments into vast stretches of wilderness with the occasional hero or skirmish. No longer will you be able to take on entire armies at once, because you will never get enough NPCs into one place. You spend more time travelling between fights - or fast-travelling - than actually fighting.
Assuming you even manage to get into a fight you want, you’ll soon find that the gameplay is borked beyond belief. Not only can you instantly finish missions with the big objective placed in front of you (with the odd secondary mission which does not influence the map or fight at all in the grand scheme of things) but there’s no engagement there. It’s a popular criticism to refer to Dynasty Warriors as little more than a button masher bereft of tactics but, if you were one of those few, you have no idea just how well you had it.
The anti-climactic battles with characters last seconds at the most, and can be ended with a single combo at times. Kill the right person and you can end up with the entire enemy side simply fleeing the map en mass, heroes included. It’s a literal “Push this button to instantly win” simulator, with even the idea of besieging enemy fortresses proving to be little more than window dressing you can easily skip over.
Repetition and re-use of ideas has always been an element within Dynasty Warriors games, but past experiences have usually varied the combat in some way. Here? The revamped combat system limits characters to a few moves, until each and every one feels and plays no different from anyone else, robbing the game of a major strength. The maps? The first several are all but utterly identical, and no unique objectives, rules or ideas present to differentiate them from anywhere else in the game. The modes? No longer do we have 1 vs 1000 or speed run mode, but simply “story mode” and “free mode”.
Even without all of these problems, this is easily one of the worst optimized experiences of the past several years. On PC it constantly lags, stutters and suffers from graphical failings the average indie developer would have fixed in a beta release. Not only is object clipping a near feature within the game, but characters phase through walls, drop through the floor and enemies can somehow even air-juggle themselves by being caught in the wrong place. Sometimes the AI fails to even register your presence, allowing you to cut through them without opposition of any kind. Oh, and Koei’s response to this? No patches, no fixes, simply updates to lock players out of areas of the game localized versions weren’t supposed to have.
While critics are often known for their apocalyptic hyperbole, please take this as a genuine, direct and completely down to earth statement: This is easily the single worst Dynasty Warriors game ever made.
Verdict: 2 out of 10