Ever since evolving from a traditional fighting game into a 3D brawler, Dynasty Warriors has been defined by its huge pitched battles: clashes between two epic forces that you’re smack bang in middle of, obliterating enemies by the screen-full. It’s an empowering albeit somewhat mindless formula that Omega Force has continued to push and prod for the past two decades, spawning myriad sequels, expansions, and spin-offs.
In that time we’ve seen numerous revisions and refinements made to the series, not to mention the continued growth of its character roster. One thing that has always remained the same, however, is the basic to and fro when facing opponents on the battlefield. While some fans just can’t get enough, there are many gamers who simply don’t see the appeal. Despite trying to shake up the series in a fundamental way, Dynasty Warriors 9 won’t change that.
It’s been close to five years since the last main instalment, with Omega Force now focused on new hardware. Having also worked on series such as Attack On Titan, Toukiden, and its various Warriors spin offs, the studio has been able to experiment. As a result, it wasn’t hard to believe them when they pegged Dynasty Warriors 9 as the most innovative entry in the franchise to date.
It’s headline feature? A landmark shift away from stage-based battles to a massive open world. Instead of being confined to one battlefield after the next, they now flow seamlessly together in a mosaic that encompasses ancient China in its entirety.
While the action is still focused around key historic battles, you can adopt a freer approach in how you tackle them with some added (purely optional) diversions. It’s a complete change in pace and one that embeds you in what feels like an ongoing war instead of bouncing between flashpoints with little build-up.
Each chapter has a handful of main objectives sandwiched between supporting missions and even smaller side tasks. This creates a buffer between you and your end goal, encouraging players to learn more about the world and its warring factions.
That said, you shouldn’t come into Dynasty Warriors 9 expecting it channel The Witcher, Assassin’s Creed, or The Elder Scrolls. Those games are defined by their vivacious open worlds, inviting players to lose themselves for hours on end. Here, however, the open world is being used to restructure the existing Dynasty Warriors template in a different way. You’re still cutting through enemies in their droves, they just happen to be spaced further apart.
This rejigged formula still lacks variety and does nothing to dispel that repetition that has become synonymous with the Warriors name. With no real desire or worthwhile incentive to stray from the beaten path, I fell into my usual rhythm, making a beeline for the enemy base camp every time so I could push through to the next chapter.
Ultimately, it all comes back to the series’ minute-to-minute gameplay. While there’s nothing wrong with the combat system itself – Dynasty Warriors 9 has smoothest character action we’ve seen in the series – the feedback you get from AI opponents never changes. Whether attacking a stick-wielding peon or the mighty Lu Bu himself, enemies will simply stand there and take it until their health bar depletes. They might land the occasional hit, but there’s no genuine sense of challenge, no skill requirement and almost zero satisfaction.
As for allied troops and generals, they may as well not exist. Battles are won on your efforts alone and while it’s cool to see familiar faces follow you into the fray, they simply come along for the ride and can’t be controlled or directed in any meaningful way. You can level that argument against any game in the franchise, but now it has become too hard to ignore, especially when you look at the dynamic combat designs used in other action games.
There are changes and revisions within this that do work though. Changes to how you control characters are actually good with a new combo system that allows fast and fluid transitions between attacks that are sadly wasted on the braindead enemies. There’s also a new grappling hook lets you get around much easier, especially when paired with a double jump, and while not as rich or deep than most open worlds, Omega Force has at least tried to populate its virtual sandbox, sprinkling landmarks and activities with a bigger focus on crafting gear.
It looks great too, featuring some of the series’ best cutscenes and giving every major character a makeover. Environments can look a little plain in comparison but there’s a decent amount of diversity, brought to life by changes in time and weather.
The sound work is more of a mixed bag, however. As ever, the soundtrack is sublime, but the voiceovers are notably poor. Having an English dub is great and shows that Tecmo Koei cares about its western audience though many of the existing voice actors have been replaced. Dynasty Warriors isn’t exactly known for its gripping character dialogue, yet the new voice cast are a major step down in quality and most secondary characters sound laughable.
Sadly, this isn’t the breakthrough fans were expecting. Omega Force took a pretty big risk with Dynasty Warriors 9, and while its open world integration can be seen as a small triumph, this newest entry is marred by its heavily outdated approach to combat design.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4