Though the Warriors franchise now has several branches, including Samurai Warriors, DW: Gundam, Warriors Orochi and more recently Legends of Troy, Dynasty Warriors is where it all started. In 2000, the second instalment (known as Shin Sangokumusou in Japan) scrapped the fighting formula used in the original title, replacing it with a three dimensional hack n’ slash brawler which pitted numerous legends of the Three Kingdoms against hordes of enemy soldiers.
Dynasty Warriors 2 was a big hit, even among western critics, its sequel also receiving high praise, though a worrying trend was about to rear its ugly head. The mindless, button-mashing gameplay which proved utterly addictive at first was beginning to show its age with the emergence of Dynasty Warriors 4, reviews scores declining further after the subsequent realease of the fifth instalment.
[boxout]As a new generation of consoles came to power, many were hoping this would also present a fresh start for developer Omega Force. Though Dynasty Warriors 6 definitely looked better than those before it, the half-baked gameplay and careless attention to the character roster resulted in the series’ worst endeavour, leaving a number of fans empty-handed. Just as the time has come to almost forget Dynasty Warriors entirely, Omega Force have struck back with a seventh instalment, their finest game to date.
Something which tends to confuse a number of new players is the lack of a chronological story arc in the Dynasty Warriors series. Though there are now seven mainstream titles, each one presents exactly the same story, though retold with newly designed characters, battlefields, and the occasional added gameplay mechanic. Beginning with the fall of the Han in 220AD, Dynasty Warriors depicts the ancient Chinese era known as the Three Kingdoms period in which the factions Shu, Wei, and Wu are continually engaged in battle to determine the founders of the next Dynasty.
Each kingdom has its own gallery of famous generals, warlords, and tacticians, their individual stories intertwining over the course of the fourty five-year campaign for unison. It’s an intriguing tale, and one that has been told time and time again, the game keeping a balance between factual content and narrative devices.
One of the major changes in Dynasty Warriors 7 is the duration of timeline; traditionally, games in the series have started with the Yellow Turban Rebellion and ended with the Battle of Wuzhang Plains, though in 7 it has been dramatically extended. For the first time, players will be able to witness the events after the final battle from the perspective of the Sima clan, who eventually unify the land under the Jin dynasty.
Though this extended chapter isn’t as captivating as the main bulk of the story arc, watching the gradual degradation of the Three Kingdoms is still brilliant, and of course it gives players a new line-up of warriors to play with.
Another radical change that has been made is the actual structure of the game. In the previous instalments, Dynasty Warriors’ story mode would be broken into factions and then into individual warriors. Sure, it would take in excess of 50 hours to beat the game entirely, but players were essentially replaying the same missions, using a different character.
In Dynasty Warriors 7, story mode is faction-centric, focusing on the exploits of the four kingdoms, now including Jin. In each mission you play as a pre-set warrior, which has allowed Omega to include a number of cinematic elements in order to improve the previously wafer-thin character development.
At its core, Dynasty Warriors 7 is still as much of a mindless hack and slash as those that have come before it. However, a number of fresh mechanics and refinements has driven out much of the monotony, making this the most enjoyable title in the series. One of the biggest gripes fans had with Dynasty Warriors 6 is the fact that a number of characters were given the same weapons and movesets, whereas in previous titles every warrior had their own unique play-styles.
Though the issue hasn’t been fully redressed in Dynasty Warriors 7, the new weapon and attack mechanics are the next best thing. Players can now equip their characters with two weapons and switch between them at any time during combat; it’s also worth noting that you can also manage your weapons via the pause menu instead of having to wait to finish the fight. Aside from elemental attributes, weapons also come with “attainable seals.” These are basically stat boosts and abilities, unlocked by simply slaying a number of enemies whilst carrying a specific weapon. Ex attacks are also a new addition, each character have their own unique extended combos capable of devastating damage-counts.
Maybe not one of the most prolific new gameplay features is the inclusion of siege weapons. Players can now take control of ballistas, catapults, and even Yue Ying’s flame-throwing Juggernauts. The controls for each war machine are fairly stiff and limited, but they are still fun to play as and can easily turn the tables in times of crisis.
Outside of the campaign, also known as “Kingdom Mode” is the all-new Chronicle Mode. Here, players are presented with a honeycomb grid of ancient china, divided into dozens of miniature skirmishes. You are able to select and switch between any of your unlocked character, the goal being total domination of the grid, building “bonds” with each of the other generals at the same time.
This is where you are likely to spend most of your time with Dynasty Warriors 7, Chronicle Mode is easily capable of stealing away twenty hours of your life. Players can also hook up with friends either via splitscreen or in online mode which also allows you to join strangers in their conquest via a fairly no-nonsense matchmaking process.
Not only is it the most enjoyable game in the series, it’s also the best-looking too. Character models are superbly designed, their animations just as refined with hardly a hitch being made in the solid frame-rate. Though not noticeable at first, there has also been a huge improvement to the in-game lighting as well as the pre-rendered cutscenes which are much more abundant than in previous instalments.
Character voice-work has seen an improvement, though it’s still far from perfect, mainly due to the occasionally melodramatic scripting. In-game sound effects are satisfying and empowering, the soundtrack still mainly composed of intense guitar rifts and mind-bending solos, which somehow work perfectly alongside the game’s premise.
- Streamlined gameplay, with plenty of depth for fans
- Narrative is more present in story mode
- Cutscenes and character-specific events are much more abundant
- Chronicle Mode itself can take well over twenty hours to complete fully
- Better lighting, smoother animations
- First mainstream DW title to include online multiplayer
- Dozens of characters to play as, including a brand-new faction
- Extensive play will still prove a little tedious
- Shu, Wu, Wei story arcs could have been extended alongside Jin’s
- Some of the voicework is still cringe-worthy
Without a doubt, Dynasty Warriors 7 is Omega Force’s finest game to date. Long-time fans of the series will fall in love almost instantaneously, the redesigned gameplay being just as welcoming to new players. With that said, if you have never been a fan of Dynasty Warriors don’t expect this one to convert you entirely; Omega Force have no intentions of radically reforming the DW formula which was the source of the series’ original success and has shipped millions of units over the past decade.