If what Koei Tecmo are saying is true, Dynasty Warriors 9 could be the much-needed shake up fans of the series have been waiting for. For the past few years the publisher has continued to experiment with various sequels, spin-offs, and remixes, though each one derives from the same core Warriors template. That formula – which debuted in 2000’s Dynasty Warriors 2 – has evolved over time, but after seventeen years it’s truly starting to show its age. To combat this long-running fatigue, developer Omega Force is proposing some fundamental changes to its flagship franchise.
The first and most important change is the setting. Although the game still takes place during Three Kingdoms era China, players will no longer hop from one stage to the next. Instead, every encounter, from small scale skirmishes to epic battles, will all take place within DW9’s open world.
“Open world” is actually a pretty vague term and one that doesn’t accurately describe how the game will flow. Hopefully it means a fully traversible, living, breathing world in which factions are constantly warring in real time. How awesome would it be to explore ancient China freely, battling with or against famous generals in emergent gameplay encounters? For long-time fans, that would certainly be the dream.
In reality, we should expect something more akin to Toukiden 2, another Omega Force sequel touting an “open world”. Split between a smattering hub towns and sprawling environments, players travel between the two, picking up quests and exploring as story beats gradually present themselves.
It’s too early to say, though the latter strain of open world seems more likely for Dynasty Warriors 9. Although it does away with the slightly archaic pitched battles, it’s hard to imagine Omega Force going full-on Skyrim with its upcoming sequel.
Love it or hate it, hack n’ slash combat is the cornerstone of Dynasty Warriors. That cathartic sensation when mowing down dozens of enemies with each swing of a sword has become somewhat of a trademark for the series.
Its appeal has slowly begun to fade, however, in the face of more complex and challenging character action games. There’s no longer a feeling of reward when swatting down entire armies and unless you’re playing on the harder difficulty settings, you can get away with hammering out the same combos over and over. Omega Force hasn’t exactly helped itself, idly populating stages with more enemies to make play sessions longer. One-on-one encounters with other generals haven’t improved much either and aside from being able to take and dish out more damage, they’re not that notable.
According to Koei Tecmo, the combat system in Dynasty Warriors 9 is undergoing a complete overhaul. Again, as with its comments about the open world setting, specifics are few and far between. Ideally, fans will be treated to a heavier, more dynamic style of combat as seen in games like Nioh, Dark Souls, Shadow of Mordor, and For Honor. A focus on ranged weaponry could also go a long way – being able to seamlessly switch from blade to bow worked wonders in Breath of the Wild. However, looking at the first cluster of screenshots, there’s no telling just how deep these changes will go.
With bigger battlefields to roam, traversal will be also be another key gameplay element. One key caveat in Warriors games is how they force you to move between hot spots, often backtracking for minutes at a time. Havinh mounts readily available is one potential remedy though hopefully Omega Force will employ a smarter approach to level design instead. The presence of grappling hooks – to scale castle walls – suggests this may be the case.
Dynasty Warriors boasts one of the largest, most robust cast of characters in all of video games. Understandably, fans are rather protective of their favourites and some having been around since the 1997 original on PlayStation One.
When it launches, Dynasty Warriors 9 is said to feature over 90 playable generals from the series’s various factions. With Omega Force considering a serious rethink about gameplay, that’s 90+ original movesets and ability combos that need to be thought up. Such a massive undertaking means that we may see a few re-skinned clones here and there, as we did in Dynasty Warriors 6.
There are also worries about how involved some of the series’s lesser known characters will be in the story. With set piece battles no longer being confined to a single stage, there’s a cast of secondary heroes that could easily fall by the wayside depending on how the open world structure factors into things. The only thing we can say with any certainty is to expect a handful of new generals joining the ranks. After years of lobbying, Wu veteran Cheng Pu will finally be a playable character.
PlayStation 4 is the only confirmed platform at this stage. Koei is promising more details in the coming months, though it will likely remain an exclusive in Japan while releasing on both PS4 and Xbox One here in Europe and in the United States. If we had to speculate, Dynasty Warriors 9 could launch by the end of this year, though Q1 2018 seems like a safer bet.
As a hardcore fan of the series, every time a new mainline instalment is announced I get mixed feelings. On one hand I’m eager to see how Omega Force has revamped the combat and its awesome legion of characters. Then again, without seeing the game in motion, it’s hard not to have doubts. If Dynasty Warriors 9 gives players a barren, lifeless open world with only incremental changes to the combat, it will be a crushing disappointment. I guess we’ll find out in the coming months…