It’s hard to believe Dynasty Warriors has been around since 1997. And ever since then, Koei and developer Omega Force have done their best to make sure fans have stayed busy hacking and slashing their way through a new Dynasty Warriors game (or spin-off) nearly every year. And while its most diehard fans have enjoyed this attention, the franchise has gathered a reputation for being, shall we say, more than a little familiar, often relying on gameplay that has changed very little over the years. Which brings us to the latest entry in the series, Dynasty Warriors 7, which introduces several new tweaks and narrative changes to the mix in an attempt to shake up the familiar formula and break the mold with some welcome new changes.
Dynasty Warriors 7 offers what is easily the most accessible Story mode yet, mainly due to the fact that each campaign focuses on specific characters and that you no longer need to have any knowledge of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novel. As heretical as that may sound to longtime fans, this does help open the game for those who may not be familiar with what is widely considered the quintessential story of Asia. The game now chooses a character for you to make each conquest more compelling and accurate, opposed to when you were allowed you to select any character from the extensive roster to change the tide of battle. This is true for all of the game’s four campaigns: Wei, Wu, Shu, and the newly added, Jin.
The combat system introduces some alterations to make things a lot smoother and easier to pick up and play. The Renbu system has been replaced with the familiar charge system, while basic attack combos can be altered by adding power attacks at the end of them. This leads to a decent amount of variation you can do with your combos instead of just the same old button mashing from the previous games. Your aerial attacks also benefit from this and are now a nice option to have as an effective combat choice. After fighting enough enemies, you’ll slowly fill your Musou meter, which can be used to release a powerful attack that annihilates just about everything near you with a great amount of flair.
Just like in Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce, you can now carry two weapons at a time and switch between them on the fly. Any character can now also use any weapons they want, and there are plenty of weapons you can collect such as swords, crossbows, axes, flails, gauntlets, and so on. While it is nice to be able to use any kind of weapon, characters usually have a weapon preference, which can be immediately identified by the EX symbol in the bottom left corner of the basic weapon image. When a character is using their preferred weapon, they do more damage and can use a unique finisher at the end of a combo.
Cooperative multiplayer is a lot more fun this time around, especially in Conquest mode, which can be enjoyed either online or via split-screen on the same console. Here you can take on various battles with an unlocked character of your choice, and experience new battles, collect new weapons, and enjoy mini-story stages set up for specific characters. Each level provides its own set of challenges and objectives that help keep the game from getting stale, even going as far as populating revisited areas with new enemies so the battles always feel different. Longtime fans may miss the Free Mode, as it was replaced with Conquest mode, but I think they’ll learn to adjust.
I’m also glad to see that Dynasty Warriors 7 has received a much needed graphical update, with cleaner character models that actually look like they’re on next-gen gaming system. The armor and weapons are fairly detailed and even reflect things such as the lighting on the game. Of course most fans of the franchise wouldn’t mind if it still looked the same (or played the same), but you can’t help but notice and smile when you see these long overdue updates. PlayStation 3 users can even play the game in 3D, provided they have the necessary hardware to shift things into the next dimension.
Even with many of the changes and additions like new combos and weapons, the biggest complaint from past games in the series raises its ugly head from time to time, namely the game can get quite repetitive. You’ll still find yourself repeating what you’ve already done after awhile, as scores of enemy battles can start to blend into one another, seeing the same combos and attack animations over and over. Another frustration is having to repeat entire missions and the significant backtracking involved, often due to enemy retreats or failing to properly protect an ally during battle, which means starting over familiar terrain again and again.
For me, Dynasty Warriors 7 is easily the best game in the franchise, thanks to its accessible story mode, the ability to carry and select different weapons, and not to mention some long overdue graphical updates. Koei has successfully managed to keep the series’ core intact while adding some welcome variety to the mix, taking steps in the right direction to draw in a larger audience without alienating those who’ve stuck with the series over the years. Though the hack ‘n slash repetition takes hold not long after playing, fun and involving cooperative multiplayer modes help keep things interesting long after the core campaigns have been conquered. Even the most jaded critic can appreciate the steps taken here to help invigorate the classic formula, and it will be interesting to see where they take the inevitable Dynasty Warriors 8.
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