Conquering the world is all well and good, but can you imagine the work once you finally make it happen? The world’s a pretty big place. That’s a lot of cleaning, a lot of cooking for all those people…nah, much better to let everyone look after themselves. I’ll leave the conquest to someone who’s got a little more energy. I’ll stick with simulators like Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires, the latest in the long-running kill-hundreds-of-people series that allows you to take over China your own way. You won’t even have to clean up when you’re done!
In ancient China, warring kingdoms battle for supremacy! It’s a story told over and over again, one that endures because of the many great heroes, terrifying villains and other larger-than-life figures that defined the era. What if we don’t know about all of these great people, though? What if there’s one out there that just never came up in the ancient scrolls? What if Shrek finally came out of his swamp and decided to join up with Wu? Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires allows us to answer these questions in a historical and definitive manner.
Conquering China isn’t going to be a cake walk, though. While you could play as an established general already affiliated with a side, let’s be real: what you really want to do is create your own general and change history with your deeds. You can do that! Create a character, hop into a campaign, swear to a side and work your way up. You can train peasants, pillage villages and basically do whatever it takes to get the job done.
Proving that you’re competent will result in promotions until you’ve eventually got the ear of your side’s leader, and at that point the world…or, well, China is pretty much your oyster. If you’ve got plans other than conquest, that’s fine too! Make some friends! Find a partner! Have some kids!
All this sounds pretty exciting, and it is! The Empires games have always been fantastic for crazy emergent-gameplay nonsense of the sort that’s usually restricted to Paradox games, only with a little dude-versus-army combat thrown in here and there. The problem with 9 Empires, then, is that combat. Sadly, it’s still Dynasty Warriors 9’s combat, meaning you’re going to be smashing that attack button to auto combo the crap out of pretty much everything in your way, mixing in situational attacks here and there to spice things up if you feel like it.
You can mix in special collectible Stratagem techniques to throw in a little more pizazz, but even then the combat still feels way too mashy to shine. The uninitiated might claim that all Musou combat is mashy, but that’s not true; you need to be able to up your game against enemy officers for this arrangement to work and that just doesn’t happen here. Combat by and large just doesn’t feel impactful enough to really matter.
You’ll find yourself wishing you were back on the map menu dealing with logistics or wooing your partner of choice instead. At least we got rid of the silly open-world mechanics that didn’t really work for the original Dynasty Warriors 9.
A lot can be forgiven, at least when the game is running on the PS5 (your mileage may vary on other platforms). While there’s some complaints about technical issues, I didn’t run into any that were deal-breaking, and the game looks lovely given it’s at 60FPS. Your character looks fantastic as you mash your way through the endless hordes. Whether or not you’re going to want to keep mashing is up in the air, but at least it won’t look bad.
You know these games, you love (or hate) them, and Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires isn’t likely to change your mind either way. In fact, much like the original Dynasty Warriors 9, it may actually feel worse to long-time fans of the series. That’s rough, of course, and it means that Musou aficionados may have to wait just a bit longer to come back to their beloved ancient China. Newcomers, though…well, newcomers might be better served with one of the Warriors Orochi games or maybe one of the takes on Dynasty Warriors 8. Given the amount of choice available in this series, we might have hoped for just a bit more to set this entry apart.