The years keep coming and they don’t stop coming, and with them Musou games keep coming as well. Koei Tecmo’s flagship series isn’t slowing down anytime soon – there’s always another anime series or game franchise that could use a Warriors game, after all. The company really hit its stride with these games in recent years thanks to solid entries like Fire Emblem Warriors, Hyrule Warriors and the excellent Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada.
When you’re doing well, then, you can afford to experiment a little. That’s what we’ve got with Dynasty Warriors 9…but unfortunately, the experiment doesn’t go quite as well as one might hope.
This is another entry in the long-running series based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms where you control Chinese military officers as they battle enemy officers and armies using bombastic martial arts and magic. The big twist here, of course, is that Dynasty Warriors 9 is the first entry in the series to go with a full open-world setup. This is an idea that can work! Assassin’s Creed: Origins – the best game of 2017, fight me – did a great job of creating an interesting and dynamic open world full of exciting things to do.
Breath of the Wild, no slouch either, updated the Zelda formula and made it feel new again by laying the basic concepts over top of an open-world. This expansion is a great way of enabling emergent gameplay (or, in human-speak, “allowing cool things to happen that weren’t scripted”) and encouraging engagement with the game world (“giving you a reason to look around and explore.”)
Dynasty Warriors 9, meanwhile…well, it doesn’t quite manage greatness. We go from a mission select screen to a giant open-world, accomplishing little but dragging out the process of finding something to do. Unlike AC:O or BotW, DW9’s world is mostly empty, almost entirely drab and blatantly intended as a means of padding out the time you spend getting things done. As this is a game released in a post-Minecraft world, crafting and resource collection play a predictable part in the proceedings, but neither is especially engaging. The fact that you can collect resources while riding your horse, while convenient, suggests that the goal was to make the process as painless as possible…while still including it for some reason.
A take on Ancient China presented with the same love of AC:O’s Egypt would have been glorious to behold, but that’s not what you’re getting here. It doesn’t even fit with the theme, since I can’t imagine great generals like Cao Cao would take time out of their busy lives of being generals to stop and fish or collect ore. Link, the lone adventurer relying on his survival skills in a hostile land, would do this. Bayek, the resourceful assassin exploiting every advantage he can get, would do this. Cao Cao? He’s got subordinates and logistics to handle supply concerns. Exploration isn’t especially rewarding, opportunities for emergent gameplay are largely nonexistent and all in all the whole affair is just kind of a mess.
This extends to DW9’s combat as well. Sure, the Musou series is known for allowing you to defeat entire armies on your lonesome and I don’t know if we could say the series ever had cerebral combat, but you’d usually have to put forth some effort when battling enemy officers. While recent Musou games have broadly delineated attacks between single-target and group techniques, 9’s combat has combo attacks and situational attacks. You use the former to beat people up and the latter to open your target to more beatings, allowing you to beat them up more.
Battles, then, boil down to mashing away at an opponent, extending your combo as long as possible, avoiding a counterattack, and repeating over and over again until you’ve won. There’s not a lot of strategy or tactical skill involved; again, in previous entries you’d have to at least consider your character’s capabilities and those of your opponent.
Presentation-wise, well, we’ve already talked about how the open-world is a big ol’ drab brown plain for the most part. Characters look nice enough but their attacks have lost a lot of the visceral power we’ve come to expect from recent Musou games. On the sound front DW9 stays the course for the series – the music isn’t bad and the English voice acting is horrendous. At least the game looks and runs well enough, though I found it a bit of a struggle to get DW9 to cooperate with my Xbox One pad on PC at first.
I hate to say this since I’m generally a fan of the open-world concept, but Dynasty Warriors 9 is one of those times where it just didn’t work out. The Warriors series, for all its foibles, is known for filling a niche and filling it well. Innovation is great and all, but here it’s contrary to the series’ core identity. What results is a game that doesn’t really succeed on any level. Here’s hoping that the inevitable DW9 Empires cleans up the mess.