Dynasty Warriors 9 (Xbox One Review)
The murder of Julius Caesar has always been regarded as the pinnacle of betrayal and Brutus is often regarded as the main perpetrator, but he didn’t do it alone. In fact, there was a team of well-intentioned Romans behind every twist of the knife. Dynasty Warriors 9 is kind of like that: every little change and design choice, a new wound in Caesar’s back with the hope of overcoming a powerful empire.
Much like that first sharp jab, Dynasty Warrior 9’s story structure doesn’t go by unnoticed. Although, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just like the needles of a tattoo gun, the sting slowly turns to pleasure as you start to invest in the final outcome. In Dynasty Warriors 9’s case, it’s an elaborate timeline that explores the unification of China. It manages to capture the history perfectly, and the abrupt end to a character’s journey hits home that bit harder when you can no longer play as them beyond certain events. But as the adrenaline starts to die down, the slow realisation that you have to embark on the arduous unification of China from the start of every warrior’s story emerges. Considering the cast is the largest it has ever been, you could literally lose a full year in pursuit of the elusive 100% completion badge of honour.
As the blood ran from Julius, so does the essence of what made Dynasty Warriors such a cherished franchise. The entire structure of what made the short sharp levels of Dynasty Warriors previous games have been replaced with an open world and with it comes a whole new host of problems. The idea of exploring the world in which we aim to unite is a noble one, but instead creating memorable locations, players are often asked to traverse vast fields of bland scenery. The once iconic Hu Lao gate is nearly indistinguishable and the sense of scale provided at Han Castle is lost. If it was executed well, the exploration and grander scale would really bring Dynasty Warriors 9 into the forefront of hack ‘n’ slash games. That isn’t the case. In fact, just like many of its open world cousins, it’s littered with towers to climb, ingredients to source, and a load of randomly generated quests to distract you from the long roads you travel.
That’s not to say there aren’t any positives to be found in Dynasty Warriors 9. Every character is a treat to behold. Their models are astounding and the level of detail is immensely impressive, but even these loving touches lose sight of the big picture. The chrysalis being Xiahou Dun’s missing eye patch. With such a massive undertaking to create Dynasty Warriors 9, it’s a worrying sign to see one of the most iconic tales of the Three Kingdoms forgotten in an instant. Even with the dramatic video accompanying Xiahou Dun’s “blink and you’ll miss it” moment, there’s no follow up. Moments later we can see our beloved hero with boy eyes intact. It’s deeply disappointing and more than a blemish on this already scuffed armour. To add insult to injury, they have also had to recast the entire VA of the series – losing most of the camp characterisation that a lot of the beloved actors brought to their roles. Given the climate in which the VA was sourced and the further implications of what it means for the industry, it’s hard to really be angry about the exodus of Vas, but it’s another mark against the title no matter how you frame it.
But the final betrayal is left to the changes to the combat. In this elaborate analogy, the changes to the combat mechanics are Brutus. No matter what generation Dynasty Warriors has found itself in, the combat has stood by the series. It’s a trustworthy friend and loyal to a fault. Even when the graphics were behind the times and the visuals lacking, the combat elevated Dynasty Warriors beyond a simple regurgitation of the same old story. Instead of a variety of different branching combos, the light attack has been rebranded as a form of linking the new Trigger Attacks together. This means that every fighter’s path is the same. Couple this with reduction of weapons available across the cast, you will find the homogeneity is the real name of the game. The familiar face of fighting fades into the background and is lost to the tides of change. It’s by far the most upsetting casualty of the aspirations of Dynasty Warrior 9 alongside the exclusion of cooperative play.
Mimicking the silence that preceded the barbaric execution, I didn’t rush to shout about Dynasty Warriors 9. I needed to ruminate on what I’d seen and what I’d felt. I wanted to believe that 9 would be the entry that really shines as what the series could achieve on modern consoles, but it was too ambitious. Casting aside so many popular series staples was a bold move, one that should have paid off. It didn’t. It does, however, represent a new future for the series. Even in those odd decisions that didn’t quite work, there are a lot of good ideas implemented poorly. Hunting wild animals across the Wuzhang Plains and foraging for local ingredients could be far more involving than the very simple approach that Omega Force have taken. I could go on about the lack of advancement in sound design or the changes to how weapon advancement detract from the once deep weapon hunt of previous games as well as the atrocious performance issues, but I won’t.
Simply put, Dynasty Warriors 9 is bursting with ambitious ideas. Ambition that rivals that of the great leaders it tries to portray. Although this ambition is not well placed or indeed well paced, it’s a rush to the finish that can be compared to that of the Yellow Turban Rebellion. At the forefront is a power hungry beast dying to prove his worth. In the voyage of unity, he was the first to fall. But from those very ashes we saw the rise of great leaders who continued to prosper in their attempts to make the world a better place. That’s Dynasty Warriors 9’s legacy; a bad game that needs to fail so that further endeavours can flourish.