Dynasty Warriors 9 (PS4 Review)

Did anyone ever actually play Dynasty Warrriors for the plot? No?Anyone?! Because I didn’t, and I’m pretty sure if you’re honest, you didn’t either. You played it because there’s something utterly intoxicating about hammering one or two buttons until those swathes of near-identical soldiers are all cut down in their digital prime. It doesn’t need to be much, there are games out there for strategy, for magic, mystery and excitement but sometimes, it’s good to have something that doesn’t demand anything more than entertaining. Hacking – and indeed – slashing are a lot of fun, but it’s difficult to approach without wondering, is it possible to put too much work into something?

Dynasty Warriors 9is the ninth game in the main Warriors cycle, a series of games loosely based upon the Records of the Seven Kingdoms, a series of texts detailing what are possibly the most tumultuous time in Feudal Chinese history. However, the games span so much more than the Three Kingdoms, with spin-offs based on products from Zelda to Fist of the North Star, through to Gundam, and even getting its own spin-offs like Samurai Warriorthat took the same premise but applied it to Sengoku era Japan.

On one level, this isn’t just a series of games about mindless swordplay (although on another level, it totally is), it is something of an institution, much like Fifa, delivering not much in the way of constant reinvention but certainly giving itself a visual upgrade every few years. For this ninth entry, Koei Tecmo decided to try something new and introduced elements like an Open World map to explore. It’s new for this series, ok?

So, at its core, the game still has the same solid, entertaining gameplay that it’s always had. The game isn’t one of strong strategy but there’s a surprising amount of depth to its system. Clearly having taken a little inspiration from chain sequence fighting mechanisms like those found in the Batman: Arkham and Lord of the Rings: Shadow series, you can pull of manoeuvres like triggering a well-timed counter in order to flow into special moves. It makes it feel more fluid than otherwise would be the case, and even without it, such things would still be pretty fun but it certainly adds to the package.

The open world mechanic seems daunting at first as the locations aren’t immediately distinguishable, but luckily the game gives you the ability to summon a horse out of the aether and not just any horse but one with the most oddly entertaining jump animations I’ve seen. The vertical leap that horse can get from standing is incredible. As always, having a variety of characters you can play as doesn’t massively alter your strategy of ‘hammer buttons till dead’, but it does add some variety to the gameplay which could get repetitive otherwise.

Of course, as you may have guessed from my second positive being ‘the horse animation’, there’s a bit of negative to come. The biggest being that it’s as ugly and jerky as hell. You see those lovely high-res images above? They are not representative of the finished game. Hell, they aren’t even particularly representative of the quality of the cut-scenes as most of the environments seem to have very stock builds of ‘town’, ‘forest’ or, later on, ‘icy plain’ and ‘desert’. It isn’t helped by a jerky animation style, of course.

It’s understandable when there are sometimes hundreds of moving objects on screen at once, plus breakable scenery and with notifications that pop up about rival factions, presumably more off-screen in the miles of blank scenery. That’s a lot of data to handle (even with the game’s frequent and lengthy loading screens) but it still feels like more a single A title, rather than Triple A, charging people a full £50 for a physical copy. There should be a higher level of quality than this in 2018. Also, as much as the game wants us to follow its labyrinthine story of intrigue and rivalry amongst feuding warlords, there’s very little in the presentation apart from a weak script and forced voice-acting to make sitting through the cut-scenes feel like a treat more than a chore.

It’s hard to completely hate Dynasty Warriors 9 as, at its core, it’s an incredibly enjoyable fighting game and all of the failings of the game are entirely down to attempts to expand and deepen the experience. You cant fault them for that, but ultimately, it was not an experience that needed deepening. Instead of trying to do too much well, the game could have been a lot better if they’d just focussed in on making the core experience look and play as smoothly as possible. As it stands, it’s a missed opportunity but certainly not one that you can fault for lack of effort.

Dynasty Warriors 9 is Available Now for PlayStation 4, XBox One & PC