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Review: Dynasty Warriors 9 (PlayStation 4)By Sasari At 13.02.2018 09:12

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The theme of this latest instalment is said to be "renewal" and that's evident from the big changes taking place here. Koei Tecmo has very evidently learned a lot from its recent outing with Toukiden 2 and is putting that knowledge to work in creating a very different version of Ancient China. This China is expansive and diverse, although it's occasionally rather sparsely populated, and not just in the wilderness but within the cities, also. There's plenty to do but the scale of this world compared to the amount of inhabitants makes it feel a little empty.

The problem with this is it feels like a very early open world game, a pre-Horizon: Zero Dawn game filled with the type of busywork quests and poor design that has since been vastly improved upon. There is a bunch to do should the player be interested but little of it is very interesting. There are numerous little enemy outposts that can be captured, slowly turning the colour of the map from the enemy colours to the allied. It's a gameplay element straight out of the original stage-based Dynasty Warriors. However, the repetitive nature works less well in this open world setting. There are regular side-quests from peasants to kill bandits or wildlife but these are often on par with the low-level quests of grindy MMOs. The wilds of China shows some promise by having wild animals to hunt and powerful bandits to slaughter, but even this is underdeveloped. The occasional special bandit boss, huge White Tiger, or even monstrous panda adds a little extra fun, but only a little.

The animal hunting is combined with picking up random minerals and fauna for the crafting system, along with adding in a little fishing mini-game. These drops can all be used to craft weapons and accessories, gems to forge into weapons and to cook up dishes for temporary buffs. This sort of gameplay has become one the most prevalent types in games as of late, although sometimes the question has to be asked: "Does it belong here?" In a Musou title, the answer isn't black and white. Some elements work better than others. The hunting, fishing, and crafting systems feel particularly weak and something that could have been completely absent without being missed, yet silly additions like the purchasing and customising of hideouts is great fun. Houses can be purchased throughout the map and can then be customised with items that can grant bonuses, not to mention other characters can be invited over and conversed with to improve relationships and build bonds.

When not spending hundreds of hours on side-quests and open world activities, there's a story to play through! To progress, there are several "Key Missions" within each chapter, however, heading straight to these is only for the very best players, or gluttons for punishment as the enemies will be of a much higher level and offer up a considerable challenge. Instead, there are "Linked Missions" nearby that can turn the tide of battle within the Key Mission. Capturing bases in the surrounding area gives more troops to take into the assault, much like the previous releases; the key to a successful assault is taking control of the surrounding areas and surrounding the enemy. When assaulting a huge base, there is more than one way to go about it, too. The brave and the bold can storm through the front door and rush straight to the boss, taking out huge armies of enemies at the same time. The completionist can take the surrounding militias apart one at a time or the stealthy can grapple over the back wall, sneak to the boss, and settle for a one-on-one showdown.

Regardless of the method of attack, the end result will be the same: a fight. That fight is quite different to what long-time Dynasty Warriors fans will be used to. Sure, it's mostly the hack-and-slash, mindless fun, but there's a little extra depth. Holding R1 and hitting each of the face buttons unleashes a trigger attack, which can be worked into the beginning, middle or end of a combo. A stun, a sweep, a launch into the air, and a powerful special attack are all on offer, which then alter the type of combos, depending on the state of the enemies.

The huge catalogue of characters is getting even bigger with this release adding eleven newly playable characters to the franchise, seven from the base game and an extra four from DLC. These include numerous characters that have previously appeared as NPCs and in the Romance of the Three Kingdom's titles, such as Cao Cao's nephew Cao Xiu, renowned general Xu Sheng, stylishly suave Man Chong, and the granddaughter, Dong Zhuo, in all her stylish, gothic loli goodness. On top of that, the existing characters are getting some love, also, with brand new costumes for every single character. There are a total of 94 characters here and every single one has their own story and their own unique ending, giving a huge lifespan for those fans that are willing to put in the hours. There are a lot of clones here, though, and fans that have had issues with this aspect of the series will be even more frustrated in Dynasty Warriors 9.

Altogether, there are 13 chapters to play through in the story, and each of the four factions plays through the same four chapters, although obviously from a different point of view, with some characters only available in specific chapters. This latest instalment feels made to be played through to completion as a single character, then to jump around trying out the others. Thankfully, the weapon system means that characters can change their equipped weapons of destruction freely so characters can still feel fresh even after considerable playtime.

While many of the elements have really started to grow and develop, some aspects seem stuck to be stuck in the past. Most of this is related to the presentation used; for example, the scale may have grown massively, but the graphical fidelity has not. There are numerous graphical bugs and quirks that pop up here and there. Clip-ins, glitched out characters, and so on - at one point during the play-through for the review, a mountain in the distance rapidly appeared and then disappeared in a strange flickering way that should have come with a seizure warning.

There were also random issues during the small FMVs that play out after completing Key Missions. A narrator explains the fallout of the actions of completing the mission but would randomly cut off before finishing what they were saying and moving on to the next line… Then there's the voice acting, in general. The English voices have long been an issue with Omega Force's releases but this is in a league of its own. This is The Room levels of bad, original House of the Dead levels of bad. The ally characters spam the same catchphrases over and over with some of the worst dialogue and delivery ever heard in a game. It's phenomenally bad and it would be great if the team had just localised it with the superior Japanese or Chinese dub with subtitles. There are issues with the soundtrack, too, but only outside of battle. Here the themes are all rather generic and forgettable, but once combat has begun, the familiar rocking guitar riffs are once again in attendance.

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Final Score
Koei Tecmo and Omega Force can neither be faulted for their resolve, nor their aspirations. The franchise has always had its cult audience but the Musou style has rarely broken into the mainstream outside of the big licenced spin-offs, like [i]Hyrule Warriors[/i]. [i]Dynasty Warriors 9[/i] feels like an attempt to remedy that. Open World games are this generation's go-to genre and transforming the Story of Three Kingdoms has actually worked in many regards, but this feels like an early and flawed attempt at that bigger picture. Where it works best is in its classic elements, but the open world needs a lot of work. Perhaps by the time [i]Dynasty Warriors 10[/i] they will have learned from their mistakes.

6

/10

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