The Dynasty Warriors games have always pushed the boundaries of what can be done in a large scale action button masher. Each of the series’ eight previous installments have upped the ante time and again, with more playable characters, better graphics and processing power, and more and more enemies to eradicate. But the series has never taken as big of a step as Dynasty Warriors 9, which changes the game forever.
After eight games, it’s hard to get excited about playing the same story all over again. I’m admittedly getting sick of playing the Yellow Turban rebellion, and influencing the legendary Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history with my actions as various historical figures — and I say that as a degreed historian. I mean, what else can you do in this time period that hasn’t already been done eight times before?
Well, it turns out that developer Omega Force and Koei Tecmo found a way to surprise me. Dynasty Warriors 9 not only changes the game, but it does so in a way that will reverberate though all future Omega Force musou-style games. The biggest and most significant change is the addition of open world gameplay. No longer will players fight chaotic battles on small, partitioned maps between chatty cut scenes and upkeep menus. Dynasty Warriors 9 removes all the seams and puts the adventure together as one long epic story spread out over an insanely large map of ancient china.
Players will still battle throngs of enemies, but they do so in bases, cities, strongholds, and open roads. In fact, the conquest ebbs and flows, and taking a city or stronghold is easy; keeping it is hard. The battle between the two warring sides never ends, and as the player traverses across the map, either on foot, horseback, or even boat, battles are being fought all over, and the tide can turn in an instant.
The narrative of Dynasty Warriors 9 is made up of various chapters, each with various historical characters to play as and more to unlock. The game uses a quest-based system, and quest givers can move the story forward, or offer a plethora of side quests that always keeps the player busy doing something. There are 90 historical characters, including seven new for this game, to seek out making this the largest Dynasty Warriors games to date.
But all of this open world goodness comes at a slight cost. The number of enemies on screen is severely reduced. Whereas games like Dynasty Warriors 7 and Dynasty Warriors 8 pushed the boundaries of the number of enemies on-screen at the same time, Dynasty Warriors 9 keeps the battles relatively smaller and more manageable. This isn’t a detriment to the action in the game, but it is noticeable.
Character upkeep is done in-game in towns and bigger strongholds, with blacksmiths and various vendors selling services. The player will also collect various materials on their adventure as they traverse the huge map to craft new weapons and items using acquired scrolls. And the map is staggeringly huge. It’s been reported that it takes two hours of real time to run from one side of the map to the other. That’s a lot of area to fill with the fires of war, and Omega Force doesn’t disappoint. I’d easily trade a battle in a castle with 800-900 enemies for 20 battles in a chunk of map with 100-150 enemies without any restrictions of location or time.
Dynasty Warriors 9 lives and breathes in its own ecosystem. On top of the back and forth of war, players have to contend with weather and a day/night cycle, and even wildlife that calls the wooded areas around population centers home. There has never been a Dynasty Warriors game like this, and after all these years, Omega Force and Koei Tecmo have found a way to make the old new again, and I couldn’t be happier.
Dynasty Warriors 9 is enhanced for the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro. While the frame rate is slightly lower, giving the game a cinematic look and feel, the graphics and environments still stun. The voice acting is serviceable, and has unintentional call backs to the dub work of classic 1970s Kung Fu films, which, when seen in that light, makes it all the better. Adding schlocky voice acting to insane weapon-based combat to a game that takes players through China’s history just seems to fit.
Dynasty Warriors 9 has taken a major leap in gameplay by revamping almost everything that has made this series a huge hit worldwide. A massive change like this could have been held for the inevitable Dynasty Warriors 10, but these needed changes and the tectonic shift to an open world environment only make the series better. Dynasty Warriors 9 is not perfect, and there is room for improvement in terms of character movement, combat, and in various interactions with the environment, but this is still a marvel how far this series has come between Dynasty Warriors 8 and Dynasty Warriors 9, and I’m incredibly excited to see where this series goes next as it celebrates its 10th installment.
Dynasty Warriors 9 is available now for the Xbox One, PS4, and PC via Steam. This review is based off the Xbox One X version, with a review code provided by the publisher.
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