Game: Dynasty Warriors 7
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Genre: Action/Hack and slash
Platform: Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Release Date: March 29, 2011 (NA) April 8th, 2011 (EU)
Dynasty Warriors 7 is only the latest in Koei’s love it-hate it Musou/Warriors franchise. Chances are you have at least heard of Dynasty Warriors, even if you aren’t a gamer. The series got its start in the West with Dynasty Warriors 2 serving as one of the launch titles for the PS2, which was over TEN YEARS ago. Since then the Dynasty Warriors franchise has seen mixed success, garnering both critical acclaim and disappointment. Dynasty Warriors’s most commonly cited flaw is how it has become stale over the years. To counteract this, Koei set out to redefine the series and completely change its core mechanics, which has been met with less than positive results. Does Dynasty Warriors 7 redeem the franchise?
One of the biggest and most obvious complaints is that Dynasty Warriors by nature is stuck in its subject material. No matter how you go about it, the series is a retelling of Three Kingdoms period of ancient China. There is only so much you can do with such a set and limited amount of source material. That being said, Dynasty Warriors is not all “by the book”. A great deal of the game’s story and inspiration comes from the novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. This novel was written way back in the 14th century and is based on the events that took place near the end of the Han Dynasty. This isn’t to say that everything in this game and novel are made up, but let’s just say they take some liberties to flesh out what would have otherwise been a bland story about generic officers and warlords duking it out for land.
Despite both the tired history and tried-and-true retelling of these events that Koei has stuck with in the past, there is a bit of a change up with DW7. DW7 focuses more on the later events of this period, ending with deconstruction of the Three Kingdoms and the beginning of the Jin Dynasty. As such, a fourth faction, Jin, has been added to the regular three (Wei, Wu and Shu) which definitely helps to break up the stale story that the series has been telling. Due to this focus on later times, however, a series veteran of ancient Chinese history buff will notice that the beginnings of the Three Kingdoms era is no longer part of this game, leaving out some of the more memorable events like the oath at the peach garden.
A much greater effort has been put into telling the story this time around. In previous games the story was more or less a miniscule attempt at explaining why you are playing as X character in Y battlefield. While there was certainly story to be had, people who were new to the subject material would have a bit of a hard time understanding exactly what was going on. In DW7, however, the story mode (one story for each of the 4 factions: Wei, Wu, Shu and Jin) does a much better job at giving a personality to the characters as well as tells a much more coherent story. Unfortunately this comes with a bit of a hindrance, you cannot choose who you play as in the story mode. In order to more accurately tell the story you are forced to play from the perspective of certain characters, often only being able to play as a handful of characters from the total pool of your faction. Even more unfortunate is that of this handful of characters you are able to play as, only a seldom few will receive any real amount of playtime.
This all being said, each campaign will take anywhere from six to ten hours. Each story (except for Jin) starts out with the suppressing of the Yellow Turban Rebellion at the hands of whatever army you are in control of. From there, the campaigns will deviate into their own branch of history, detailing the rise and fall of various warlords and generals. As I said before, the characters have been fleshed out a bit more in terms of personality. A dramatic scene will play out every now and then when an important character dies (in a cutscene, not in actual gameplay) which shows how their family and friends react and deal with the constantly changing leadership that befalls this era.
Overall, the story is much better this time around thanks to the inclusion of the fall of the Three Kingdoms and beginnings of the Jin dynasty. The dramatic scenes and storytelling are a welcomed addition to the franchise. The limited character selection is indeed a hindrance, one wonders why they couldn’t have allowed you to pick from whatever characters join you in each battle (since there are ALWAYS other officers with you) but they don’t. It doesn’t ruin the game, but does serve as a partial annoyance.
Veteran fans of the series have been thankful to know that Koei dropped the “renbu” attack system which was present in Dynasty Warriors 6 and Dynasty Warriors Strikeforce. The renbu system was created to satiate the naysayers who claimed the series had become stale. It broke up the tried and true “charge” system that has been the staple of the Dynasty Warriors combat since the beginning, much to the chagrin of its fans. Thankfully, the charge system is back in full force with DW7. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, a character will start out with string of four normal attacks, square-square-square-square (on PS3). By pressing the triangle button, the player will perform a strong attack which is usually a bit flashier than normal and will end the combo in doing so. As the character levels up they will unlock two more attacks and eventually two more strong attacks to be combo’d into.
In Dynasty Warriors 7 there are two modes, story and conquest.
Story is basically the campaign mode, you choose which faction you want to play as and you play out their story. As mentioned earlier, you have no choice as to who you play as. For most levels you start out in a camp where you are able to walk around and talk to other characters, mostly just to further immerse yourself in the story. Once you are ready to head out, talk to the character with the red icon above their head and you are thrust into the battle. After most battles you will be treated to an intermission sequence with a narrator explaining what is happening between the battles and generally providing much of the story in a very descriptive and easy to understand manner. One of the benefits of this mode is that your skill points (experience you use to level up a characters talent tree) are cumulative for that entire faction. So let’s say you gain 600 points with one character and you spend 540 in their talent tree. The next character that you play as in the story will still have that 600 that you initially received, even though the previous character spent 540 of it. This means that at about halfway through each story you will have accrued more than enough to max out every character you get to play as from that point on. This serves as a great boon to the players who you are lucky enough to play as for when you play conquest mode.
One of the benefits of this mode is that your skill points (experience you use to level up a characters talent tree) are cumulative for that entire faction. So let’s say you gain 600 points with one character and you spend 540 in their talent tree. The next character that you play as in the story will still have that 600 that you initially received, even though the previous character spent 540 of it. This means that at about halfway through each story you will have accrued more than enough to max out every character you get to play as from that point on. This serves as a great boon to the players who you are lucky enough to play as for when you play conquest mode.
Conquest is here in place of the traditional free mode. Free mode was just that, allowing you to pick any level from your completed story missions and play it with any character. Conquest is sort of like that. Conquest presents you with a large, rudimentary map/playing board of ancient China. Each tile is a battle or event. You start in one corner of the map and will eventually work your way throughout the rest of the map in whatever direction you want. Completing one tile will unlock all tiles that touch it for play. There are various icons on the tiles which mean different things: some will unlock a new character, some will grant you a stat increase, some will unlock a new animal to ride or fight with, some will grant you a new (or final) weapon, some are city tiles, etc.
City tiles are the only tile where you don’t actually fight. You just walk around a small section of town filled with various NPCs. The usual NPCs that are around are the weapons dealer, blacksmith and teahouse. Weapons dealer sells you weapons (duh), blacksmith “learn” a weapons ability for you so you don’t need to waste time learning it and the teahouse is where you set what your animal and bodyguard will be. Periodically a merchant and scholar will appear, as well as a random character whom you have a good bond with. The scholar will ask you various questions pertaining to the time period, most of which you will not know unless you talk to everybody or are well versed in this time period (I suggest you look up a guide) and the merchant simply sells you random weapons on the cheap as well as a few animals or bodyguards for your next battle. Generic NPC’s will simply comment on something dealing with the story or a character which will be relevant for answering the scholar’s questions.
New to the series (though this was in Strikeforce sort of) is the ability for characters to equip any weapon. Again, this is an effort to shake things up a bit in an attempt to distance the franchise from its accusations of going stale, this new mechanic is a bit of a double-edged sword. This means that characters have lost their unique fighting style. Your fighting style is now dependant on what weapon you use. If you play as Lu Bu with a sword and then play as Zhen Ji with a sword, their fighting will be exactly the same save for their musou, skills and EX. Worry not, for characters still retain their (usually) original weapon as preference due to the creation of the EX attack. An EX attack is a special attack that can only be performed when the character is wielding their EX weapon. For example, Xiahou Dun traditionally used a sword and as such the sword is his EX weapon. An EX attack is sort of a mini musou (special) attack. It doesn’t take any musou to perform, only the correct attack combination. Because of this, the characters still retain their traditional (usually) weapon which is certainly a plus.
On top of this characters can equip two weapons at once with the ability to change weapons mid combo as well as equip different ones in the middle of battle. A nice addition if not a bit peculiar, though it is nice to be able to mix and match characters with weapons. Variety is the spice of life, after all.
My preference is for game developers to pack in as many choices or options as possible, allowing the player to decide how to play their game. Koei seems to have followed that mantra quite nicely, though in doing so they have erased much of the “sense of progression” that the series used to be able to produce. Weapon acquisition is now done mainly by purchasing a weapon from a weapons dealer either in story mode or in conquest mode, though you can also obtain a characters EX weapon if you defeat them fast enough in battle. This is where Koei went wrong. There are a total of 62 characters in the game, each with 10 weapons total (a few have 11). Traditionally, you would either upgrade your weapon through experience or find variations of your weapon as a drop. This meant that if you wanted a certain characters final weapon, you had to play as that character and improve them to the point where they were able to obtain it. Now, all one simply has to do is amass the appropriate amount of gold and go to town. This means that the vast majority of weapons will not be used and are simply irrelevant data. Most players will likely play their handful of favorite characters (even then not using each and every weapon they find) until they have amassed the appropriate sums of gold needed to buy all of the other characters’ weapons. From that point on, the only weapon they will have used with the other characters is one of the two of their final weapons (each character has two final weapons).
What should have been done was to do away with the whole “buying” weapons mechanic which provides absolutely no sense of reward or progression and reinstate the “level up” or “find” mechanic. This way, the only way you can get better weapons is by playing whatever character uses that weapon. Still keep the ability to equip two weapons, but if you want to equip a different characters final weapon then make the player earn it. Being able to buy up every single weapon (aside from the one final weapon that you need to get from weapon battles) completely defeats any sort of progression the series used to have (which is one of the things that made it great in the first place).
Graphically, this game has finally brought the franchise into “current gen”. The graphics are pretty great, they won’t win any awards but they look great. All of the weapons and character models are nicely detailed and are sure to impress. Koei has decided to reinvent the character designs and for the most part they have done so successfully. The characters are all still instantly recognizable (for the most part) and the changes aren’t too drastic so diehard fans need not complain. Even the animals got a new coat of paint, especially the Red Hare (the ultimate horse). The Red Hare is now much larger than the other horses, wears black armor and looks as if it is on fire, very badass. On the topic of the redesigns I have but one complaint, the alternate costumes. They are already unlocked from the beginning (again, no sense of progression) and on top of this they are merely a change of color…and are only able to be worn in conquest mode. Previous games had at least more than one alternate costume, with at least one that was an entirely different outfit.
A great deal has been done to convey the dedication to source material, with a gallery of nearly everything you can think of. The gallery allows you to listen to the characters voice samples, view the weapons you have unlocked, view the characters themselves (in both outfits), view your animals, view the artworks for each character/army, etc. Basically everything that can possibly be looked at is in this gallery, which is pretty awesome. As if that wasn’t enough, Koei had the dedication to include an encyclopedia with a VAST collection of information, A-Z, on everything that is Dynasty Warriors and this time period. Even detailed information on “generic” officers that aren’t playable in the game is included here. If you don’t quite understand something or want to know more about the game and it’s source material, the encyclopedia likely has you covered. Something like this should be in every game.
One important thing to note is that Koei has also taken extra effort to ensure that characters names are pronounced correctly as well as ensuring that the dubbing is accurate. What this means is that Cao Cao, which was traditionally (and incorrectly) pronounced as “cow cow” is now correctly pronounced as “tsow tsow”. Many character’s names are now pronounced correctly which is an awesome effort put forth by Koei. The dubbing has received the same consideration, making it look like they are actually speaking English instead of dubbed-over Japanese like the old Godzilla movies. Small touches like this really go a long way.
Overall, this game is pretty great. It could have been better had Koei thought out the weapon acquisition a bit more and changed a few things here or there, but as it is the game is still very good. It contains both offline and online coop (conquest mode only) which is always nice, though the battles can be very short so it doesn’t lend itself very well to cooperative play. There are four difficulty modes, but they are completely irrelevant except to the hardcores an purists. Difficulty has absolutely NO effect on the game aside from how hard the enemies are. You do not gain more experience/better drops/more anything on a harder difficulty, it is simply there to make it harder.
I should also note that Koei plans on releasing a plethora of DLC, both free and paid. New weapons, new stages, new outfits and Japanese voices are what has been confirmed so far. Koei looks to be putting a lot of effort behind this game and I would say it has payed off.
Dynasty Warriors 7 gets…