Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X (Reviewed), Xbox One, Switch, PC
Release Date: Available Now
Price: $59.99 USD – Available Here $89.95 AUD – Available Here
Four years ago Koei Tecmo tried something a bit different with their Dynasty Warriors series as they made the transition to a more open world style of gameplay compared to what fans have been familiar with. This wasn’t met with high praise and since then, outside of various spin-offs from Omega Force, no other Warriors games were released despite a generally quick turn around for their Empires half of the series. So now with Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires finally making an attempt to set itself apart, has it managed to fix at least some issues from the core release?
As always for an Empires title, players will find themselves as the master of their own story rather than being forced to follow one of the many well-known events of Romance of the Three Kingdoms as Conquest mode is the only actual game mode on offer this time around compared to previous entries. Players will be able to take a well-known character, a generic officer, or warrior of their very own creation, and drop them into either a familiar scenario set during one of the aforementioned time periods or during a randomized situation that awards territories to characters of all kinds.
For anyone else familiar with the series, the game mostly plays the same but newcomers may be a bit overwhelmed at first as there are numerous options provided to players right out of the gate. Players can choose to start as a leader of a country right off the bat, opt to fight as an officer or general under a lord that already has an established kingdom while trying to work up the ranks, or start off from scratch as a vagrant warrior looking to make a name for themselves.
However the player’s journey starts, the end goal is the same, total control over China through any means necessary, whether it means forging alliances with neighbors or laying waste to every rival country that stands in the player’s path. Depending on the rank of the player in their given kingdom, they will be provided with a variety of options at the beginning of every week, ranging from simply earning extra money or rations, recruiting troops or training their units, to taking strolls and interacting with other famous officers or created characters to forge bonds of friendship that can then help solo units forge “vagrant” forces that can overtake a territory and become a newly minted lord. The higher the player’s position in a kingdom, the more options they will have including being able to issue orders to invade and trigger battles with enemies, recruit officers from other kingdoms, and of course develop their own land in an effort to keep their people happy.
It is through these aforementioned strolls that players will find that the “open world” aspect of Dynasty Warriors 9 still exists but it has been stripped almost bare with there being very little to actually do besides slay random bandits for 2 gold or beasts for 5 rations a piece or talk to officers though, as mentioned before, players will simply teleport to automatically. This leads to the overworld being less than an afterthought, especially when it comes to actual battles as even these have been cut down in size though many will be fairly pleased with change.
Managing a kingdom and forging bonds with characters that otherwise would have no business speaking to each other, or have historically killed each other, makes for some interesting combinations. Omega Force has also made sure to provide a number of ways that players can see their relationships with allies play out in various cutscenes between sworn brothers/sisters, getting married, and even having a child. This, along with the easy to learn and addictive aspects of managing the player’s kingdom and expanding the land make for some of the best strategy elements of the game.
Once battle actually begins however, things remain fairly similar to how fans remember. Players will enter the battlefield using the same type of combat mechanics found in Dynasty Warriors 9 though Empires has trimmed the battle style down to only one type, siege type battles. That means battles will always involve either capturing bases to build siege weapons to take down a castle gate and then eliminating the defending general inside or taking bases to prevent siege weapons from being built and forcing the attacking general to expose themselves for a “decisive battle.”
Combat remains a combination of light attacks mixed in with special “musou” moves and a number of targeted attacks that can be used to stun, launch, or knock down opposing enemies. In something that really needs to have the name changed as we will mention in a moment, players will also have access to four “Secret Plans” in a fight that fill up as players capture bases and defeat enemy officers. These secret plans can do things such as restore health, trigger explosions, send forth a beam of lightning, and provide various buffs with each character being able to equip four of these at a time.
The reason this needs to be renamed however is the fact that there is another type of “Secret Plan ” that players can often choose before a fight. These types of secret plans are triggered automatically at the start of a battle and can do things that can affect the entire battlefield such as summon a poison fog, set enemy bases on fire, bring in reinforcements, or even summon an elemental animal to fight on the player’s side. These secret plans can also be triggered by the enemy and to successfully succeed and defend against these plans players will need to complete various tasks on the battlefield that always keep them on the move, helping provide at least a bit of variety for most of these fights that otherwise become incredibly simple in nature. In fact, at certain points the game began stating that our kingdom had failed to stop an enemy’s secret plan simply because they were defeated before it was even given a chance to appear properly.
Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires’ solid combat and strong kingdom building may be held back by repetitive fights that have no variety other than the fact that they now take place on a smaller scale, it also offers some rather poor character outfit customization out of the gate. The actual character creation is fairly solid with players having a large number of options available to create a unit that looks however they please but outfits and armor are unfortunately rather scarce and instead seem to be presented as more DLC opportunities.
Visuals & Audio
With Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires being the first title actually able to try and make use of what the Xbox Series X is capable of, Omega Force has unfortunately let things slip a bit. The character models for the nearly one hundred unique officers are as best as they have ever looked and the flashy “Secret Plans” that are used by characters are great to look at but the generic soldiers and officers remain as basic as they have ever been. To make things worse, the textures of the environment can be incredibly rough, popping in mid cutscene if at all and even enemy units will be forced to wait to spawn due to limitations on how many enemies can appear on screen at a time, something that is far from an issue on this console. Thankfully it can be said that the game does run smoothly with no issues in frame rate even when the action is at its highest.
The Western release of Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires features only the original Japanese voice track accompanied by English subtitles, something that has become fairly fitting over the years for the series and it appears that all of the familiar voice actors have reprised their roles here. The soundtrack still features a solid mixture of simpler calming tracks during empire management and strolling the field as well as heavier rock music during the combat sequences.
Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires takes and trims some of the excess fat that was added in the core game by focusing heavily on providing players heavy emphasis on kingdom management and building their own stories and interactions between officers. The combat may be mostly the same from what fans have come to expect from the series and the overall mechanics of Conquest change little from past entries, Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires is an okay return to form for a series that still is struggling to find fresh footing.
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