Dynasty Warriors 9 is finally here! It feels like I’ve been waiting an eternity for the next game in the series of hack and slash games from developer Omega Force and Publisher Koei Tecmo – when in reality it has only been about five years if you don’t include the PS4 ‘Extreme’ edition and the ’empires’ edition of DW8. The Dynasty Warriors format is still very niche and doesn’t appeal to everyone so it’s great to see that they have really pushed the game this time around to try to change things up a little and also to try and make the game more appealing to a wider audience. Although, they made a few changes which made a long-time fan almost give up on the series as I couldn’t wrap my head around some of their ideas upon my first play of the game. So, let’s take a deeper look at Dynasty Warriors 9 and see what’s changed in this long-running series.
If you have played a Dynasty Warriors game before then you already know the story. Every single game plays upon a similar theme and expands upon that. The story is about the three kingdoms, Wei, Wu and Shu, all working together and against each other as they try and either unite the land or aim to take out the others and claim the land as their own. It’s difficult to give you a full breakdown of the story as every single character has their own perspective, all 90 of them. For some characters, they will fight from the very beginning until their death, some will come in part way and deflect to the opposition, and some will only live out a small portion of their life with you until they are no longer part of the current timeline.
You are also able to unlock and take control of characters within the Jin family and the ‘Others’ such as Dong Zhou and Lu Bu. These are unlocked in the same fashion as the characters from other families, although most of these will be unlocked via playing as the three main families above and not necessarily playing the timeline for Jin and ‘Others’. This review would be too long if I wrote out the description for the first ten chapters here (chapters 11-13 are secret ones and as such, you need to unlock them in order to see the story and how it progresses), so I advise you to check out the official website HERE if you wish to read the descriptions of each chapter.
The game works it’s way through 13 chapters, starting with the infamous ‘Suppressing of the Yellow Turbans’ all the way through to the new world with the new rulers of the Three Kingdoms. However, the chapter/mission select is very unique and a bit unusual at first. The game runs on a shared map (which I go into in more detail later on) which doesn’t change, unlike older games which run on small individual missions. The character and stage select screen, which you see initially, is basically a timeline which you must work through in order to unlock new characters to play as and new chapters past chapter 10. For example, if you play through Cao Cao’s timeline then you will progress through his story, undertake all the battles which he is involved in and stand alongside the allies and friends he has from beginning to end. Each time you make a bond with another character in-game, they become playable on the timeline.
If you quit or finish the current timeline and then select another character on the timeline screen, you will now be experiencing the story from the chosen warriors perspective. Warriors in the same faction will have a similar course of action in regards to the battles they attend; however, some will have completely different objectives, conversations, experiences, and allies. This makes playing as all of the characters enjoyable and varied without becoming a chore or monotonous. This whole process can be a bit confusing at first but after you have got used to it, it’s really good how all the characters work together and how you can see each battle from different perspectives. When you step back and look at it, it’s no different to previous games where each mission would give you set characters, only this time you can visibly see each character’s timeline.
One thing you will notice though is that once a character’s timeline comes to an end, they are no longer playable. So you won’t see Cao Cao for 3 chapters, then have a 3 chapter break and then come back. Once you get the opportunity to play as someone, you will play as them right until the end of their involvement in the war. Each character has their own story, ending text (not every character will have an ending cutscene dedicated to them but they will have a ‘what happened next’ text screen), bonds they gain with other officers, and place within history.
If you have played a Dynasty Warriors game before then know that you are basically a god among men! The battlefield is your playground and literally, nobody can stop you. You must take on missions, complete your objectives, collect items, and slaughter every single red dot you see on your map. In previous incarnations, it would be common to end a mission with between 1000 and 2000 kills on average and this game is no different as you spam the square button in order to take down all the soldiers and officers. The game has both returning mechanics and new ones, some of which are good and some not so good. So let’s start with the recurring mechanics…
Your standard actions are: Square is your standard attack, X is jump, Circle is your Musou attack (a very powerful, unique attack you power up by killing people), and L2 is summon/climb on your horse. You can also roll dodge with R2, block is L1 and crouch with Triangle. These are all re-bindable in the options and work just as great as any previous game did. However, we have a few new mechanics thrown into the mix this time…
Whilst attacking anyone from a soldier to an officer, if you see a triangle icon above their head, similar to that in the Arkham style games, you can hit triangle and you will perform a counter/reactive attack. This usually results in your character running full blast up to the enemy and performing a really powerful attack. If it is used mid-way through a fight, your officer will deliver a powerful unblockable attack against the person with the icon on their head. This move is awesome and works really well during gameplay.
You have a bow at all times of the game. Simply press down on the D-pad and you will swap to your bow regardless of your choice of weapon. This can be used for combat or hunting animals and you can equip one of many different arrows such as fire, explosive, poison and even a multi-shot. This mechanic isn’t the best as the aim is your right stick but fire is the same button as your attack, so square. This means either you can’t aim whilst you shoot or you have to remap your base attack button. Luckily, I use a pro-Revolution controller, so I can map buttons to the paddles on the rear as well as the front of the controller but having the fire operation as square just felt wrong and because of that, I didn’t use the bow as much as I wanted too.
You also have four new attacks added to your roster – these are triggered by holding down R1 and pressing one of the face buttons. They all do different attacks but follow a similar theme – Triangle launches the enemies in the air, X Knocks them down, Square stuns the enemy and Circle performs a unique special attack. All of them can be spammed as much as you want apart from the special attack which has to recover with a short time delay.
Finally, this new mechanic kinda feels cheap and wrong to have it from the start as it feels like it breaks the game and should be learnt or bought much later on – the Hookshot. If you approach a town which is all locked up and your team are all fighting as the battering rams are coming – which will allow you to knock down the door – you can ignore these. Simply run up to the wall, tap R1 and you will instantly shoot up the wall via the Hookshot. Once on top of the wall, jump down, slice the lock off the door and open the door to let everyone in. Tell me that isn’t way too OP! It removes the need to fight half the time as you can just B-line straight for your goal without having to work your way through set traps and ambushes. I understand it is here because the world is massive and you need a way to traverse it, but still, this shouldn’t have been an item you had from the start.
As I touched on above, this time around you don’t play smaller missions, you have access to the whole of the map from the beginning. The map is initially all blacked out until you explore it. There are two ways to uncover the various locations on the map, you can either ride around on your horse and activate small ‘waypoints’ which uncover a few places of interest for you to visit, or you can scale the many watchtowers using your Hookshot and perform an Assassin’s Creed style synchronisation. The camera even slowly rotates around you as you stand atop a tower, just like in AC. Omega Force has adopted the open world just like how Toukiden 2 went from small missions to an open world which you can explore and interact with – this has both its positives and its negatives.
The map is huge! it takes ages to get from one end to the other and there is a load of things to see along the way from hunting, taking out towns, visiting merchants, meeting allies in hideaways, watching a pack of Pandas play around, and even uncover materials for creating new weapons. The game looks really pretty – in 4k mode – as you ride around through the various weather effects which range from torrential rain to Silent Hill style fog and a full day/night cycle. You can also fast travel to any point on the map once they are discovered – as long as the current mission permits it – This really helps as the map takes quite a long time if you are travelling on horse manually.
What is the common issue with massive open world games? The one thing that sets it aside from a well-crafted A to B style experience? Quality. Yes, the game looks great and has things for you to do – but it’s lost its charm. At times it feels like they have created about 3 or 4 models for a town and small village and just dropped them in random places on the map as there is no character or uniqueness to any of the locations. All of the hideaways are the same (other than the furniture you put in them) and at times you can ride around for ages without seeing anyone other than the random animals which are there for you to hunt. This was one of the things which put me off within the first few hours and almost had me not wanting to return to the game. This and the side missions…
Where do I start with the side missions? Or the Missions, in general, to be honest. That’s not only a rhetorical question but it’s also one I presented myself with whilst I was initially playing the game and I really didn’t have an answer – until I worked out what and why I was doing things. So, if we go back to older version of Dynasty Warriors and look at how they worked – you would choose a mission and a character then get presented with the main objective followed by a bunch of secondary objectives which were usually optional but helped you out in the course of battle. Now in Dynasty Warriors 9, you are given the main mission with a load of ‘Scroll’ missions (urgent/important missions) and some general ‘help the NPC’ missions which you gain from towns you visit.
My first issue was that all of the missions were fetch quests and kill quests as every time I completed a batch of them, I got more telling me to go here and kill this person or go there and find X amount of items. This got me annoyed and pretty bored – until I realised what was going on. Dynasty Warriors 9 is letting you do whatever you want when you want. So, you have your main mission – which is usually to take down a certain person or take over a base – these are usually presented with a level much higher than your character (on the first playthrough). However, if you complete the secondary ‘scroll’ missions then each one alters the tide of battle – The level of the main mission will be lowered or you will have more allies at the final battle with you. All of the random fetch quests are there to simply provide you with EXP and material rewards so you can level up quicker and craft stronger gear.
So yeah, at first I almost gave up because I thought the devs had ruined the series and taken a path which destroyed the feel of the game, when in reality – if you look at it again – it’s actually the same, but with an open world playground for you to play in whilst you make your way to the set objectives. True, some of the side missions which you are given are repetitive, easy and a bit boring at times, but they are literally all optional and aren’t required for anything – not even a PSN trophy. As soon as I realised this and that I was being given free reigns to do whatever I want, I started to enjoy the game much more. Just like in Breath of the Wild, once you begin your adventure, you can go straight towards the objective of the mission and speed through it if you wish. One thing to be aware of though – each chapter doesn’t only have one main objective – you may have 4 or 5 but you will only see one at a time – so each chapter will usually last about 30-60 minutes although a lot of mine lasted 5-7 hours as I explored and collected materials to create new weapons.
Speaking of weapons – this is something which I believe will be taken like marmite – some will love it and some will hate it. Personally, I’m on the fence as I have opinions in both categories. Characters within the Dynasty Warrior universe have their own staple weapons – you have Gan Ning with his Chain and Sickle and Sun Shangxiang with her Wheels for example – and some of the previous games have stuck to that. They made you use the chosen warriors favourite weapon which forced you to be diverse with what weapons you use and gave you a reason to not only try them all out but also work to upgrade each new weapon as you become someone else.
Dynasty Warriors 9 has gone back to the ‘free-for-all’ aspect where anyone can equip any weapon. This means you can create a powerful weapon in one person’s timeline and then subsequently just equip anyone else you play as with the same weapon (as everything carries into each timeline) thus making your character overpowered and a lot stronger than they should be. Personally, I’m against this as it feels like the developer wants to allow people to do what they want in their own way (which is fine) but it also breaks the immersion of each character and effectively boosts new characters without any merit. I would have prefered it if each character could only use their own weapon set and maybe they were allowed to use others once they hit level 50.
In regards to the weapons – each one has four slots to which you can attach gems which you find or craft. They offer various advantages such as defence, combat or elemental bonuses to each of your R1 and normal attacks. You can also craft/buy accessories and equip up to four on your warriors – the ones which I used were EXP boosts, receive more money when killing an officer, higher chance of item drops and a materials magnet. The latter is extremely useful in hunting situations as when you shoot an animal with an arrow, the materials will instantly fly towards you without you having to go and pick them up later.
What would a Dynasty Warriors game be without a decent selection of characters? Dynasty Warriors 9 has playable characters coming out of its ears! There are a total of 90 playable characters, which I believe is the biggest so far. Once again, this list would be too big to post here so if you click HERE then you will be taken to the official website which has bio information and images of every character in both their combat and casual clothing. Each character looks great in-game and I would love to say they all have their own unique attacks and movements but that’s only half true. Yes, each character has their own Musou attack and R1 attacks but the base attacks are all built around the weapon. So, if you equip Man Chong with a Rapier and then equip Cheng Pu with the same weapon – they will ultimately attack the same.
You can’t change the characters costumes either – this is something I can guarantee will be released as DLC instead. Once you unlock a hideout, you can invite officers to come and speak with you – this results in them turning up in their casual clothes – which is mainly a kimono-style gown. However, when you look in the closet, there are no alternative clothes for your officers outside of this room – not even when you get to level milestones such as 50 or 100. This is a shame as I enjoy changing the visual style of my characters and I know it’s going to be all locked behind a paywall. I still miss the Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate level of customisation where you could recolour everything in regards to each character.
You can also buy and raise a horse once again in the game. The way it works is, you buy a horse from the stables and it levels up based on how much you ride and how many enemies you kill whilst mounted. Once it gets to a high level (up to 100) you can either carry on using it or sell it for a load of money back in the stables. With each level, the horse will gain more stamina and speed so you can traverse easier and faster. Also, the game has an Assassin’s Creed Origins Horse-auto-drive mechanic where you can place a waypoint and have the horse run there on its own whilst you sit back. This is the second thing I can see ‘borrowed’ from the Assassin’s Creed series – maybe they used their games as inspiration as they went from mission-based to open world? One thing to note with the horse – it has strange physics – nothing game breaking but rather annoying. It will occasionally spaz out when going up hills and slide down them, in a stationary position, if you are trying to go down-hill. I know it’s because the game doesn’t want you in those areas but the animations and physics could have been a lot better.
Finally, time for the technical aspects of the game – I played the game on my PS4 Pro and the game was installed on an external SSD/Hybrid HDD. The game has two visual options on the Ps4 Pro, a ‘Movie mode’ (Resolution stabilizes more easily when the framerate is 30) and ‘Action Mode’ (The frame rate stabilizes more easily). Now, from what I gather Movie mode is 30fps max with a higher resolution and Action mode is an unlocked framerate at 1080p. I’ve tried them both and I personally stuck with Movie Mode. I love playing games with a higher framerate but the Action mode didn’t feel very stable and it felt it was up and down quite a lot while displaying a not-so-great image. Don’t get me wrong, the game looked nice and graphically ambitious – but pop-in was pretty bad, texture load speeds, framerate dips, jaggies, slight stutter etc… In Movie mode the game felt more consistent and the quality of the game looked much better – everything is sharper, there was less pop-in and it just felt and looked better to play.
That being said, there have been two patches that dropped yesterday and the game seems to be running a bit better with those – so take the above with a grain of salt. I’m sure over the next few weeks we will receive a few optimisation updates now the game is out in the wild. I’m not 100% sure on how the game runs on base hardware – from my experience, I would imagine it runs like Movie mode but looks like Action mode – which isn’t bad. Other than Toukiden 2, this is the first time they have gone full open-world style, so I’m sure there will be issues for the first week or so for some people.
Soundwise – I have issues. At the very beginning, I said that the team had made the game more accessible and new-user friendly in order to gain more exposure and gamers. The sound is one of the ways they have ‘tried’ to do this. Now, we all know that Dynasty warriors were on the PS2, then the PS3 and Xbox 360 and then primarily the PS3 and Ps4 – yet Dynasty Warriors 9 has jumped back to the Xbox One – Why am I bringing this up? My opinion (and this is mine, not Square XO’s or anyone involved with the game) is that, in order to try and get people to buy the game on the Xbox One, they have released the game in English with English Voice Overs. The reason I think this is because previous versions haven’t had English and it is well known that the vocal majority of the Xbox One fanbase are opposed to playing games in Japanese without an English Dub. So I believe it was added to cater for them. With that being said, it’s horrible. Don’t play the game with the English voices unless you really have too. None of the characters have the passion and grittiness you hear in the Japanese voices and Lu Bu, for example, sounds like a 22-year-old office worker.
Having choices is great and it’s great they have offered English, Japanese and Chinese voices as well as various subtitles – but they could have done a better job of casting in my opinion. With that aside though, the soundtrack is awesome as ever with the staple themes and character songs. The one thing I found a little unusual is how much I felt like I was playing Zelda at times when walking around various cities – there is a song that plays that sounds just like it belongs within a Zelda game rather than Dynasty Warriors. I’ll be on the lookout to purchase this soundtrack if/when it becomes available.
Dynasty Warriors 9 is a very ambitious title. It tried to take a game, which has been operating as a series of mini-missions and make it into a true open-world experience. Do I feel it was successful? Yes and no. The game has all of the aspects of an open-world game, it’s just a shame it also inherited all the flaws of one as well. However, the combat and gameplay mechanics I love from the franchise are here and everything has been expanded on to make it the biggest Dynasty Warriors game to date. The English dub is terrible but we have got the option to change it, so I’ll forgive them for that but the question is, will Dynasty Warrior fans like the new direction the game has gone? Personally, the game grew on me and I began to love it around 20 hours in (it took me 160 hours to obtain all but one of the trophies) but I do see this new direction being an issue for some of the more hard-core fans out there.
I recommend this game as one which anyone can enjoy – it’s the great hack and slash of a Dynasty Warriors game crossed with the open-world exploration genre. Things could have been done better, but nothing put me off playing the game once I understood what the game wanted me to do. If you’re expecting a quick and easy game then maybe look elsewhere as there is enough content in here to keep you busy for quite a while. Also, I can see why, but the lack of a co-op option will upset a lot of people.
*Code kindly provided by Koei Tecmo for review purposes*
Dynasty Warriors 9£54.99
- 90 characters, each with their own perspective on the main story
- Massive open world to explore and venture
- Hundreds of weapons, accessories, food, materials and gems to collect
- At least 100+ hours in order to platinum
- Great soundtrack and beautiful graphics
- English dub is terrible
- No co-op
- Horse physics
- Takes a while to get into the game if you are a DW Veteran
- Framerate issues when encountering many enemies