Dynasty Warriors 9 Review
Release Date: February 8, 2018
Developer: Omega Force
Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Dynasty Warriors 9 is a fresh take on the long running series, giving it a more expansive environment thanks to its new open-world approach, as well as tons of characters and weapons to choose from in a historical setting that, outside of Assassin's Creed, is unfortunately rarely seen. While much of the world can feel flat and mundane, having that freedom to walk around and gather materials and all sorts of items and loot without having to do the same old song and dance we've been doing for the last twenty years is nice, and while Dynasty Warriors 9 won't be pushing any boundaries with its new way of thinking with this new entry, it's a fine new addition fit for both fans and newcomers alike that gives them a lot to look forward to and enjoy, but it doesn't come without its faults that should be addressed.
There has been this unfortunate obsession - arguably addiction - lately with games and their need to be open world, whether they fit or not. Titles like Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Mirror's Edge Catalyst and Final Fantasy XV, to name a few, all left their traditional, linear-esque gameplay for a more open approach, but this, much to people's surprise and enjoyment, ended up working in their favor for the most part. Other titles like Mass Effect Andromeda, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, recent Need for Speed titles, and Valkyria Revolution, however, worked against them and arguably crippled the future of each series because of it, but that doesn't seem to be stopping any time soon with more upcoming games and sequels also having their first open world entries in their respective franchise, like One Piece World Seeker and Beyond Good and Evil 2. Now, Dynasty Warriors enters this open world dilemma with Dynasty Warriors 9, and while it's refreshing in a way, the world itself is uninspired, mundane, and flat, even though that hack-and-slash Warriors-style gameplay that the series and Omega Force has influenced and perfected for the last two decades remains in-tact (albeit slightly limited thanks to a ton of weapons and other stuff being limited to DLC).
You would think with the rich history Dynasty Warriors has, as well as the inspiration from actual Chinese historical events and text, it'd be easy to make a vibrant, immersive world of ancient China that was a spectacle and a delight to run around in. Unfortunately, even with all the marketing and push towards "Look at this brand new OPEN-WORLD Dynasty Warriors—BUY IT BECAUSE IT'S OPEN-WORLD", the one thing they attempted to focus on ended up leaving a lot to be desired. The world is big. Really big. While that's great to hear and particularly exciting for a game of that time period, it ends up working against the player's favor in a lot of ways. There's the ability to run freely with a dedicated button instead of other Warriors titles where it would automatically trigger after walking a few feet outside of combat, which is great, and there is also the ability to freely call a horse to give you some extra speed for those times you're short on time and really need to be somewhere, or simply want to reach another destination faster, but the world is so big (and sadly desolate) to the point it will take you minutes upon minutes to reach your next destination - upwards of 10+ - and this took me out of the immersion completely. Yes, you can fast travel, but only to destinations you've been to through landmarks, watch towers, camps, etc.. There are a lot of fast travel locations and options that give players the ability to almost pin-point where they'd like to travel to without having to dedicate an entire day walking from one side of the map to the other, but when you're initially going through these missions, it becomes cumbersome very quickly. The great thing about Warriors titles is that the action is non-stop. You feel like a god hacking and slashing your way through literally thousands of enemies, and then when you're done with one portion or quadrant of the map and mission you're in, you quickly make your way over to the next section in an adrenaline-fueled race against time and keeping your pride on the line alongside your army of warriors at all costs. It was seamless, and because of the close-quarters combat and smaller-scale, arena-like playgrounds, there was always something to fight, look at, uncover, and do with little to no interruptions. With this, fights feel segmented and choppy thanks to the inconsistent nature of which they occur. You'll be taking over a camp for about two minutes, then the missions asks you to find a general which is literally miles away, and then you'll have maybe one or two more fights in between a fair duration a part from each other, before ultimately reaching your destination some time later with nothing happening in-between. I probably wouldn't mind this that much if there was actual scenery to appreciate and look at, as well as a ton of collectibles and treasures to uncover, but besides your usual materials scattered around the world, there really isn't much to do or appreciate outside of this—barely even any trees or foliage.
The most crippling part about it being such a massive scale open-world with nothing to do in-between fights is that the experience is dampened further - and made to feel even more choppy - thanks to performance issues hindering the experience. There are two modes you can choose from: Action Mode and Movie Mode. Action Mode focuses on giving a higher FPS, while movie mode restricts it to 30FPS but has a higher resolution. The problem with both of these is that there is quite literally no difference between the two because of their unlocked framerate, dipping (and averaging) at around 20FPS. These options are given only on PS4 Pro (which this review was played on) and Xbox One X - the base models for each respective system don't have the option, and are presumably left at Action Mode for more fluid, albeit attempted, gameplay. There are serious stutters and screen tears that happen throughout, and while I've heard from fellow colleagues that this drops down significantly during the bigger fights, for me it's always stayed consistently choppy, so I never noticed much of a difference whether I was in a battle or taking in the "sights". Seeing little to no difference between the two, I opted for Movie Mode since, despite its 30FPS cap, with how choppy everything is to begin with, I may as well have things look sharper in the mean time thanks to the higher resolution. Even with that, however, things won't look particularly good. Draw distance and pop-in is a massive issue, with lots of poor texture filtering and aliasing that plague the overall world of Dynasty Warriors 9. When things get dark thanks to its dynamic weather system - which actually looks pretty nice when it's raining - it becomes rather difficult to see, though lit torches and small fires in the distance have a nice radiant bloom that I find appealing when its contrasted against the pitch black night sky.
While Dynasty Warriors 9 has a massive cast of characters to choose from - over 80 in fact - the will to go around and play as all of them is fairly low with its poor performance and repetitive nature. While the characters themselves certainly have their own personalities, Koei Tecmo has unfortunately chosen to hide many of the better weapons behind paid DLC, making the stock assets and moves have no real unique qualities and every moment of action feeling familiar and old. Another quality the characters have in this entry, or what lack thereof, is the voice acting. I've always appreciated the Chinese history of Dynasty Warriors, so having the option to play it in that language is a no-brainer for me. It makes it authentic and a lot more immersive. The voice acting for Chinese fits extremely well, but out of curiosity after a couple hours of playing I wanted to see what the other languages sounded like. I set it to Japanese, and while it wasn't bad, it bothered me having Japanese in a Chinese setting. Lastly was English. Within 60 seconds - and I mean 60 seconds - I had to turn it off from how unbearable and out of place it was. Truthfully, it wasn't even out of place because it was English. It was out of place because the tone and quality of the voices that came out of most of their mouths were so baffling it hurt my ears. Within 20 seconds of the 60 seconds I had the English voices enabled, I heard Shrek speak to Captain Ginyu about saving royalty, whom then proceeded to argue with what sounded like a constipated Fred Flintstone and Winnie the Pooh. I was so shocked by the abhorrent voice acting that I knew right away I had made a terrible, terrible mistake and had to turn it off. The issue, however? In order to do that, you'll have to go all the way back to the start menu, exiting your game. This is needed to switch between Action Mode and Movie Mode as well, meanwhile quite literally everything else besides those two, pertinent options that most people will want to play around with to get their ideal and optimal gameplay experience is available directly from your settings in-game.
It's unfortunate to see such a prolific and long-running franchise succumb to Western appeasement by making a game like this open world, and while it does have its moments, the untapped potential and utter emptiness of it all - including the massive gaps in between anything - cripple the overall experience. It saddens me because I wish we would have more historical Asian settings, but I guess for now we'll just have to wait on Ghost of Tsushima and see what that does for us. Dynasty Warriors 9 isn't a bad game by gaming standards, it's just bad by Musou standards. There are things to find and enjoy, but the banal nature and asking price for a fake open world where you'll be doing more walking than intense action sequences, the main gimmick of Musou titles, and it's not something I can recommend with the likes of Fire Emblem Warriors out and Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition around the corner—vastly superior games that are phenomenal for newcomers and fans alike.
- Charismatic characters, both veterans and new faces, create a great cast to explore and play with.
- Omega Force's hack and slash prowess is still here to impress and set bars
- Poor performance that hinders the experience, fluctuating from as low as 15FPS to 40FPS, never truly hitting 60FPS despite titles dating all the way back to PS2 targeting 60.
- Empty and uninspired world that's much bigger than it should be, making it a nuisance to travel from place to place
- Offensively bad English voice acting
- Graphics also seem much worse than what has been advertised for some reason
- Season pass
A big thank you to Koei Tecmo for giving us the opportunity to review Dynasty Warriors 9