Dynasty Warriors 9 is often heralded as a misstep for the series. As a whole, fans were not happy with the changes that were implemented between games, and few people expected the entry to get an ‘Empires’ rework. Alas, here we are and Empires is with us. Question is, does it fix the rotten core of the ninth entry?
Not Your Typical Musou
Unlike your traditional ‘Warriors‘ game, Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires skips the story for the most part. It assumes you know about Romance Of The Three Kingdoms. By extension, it also assumes you know the difference between your Cao Cao’s, Liu Bei’s, and Sun Jian’s.
Despite this general lack of narrative, Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires does let you play through several different scenarios in its main mode – Conquest. Each scenario is set during a specific period, such as the Yellow Turban Rebellion. These add a bit of context to what you are doing, even if most of what you are doing is the same.
You can’t have a Dynasty Warriors game without 1v1000 battles, and Empires doesn’t disappoint in this regard. Going to battle against thousands of mooks, and countless generals is par for the course, and it holds up well here. Combat is fast and fluid, and whilst it isn’t exactly deep, it has the odd bell.
Combat is mostly a two-button affair, with one button dedicated to slapping things with your weapon, and another dedicated to slapping things – but with more passion. Combine these two buttons in basic combinations, and your chosen character will dispatch over everything standing in a 10-metre radius.
Sprinklings Of Depth
It’s satisfying on a ‘turn your brain off’ level, but there’s more for those who want to engage. Secret Plans are cooldown-based abilities that you can customise to your heart’s content. These can range from summoning a localised nuke to blast apart formations, to powerful buffs to juice up your character. Skills on the other hand let you launch, knockdown, and stun your foes.
Mixing these with your basic hacking and slashing can lead to some devastating combos, and can offset any disadvantage you bump into. Swinging away mindlessly will only get you so far – especially on harder difficulties. This is especially true when it comes to winning wars and ending sieges.
Killing everything in sight is rarely the answer, and even when it is, it’s seldom efficient. The meat and potatoes of Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires is siege combat. Killing random dudes won’t get you through those reinforced gates, and this is where the freedom of a fully open map shines through.
Do you want to scale walls with grappling hooks and destroy the defenders from within? Do you want to build siege towers? How about catapults? Battering rams? The choice is always yours, and depending on what you choose, your role on the battlefield will change. Your targets and priorities will change with it.
To make things even more interesting, Empires allows you to channel your inner mastermind and set secret objectives, creatively called ‘Secret Plans’. Unlike the previously mentioned Secret Plans, Secret Plans allow you to call in reinforcements, build uber-siege machinery, and more, on the timed completion of a specific task within a stage. Your opponent will also have their Secret Plans which you will want to thwart. There are dozens of Secret Plans to find, and each one adds a little bit of spice to the game’s repetitive formula.
This leads to the game’s biggest flaw – the lack of content. Siege battles are incredibly repetitive – even with Secret Plans and multiple paths to victory. Once you’ve played a handful, you’ve played them all. I found myself quickly growing tired of the formula and had to take breaks from playing the game frequently. To the game’s credit, I also came back ready to conquer more of China.
This is almost entirely down to Empires’ fantastic kingdom management systems. When you aren’t on the field of battle you are in the war room. Depending on your role, you will help dictate the future of China. You will decide which territories to invade, which kingdoms to ally with, which generals should receive promotions, and where your armies should be posted.
Not Just About Hitting Stuff
War is a small part of Empires, whilst managing the war effort takes up most of your time. Armies can’t march on an empty stomach, and they can’t be raised with dwindling coffers. Expand too greedily, and you won’t have the resources required to maintain control of that land. It’s gripping stuff, and there is real depth here.
This system is expanded even further depending on who you choose to play as in any given scenario. You can choose to be a Ruler, a General, or even some nameless lackey. Rulers get the final say on all decisions, generals can try and advise an NPC ruler, whilst lackeys don’t get much say and are just a small cog in a greater plan.
Being a Ruler is the best way to experience the game, as it gives you full control over your kingdom, management, and all that jazz, but this is closely followed by being just some mook. Being more of a pawn is interesting, and it can lead to some interesting progression opportunities. You could act like a mercenary or a rebellious leader – overthrowing the powers that be and carving your own legend. You can even create your own character- which is a nice touch.
Unfortunately, Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires suffers from a technical standpoint. The game looks pretty enough when in motion, although the copious amounts of popup, and the lack of texture detail do hamper the overall experience. This is made worse by frequent frame-rate issues, screen tearing, and other graphical hiccups that make the game feel unfinished. Loading was also frequent, and lengthy. This was on PS5, so I can imagine these issues are exacerbated on Switch and last-gen consoles.
When all is said and done, Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires was a lot of fun in short bursts. Siege warfare is fun but repetitive, whilst the kingdom management elements are incredibly addictive and contain most of the game’s depth. Had the game run better, and had a bit more variety to the combat, this could have been something special. As it stands, this is a solid entry in a long-running series full of mostly-solid entries.
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