Dynasty Warriors will always have a special place in my heart, as it will for many of us who enjoy mowing down hundreds of enemy soldiers with one stroke, like so much corn before the blade of the reaper. Dynasty Warriors 9 does some really cool new things, and there's more than enough for stalwart fans to enjoy, but it's unlikely to worm its way into any new affections.
My enthusiasm for the story and characters like ya boi Gan Ning surprised my coworkers (apparently constantly referring to ya boi Gan Ning as ya boi Gan Ning was worthy of some comment). Dynasty Warriors tells the same story slightly differently with each release: the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a decades-long conflict between three great warring states in China at the end of the Han dynasty. You choose to play as a character from either Wei, Shu or Wu and partake in famous battles from Chinese history with some added mythic flair and hilariously over-the-top weapons. For DW9 the main story is 13 chapters long, which you can replay again as a character from a different state (or, indeed, no state, as there are some other characters, like the infamous angry eyebrowed scourge of battlefields everywhere Lu Bu, who have no particular allegiances). Some battles will progress in the same way, while for others you get a completely different outcome or point of view. There are a lot of characters, and they're all lovingly designed – they're probably the best looking part of the game, like bright, jewelled birds running around a landscape that's almost entirely green/grey/brown.
In an effort to change things up, DW9 has a new open world map. Where before you would fight a battle on a standalone map of that particular battlefield, paying attention to the ebb and flow of the red and blue forces on your minimap, this time your map is… China. On a small scale, anyway, and you can see the same ebb and flow of troops and bases to capture on a grander scale. One extremely good feature is that this time morale plays a much larger role. If your job is to defeat, say, the tyrant Dong Zhuo, then you can go straight to where he's positioned and try and defeat him or you can do some side quests along the way to capture some enemy siege weapons, cut off supply lines, or secure a back route through the mountains, which will lower enemy morale and, crucially, lower the difficulty of the fight and Dong Zhuo's power overall. It's actually a lot of fun picking which route to victory you'll take.
Elsewhere, the map adds breadth but removes depth. The world is large, but functional rather than beautiful to be in, and delivers a few bugs as open worlds often do. The size of the map means the multiplayer option from previous games is gone, as you couldn't have two players running around at different ends of a country. You can hunt, fish, and gather resources for crafting gear and consumable items, but they don't make especially compelling or necessary additions. The same goes for the optional quests from townsfolk and the little hideaways you can buy and furnish.
At its core Dynasty Warriors remains enjoyable, with stun, knock down and launch attacks all able to be customised with orbs to add status effects or buffs, leading to unimaginably long hit streaks as you, a tiny girl or perhaps a giant man with a mace the size of your own body, juggle dozens of opponents in the air. But parts of DW9 stray too far from the core, leading to a game with a few too many ups and downs.
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Available on: Xbox One, PC, PS4 (reviewed on)
Release Date: February 13, 2018