Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires - History Repeating
PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One
I always think of Dynasty Warriors a lot like I do about Monster Hunter. They’re both good series that tend to attract a certain crowd, and also keep to their strengths a fair bit. To the untrained eye, all the games in the series seem the same as well. Not to me though. I’ve earned my stripes with both of these series. Where Monster Hunter broke out of this mould when it took some drastic gameplay shifts with World, to rein it back into their core with those new players with Rise, Dynasty Warriors tried to mix up the gameplay with Dynasty Warriors 9 but did not meet the same successes.
Where Dynasty Warriors-style games (or “Musou“ as they are referred to) are interesting though is that there is so many themes and focusses that the net is cast decently wide that once someone finds a game that clicks with them, they can potentially use some of the spin-off games as stepping stones to the mainline games, if they like.
The Empires flavour of Dynasty Warriors retains a lot of the core of the series, but (if I may stretch the metaphor) has the spice of strategy elements. Between missions you’ll spend time managing your empire. Training officers to increase their merit, conscripting the populace into the army, upgrading your defences, or bribing the enemy officers to name but a few. Each of these actions takes a month of your time, so it’s important to think about what you need both short and long-term. Ignoring your officers might lead to some defecting, or starting a militia and trying to overthrow you. Without food in store, you’re going to have a tough time attacking and defending against other territories. Maybe you won’t have enough officers to support a larger army, making you a juicy target to attack, and making your defence all the more difficult.
Missions can be broken down to a fairly simple loop though; try and initiate your secret plan by completing an objective, stop the enemy from doing their secret plan, then work out how to storm the stronghold and take out the boss. Every single mission has this loop. Don’t get me wrong, I dig the maps and am glad they dialled back the huge empty open world that was conceptually interesting by realistically awful in Dynasty Warriors 9, but the variety in mission type can be a bit of a slog. Taking the stronghold is the most varied part, where you can take all of the wall bases to unlock the ability to scale the wall, run into the base and open the gate, or you can defend the battering ram to open the gate, or you can use a siege tower to climb the wall and handle the gate from there. All of this is managed by taking and holding bases, and by shooing away enemy officers. Benefit there is that each time you defeat an officer, the higher the chance you ‘capture’ them, which means they won’t respawn after a few minutes, and post-battle you can try and recruit them or execute them.
The morale system appears in form of a troop counter. It’s not actually representative of the amount of troops you have on the field. Think of it more like a difficulty scale, where if it’s too high you’ll have a huge amount of difficulty taking out bases, and Officers will do more damage and take less from you. Weirdly though, it doesn’t feel like it works amazingly in your favour if you’ve got overwhelming odds, partly due to how damn useless your own Officers are. I wish you could ignore your own troops and leave them to their own devices, I really do. But as soon as you leave them be, they seem to get into trouble and require your assistance. You could leave them alone, but there’s a chance when they are defeated they will be captured or killed outright, which is bad news. Your bases also seem to get overrun very quickly, so battles trend toward putting out a million small fires before they turn into big ones. It’s hectic, for sure, but that can be enjoyable too.
My biggest peeve with the game comes down the Create-a-Warrior though (CAW), or Custom Officers. The interface is pretty good, and quite comprehensive, I believe it’s been lifted from Nioh, which I can live with. The amount of armour customisation is a bit lacking, but I have little doubt in my mind there’s comprehensive DLC plans for the future though, take that as you will. My complaint (outside of lack of cool and customisable armour) is around the actual CAW creations themselves. In previous games you could really make your own story with your CAW. Fighting on both sides of combats, being a mercenary, taking territory etc. In this game you can only try and recruit a few people and overthrow a territory and start your empire from there. That’s not what I want at all! Aside from this, you can’t even mix-and-match musou attacks for your CAW, which means you’re pretty much just a carbon copy of an existing Officer, only that you look different. Very disappointing.
I did really enjoy the Politics system, but it’s a bit limited too. It’s really fun to bribe Officers over to your side, or to sabotage their defences, but where is the ability to wholesale convert a territory to your side? Why can’t you make the populace so annoyed with their leader that they overthrow them? Hell, why do I have to participate in every battle? I thought the reason I put some damn Officers in charge, especially with a large military presence is so that they can handle stuff when I am away. Every time I am dragged off to some battle to defend, my main territory is left just a bit weaker due to my absence.
Being close to a franchise is hard. On one hand, I have to deal with my nostalgia and my love of the genre, but on the other I can see most of its flaws and I have to consider their weight. Finding out whether you love or hate a game in a series you’re familiar with is a constant struggle where you’re trying to disconnect yourself from your biases and see the game from both a new players viewpoint, as well as that from returning players.
Here’s the rub; I had good fun with Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires. I did. Do I wish it was better? God, yes. There’s a bunch of recycling here in terms of content, cutscenes, and a lot of the CAW content seems a bit phoned it, especially due to the fact there has been years since Dynasty Warriors 9. No multiplayer either, which I don’t particularly care about, but is a deal breaker for some. That’s what it boils down to. It’s fun, but man, it’s hard not wishing it could be better with different decisions made during the design process.
Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires, was reviewed on PC with a Steam code provided by the publisher