Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires Review
What? Everyone’s getting tired? Fine, we’ll withdraw once.
As someone who has avidly played a plethora of games, scattered amongst a wide selection of unique genres and subgenres, I can disappointingly say that I have never truly ventured far into the genre of hack 'n' slash, until now. It was a refreshing feeling that when entering this genre, I got to approach it with a familiar face from my PlayStation 2-filled youth. The familiar face being Dynasty Warriors, a game I had little hands-on experience with but remember by title alone.
Being a product of Koei Tecmo, a studio so influential within the hack ‘n' slash genre, a new sub-genre called Musou was invented just to describe its style of production for hack 'n' slash titles. Its signature styling is known for commonly employing a fast-paced fluid combat design, combined with a unique style of historic Chinese-inspired combat. Both aspects contribute to the player getting absorbed into an enjoyable, yet stylised gameplay loop, while also delivering minor elements of customisation and strategy, before launching the player into their match.
To many, Koei Tecmo Studio’s style of hack 'n' slash may sound overly familiar, and you wouldn’t be wrong in saying that. The unique spin on it comes from their empire's expansion—an expanded release of their current Dynasty Warriors game. It’s a separately released game which combines elements of an open-world, turn-based JRPG, combat simulation, and turn-based strategy to give you a feeling of immersion and challenge as you conquer mainland China from 184 AD to 228 AD (with add-ons expanding the timeline as far as 263 AD). The diverse combination of gameplay elements found within Empires can sound ambitious for a game release that is just a "hack ‘n’ slash." Its attempts at bringing this fusion of genres together are well-received by some fans, but in practice the feedback is, at best, mixed.
And sadly, not much has changed, with Empires doing little to nothing to address previous criticisms that befell its predecessor. Visually, the game is plagued with bland and poorly designed environments. Its usage of a small selection of modelled entities and a lack of variety with environmental textures, combined with a low render distance (which can’t be altered within the visual settings!), has led to its unappealing visuals and bland environments. Yet, despite the lowv effort being put into the visuals, its 3D character modelling and rigging are worthy of praise, with many of the predesigned playable characters appearing to have received a greater allocation of effort.
However, disappointment returns with the visuals once you go beyond the character selection. The longer you play, the more you realise that every non-playable character (playable characters aside) is the same person, with the selection of two different helmets or no helmet at all. There’s no issue with the reuse of a character model for a standardl and minor enemy, but when the pool of assets is limited to one model, that can take away greatly from the visual immersion. Entering combat to slaughter thousands of the same conscripted peasant, just with different colours to help identify faction association, can get dull.
Contrasting the dull and bland visuals is Empires’ gameplay, which delivers both a janky and burdensome mess of interesting mechanics. The core gameplay has its enjoyable moments, which can easily leave you feeling mixed — as it’s not impossible for someone to look through its unpolished exterior and see what a unique gameplay loop it has to offer. What it has to offer is the ability to give you a rush of excitement as you annihilate your way through hordes of enemies to fight their commander, and then the political intrigue that could follow from either the victory or loss of that epic battle. Its issues come from what is in-between those two moments and the unnecessary addition of content, though.
It is suffering from what could best be described as bloated game design and the implementation of content just for the sake of implementing it. Its added game elements, such as the open world, are condensed into nothing more than an option to leave a secondary menu in the turn-based strategy portion of the game, allowing you to run around an empty ghost-town, doing things which could easily be accessed from that same menu you left. Disappointingly, many aspects of the game's mechanics appear to be stripped down or lacking purpose, such as interacting with uniquely designed NPCs, which is nothing more than pressing the interact button, and getting a single quick line of flavour text. Then the many options within the turn-based strategy menu boil down to you doing nothing but spamming the same three options to get the same stylized dialogue, so you can continue to quickly level your character up to stay on par with the AI’s levels.
The moments you may enjoy, though, shine through while on the battlefield. It’s mindlessly fun to just overwhelm hordes of enemies while using one of a large assortment of weapons to brutally induce combos on your opponents. It’s the intense moments of storming the walled city gates — then leading an onslaught against the opposing army —which can make the overburdened and confusing strategy aspects of the game almost feel worth it. Yet, Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires asks the player to overlook many issues which affect the experience as a whole, and the issues they want you to overlook are deeply rooted in poor game design, and unforgivingly rough visuals.
Conceptually, the game is a great idea — with the fusion of genres allowing for an experience that is unlikely to be offered elsewhere. Overall, the game is over-ambitious and cheaply made, with core features of the experience feeling like an afterthought on the part of the developers. It’s disappointing to see, and hopefully the loyal Dynasty Warriors fans will one day get the game they deserve.
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