The Interesting New Battle Design of Dynasty Warriors 9
Another new Dynasty Warriors game is out and I've played 5 hours of the Xbox version, and about 2 hours on PC. So this is nowhere near a review.
The battle design in the new game is awesome. I've seen a lot of reviews that go on and on about how the battles/level design are broken in this newest entry...and in my opinion, that's just not true.
This is the first true change the battle design has seen in years.
The Warriors/Musou franchise has over 60 freaking entries if we count licensed spin-offs, and it's such a relief to see one try something different.
I'm a big fan of these games, but not in the way that some of the truly hardcore are. I don't mind when Koei and Omega Force mix things up. I don't care if the weapons change. I don't care if the combat system changes. I'm saying this so you know where I'm coming from.
THE OLD DAYS
In pretty much every other Warriors game, each level is a self-contained battlefield of largish size that has about 8 or 9 forts and one main encampment. Some games have objectives that dynamically appear around the battlefield and help to steer you in the right direction, others just want you to systematically clear the forts one at a time till you get to the last one. There might be mini-bosses in certain locations, or temporary environmental hazards...but every level is more or less the same:
You watch a cutscene, you enter the battlefield, you clear your way from fort to fort fighting lots of enemies, and you fight the last guy in the last area...and then you watch another cutscene and the level ends.
That's the way these games have worked for twenty years.
In spite of numerous attempts to mix things up a little bit, it's been nothing but marching from level to level fighting all the guys.
And to be fair, I really like this. It has an old-school charm and a focus that's undeniably appealing. But they've done it SIXTY TIMES.
Dynasty Warriors 9 keeps the core concept of a battle with forts...and blows the scale wide open.
THE NEW WAY
DW9 is the first mainline Warriors game with a proper open world. The game is set in a vast recreation of ancient China that you're more or less free to explore, even during "main" missions.
The same hallmark battles from Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the ancient novel that serves as the basis for the game series, are all present in DW9. But now, instead of being limited to one level (or a few levels like some of the older games tried), each battle is now spread across an appropriate chunk of the open world.
As before, these battles have a main objective, which is usually a big bad guy or lady in a big palace you have to fight. They also have secondary objectives that serve as side quests located in the region of the battle. When you complete these sidequests, it lowers the difficulty of the main objective by lowering the character level of the bad guy and his/her associated warriors.
Character levels are important to winning battles! If you try to fight someone who is 10 levels higher than you, your normal attacks have no effect. So that's kind of cool. And it makes leveling up and doing side missions feel important.
And there are still forts to take over. In fact, the whole battle now dynamically rages on around the battlefield, with AI soldiers jockeying for control of territory and pushing the front line back and forth as you work your way through objectives.
The result is a system that's so much more dynamic and alive than the older games it's frankly amazing. Battles have a truly large scope to them now. Instead of thousands of guys being packed into one small map or fort, thousands of guys are now marching dynamically around a battlefield trying to hinder or help you as you complete your objectives and take over forts.
Some reviews complained that they could rush to the last guy and just kill him and win the battle. That's technically possible, but not always super easy. I like that the game gives the player this freedom. You're able to take over whatever bases you're able to, and complete all the sidequests to make the main quest easier...or you can totally just try and fight the guy you're technically underpowered to fight whenever you want.
It's more interesting and open-ended than any other Dynasty Warriors game.
In breaking free of the level-based format, they've made the geography of the battles easier to understand, and they've given the basic strategy layer a much larger, more interesting area to thrive and wriggle around in.
I like to open up the map, see how the battle is going, and act accordingly. I try to take out enemy forts as I work my way towards the side objectives. Then, if I need to power up, I'll fall back and do some fishing or material collection so I can improve my horse, stats, and weapons.
It's a lot of fun. And it feels like a successful collection of systems and not just a bunch of levels and menus.
WHAT ABOUT TIME?
Dynasty Warriors 9 tries a clever new solution. Each battle is contained in a chapter, and each time you finish a chapter...time advances to a new year or era. This allows the developers to tell a sweeping story without worrying about making time make sense in the world itself moment to moment. Though there is still a day/night cycle and that does have an impact on character behavior.
Sometimes these time jumps push you to a different part of the map, or even unlock a whole new set of available characters. Also, each character has their own specific through-line and story, with their own specific ending that's appropriate to the years they lived in real history/in the novel.
The game has a mind-boggling amount of writing, and I'm happy that it acknowledges time through its use of chapters and eras, rather than trying to present decades of history as one continuous event that takes place over a few weeks like most open world games.
I'll have a full review of this coming once I've finished a few characters' stories...but I kind of love this game so far. It's very different from the other sixty freaking games in this franchise. The combat system is new. The character voices are new. And the open world allows the battles the room to breathe in a way they never have before.
And yes, admittedly, once you get good enough you could just choose to try and skip to the last boss every time. But I'm never going to slag on a game for giving me that kind of freedom.