Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires Review: Just Say No
Dynasty Warriors has been my jam since Dynasty Warriors 3 on PlayStation 2, and you can bet your buns I've played every primary game and expansion since then (aside from Dynasty Warriors 6 and its ilk). As a fan of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novels and Koei Tecmo's strategy game series of the same name, the Empires expansions have traditionally been my favorites. You get to slay hundreds of enemies per stage, and you get to unify China. Usually, that's a win-win.
But my disdain for Dynasty Warriors 9 is reasonably well-documented. It is an ill-conceived attempt at bringing the series into the modern era via a barren open world with combat even less satisfying than previous entries. Despite how much I dislike Dynasty Warriors 9, I've still spent over 90 hours in the thing.
Being a glutton for punishment, I was cautiously optimistic about Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires. There was nowhere for it to go but up from the base game. And my hopes have been dashed.
Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires Review: Just Say No
Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires is not worse than the base game. Some may consider that a win, but it is roughly just as bad as vanilla Dynasty Warriors 9.
You may notice below that I've given Empires a 4 out of 10, an entire point higher than what I gave DW9. However, that's mainly because the whole Empires formula adds some extra layers of complexity to something otherwise disappointing on a deep, spiritual level to anyone who's been playing the Dynasty Warriors series for a long time.
My favorite Empires title is Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires. I enjoy the relatively steady flow of its management portions, but the combat and making good use of strategems to capture bases and survive is where it's really at. Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires would have usurped it, but the PlayStation 3 version freezes frequently enough to make it unplayable.
Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires brings with it the paltry weapon variety and spammy, unsatisfying combat found in Dynasty Warriors 9, complementing it with toilsome menus, an oversimplified stratagem system, and more loading screens than I have the patience to sit through.
To try and make up for these missteps, DW9E adds the ability to bond with officers, renowned or otherwise, alongside a new secret plan mechanic that relies on bonds with other officers to trigger complex strategies that could turn the tide of battle. These mechanics sounds fun in concept but do not make up for one simple fact: capturing bases is now easy as pie. Doing so no longer feels worthwhile, even if your forces use them to better defend themselves or push along whatever the objective is.
Previously, capturing bases would grant food, and slaying enemy officers would grant buffs. These mechanics make everything worth the effort and, more importantly, necessary for survival. In Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires, enemy officers drop gems and equipment, and the survival aspect is trivialized by including healing and buffing stratagems.
You clear out bases because the game tells you to, not because turning them into functional stations has any real benefit.
Then there's the grappling hook. In a game like Empires, where you're meant to go with the flow of combat and overtake enemies through capturing bases and completing objectives, you can still use your trusty grappling hook to go right over walls and beat the hell out of the enemy commander in some instances. Though they're often super buffed, that should be nothing for your essentially infinite crowd control combos, making an easy mechanic all the easier.
So what about character creation? Isn't part of the fun in these games always character creation? Yes! But sadly, not here.
Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires has what's best described as a lackluster character creator even by the series' standards. The prettier visuals compared to previous entries initially mask a depressingly basic character creation tool.
There are lots of sliders for facial structure and options for other features, but the clothing and armor options are a short, unimpressive list. It is hard to forgive when you so often see your character in full combat garb rather than just staring at their face.
The character creator also makes it impossible to ignore the lack of weapon selection in Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires. I cannot say whether additional weapons were added from the base game, but I can say the list of weapons is disappointing. Usually, I make several custom characters in these games and run custom scenarios with them, but I cannot fathom bothering with so few options in this iteration.
Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires — The Bottom Line
- The basic Empires strategy gameplay is fine and the same as ever.
- Collaborating with other officers in doing your civic duties feels comparatively worthwhile.
- Secret plans are kind of fun.
- More loading screens than you can shake a ring blade at.
- Recycled cutscenes from the base game.
- Unsatisfying combat, from combos to the stratagem system.
- Lackluster character creation.
- Washed-out, ugly visuals.
- Weak weapon variety.
No part of me wanted to dislike Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires, much like I didn't want to dislike Dynasty Warriors 9. I had hope, maybe a bit of faith, that Omega Force could redeem itself with Empires as the expansion did with Dynasty Warriors 7. But that's just not the case. The basic framework of Dynasty Warriors 9 is a crippling factor that plagues every non-menu aspect and consistently makes it worse than it could be otherwise.
Dynasty Warriors 9 and its Empires expansion are destined to be forgotten, just like the disastrous Dynasty Warriors 6. How the myriad of franchise Musou games that have been released are so much better than the series that put Omega Force on the map is entirely beyond me.
Maybe Dynasty Warriors has just gone on too long; there are only so many ways to tell the same tale and upgrade the basic gameplay. Dynasty Warriors 8 understands the process, but that game came out eight years ago. Time marches on while it seems Dynasty Warriors marches backward.
It's more apparent than ever that the gamble on an open-world engine and gameplay has been a total bust; neither Dynasty Warriors 9 nor DW9 Empires needed to be made. Romance of the Three Kingdoms has suffered in just the same way under Koei Tecmo from Rot3K 12 to Rot3K 14. It seems they've forgotten what made these two series fun in the first place.
[Note: Koei Tecmo provided a copy of Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires for the purpose of this review.]