Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires Review (PS5)

Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires Review: Musou Madness

 

Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires

To the surprise of nobody who has paid any attention to the release cadence the Dynasty Warriors franchise has adopted over the years, Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires has finally hit western shores. Mainline entry, Dynasty Warriors 9, was originally released to a tepid reception back in 2018, with its much-hyped transition to an open-world format doing little to move the series forward in a meaningful fashion. Can returning to the strategic framework of the Empire’s companion series do enough to make this era of Dynasty Warriors a more appealing proposition? Let’s find out.

 

The Strategic Sibling To The Mainline Series

 

Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires

For anyone who has played an entry in the Empires spin-off series before, Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires will hold little in the way of surprises. This somewhat more complicated product has always supplemented Omega Force’s tried and tested 1 vs. 1000 formula with a more strategic backdrop, reducing the narrative focus on the struggle for power during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history and instead focusing more on providing a sandbox-style experience.

If you have played an Empires game before, the core mode, Conquest, will be largely familiar. If you haven’t dabbled in this side of the franchise before, however, Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires is likely to overwhelm in those opening hours.

Creating your own character or taking control of one of the series mainstays (Lu Bu for life!), you’ll jump into one of the several scenarios available, each dropping you into a different stage of the Three Kingdoms conflict. Whichever scenario you pick, the ultimate goal remains the same; to grow your chosen kingdom and take control of China.

There are numerous ways to achieve this. You’re free to play the lone ranger, setting up your own personalized foothold as you grow in power, or you can align with one of the Generals of the established kingdoms, working your way through their ranks, and perhaps, even going on to become General yourself. Whichever route you choose, your time with Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires will involve a lot of digging around through menus and micromanaging the expansion of your chosen kingdom.

 

Systems Upon Systems

 

Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires

What this means in practice is, officers must be recruited, your economy and food rations need to be balanced, your armies’ numbers need to be maintained and, paid for their efforts. On top of that, you’ll have to take over new territories in your quest for domination, and also defend your own territories should a move on your own turf be made by the enemy. Of course, those are just the core systems as well; to aid in your core goals, you’ll create alliances with other kingdoms to prevent invasions, build relationships with your own troops and officers to enhance their usefulness in battle, and, if you’re so inclined, even get married.

It’s a lot, and Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires does little to explain the many systems at play. There is a tutorial menu in-game, but beyond some basic high-level explanations, they don’t go far enough in explaining the deeper side of the game’s strategic elements. And that’s probably the biggest criticism I have; the onboarding process is extremely unforgiving.

Persevere through those opening hours, though, and you might find yourself pleasantly surprised. The Empires series has always felt like a more cerebral take on the franchise, designed to offer something more to get your teeth into for those who want something more than the mindless action the Musou combat provides.

 

Best In Class Musou Combat

 

Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires

That’s not to say that the combat doesn’t stand on its own. Combat has always been the core pillar of the Dynasty Warriors franchise and has typically felt excellent, and that remains the case in Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires.

Having recently played through Hyrule Warriors on the Switch, where performance absolutely detracted from the core experience, jumping into the PS5 build of Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires was a revelation. Running at a smooth 60fps, that to my untrained eye, felt almost flawless. I feel confident in saying that this is the best feeling Musou game I’ve ever played. Movement feels fluid, animations look great, and the PS5 hardware is effortlessly able to render the hundreds of on-screen enemies that bombard you at once.

On a mechanical level, it’s business as usual. Basic attacks and signature Musou attacks are mapped to face buttons, with special moves, stun and launch attacks also mapped to the face buttons, albeit requiring the use of the shoulder buttons to access the special move palette. It’s an incredibly accessible set-up, and I’m glad that the combat is one area of the game which Omega Force seems reluctant to mess with, in any sort of material manner. For me, the Dynasty Warriors series is at its best when I’m able to feel like a total badass, effortlessly cutting down entire armies in a matter of minutes. The lack of complexity in the combat is the appeal, for me at least.

 

Lacking Mission Variety

 

Whereas I’m all for Omega Force leaving the combat untouched, I do wish more was done to update the mission structure. Missions come in two types, either defend or invade. Regardless of whether you find yourself invading or defending, the objective remains the same; capture strategic points on the map, giving yourself control of weapon bases containing catapults or battering rams, before taking out the opposing General.

It’s a formula we have seen used repeatedly over the years, and for me, at least, it is beginning to wear thin. It’s not a deal-breaker by any means given how engrossing and satisfying the combat and strategy side of things are. However, it would be nice if Omega Force would focus a little more on set pieces to break up the monotony, something the likes of Hyrule Warriors managed fairly successfully.

Overall, though, it’s the combat and political sandbox that will have players flocking towards Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires, and thankfully, both these assets are so strong that repetitive mission structure feels like a very minor gripe in the grand scheme of things.

 

Course Correction For the Series

 

Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires

One of the biggest criticisms leveled at the original mainline release of Dynasty Warriors 9 was the redundant, empty, and lifeless open world. It came across as a cheap, low-effort way to capitalize on the popularity of open-world games and to also give the illusion that efforts were being made to evolve the franchise.

Having now dumped substantial hours into Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires, critics of the move to open world will be delighted to know that it seems that Omega Force has itself, recognized that this was a bit of a failed experiment. The wide-open map has been deemphasized to the point where you would be forgiven for not even realizing that you were playing a game with an open world in it. It’s still there, sort of, with players now having the ability to go on strolls around various cities whilst they interact and socialize with their officers, companions, and townsfolk. Whilst on these excursions, it is still possible to go off the beaten path and explore, but this can now totally be ignored. As for battles themselves, they adopt a much more traditional approach, with battles being selected from a menu before taking place in a pre-determined section of the map.

Thankfully all your political and strategic scheming is done purely through menu screens also. I had concerns that I’d be forced to interact with the open world, having to travel to different areas to engage with different functions and systems. I’m glad this isn’t the case, and I hope that in all but eliminating the open world, Omega Force will instead renew its focus and iterate on the core pillars of the franchise that everyone loves, rather than try to shoehorn in features based on popular trends in gaming.

 

Conclusion

 

 

Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires almost feels like Omega Force trying to apologize for the misstep that was Dynasty Warriors 9. Whilst, admittedly, very little has been done to move the Empires series forward, I think this is exactly what Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires needed to be; comfort food for fans of the franchise who may have been concerned about the trajectory the franchise was on, following the failed open-world experiment. By focusing on providing a familiar blend of strategy and impeccable combat, Omega Force has delivered an experience that feels like it has the interests of the fans at its core. Where Omega Force goes from here with both the mainline entries and subsequent Empires games remains to be seen, but for now, fans can at least enjoy this return to form.


Final Verdict: 4/5

Available On: PS5 (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox Series S/X, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC; Publisher: Koei Tecmo; Developer: Omega Force;  Players 1; Released: February 15, 2022; MSRP: $59.99; ESRB: T for Teen

Full Disclosure: This review is based on a code provided by the publisher

Shane Boyle
Shane's passion for gaming began many moons ago upon receiving his first console, Sega's Master System. These days, he games across a variety of systems, though he primarily sticks to his PlayStation 5 and Series X. Despite enjoying a wide variety of genres, he has a huge soft spot for RPGs, both Western and Japanese, whilst also being a self-professed Destiny 2 addict. Outside of gaming, Shane enjoys live music (as long as it's rock or metal!) and going to stand-up comedy shows, and is also Father to a little boy who he hopes will one day be raiding alongside him in Destiny!

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