The Dynasty Warriors series has been kicking around for a long time. It’s a legacy series, like the Final Fantasy games or Metal Gear, and it has a lot of fans who have been following it since Dynasty Warriors 2 made the decision to restage Romance of the Three Kingdoms as a sprawling brawler that put you in the shoes of famous historico-mythological Chinese characters. As such, this series has lots and lots of people who are invested in it and want this game to get it right, where “right” is defined as highlighting all the things that the fan community enjoyed about the previous games and eliminating all the things that are bad. As I’ve been able to ascertain over the past couple weeks, Dynasty Warriors 9 has apparently not managed to do those things, and it is being annihilated on the internet for not meeting the standards set by its fan community.
I don’t count myself as a part of the Dynasty Warriors fan community. I’ve played several of the games, with most of my time dedicated to the PlayStation 2’s Dynasty Warriors 4, and I have always enjoyed them. If you’re like me, then you think of these games as idle sandboxes where you can spend your time playing through a classic story and destroying hundreds and hundreds of enemy troops. It’s the kind of game that I would have played while listening to music in the past; the current iteration gets to be overridden by podcasts. I enjoy the broad strokes of the Dynasty Warriors games. I like reading the text that appears on-screen to educate me about whatever is happening in the plot. I like avoiding Lu Bu. I am the most casual player of Dynasty Warriors that you can imagine, and within that framework, I think that Dynasty Warriors 9 is pretty good.
The most dramatic change that has come with this iteration of the franchise is the introduction of an open world. Ironically, we live in a world where “open world” does a lot of work as a buzzword and very little work to actually tell you what is happening in a game, so, for clarity: The battles that used to exist on single maps in the Dynasty Warriors games are now spread out over a large, connected world. This large world is populated with fighters and the fighting that they do, but it also has all of the trapping of some kind of version of the real world. There are rocks and gems for you to find scattered across the ground, various different versions of herbs and vegetables to grab, and a whole host of other things to find spread out in this connected vista.
To players of previous games in the series, this might seem a little weird. Why add all of these things? I don’t know. It does not seem to add much to the game. Unlike other critics, however, I don’t think it subtracts much from the experience. I can still ride up a road on my horse and attack enemies on sight, taking small bases and encampments from them so as to ensure that my army will be able to progress in a timely manner to support me in the big bad boss battle that will surely happen at the end of the large mission that I am on. For my purposes, these open world changes don’t make much of a difference at all. I fight, I get my story content, and I go on with my day.
If you’re a hardcore fan and you’re reading this, then you probably already have a very strong opinion about both what the franchise should be doing and how I am completely wrong for not caring very much about that. But, to me, at least, Dynasty Warriors 9 captures the basic experience that I want from these games, puts it into a familiar and well-written story, and delivers it alongside a bunch of open world side activities that I can choose to interact with or not. If you’re like me and you’re reading this to figure out if Dynasty Warriors 9 is worth grabbing: Sure! At the bottom, it is the experience that you’re imagining when you want to play a Dynasty Warriors game.
I say this with a caveat. On the Play Station 4, Dynasty Warriors 9 has some strange technical issues. I encountered some wolves animated at roughly one frame per second who, when they appeared on screen, made it sound like my console was lifting off into orbit. The integration of the game’s animation system and the design of its open world makes for some weird moments. This is not a game with the polish of something like The Witcher 3 or even Skyrim. It appears to be held together with duct tape, and I got massive framerate hits during big battles or even prerendered cutscenes. It also appears that the AI doesn’t quite work correctly, always demanding that the player initiate combat and generally acting skittish around enemies. All of that said, none of that impacted my actual enjoyment of the game. While I guess that I should be taking a stand or fighting for technofreedom here, I also can’t remember a time when I played a Dynasty Warriors game that didn’t suffer from basic technical problems. These are ambitious, weird games that push the constraints of the platforms that they are made for. They don’t always work.
Dynasty Warriors 9 exists at the nexus of a lot of different desires on the player community side and the development side. I just want to wander around inside a big space and win epic battles in long-ago China while coveting the throne. That’s what I’m in it for, and that’s what it delivers. If you’re in it for that, you might like it too.
Dynasty Warriors 9 was developed by Omega Force and published by Koei Tecmo. Our review is based on the PlayStation 4 version. It is also available for PC and the Xbox One.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, was released last year. It’s available on Steam.