by Andrew Skelton (Outfoxed)
Sure, there are a ton of Warriors games, offshoots, and clones out there these days, but Dynasty Warriors was one of the first to make take an arcade beat-em-up game in an entirely new direction. The series puts you in control of a famous Chinese general of the late Han Dynasty, letting you carve a path through history. The previous incarnations of the title focused almost entirely on the characters themselves; however, the ninth numbered installment changes this completely.
You see, Dynasty Warriors 9 takes a complete departure from its predecessors by putting you in the middle of the conflict in ancient China — all of it. That’s right, if you were unaware, the long awaited continuation of the series has gone open world. “Is that such a good idea?” you might find yourself asking. After all, the series has always been incredibly localized when it came to the character stories, letting them play out in predetermined stages. “Surely an open world as large as ancient China would be a monumental task!” you might wonder, and you’d be right. Luckily, I got a hands-on demonstration of the game at a recent press event, all the while sitting with Akihiro Suzuki, director of the Dynasty Warriors series from the start, and executive officer of Omega Force, the team at KOEI Tecmo responsible for the games.
The demonstration they provided had me controlling one of the new characters, Xin Xianying, and threw me right in the middle of the action. Xin Xianying is one of seven new playable officers, bringing the total roster of Dynasty Warriors 9 to 90 characters. That roster is enough to make most fighting games blush with embarrassment. I asked Suzuki-san if the systems of the previous Warriors titles were difficult to implement into an open world, especially given the number of characters. He responded that while the systems themselves were easy to develop and implement, the biggest challenge he and his team faced was making sure there were plenty of things to do. See, most open world games suffer from being too open. While playing the demo, I’d argue I had almost too MUCH to do! Battles rage across the land, missions develop based on these battles, and there’s even hunting, gathering, and crafting to accomplish. Not to mention the sightseeing opportunities — trust me, the lands of ancient China never looked quite as good.
Veterans and fans of the series will notice one thing almost immediately about the game, and for many people, it’s troublesome. A lot of characters now share weapons, something that was almost universally despised in Dynasty Warriors 6. This change was two fold. First, it’s to handle the way the game plays across an open world. The second is to showcase more historical weapons than the extreme fantasy the game held to before. Sure, the characters and their weapons are still heavily stylized, but as Suzuki-san explained, a lot of the reason they went with a more historical approach was because of the modern consoles and PCs the game is being released on. With more power comes more realism, he explained, and they wanted to focus the characters heavily toward that direction. Gone are the claws, the benches, and the miniature boats. Rest assured, though, every character has their unique moveset despite sharing a weapon type with others.
Speaking of things to do, crafting also plays a major role in the game. In addition to collecting gold, you can also grab a variety of items throughout the world, either by running over them on the field or by defeating enemies. These materials can then be used to upgrade weapons, craft accessories to help your character become even more powerful, and make usable items for battle (such as restoratives and battle enhancers).
One final question I had for Suzuki-san was in regards to how the game will play. An open world with 90 playable characters seems to indicate no one character will stand out. While the game is linked by the kingdoms, each character has a story within that overall world. You can discover their stories by doing missions, granting cut-scenes and background stories. The story itself feels very organic, playing out even as you wander the map. In fact, things play out across the territory like they did in history, with battles you’re not participating happening at the same time. This is what was most impressive to me in this case; an open world that develops beyond the playable character is practically unheard of.
I could really get the impression the whole team was proud of their accomplishment. Suzuki-san took great delight in showing various locations in the game (through fast travel — once you’ve been to a location you can go there immediately) and explained how detailed the map was compared to previous Dynasty Warriors games. In fact, if you were to zoom in on the map as far as possible, that single zoomed portion would equal just a single stage in previous installments.
Dynasty Warriors 9 releases in North America and Europe on February 13 for PC, PS4, and XBox1. As a fan of the series, I highly recommend checking it out. I’d even recommend it to people who’ve not played a Dynasty Warriors game before, but love open world games, because there’s simply so much to do and so much to see. Oh, and if you’ve ever been curious about Suzuki-san’s favorite character, well, as much as he loves all of the portrayals he’s done over the years, he’s spent the most time with Cao Cao.