Dynasty Warriors 9 Review: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

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I’m quite fond of the Dynasty Warriors games.

I’m fond of the Samurai Warriors games too, and all the anime tie-ins that feature largely the same gameplay. As of late though they’ve started to feel a little all too samey, and with Dynasty Warriors 9 promising to mix things up, I had hopes that the tried and tested formula could somewhat be revitalised. And it has, in many ways, but with it comes untold tedium and horrendous technical issues.

With Dynasty Warriors 9 the series has gone open-world, and while on paper that sounds like a good thing, in practice it has mixed results. No longer are battles self-contained events, prefaced and book-ended with a myriad of menu screens. Now, the whole world is a battlefield, yet somehow the game manages to feel less action-packed. As you can imagine, for a Dynasty Warriors game, that’s a major problem.

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Dynasty Warriors 9‘s recreation of China is certainly ambitious, but apparently little thought has been given as to how it improves the gameplay. While occasionally scenic, it’s a largely flat and dull expanse that’s void of life. Each chapter of the game is now a scenario, full of missions and quests for you to seek out and complete, but you’ll spend much more time travelling between each of them than actually engaging in action.

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Completing missions and quests provides valuable experience that allows you to increase your character’s level, and as you expand your area of control and eliminate enemy officers a scenario’s main mission is made much more manageable too. Not that Dynasty Warriors 9 is particularly difficult though, especially on normal difficulty or less.

Enemy AI is alarmingly stupid, and groups of soldiers are often spread so far apart that it’s difficult to find yourself swamped. And then there’s the inclusion of the grappling hook, which makes laying siege to fortified areas and navigating developed areas trivial.

A mission early on in the game required me to fight my way inside a castle to put an end to the Yellow Turban Rebellion (what else?), but while my allies were battering the doors with a giant ram and moving in other heavy siege machinery, I just grappled my way up the battlements and opened the doors from the inside. The grappling hook just negates much of the game’s challenge – so much so that it feels game-breaking.

There’s the odd occasion where it’s useful – climbing towers to add nearby locations to your map, for example, or climbing up mountains quickly – but it’s hard to shake the feeling that it’s a quick fix put in place instead of creating a more interestingly traversable map or devising more complex game mechanics.

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Dynasty Warriors 9‘s huge but sparse map, brain-dead enemies and superfluous grappling hook pale in comparison to the game’s worst problem, however: its performance.

Playing on Xbox One X for review, no matter if you play Dynasty Warriors 9 in the framerate prioritising ‘Action Mode’ or the resolution prioritising ‘Movie Mode’, performance is dire. And there’s not much graphical difference between the two modes either.

Honestly, I thought there was something wrong with my Xbox One X when I first launched the game and jumped into its tutorial. The screen teared and the camera skipped as the framerate struggled to make the game playable. Once I got into the game proper things fortunately improved, but by no means could you describe Dynasty Warriors 9 as a technically competent game.

Character models aren’t too bad, but they’re accompanied with terrible animation and lip-syncing, at least during story scenes anyhow. Meanwhile, many of the game’s textures are atrocious, its weather effects are awful, and its framerate annoyingly erratic. The screen will tear as you rotate the camera, and as you gaze upon the world you’ve entered you’ll wonder just what happened. Dynasty Warriors games of the past have always been solid performance-wise, whereas Dynasty Warriors 9 is just unacceptable.

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Push through all of of the game’s shortcomings though, and lots of fun can still be had. Across the game’s many chapters there are a wide range of characters available, each with their own tragic story. There’s also a fairly robust crafting system, allowing you to create new equipment for your characters to make them more powerful and tweak their skills. And while each character’s story is separate, meaning that you can’t take control of another on a mission by mission basis, the items and crafting scrolls you’ve earned are shared across them all.

The biggest improvement found in Dynasty Warriors 9, however, is undoubtedly its new combat system, which is perhaps the best yet seen in a Dynasty Warriors game. You still essentially have standard and charge attacks but their use is more dynamic, performing more elaborate combos and moves depending on you and your enemies’ status. But then you have trigger attacks which have a range of special properties and can be used to set up or extend flow combos, and also of course the almighty Musou attack. It just wouldn’t be a Dynasty Warriors game without it.

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I want to praise Dynasty Warriors 9 for really pushing to be something better, but unfortunately its technical issues and tediousness are just too much. There’s a lot for its developer, Omega Force, to learn here though, like how you can’t have an expansive open world map without interesting things to do in it. But if it can look at what works and what doesn’t in Dynasty Warriors 9 and use that knowledge when working on the next entry in the series, it could indeed be a compelling experience.

As it is though, Dynasty Warriors 9 is a game that’s just too sparse and too easy for its own good. But what’s worse is that it’s perhaps the worst performing game I’ve played on the Xbox One X. I can cope with janky gameplay and stupid AI during the pursuit of fun, but screen-tearing and troublesome framerate drops are a no-no. So, Dynasty Warriors 9 does take the series into new territory, but in doing so it breaks the tight-knit, smooth, action-packed gameplay that we’ve come to know and love.

Dynasty Warriors 9 is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. We reviewed the Xbox One version.