Now four years old, it’s safe to say that Dynasty Warriors 9 was a big let-down for series fans.
Despite some improvements to the series’ combat system, a move to an open-world format resulted in a net loss to the core Dynasty Warriors experience. It also wasn’t a very good looking game, and was plagued by technical issues. Now, Koei Tecmo is hoping to at least salvage something good from the whole ordeal, delivering a more strategy-focused Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires. But having played it, I’m inclined to think perhaps it should have just moved on.
From the moment you boot Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires up, you get the impression of a budget affair. Menus are simply perfunctory, free of any design flair. And when it comes to modes, well, your options are scant. Conquest is pretty much all that’s offered here, with numerous historical scenarios for you to play through. Outside of that, all you can do is brush up your skills via a basic tutorial, or create your own officer in Edit mode. You get the impression that this could have just been an expansion rather than a standalone game.
Sitting between a standard, action-packed Dynasty Warriors game and the deep strategy of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms series, jump into any one of the scenarios offered in Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires and you’ll find yourself engaged in a game of two halves. Conquest is your goal, but to achieve it you’re going to need to manage resources, develop relationships, and ultimately perform well on the battlefield. Succeed and you’ll grow your land until you’re an overwhelming force. Fail, and you’ll soon find yourself outmatched.
You’ll find that each action you make takes a turn, and what you can do with that turn depends on your position within your forces. As a lowly officer, for example, you’ll be at your ruler’s whim, only able to perform simple tasks such as scouting out new officers and putting pressure on civilians to raise your coffers to attain their goals. Raise your station though, and you’ll be able to suggest alternative goals if you’re not happy with them.
Of course, there are plenty of battles along the way, now taking place on confined maps rather than out in an open world. Sometimes your lands will be attacked – defending them is a good idea if you want to continue your growth. More important, however, is your invasion of lands that lead to your success. The action here is largely the same as your normal Dynasty Warriors affair, but there are some elements that make it feel a little more unique.
There’s a large emphasis on making sure siege weapons get to their required destinations, for example, allowing you to scale castle walls or bring their walls down. And to help you achieve that, you can make use of helpful Secret Plans that have a wide variety of effects. Ultimately, you’ll be running around the battlefield trying to secure bases and foil your opponent’s plans, as ever, but there’s a bit more strategy involved overall.
While we praised Dynasty Warriors 9‘s combat system which encompasses trigger, flow and react attacks upon its release, four years later it’s not quite as impressive. After spending time with last year’s very enjoyable Samurai Warriors 5 it feels scrappy and impactless in comparison. Still, roaming around a battlefield while decimating 1,000 or so enemies remains fun for the most part. It’s just a shame that the combat hasn’t been developed further.
More disappointing is that despite being available on PS5 and Xbox Series X, Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires is not what you’d call a looker. Outside of some pretty impressive central character models, everything else is as dull as dishwater. Environments are bland, and the lesser characters you encounter have samey faces and horrendous outfits. Even worse is that there’s screen tearing whether you play in Action or Movie mode. Throw in long loading times and a lack of DualSense features on PS5 and you have a game that feels very much last-gen.
In numerous ways, Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires is a clear improvement over its ill-received predecessor. Thanks to its shoddy presentation and numerous other issues, however, it’s still far away from being a must-have. All too often you feel like you’re just going through the motions between battles, going on strolls or enacting policies just to meet objectives without any real thought being put into it. And while the combat is somewhat fun, boring map design lets it down. This is one just for ardent fans, then.
Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires Review – GameSpew’s Score