The Dynasty Warriors series has been a mainstay of console gaming for nearly 25 years. In that time the games have be remoulded into all kinds of different shapes, but the core 1 vs. 1,000 combat gameplay has appeared to remain largely the same. This is true of Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires. However, scratch beneath the surface and you’ll see that, in reality, a lot has changed.
Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires is a spin-off title. The ‘Empires’ series adds a unique strategy element outside of the 1 vs. 1,000 battles the series has been famed for. However, every edition of the series has seen the execution of this vary drastically. Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires, often considered the pinnacle of the series, had the player managing resources while engaging in a battle of positioning that looked like Risk, but was more akin to Chess. Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires however, does not offer anything of the same calibre.
Instead, Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires attempts to tack a third-person story experience onto the strategising and combat. Between battles (and initially for much more of their time than the combat) players will engage with the leader of their chosen empire and attempt to complete tasks to prepare for the ongoing invasion plans. They may be making deals with other territories, sabotaging defences or accumulating resources for their existing population. However, they can also go for a ‘stroll’. Doing so can either be conducted through menus or – often more effectively – by entering the shoes of your chosen combatant and entering the city. However, the limited action here has made no refinement of the control system. You’ll be sprinting around a town environment, colliding with objects and fighting with a camera designed for high-octane battles.
All of this in-between diplomacy is accompanied by hundreds of numbers that seemingly have very little impact on the gameplay. You’ll level-up in a dozen different criteria without noticing any change in the way the strategising segments are conducted. Couple with this the fact that your allies will seemingly decide they no longer like you at random, and you’re left with a bit of a mess rather than the well thought-out strategising of the aforementioned Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires.
Moving on to the combat; the core element of the Dynasty Warriors franchise. Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires has made some odd changes, both adding to the complexity and removing from it. The usual array of fighter customisation is available – huge amounts of weapon options, gem stat boosts and special abilities – and each feels different in battle. New secondary combat options are available by holding the right shoulder button and pressing a face button. Additionally, special army-reinforcing commands are available on the left shoulder button. However, the musou moves are significantly less impressive than in most of the previous titles, and while the can clear out numerous troops their range has been decreased significantly across the board.
It’s also important to note the structure of the battles. Considerably more limited than previous titles, all fights in the game take place as siege events. This is the true whether you’re attacking or defending. This means there’s no exploring of the map, no tackling unpredictable events (all the mid-battle changes are selected from a very small pool) and no quest to find unspecified power-ups or items. Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires could be considered streamlined. However, it could also be considered rather lightweight compared to it’s series peers.
The officer customisation options that were seen in the Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires demo are pleasant, but also utterly ignorable. You can mix-and-match and create some unique looking combatants, but they’re only ever going to be shades of the huge selection of pre-built warriors. As the campaigns (of which there are several) progress you’ll have the opportunity to get married, and subsequently have children. This is where the most interesting addition comes – in that of customising your offspring, and entertaining entire subsequent campaigns through an ongoing family bloodline of your own creation.
Despite it’s numerous flaws in comparison to its predecessors, Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires remains an addictive game. It’s both hugely enjoyable and disappointing at the same time. If you haven’t played a Dynasty Warriors title for some time you could do worse. However, if you’re a regular fan of the series – especially the ‘Empires’ titles – it’s a hard job to recommend this latest entry over many of the earlier titles.