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The long-running Dynasty Warriors franchise has another new release, and this time around it's Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires, a spin-off of the original Dynasty Warriors games. If you're unfamiliar with Empires spin-offs, they tend to be more tactical and strategic than the original entries. In the Dynasty Warriors Empires series, you have to make political choices and figure out how to take over the kingdom and become emperor. How does the latest entry in the spin-offs of Dynasty Warriors play and feel today compared to previous entries in the series as a whole? Welcome to our review of Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires.
First and foremost, I have to admit that I haven't played a mainline Dynasty Warrior game in probably over a decade. There have been just too many other games released that have taken my interest over the last generation. However, I did play Dynasty Warriors 6 and a few older ones, but it has been such a long time that I don't remember how good or bad the games were. It's also worth noting that I had never touched an Empires game before, so this was uncharted territory for me, and I wasn't sure what to expect.
Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires only has one game mode, Conquest. There is also an Edit Mode where you can create a custom officer and then take them to your Conquest mode if you wish not to take the pre-made officers that already exist in the game. In Conquest Mode, your goal is to go from a nobody to a higher rank and become an Emperor who controls the entire kingdom. As the game begins, you have nothing, no army, no money, and no officers to accompany you.
In the beginning, your goal is to start making some gold and rations to build up an army. You do this through political choices in the left-hand menu. Every time you decide, one month of in-game time passes. This is where strategic play comes in, and you have to figure out the best political choice to make for the duration of that one month before moving to your next set of actions.
The player can choose options, such as fundraising that helps you raise gold, procuring items that increase your rations, or trade that gives you a bit of both resources. As you rank up, you eventually gain access to Great Trade, which gives you even more resources than the original trading option. Then there are diplomatic choices like deciding where to scout for more officers from a different kingdom to join yours. You can also do bribery and things like alliance and encirclement and so on. At this point, you get the idea. The original Dynasty Warriors games do not have this, and that is why Empires is different. As you rank up, you'll get to have the ability to make even more meaningful choices that previously were not available to you, such as invading other pieces of land or even exiling officers from your kingdom. Another interesting feature is the ability to stroll through the city and talk to other officers to increase their companionship level with you or potentially try to recruit unaffiliated officers into your kingdom.
The player can stroll the city in an in-game space, running around and interacting with everyone, or do it through main menus instead, which I like way more because it's simply a lot faster. One thing that does bother me is that any time you interact with an officer, you enter into a short loading screen for an unnecessary cut-scene that doesn't serve much purpose and always tends to be the same. This makes zero sense and is a complete waste of time, and it happens every time I interact with an officer when you are in the city itself, but if you do it through the menus, it does not.
Once a certain amount of months has passed, the War Council begins, and you have to make or propose what to do with the kingdom until the next War Council period. At the beginning of the game, you can only agree or disagree with the current ruler of the kingdom (since you are no one at first), but as you become the ruler eventually then you get to set your own objectives, but your officers have a chance to propose their ideas instead, and you have the right to accept it or deny it.
Eventually, you'll have to start invading kingdoms, and this is where the core gameplay of original Dynasty Warriors comes into play. You enter an open battlefield, and your objective is to take the castle for yourself if you are invading or defend it if you are under attack. You will need rations to invade. The more rations you have, the bigger the army you can take with you.
Before the battle starts, you can also carry out a "Secret Plan," which are, essentially, mini objectives. You must accomplish these mini objectives in a certain amount of time. If the criteria are fulfilled, then you will gain an advantage on the battlefield. One objective may ask you to kill officers, take over certain areas, or protect a specific target for a particular amount of time. The enemy during the battle will also initiate a secret plan of their own, and you can counter it by following the given objective. During our review, we had to stop a bunch of messengers from getting to a certain area, so I had to chase them down and kill them and also take over a base. After that, you have to capture the rest of the bases so that your army can start an assault on the castle's gates. You can either break down the gates with ram siege weaponry or infiltrate it via the siege towers, using a grappling hook and breaking the lock for faster access. Once inside the castle, you need to finish the commander that's usually marked on the map, kill him, and the kingdom is yours. During defensive battles, you protect your castle instead, but the gameplay is for the most part the same.
Despite not playing any of the games in either franchise for many years, one thing is for sure, this game has always been and continues to be butt-ugly. Although I understand Dynasty Warriors games are all about killing officers and armies and taking over kingdoms and castles, they still look old and dated. As if that weren't enough, we're using new generation hardware as well, the PlayStation 5.
The PlayStation 3, if not almost PlayStation 2 textures, weird flickering in the distance, and even some small frame-rate drops made me question the technical choices of these titles. None of the things here look stellar or super demanding in terms of hardware, and yet the system struggles from time to time to run it at a locked 60. In conclusion, it's quite staggering how a game with such low-quality production value is running into strange technical hiccups from time to time on new generation hardware. While it is a cross-gen game, there is absolutely no excuse to have it run the way it does. The game does offer something called Action Mode, which stabilizes frame-rate (though it's not even locked to 60) and lowers the resolution, and Movie Mode, which offers higher resolution at 30 frames per second. This is abysmal, especially on a game that looks like it came from the PS2/PS3 era.
The audio is your standard Dynasty Warriors stuff that you are used to from the previous titles. The soundtrack mostly consists of traditional Chinese musical instruments mixed with hard rock and heavy metal. So if you are into that, then you will be fine. It works for the franchise and has always been the staple. You can also change the music to your liking whether you are on the main menu or playing the game, which is a nice touch.
Across the board, Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires is not really a bad game. It hits a certain niche and mixes in your typical Musou genre gameplay with strategic political choices. It's not really a game for everyone and is quite repetitive, but then again the franchise is known for its repetition and has been around forever. It's completely up to the player if they enjoy this type of rinse and repeat gameplay or not. The biggest flaw of this title is the visuals. With how old the Dynasty Warriors franchise is and how far the technology has progressed, it still looks like a game from the ancient days of the PS2/PS3 era, which is quite unfortunate.
Although it's understandable that putting a lot of enemies on screen can cause a lot of technical problems, games like Total War: Warhammer III or any of those previous entries don't seem to have the same issues and look better than Dynasty Warriors. Omega Force, please drop this engine and create something brand new that your future Dynasty Warriors games could benefit from. Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires will be receiving a 7 out of 10.