Dynasty Warriors 7
Celebrating the tenth anniversary of its incredibly popular (in Japan at least,) Dynasty Warriors series, Tecmo-Koei has released Dynasty Warriors 7 for both the PlayStation 3 and XBOX 360 consoles. The game is marketed as being the best game in the series yet, with a few major new additions/alterations, and it's something that fans have been very excited for since they first heard of its announcement. The goal of the development team was to make the game the 'most epic' Dynasty Warriors title yet, and they seem to have put a lot of work in to try to do just that. How their hard work stands up is another question. The series has consistently been complained about for sticking to one simple formula and never evolving. Is this the release that finally changes that pattern?
Like the previous games in the long-running series, Dynasty Warriors 7 follows the storyline of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a Chinese historical novel that was written during the fourteenth century. The game's campaign tells the story of four different factions (Wei, Wu, Shu and jin,) with each having their own playable storylines and several warriors to choose from. By allowing players to control each of these different factions, it gives them the opportunity to experience the battles and issues from each side of the conflict. Each faction's campaign introduces you to its different warriors as you progress. When you first begin a storyline, there is only the opportunity to pick from two different warriors, though several others can be unlocked as you progress. It also allows for the opportunity to experiment with different warriors who play differently and represent different ideals. Long-time fans of the series will gravitate towards their favourite faction, but newcomers will be interested in exploring the storylines of each, even though it's somewhat overwhelming at times with so much going on.
The game's backstory is quite interesting, but the writers took more of a campy approach with it, to give it some extra personality. This makes the game seem a bit ridiculous at times and feels unnecessary. Its storyline has a lot of historical significance, which is explored well, but sometimes story sequences felt under-developed. Most of the time, the story is told through text screens. Newcomers to the series who are not familiar with the setting, novels and/or characters will have a tough time understanding what is going on, but there is luckily an incredibly detailed encyclopedia that will help them understand every single aspect of the game and its story, as long as they don't mind reading for a while. It's nice that it was included, but a lot of people will most-likely skip it entirely, due to its length. Though it's definitely a good reference.
Despite some added polish and some relatively major changes (such as the addition of a quick dual-weapon combat system that allows you to switch weapons mid-combo, as well as seamless transitions from cinematics to gameplay,) the game is still very similar to its predecessors. Even those from years ago. The core Dynasty Warriors formula is still present and very true to form in this one, though an increase in polish and quality control testing is obvious. Throughout the single player campaigns, you will spend most of your time hacking and slashing your way through thousands of enemies, occasionally coming across mini-bosses and end of level bosses. Different weapons are available and they can be used to create some pretty devastating combos and special moves (which are charged up via one or two metres that increase in volume with each successful attack you perform.) One button controls heavy attacks, whereas another controls light/faster attacks, though there are some extra combos that can be created through movement and the aformentioned weapon switches. Sometimes you will be on horseback and sometimes you won't be, but there is always the option to get off of your horse and go the rest of the way on foot, which is a good thing because the horseback controls lack any sort of precision, making them frustrating to use.
It's once again quite repetitious and doesn't feature many evolutionary changes that will impress people who have become bored of the series in the past (or those who were unable to get into previous titles.) Luckily, there are some minor changes in gameplay due to the way that each different warrior controls/fights, as well as the locations and mission types. Though most missions employ the same challenges, game mechanics and general tactics, forcing you to complete a task and then fight a final boss. However, it's not as strategic or as defensively focused as the superior Warriors: Legends of Troy. Dynasty Warriors 7 is much more of an offense-first mentality style of game. Defense isn't that important because there are tons of pick-ups that enemies will drop, including increased attacks, better defensive skills and health. Legends of Troy featured a delayed health system that would regenerate if you hid in a corner or away from the fight for a while.
One thing that fans of the series will be happy to hear about is the fact that the game is overflowing with content. In addition to its lengthy (single player only) campaign mode, Dynasty Warriors 7 also contains a brand new mode known as Conquest Mode. In this new game type, the world is displayed in an incredibly large grid pattern (with honey-comb looking pieces representing battles and full yellow ones representing major cities.) As you fight your way through a ton of different battles (as your favourite warrior for the most part, though some epic battles require you to play as a specific warrior that fits into their storyline,) you will make allies, develop enemies and take over major cities that will help you further your quest. Your choices will affect the way the storyline plays out, which warriors' help you can ask for when you visit cities, and the characters who will assist you in other ways. Cities also allow you to customize the weapons you've picked up on the battlefield with seals that will give them different characteristics, abilities and statistics. Non-playable characters (such as other warriors) will speak to you in town, allowing for an improved relationship. Though vendors are also available for conversation, as well as an impromptu quiz show about the game's source, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Conquest is the only mode in the game that allows for multiplayer, letting players take on enemy soldiers with a friend via local or online co-op. It works pretty well and can be quite enjoyable to play with a friend (moreso than playing alone,) but there was an increased amount of evident pop-in (with regards to enemies) while playing in local multiplayer. Other than that, it worked quite well. Each player can choose his (or her) favourite warrior, though it must be noted that they must be leveled up separately (through a basic skill tree that awards speed, combat and special move upgrades.) Co-operative play can be very helpful in taking on some tougher challenges or even accomplishing some two-tiered missions in a quicker amount of time. For example, one player can stay back and protect the base that is being attacked, while the other can go to the other side of the map to take out the end boss. It can also be helpful to choose different types of characters, with different weapon abilities, so that you can complement each other during tough battles. When you pick-up weapons in Conquest mode, the equipment screen will tell you whether your character can handle the weapon well, or whether it won't be a good fit, so there is strategy involved within your weapon choices.
Though Conquest is a brand new gameplay mode that the developers are very proud of, it unfortunately doesn't deviate much from the core Dynasty Warriors repetitious gameplay. It creates an interesting new set-up with role-playing game elements, but you're still fighting the same types of battles over and over again. It would have been nice if they could've expanded upon the format more. The issues from the campaign, such as poor artificial intelligence (especially enemy and follower A.I.,) the occasional bug and a problematic camera, stick around for this mode as well. Each mode also features drab map design that doesn't ever show much creativity. Luckily, some replay value is added through several different difficulty modes and the unlockable clothing, seals and guardian animals. However, only diehard completionists will want to return to hunt for those. The average gamer won't find much replay value within either mode.
It's evident that the developers (Omega Force) took extra effort to make this the best looking Dynasty Warriors title yet. The game's visuals are colourful and shiny, but it won't blow you away. Due to the limitations of the hardware, the graphics would have been toned down to allow for the game to run without framerate issues, since there are always so many different characters on the screen at once. Impressively, the game runs without any slowdown. However, it doesn't feature a lot of fluid animations because of that, though it was nice to see that the animations were improved over their usual. The variety of animations that the characters perform in this game was much more varied and impressive than those in Warriors: Legends of Troy. That is the one leg up that this game has upon Tecmo-Koei Canada's superior title.
Dynasty Warriors is a strange series because it tries to do two completely different things: focus on historically accurate characters, locations and events, with a campy/hard-rock take on everything. It somehow manages to pull off a mixture of realism and embelishment, though it is quite odd. This is very evident in the choice of music the developers went with, which is primarily heavy rock. It gets you in the mood for taking out tons of enemies, but doesn't really fit the game's subject matter that well at all. Neither does the voice acting, which is not very good overall. Some of the writing is okay, but a lot of it is very basic and campy, so it also takes away from the historical accuracy, in addition to being somewhat annoying at times. That is especially true considering the fact that characters will say the same things over and over again (taunts, primarily.) However, the varied sound effects that you will encounter in each mode are relatively well-done. The game's overall audio fidelity is pretty good, too.
Although Dynasty Warriors 7 is probably the fastest and best-looking Dynasty Warriors game out there, it doesn't make enough changes to win over those who have abandoned ship (or new fans.) It's a very traditional game that features very repetitious gameplay, with some very basic artificial intelligence and the odd glitch. However, fans of the series who have grown accustomed with these issues will be impressed with the sheer amount of content that is included on the game disc. There's so much to do that it will keep you playing for hours on end, especially if you're one of those people who loves to go for 100% completion. Fans who have been looking forward to the game since its announcement will most-likely have already pre-ordered/purchased it, and that would be a wise decision. However, newcomers should rent the game for a few days before deciding on anything further, because it's definitely not for everyone. A stronger and more impressive outing overall, is marred with the same issues that plagued previous titles, including repetitive gameplay that never really evolves.