Critic: Shaun Player
Date of Review: 14 Feb 2022
Version: Playstation 5
File Size(s): 37.52GB(PS5/XBSX), 13.7GB(NS), 50GB(PC)
Game Page: Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires Game Page
Review copy provided by KOEI Tecmo Games Europe.
*Be sure to download the day one update for Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires on Nintendo Switch.
It was inevitable since after every main series title after Dynasty Warriors 4 an Empires edition has cropped up. It was initially looking to be a new innovative way of playing with the Open World of the prior main game Dynasty Warriors 9, so how has this game taken the formula to new heights?
Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires is at it’s core the same usual Warriors flare of you picking a character and defeating hundreds to thousands of enemy peons, stripping honour in combat from famous historical figures and making your kingdom thrive. What makes the Empire games stand out is that with the removal of a structured story, you now have a more sandbox strategical take on China. This allows you to play as anyone (even your own created character) and to conquer China however you see fit, be it as a Ruler, officer or some vagabond roaming the lands.
The game still retains it’s combat mechanics from 9, where you open up your trigger attack menu to perform different combo strings, instead of the old attack and charge combinations. This still translates over rather well and functions as a fun means to dispatch your enemies. (You can read more about the combat mechanics in our Dynasty Warriors 9 review.)
There are a handful of modes for you to dig your teeth into, though you will get the most mileage out of Conquest mode (Empire mode in prior games). Along with Conquest Mode, you have Edit mode (more on that later), Gallery where you can check out information on characters, weapons and items you have acquired, and the encyclopedia which can get you up to scratch on the historical side of things.
But let’s dig into the meat and bones, the conquest mode. Once you start here you will be able to pick from a variety of scenarios such as Yellow Turban Rebellion, Fall of Dong Zhuo, Guan Du and more. Unlike previous titles however you cannot create or customise your own scenario, and the ‘gathering of heroes’ scenario just enables you to pick anyone then chose if they are a ruler, officer of unaffiliated with basic customisation options. Everything else is then random generated.
Each scenario has their own event cutscenes that play out when certain requirements are met, such as the Three brothers Oath at the start of the Yellow Turban Rebellion. Every scenario also includes a unique Event battle, which will play out depending which character / kingdom you support. These event battles play out quite differently to your regular battles, often having more objectives to accomplish along with a more structured story to the battle itself.
Once you have chosen your desired scenario you then can pick literally any character within the game, including both Musou characters (unique) or the generics. Each game and character will play out somewhat similar so don’t think you will be at a major disadvantage for picking a generic officer. However how the game fully folds out depends on your actions and choices within the game. There is quite a lot of variety to how your character can play out.
When you are finally in a game, your main goal is to unite China, or have your supporting Kingdom unite it. This means you’ll be going out and battling for new territory. All battles are Siege style battles where you are either trying to break into a castle or trying to defend invaders from doing so. Before you even begin chopping away, you can kit out your officer with an ‘Artifact’ which allows you to equip Gems. The rarer the Artifact type the more slots for gems you’ll have, ranging from Common to Epic. Gems like in the main instalment add bonuses to your attributes such as damage, defense, speed, etc. Artifacts also dictate the rarity type of the weapon you wield, matching the same type as the Artifact.
There is also a new system called Secret Plan, which allows you to equip up to four skill cards that grant you abilities such as performing a flame attack, healing your health, buffing your allies when used. This takes place of the Strategems used in previous Warriors games, and while it makes your character feel more powered up, it really takes away from all the strategical options you had before. As well as this ability style Secret Plans, there is a big Secret Plan, which is an army wide objective you can set at the beginning of most battles. These can range from calling allied reinforcements – making you having to conquer so many designated bases to allow passage for them to arrive – setting up a fire attack on the enemy castle or even summoning a powerful element infused giant animal. Each of these Secret Plans come with their own unique objectives, and also are used by your enemy. Unfortunately, these unique objectives don’t really feel that unique and you will spend most battles performing the same repetitive objectives to get your plan off.
Now onto actually being on the battlefield. You can command your fellow officers by ordering them to attack, defend and capture bases. They will also aim to help you complete the big Secret Plan you enact. Along with this, there are a myriad of bases scattered around the battlefield. These are extremely important for your siege (or defense of) to succeed. You will want to focus on capturing Siege Ram, Catapult and Siege Tower bases, so they can start working their way on demolishing the enemy forces defenses (or stop them from destroying yours).
The goal to win a battle is to storm the enemy castle and remove the leader in charge of power. However you cannot enter an enemy castle until one of three objectives have been completed; Your catapults capture all the Lookout bases, enabling you to then be able to access your grappling hook to scale the walls; Your ram successfully breaks through one of the castle gates or a Siege Tower being able to set up alongside a Castle Wall. Once in you need to make sure at least one gate is open, this will then initiate a ‘Decisive Battle’ which then will allow you to defeat the enemy leader and win the battle. But be warned when this decisive battle occurs, a bunch of enemy officers will return to defend the camp, as well as get a rally boost to their stats. Not all bad though, as during this state it is much more likely you will be able to capture them on defeat.
Outside of battle, you have the council phase. This is where you can implement minor strategies, such as upgrading your territories defense, training your characters, and other kingdom based functions. There is also a completely new function called ‘Stroll’. This is pretty much a more grandeur way to handle the relationship system.
While out strolling, you will have full access to the open world from the main game. Here you can find other officers which you can interact with by spending action points. You also can roam around and come across random bandits or animals you can decimate to get a small amount of gold or rations respectively. While it is cool to have access to the open world, the whole stroll mechanic is pointless, and most of what is needed can be done in the menu’s of said Stroll segment. It’s just a bloated glorified chat mechanic that serves to waste time. The gold and rations you gain from random combat (and exp) is so little it isn’t worth spending hours chopping just to get a few thousand of each, and maybe one level up if you are lucky.
The relationship system is quite important to the game however, where if an officer likes you more, they are more likely to accept invitations in recruitment, or even start giving you random gifts such as gems. You can also marry someone of the opposite sex if you raise their relationship to 100. This enables some unique scenes that will playout through the rest of your campaign. You can also have up to three sworn brothers, which I state only brothers as even if you have sisters there is a whole lot of mis-gendering in the dialog scenes, where often females are called brothers or men.
If you finish a campaign and you are married, the wife of the duo will have a baby at the end. There will be a scene of your baby magically appearing next to the wife, don’t ask KOEI how babies are born, as they don’t quite understand it in this. This then enables you to play as your son or daughter in a new campaign, and they are tied relationship wise to the father and mother. This will lead to some unique dialog within battles, however all out of battle interactions don’t recognise you as their kin, and some will even treat you like a complete stranger, or someone you just met (as they treat you like any other character) which is very jarring. The child character will also have better abilities to what you could normally create in Edit mode, so it is worth to save their data when you acquire one.
Speaking of the edit mode, it has been completely overhauled in this title. Taking the edit mechanics first used in Ni-Oh 2, you can now greatly customise your characters facial structure and hair. Though as this is KOEI Tecmo, it is very much a one step forward two steps back situation. While you have far far greater customisation for the aforementioned two options, you have a lot less variety in costumes and armour for your character to wear, which makes it quite difficult to have variety between remaking generic officers. Your created character does look a lot better overall in this new system, we just need more variety in what your character can wear. It is a shame as currently there has been quite a bit of customisation cut off to be sold as DLC later, but even then it still isn’t a whole lot to play with. Most of the outfits and armour options you do have (which are all unisex) don’t match well with other pieces either, so you often are stuck using the pre-made sets rather than mixing and matching.
We also no longer have any of the Army, horse, kingdom or banner customisation that was featured heavily in Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires. This is a massive step back, and makes your own created kingdom more random as you have no choice over unit colour and your banners are always blank. It definitely isn’t a game killer but a real disappointment none the less.
There is quite a lot more to dig into, such as character titles earned depending how you play, the return of the reputation system from 7 Empires, where depending what action you take will increase points in certain areas such as Brave, Commanding, Benevolence, Evil and more. This all adds to make each game playthrough more unique.
After all the above, there is still some issues the core game has, especially on the technical side. You will often find textures completely absent, much like how the main title suffered with early on. Most scenes will have numerous noticeable objects missing textures. Horses will show no textures in some scenes as well as general stuttering in the backgrounds. There is also fairly frequent frame rate drops that happen when there is a lot of combat happening on screen – not enough to be jarring but still enough to take note of. There are some weird AI habits as well, where your allies if not commanded manually will literally stand still and do nothing even as enemies pass them by. Enemy AI seems to be able to cheat in some instances, where I have had on more than one occasion an enemy redeploy inside my main camp. You also have the usual grammatical errors that come with a western localised KT game, as well as some ridiculously long loading times (even on PS5) for simple dialog scenes, though this happens randomly so likely down to poor optimisation. Thankfully we only have a Japanese dub, so no suffering the English dub at all in this title, however the Chinese dub will be missed.
Overall the game has a lot of fun to be had. Even with the absurd issues mentioned above, there is a lot to like here and a lot of potential if Omega Force continue to develop upon this. It very much is a one step forward two steps back, but that one step forward is a good one, and I would recommend giving this a go if you are a fan of Warriors games or specifically the Empires strategy side of games. While the battles can start to get repetitive, the Siege style is a lot more engaging and makes battles feel like an actual battlefield for once. May your army thrive and China be yours.