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October 2022

Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Omega Force
Release Date: Feb. 15, 2022


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PS5 Review - 'Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on March 31, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Combining the 1 vs. 1,000 action of Dynasty Warriors with the addition of strategic elements, including unit command, Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires sets players on a quest to conquer ancient China by both sword and strategy.

Buy Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires

I'm a big fan of the Warriors franchise. Not every title is a hit, but they're usually a darn fun way to pass some time, smash up some bad guys, and create overpowered weapons so you can take on huge armies. As forgiving as I can be of some of the franchise's sins, Dynasty Warriors 9 left me cold. I hoped that Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires might redeem some of the game's flaws, but unfortunately, it can't. The enjoyable strategic gameplay in Empires isn't able to overcome the core flaws of the original game.

At first blush, DW9 Empires feels a lot like the other Empires titles in the franchise. They tend to be semi-sequels to the mainline Warriors titles, and they add a strategy layer over the main game. Not a ton has changed from the previous offerings. You take control of either your own custom character or one of the many Romance of the Three Kingdoms heroes, and you go on missions of conquest. To do this, you form alliances between armies, keep your peasants happy, and do the behind-the-scenes stuff.

This is the best part of DW9E by a large degree. It's still a lot of fun to build up your own empire, plan strategies and attacks, make sure your resources are properly managed, and feel like an actual leader. The only criticism I have is that the differences between the last Empires title and this one are so minimal that it took me some time to identify them. DW9's open world returns, allowing you to talk to various officers and soldiers to recruit them to your cause, which is a nice way of making the world feel more alive, and there are some mechanical tweaks too. It's as fun as it has ever been.

The biggest problem with DW9E is the fact that DW9's combat system is still remarkably unenjoyable. It's bewildering how the same franchise that has shown such an upswing in creativity and playability for its other spin-offs has somehow left all of the worst parts. I am hard-pressed to think of a Dynasty Warriors system I enjoyed less, and I'd even welcome back the ill-fated Rebu system over the State Change system that the developers introduced in DW9.

A big part of it is that combat was changed. Instead of the free-flowing combos the franchise is known for, the new system involves state changes and flow. What this basically amounts to is that by holding R1 and pressing one of the face buttons, you'll perform a special attack that either stuns, knocks the enemy, or does something distinct based on who you are playing. Once you hit with this, you can just mash the Square button to enter an auto-combo. Occasionally, you'll have a Quick Time Event (QTE) button press to do more damage.

In theory, I get what the developers are going for. Offering a variety of choices and combos to avoid the age-old "use only one attack" problem isn't a bad idea, but instead, it makes everything feel boring. Nobody feels unique or interesting, and the character design suffers a lot for it. Dynasty Warriors has always been a button-mashy series, but it had been improving. One only has to compare it to Hyrule Warriors, which has a diverse cast with intriguing move sets and a variety of abilities with different usages. Here, you … mash the buttons, and it doesn't even feel particularly good to do so.

As you can imagine, this is a death knell for the game. Warriors titles excel at making it fun to smash through huge crowds of enemies, and DW9E isn't an improvement over the original. It feels like too much was dropped in favor of the ill-conceived open-world mechanics, and unfortunately, that carries over to DW9E. It was clear that so much effort was expended on trying to make the title big that the team wasn't able to bring the usual addictive level of polish to the gameplay.

To its credit, DW9E puts the lackluster open-world stuff on the back burner, bringing the franchise back to more set maps. Since these are slices of the open world, they are still dull. They don't quite have the appeal of the more custom-designed stages from older games, and they aren't as simple and focused as the systems from the spin-offs. They're sort of there, but they are such a huge improvement over the awful DW9 open world that it's easy to see it as a big improvement.

The problem is simply that the core DW9 experience is so poor that even adding in the enjoyable Empire gameplay doesn't change the fact that most of what you'll be doing is dull as dishwater and lacking pretty much all of the franchise's charm. You can pick up any of the earlier Dynasty Warriors titles and get the same characters with better gameplay, and the new features in DW9E aren't enough to recommend it over any of the previous Empires releases.

It also doesn't help that the game is shockingly poorly optimized. Even on the PS5, the DW9E graphics are dull and muddy, even though there's tons of empty space. Some of the textures are shockingly bad, and the character animations are unbelievably bland. Compared to the previous games with flashy animations and cool visuals, DW9E is a huge step back. The game maintains 60fps in Performance mode on the PS5, but that is at the cost of making it look worse than it usually does. It also has by far the longest loading times I've encountered on the PS5, with multiple screens and lengthy load times that feel like no effort was expended on making it run well on a next-gen console.

Alas, there's nothing to recommend Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires. DW9 is probably one of the lower points of the franchise, and what Empires does to improve on it is fairly minimal. There's absolutely no reason to buy it over the bucketload of better Warriors titles available on the PS5. Even if you're looking for something in the same setting, there are plenty of other Dynasty Warriors options. The most positive thing I can say is that it's a better game than the original, but it's an easy one to skip with so many other titles available.

Score: 6.0/10

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