I'm an unashamed fan of the Dynasty Warriors series. I found myself drawn in initially by Dynasty Warriors 4 on the PS2, and I've always turned to the series as my go-to when it comes to mindless action games to pull me out of a funk. From the time I decided to make it my personal goal to play every single Warriors-styled game on the Xbox 360 back-to-back (I got through half), to nearly buying a Nintendo Wii U entirely for Hyrule Warriors, I've kept coming back to this series. It's safe to say I was excited about Dynasty Warriors 9 and the changes it brings to the table. Is a huge open world enough, or should things have remained simple?
It took me only a couple of minutes to know something had gone horribly wrong. Upon loading up the tutorial, the game's frame rate immediately tanked, and I don't think it ever rose above 15 at any point. I couldn't figure out what was actually killing the frame rate, often there wasn't even anything going on. The tutorial takes place in a tiny enclosed area, but it's full of an almost PlayStation 2 level of fog that assumedly hides pop-ins and textures as they load.
I then started moving around and things kept going wrong. My character felt like he was sliding on ice, and I was constantly overshooting where I wanted to actually go. The camera has equally awkward controls, and I could never focus it where I needed it to be. This is a terrible combination. It was rare that I could see where I wanted to go, and if I ever even managed that much it was a total crapshoot if I could actually get there. The simple act of riding a horse through the woods should never be this difficult.
On top of everything, I was in this tutorial far longer than I should have been. If you start playing before the game fully downloads, it endlessly loops the tutorial without telling you that's what's going on. So I backed out to let Dynasty Warriors 9 fully download, started a new game, and discovered I had to replay the tutorial. After I finally finished that, the campaign railroaded me into a second tutorial that went over the exact same information. By the time I got into the meat of Dynasty Warriors 9, I must have played this tutorial no less than five times over the course of two hours.
The worst part is this experience highlights the compelling changes to the combat system that are buried under here somewhere. Like most games in the series, you have two attack buttons. One for a combo, and one that you can press to modify a combo in progress. A big new feature to the game is Trigger Attacks. These allow you to either stun an enemy, toss them into the air, or knock them onto the ground. You can then follow these up with Flow Attacks, special combos that change depending on the enemy's status. This is a brilliant new system that opens up a lot of possibilities on how to fight.
Characters will now rush forward to instantly close the distance between you and the closest enemy, making getting to the combat all the easier. There are also some neat systems, like the ability to instantly execute officers that you catch in an endless combo. All of this honestly should make the best combat system in a Dynasty Warriors game to date. I wish it was just in a game that actually worked properly.
A big deal is made about Dynasty Warriors 9's new open world, but the map as it stands just seems empty, ugly, and pointless. All I ever seem to do is run from one mission to the next and waste time. Only rarely do actual enemies stop you, but the attacking groups are so small that it's more of a joke than anything. As I wander from mission to mission, indecipherable pop-up information barrages the senses. The game constantly tells me that So-And-So has just killed Whats-His-Face. I know this is normal for the franchise, but the older games didn't have all of China as a map. Occasionally, a minimap extends onto the screen with a few highlighted parts, and I still don't know what this means.
Some of Dynasty Warriors 9's elements are so bizarre that I have no clue how anyone thought they were okay. XP and items are your rewards as you complete quests, but the items don't appear in your inventory. Instead, they spawn in boxes somewhere vaguely close to the quest area, and you need to find these boxes and smash them for the reward. Big quest area? Don't see where the items spawn? Shame, no reward for you. The game also has an "auto-run" feature to make it so you can just ride a horse to your chosen location without any input. The horse will always go in a straight line with no concern for things in the way. Is there a wall between you and the location? Or a particularly dense forest? Watch in awe as your horse traps itself in place and forces you to take over anyway.
To top it all off, the step back in conveying the story is genuinely shocking. For those who have somehow avoided the series up to this point, Dynasty Warriors retells the famous Chinese story Romance of the Three Kingdoms. In the past few entries, these events are done through fancy cutscenes showing heroic events between levels. This time around, you'll get boring cutscenes that consist of little other than a camera slowly rotating around a group of characters standing in a circle and talking about the nearby events.
The writing and dialogue often make no sense. The narrator is the worst, with several of his lines seemingly cut off before they actually finish. The voice acting appears to have taken a noticeable dive in quality as well. Zhang Jiao sounds like he's trying his hardest to be Homer Simpson, while Cao Cao is permanently bored. People seem to have problems pronouncing names of characters and locations, with some giving totally different pronunciations of the same word during dialogues. Each line also has a two-second pause between them, which makes everything feel like it has the production value of a play put on by a high school drama club.
Dynasty Warriors 9 never manages to show anything that indicates a readiness for primetime. I've already mentioned the frame rate issues. Even during cutscenes that consisted of nothing but the camera rotating around a stationary character, the game still can't seem to hit a stable 30. Characters fall through the ground and into the void. Trees pop into existence right on top of where I'm trying to go. Look off into the distance and there's a good chance you'll see entire chunks of the level failing to load. Enemies will appear and disappear repeatedly as the game struggles to handle the number of troops that it insists on. Animations constantly interrupt each other, or just stop for no good reason. Even if they work, they often look stiff and unnatural, especially when it comes to things like running. It all leads to an ugly, glitchy mess of a game.
I'm convinced a lot of these issues were because I was on a base PS4 rather than a PS4 Pro. In my time playing Dynasty Warriors 9, I talked to a few people who got early copies of the game. I also looked at experiences others have shared around the Internet. Sure enough, I saw one constant. The game seems to barely run on a base PlayStation 4. Even those who had the Pro model said the game wasn't perfect and still ran into issues at times. We've reached out to Koei Tecmo regarding this discrepancy and will update if we receive a response. As it stands from personal experience, I simply can not suggest a purchase to anyone who lacks a Pro.
I'd say that words can not truly express how bad Dynasty Warriors 9 really is, but there actually are words made for this situation. These are words like "terrible" and "horrid" and "for the love of God what on Earth have you people done to this series that I formerly adored?" The game I played is an absolute technical disaster that barely runs. New elements haphazardly pop up with no consideration on how to fit them into the gameplay. Basics such as storytelling take a massive leap backward. Dynasty Warriors 9 isn't just bad. This is a Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 level series killer.
Dynasty Warriors 9 was played on PlayStation 4 using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC and Xbox One.