Let me get one thing clear from the get-go. Dynasty Warriors 9 is a poorly optimized game, a very poorly optimized game. I cant even begin to comprehend how even a few of the many issues within made it through QA unchecked. What’s especially annoying is that the game’s heart is in the right place, and the gameplay’s foundation is one that’s full of potential. The biggest problem here is that the countless technical faults prevent that from showing through, leaving players with a game that’s too broken and underdeveloped to enjoy. The story is interesting enough to stand out. Unfortunately, the bulk of the campaign is delivered by some of the cheesiest dialogue I’ve seen in a game since Sonic Adventure, with voice acting that’s equal to that quality. What starts out as a seemingly deep and intriguing story, soon becomes a constant whack of cringe and laughable script delivery.
One thing that Dynasty Warriors 9 gets right, is the UI and menu layout. The main screen will take you to a character list when selecting a new game, to which you can select a warrior of your choosing. Many of these will initially be blocked off until unlocked later in the game. A short cutscene will then ensue, before throwing you at the mercy of your first immediate problem, the ridiculous draw distance issue. Seriously, twenty paces is roughly about the limitation of the detailed draw distance here. Anything past that will look bare, badly textured, and odd. Fields will look like sheets of plastic, trees will be devoid of detail, entire buildings will often be cut out, it’s disgusting, it really is. It doesn’t end there, gigantic watchtowers may not even render in until you’re running up against them. Several times did I find myself running against an invisible barrier, wondering what the hell was going on, until this huge wooden structure popped in out of nowhere.
It’s well worth noting that Dynasty Warriors 9 has been heavily promoted leading up to launch. One of its bragging points is that it offers a map that is displayed with “beautiful graphics and features”, which is one hell of a stretch when you see the game first hand. Even at times when the game manages to render itself correctly and sufficiently, the visuals are dated. Character models are indeed passable, but despite the diverse sections of the map, there’s a sheer lack of polish. Buildings look plain and come without any refinement, the ground is poorly textured, grass and shrubs seemingly sit above ground level, and even the shadowing is blurred and out of context. It doesn’t help matters that NPCs will go about their daily routine, which seems to amount to nothing more than walking into walls or trekking the same short paths over and over again.
Speaking of the NPCs, they all mumble the same dialogue throughout the entirety of play. I witnessed not one, not two, but eight NPCs state the same sentence in rapid succession, within feet of each other. It removes much of the excitement and engagement that Koei Tecmo have been hyping-up for months now. To top it all off, the animations are far from impressive, if anything, they’re laughable. NPCs will casually walk around their set paths as though they’re walking on a flat slow moving escalator. It gets even worse when you factor in that many of them look identical and the majority of them serve no purpose whatsoever, unless of course you enjoy hearing the looped and irritating writing being spoken out loud. I cant even commend the real time dynamic weather effects. Rain, for example, has been designed in such a way that it looks as though your screen is being clawed at.
Characters and environmental objects and structures don’t look as though they get wet, they just appear instantly shiny as if to give off a similar illusion, but not a very convincing one at that. It’s all just a mixed bag of lazy development. I haven’t seen this many problems in an open world game since Assassin’s Creed Unity, and I don’t say that lightly. What I will say in favor of the game is that it does dish up some diverse regions, which helps to encourage the player to press on and sight-see. Hadn’t it have been for all of the sloppy textures and faults, Dynasty Warriors 9 could have stood out, but instead, it just stands out for all of the wrong reasons. There’s no denying that the map is well padded with content. Pulling up the menu will give you an overview, along with several different activities that are actively taking place. It can be somewhat overwhelming at first, but the game does a good job at giving you a firm understanding as to how it functions.
Once you begin the game, you’re given an immediate quest to complete. This takes no more than a few minutes to complete, to which you’re then free to traverse the world however you see fit. The mission structure will remain the same, but you can tackle a number of side quests to supplement your main quests. This helps to make the game feel more dynamic and open, giving the player almost full control over how each and every event plays out. It’s a valiant effort on the developers part, I’ll give them that, but it never truly feels entirely necessary. This is simply due to the fact that the game doesn’t become that challenging, unless you choose to tackle a foe that’s ten levels over you. Still, I wont deny the game of its strategic and tactical aspects. When you successfully execute a plan of your choosing, such as overthrowing a stronghold to fortify your power, it does feel pretty rewarding.
The player can pull up the world map at any given time to see how the fields of play are shaping up. Here, you can see enemy placement and strength, giving you a firm idea as to where you should focus your efforts. You can also scroll through a number of options at the world map menu. Players can check out current quests, as well as read up on the rewards and recommended levels for each. Officer info can also be browsed, which details stats, equipment, and comes with the ability to spend upgrade points to further buff them up. With each officer gradually climbing in power per level up. The belongings tab will allow you to observe your item stock. This includes weaponry, accessories, standard items, gems, scrolls, materials, and so on and so forth. Finally, players can browse tips and tutorials via the settings tab, on top of adjusting the usual core settings.
The world comes packed with useful items that can be obtained simply by walking/riding over them, some items more valuable than others. Materials can also be acquired through hunting and fishing too, which offers a nice pace breaker. Watchtowers will dish up useful information about the immediate surrounding area, which often comes in handy during missions or general exploration. New weaponry, on the other hand, can be crafted by collecting the aforementioned scrolls. These tend to come in parts, each part listing specific materials that will need to be gathered before crafting can be utilized. This adds a neat edge to the structure of the game, but it’s hardly a groundbreaking mechanic, and can prove to be more tedious than it’s worth when you’re purposely on-track for something specific.
Horses are a vital part of travelling, despite that there’s a generous fast-travel system in place. Your first horse has limited stats, but other (better) horses can indeed be purchased at the stables within cities and surrounding villages. The controls are a bit stiff when on horseback, but it’s forgivable in the face of everything else the game gets wrong. Gameplay typically consists of you clearing out hordes of enemies as you carve out your own slice of fame. Each character comes with their own pros and cons, and furthermore with their own attack patterns and defense capabilities. The combat remains accessible and easy to utilize throughout, leaning on four major attacks in total; Knock-down, Stun, Launch, and Special. Most of the standard enemies can be disposed of with a chain of standard attacks, but your tougher opponents, such as the generals or bandits, will need more of your focus.
If you come across a more capable enemy of equal level, these again can be taken care of with some simple button mashing, but as soon as you go up against someone much more formidable, you’ll be trading button mashing for tactics. I made the mistake of underestimating a level 20 enemy when I was merely level 9, and although I was successful in taking a chunk of his health from him, my ass was handed to me soon thereafter. Going back at him moments later, I carefully observed his movement and attack patterns, and with some perseverance, was able to dish up an ass-whooping of my own. Equipping different weaponry will also aid you on your way forward, with each offering varying stats and attributes. Weapons can also be reforged by equipping gems, which gifts the character with elemental attacks or a boost to strength or defense. Several gems can be put into a weapon at once, serving up a collection of diverse and interesting abilities that can be mixed up at will.
When you’re not collecting scrolls to pick up new weaponry, you can visit the blacksmith to purchase them. Each character can equip any weapon they see fit, but equipping their favorite weapon type will yield better results, which also applies to weapon rarity. It’s no surprise that Dynasty Warriors 9 comes with a solid combo system. There’s no shortage of combos that players can utilize, such as dash attacks, assault, counter attacks, finishers, special attacks, and many more. It’s a shame, however, that the camera doesn’t always behave as it should. Moving the camera from left to right is fine, and arguably this is all you will need to get a full scope of whatever battle you’re engaged with. Moving the camera up and down, on the other hand, is much more troublesome due to some headache inducing jittering that comes with it.
Framerate drops are also persistent when there’s a lot of action on the screen at once. What baffles me the most is that Dynasty Warriors 9 has been pushed hard on the promotional front, and it seems odd to me that these issues have made it through the cracks. I would be willing to forgive or overlook one, or maybe two of the overall problems that this game brings, but that’s just not the case. It seems that despite what could have been one thoroughly enjoyable experience, I’m left feeling cheated. Every aspect of play that Koei has been boasting about is let down in one way or another, and I don’t suspect they’ll be easily forgiven for them either. Dynasty Warriors 9 has been released in a state that’s just not acceptable. We game in a time where it seems to be okay for developers and publishers to launch now and fix later, and it’s especially annoying when it comes to games like this. Games that have a lot going for them, but ultimately flop due to technical issues and poor optimization. It’s not clever, and it’s not acceptable.
Dynasty Warriors 9 is an ambitious game, and perhaps that’s the source of the problem. Has the developer bitten off more than they can comfortably chew? This is a massive serving of content, and I have no doubt that fans of the series will easily have tens of hours worth of playtime to soak up. Neat additions such as purchasing and decorating abodes, or seeking out chance encounters by the way of bumping into other officers that are casually strolling through villages, adds a nice touch. The core functions of play, however, are much less inviting. I really wanted to like Dynasty Warriors 9 more than I have done, but as it stands, and if I haven’t made it clear enough already, the game is too bug-riddled and not refined enough to pull through a fun adventure. Unless Koei can release a large post-launch patch to immediately fix these faults, I dare say we’ll be seeing Dynasty Warriors 9 in a bargain bin sometime in the near future.
Dynasty Warriors 9 is a platter full of mess. Take your pick; delayed rendering, lack of rendering, jittery camera, framerate drops, poor animation, dated visuals, bad voice acting, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The biggest shame is that this game reeks of potential, potential that’s never fully realized due to all of its faults and shoddy design choices.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.