If I had written a review for Dynasty Warriors 6, I might be tempted to simply brush it off, change a few words, and republish it as my Dynasty Warriors 7 review. Nobody would notice. Maybe I have a Dynasty Warriors 5 review somewhere — same thing.
Fans of the Dynasty Warriors franchises love it regardless, while those that have tried it before and were not impressed won’t find anything new here. At all. In fact, stagnation is almost a tradition with these games. It makes you wonder if Tecmo Koei developers saw President Obama’s campaign slogan of “change” and just scratched their heads, wondering what that meant. Since the original Dynasty Warriors was released in 1997, the gameplay has remained exactly the same. You button mash your way through hundreds of enemies, pausing only momentarily to beat a slightly tougher officer, then you repeat. It is mindless, and yet it can be fun.
The Dynasty Warriors series is something of a guilty pleasure for most fans. It is almost meditative to wade through countless enemies, especially when you have a buddy playing with you. You become angels of death and trample through the blood-soaked fields of ancient China, as enemies worship unto you as a god. That is all well and good, but once your bloody ego trip has been satiated, you are confronted with the feeling that if you bought Dynasty Warriors 7 and you already own Dynasty Warriors 6, you have just been ripped off.
A thousand years in the making
For those unfamiliar with the series, the game is based on the historical novel, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, an epic novel comparable to Homer’s The Odyssey — only it has sold way, way more copies. The story is historical fiction that recounts the real history of China during a 100-year period beginning in the 2nd century, when three kingdoms — Wu, Shu and Wei — battled for control of the country.
The incredible story was passed down through the ages and recounted by Luo. The game attempts to capture the most well-known of the historical battles and then has you massacre your way through them. It sort of captures the novel and history, but — ya know — none of the real heroes of the age probably killed upwards of 10,000 people, as you will in the game. If they had, they would be monsters.
The books are excellent and highly recommended to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, and the game tries to recreate that through four “story mode” campaigns: Wu, Shu, Wei, and the newly added Jin. Each of the campaigns will give you control over specific characters, and the plot will stretch over the course of the 100-plus years of fighting. The novel is somewhat recreated, but only in a very loose sense.
Return once again to ancient China and kill tens of thousands, you monster
Each long story mode gives you a taste of more than 60 characters you can control by putting you in their shoes, having them fight beside you or putting them in your path of destruction. Between each new map, you will be allowed to wander around and talk to various characters, purchase weapons, and equip yourself accordingly. Most of these character conversations are worthless and add nothing, but at least the game tries. It is neat to try to flesh out the world, but having five people tell you how awesome you are doesn’t add a thing to the story, even if it is a nice ego booster.
Another new addition is the ability to wield two types of weapons, which can be swapped with the touch of a button. Characters can also wield any weapon at all, but there is a compatibility gauge which awards a star rating for how well a character can use that particular weapon.
Along with the lengthy story modes, free mode has been replaced by conquest mode. Conquest mode is a giant grid, where you play a mission, which in turn unlocks another mission, and another, and so on. This is where fans of the co-op button mashing will be spending their time. Even on easy, and even with a friend, the massive board will take you a long, long time to play through it all.
Dynasty Warriors 7 actually has a ton of content available to you. The problem is, it is all the same content as always, just more of it. Despite the new game modes and new weapon options, it is still the exact same mindless hack-and-slash action as every previous version for the last 14 years.
The online allows you to play the same games with people online — at least in theory. Every time I connected online I eventually was faced with so many errors that it was almost unplayable both on the PS3 and the Xbox 360. Perhaps that will change through updates, but it was a shame that we still have yet to see anything special with the online. Even if it worked perfectly, it was nothing special, just more of the same with a buddy that isn’t sitting next to you.
The more things change…
DW7 is identical to its predecessors, right down to the glitches and problems the previous titles had. Just like with every other title in the series, enemies that should be on the horizon won’t come into view until you run close enough, then they will suddenly appear. If you stop, they won’t actually move, but if you keep running, you will generally find yourself suddenly surrounded by dozens of enemies.
Turning around and locking on remain both remain as annoying as ever, and the combo options are just as limited as ever, with just two attack buttons and one special attack. And yet, for some reason the games are still fun and engaging — not engrossing by any means — but they are a fun distraction, for a little while at least.
Another similarity between this game and the last are the graphics, which are just as dated as they were in DW6. They aren’t terrible, and there are moments where it looks great, but in general the levels are bland, the backgrounds are odd looking and there is nothing impressive about them — don’t expect amazing lighting effects or particle physics. The heavy guitar-riff-driven music also returns, as do the multiple “So you want to challenge me” declarations from soon-to-be-obliterated officers. It is sort of like watching a remake of a movie from a few years ago with exactly the same story and dialog, but different actors. It didn’t work for Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot Pyscho remake, but here we are, seven incarnations deep into the Dynasty Warriors series.
If you have never played this series before, want a hack-and-slash title, and are looking for something with a co-op feature, Dynasty Warriors 7 is worth checking out. There is a lot of content, and the button mashing is simple, but can be fun. In that sense, the game succeeds. If you have played even one of the previous six titles though, you will find nothing new here.
As long as people keep buying this series — and they will, especially in Japan — then the games will remain exactly as they are, which is a true shame. Even minor tweaks could make this an outstanding series. Better customization mixed with a real sense of RPG-like story progression would be easy, and awesome, additions. Better online gameplay with a dozen or more real-life players controlling thousands of AI soldiers would make this game epic.
Unfortunately, none of that is present here. Dynasty Warriors is a franchise that needs to change, but it simply refuses to. There is new content here — and plenty of it — but there is nothing here that couldn’t have been released as an expansion for Dynasty Warriors 6. Fans of the series will love it while everyone else will ignore it, exactly as they have for the last 14 years.
Score: 6.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by Koei)