Why the Dynasty Warriors Blade is Sharp Again
Over the past 16 years Koei’s most successful franchise Dynasty Warriors has established itself as the stock name of hack and slash gaming. From the humble beginnings of its first title as a one-on-one fighting game, Dynasty Warriors has evolved into a satisfying string of games that allow you to kill hundreds of men with the mashing of a single button. While an enjoyable experience, this is a formula that’s seen little change. It’s arguable that the novelty of these games is wearing off with a decline in sales seen since Dynasty Warriors 4, and Dynasty Warriors 6 doing particularly poorly.
Does this mean that the Dynasty Warriors franchise is coming to the end of its lifespan? A small rise in opening weekend and overall sales from the seventh instalment suggests there’s still fight in the series yet. And with the eighth edition of the franchise soon to be released in North America, Europe and Australia, is there anything to get excited about? Oh yes!
New Character Roster
The importance of a deep character pool is twofold. Firstly it gives variety to the player. Or at least it can give the illusion of variety as Dynasty Warriors 6 did by cloning movesets to characters that did not have a Musou Mode. 6 didn’t help itself either by having a diminished roster that saw six characters vanish from the previous game in the series. Dynasty Warriors 7 tried to combat the lack of variety by allowing characters to use more than one weapon. However the movesets were based on the weapon being used and not the character using them, meaning characters lacked originality in their fighting style. Luckily this does not seem to be the case with 8 as each character has their own unique EX weapon. The choice to use other weapons is still there, but hopefully a unique weapon to each character will mean there is a definitive difference between using warriors.
Reason number two many characters are needed is for the story. ‘Story?’ I hear you cry. While it is easy to forget why you’re killing the onslaught of men that are spawning in front of you there is a story being followed: The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Luo Guanzhong’s impressively long novel follows China’s Three Kingdoms era of Shu, Wu and Wei right through to the establishment of the Jin Dynasty. Dynasty Warriors 7 took the most impressive leap with the historical aspect of the franchise by the including the Jin Kingdom on the roster. This led to a handful of new characters and the story advancing beyond The Battle of Wuzhang Plains for the first time and ending with the fall of the Three Kingdoms. Dynasty Warriors 8 introduces new characters to all four kingdoms including new names unheard of in the franchise (Guan Xing, Guan Yinping, Zhang Chunhua) and old allies that have been promoted from generic officer status to playable characters (Li Dian, Yue Jin, Lu Su). With each of these new characters, it would be expected that more of China’s rich history will be explored. But how to explore this history?
New Stages… or at least Reinventions of Old Designs
When working with a story that is ‘historically accurate’ (quotations for the non-believers) it is hard to change too much without straying away from accuracy. Original stages that aren’t in the history books were added from Dynasty Warriors 3 onwards, but the core non-fiction levels that are memorable to most players are normally altered slightly so they’re recognisable but feel fresh. For instance, the Battle of Chi Bi heavily focuses on the importance of the fire attack from the Wu and Shu alliance but slightly differs the way this is achieved in each game.
Dynasty Warriors 6 didn’t do anything damaging to the series in this respect. In fact one of the highlights of the game was the use of three-way battles where a third army would interfere an already ongoing skirmish. Sadly this feature was used sparingly. While Dynasty Warriors 7 chose not to use three-way battles at all it was incredibly good at keeping the old content fun by splitting battles into two and sometimes three parts, often utilising the skills of different characters for each part. This was especially effective at creating some emotional moments on the battlefield, with a beloved character in the player’s control dying and then without time to mourn being thrown back into battle with another warrior hungry for revenge. It gave the battles a deeper meaning and an ulterior motivation that surpassed mindless slaughter.
With the new characters introduced in 8, new perspectives of classic battles can be expected due to the format of the new Story Mode which allows players to select from a choice of characters before each stage. This not only prevents players being stuck playing an under levelled character/a character that doesn’t fit their style of fighting (I’m looking at you Guan Suo in the Battle of Fan Castle – Part 2) but it gives replay value to each stage. It also means there will hopefully be a deeper exploration into the still young Jin Dynasty, and maybe new battles (please?). Even if there are no new stages, there still appears to be enough new content and reinvented designs that will make this journey to unifying China a unique experience to previous titles.
Tweaks to Combat
There are many ways to hack and slash. Koei’s experimentation with this has seen the creation of combat systems both popular and begrudgingly remembered. One of the least popular decisions which can possibly be linked to the fall in sales of Dynasty Warriors 6 (as well as the aforementioned cloned characters) was the introduction of the Renbu system. Renbu moved away from using upgraded weapons to improve combos and integrated a bar that filled up, allowing longer combo chains the longer the player was in combat. However when out of combat the bar would decrease, causing the player to lose momentum during long runs across the map to aid allies or search for health. Having to rebuild the amount of moves available from scratch after any extended period of time away from fighting became tiresome quickly.
Dynasty Warriors 7 got rid of the Renbu system and replaced it with the EX weapon system, allowing players to switch between two weapons to perform special attacks, as well as having the maximum combo chain being permanently increased via a character’s skill tree. Dynasty Warriors 8 will retain EX weapons and introduce abilities like Storm Rush, a multi-hitting attack via button mashing (second nature to any seasoned DW player), Variable Counters and Rage Awakening, a mechanic similar to the Rage system in Dynasty Warriors 5 which buffs the warrior for a small period of time. It all sounds exciting but these techniques’ success and availability all revolve around the new Affinity concept, a rock-paper-scissors relationship determined by the warrior’s weapon affinity, which might end up being just as infuriating as the Renbu system. It might also be the best thing to happen to Dynasty Warriors. Let’s be optimistic!
The most exciting news that comes with Dynasty Warriors 8 is online and offline co-op Story Mode. This is what Dynasty Warriors 7 lacked badly; with no Free Mode multiplayer was only available in Conquest Mode, and due to the scaled down stages compared to Story Mode (minus one very long, bloodthirsty stage) the battles were less gripping and ultimately less fun. Free Mode is reintroduced in 8 and a new mode called Ambition Mode, which gets players to collect resources in three different battle types to create a social base for peasants, has also been added. For all the negatives about Dynasty Warriors 6, one positive was its Challenge Mode. This mode, which had an arcade feel, allowed players to compete in small stages with set conditions to obtain the most points. For example, the aim of ‘Rampage’ was to kill as many enemies in ten minutes whereas in ‘Sudden Death’ you had to kill as many foes while being one hit away from death. These were especially fun to play with friends as a cool down when a stage on Musou mode was frustratingly difficult. It’s a shame Challenge Mode doesn’t make a return with 8, but we can’t have everything right?
Dynasty Warriors 6 was certainly a setback to the franchise. Considering it was built from the ground up rather than using the Dynasty Warriors 5 template it’s understandable why the game turned out to be a little hollow. Excuses aside 6 was still a disappointment, but 7 recovered well with a diverse character pool, new stages and a fast-paced combat system. Dynasty Warriors 8 seems to be following this new path of providing more for the players by giving more characters, more modes and more ways to kill the warlords that stand between you and ruling China. It definitely feels like Koei is trying to make amends to its fan base and there is certainly enough to get excited about for this new edition to the franchise. Hopefully 8’s greatness will be remembered for years to come like the stories of the warriors it follows.
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