In but a few months, Tecmo Koei has been hard at work churning out high profile releases for the first part of the year. Nestled right between Warriors: Legends of Troy and Samurai Warriors Chronicles laid a sequel fans have been clamoring for years to play. Taking a full three-plus years to be released, Dynasty Warriors 7′s release marks the longest span between titles in the series history. Has it been well worth the wait, or does the first true Shin Sangokumusou title feel too similar to past entries?
Dynasty Warriors 7 opens up with two primary gameplay modes (story and conquest) as well as a slew of other options including an encyclopedia chronicling the tale of Romance of the Three Kingdoms and a playable tutorial that will show you the basics of the game through the use of a relatively newcomer to the series, pretty boy Guan Ping.
When you begin story mode for the first time, one of the first things that comes to mind is the addition of a new kingdom: Jin. For those familiar with the original lore the game series is based off of, this fourth kingdom froms as a splinter of one of the original three kingdoms and later goes on to create what would later become the Jin Dynasty. This transition is the focus of their story mode and each of the other three kingdoms has a similarly epic tale. Each story mode chronicles decades from the fall of the Han Dynasty well through the Three Kingdoms era. For story reasons and spoilers, it’s easy to see why the developers even placed a warning to play the three other campaigns before starting Jin.
Players of previous games would recall the story, or musou, mode being different for every character of the game, typically lasting around eight story battles a piece. Dynasty Warriors 7 does away with that system and instead has each campaign follow the events of Romance of the Three Kingdoms more closely than any other title in the series. Rather than picking an officer from a given kingdom, you’re instead led through the story as a myriad of generals of each faction, playing a couple of battles as each before reaching the finale for that kingdom. All four campaigns have a minimum of twenty battles a piece as well as plenty of cutscenes during and between battles to help expand on the lore.
In the case of conquest mode, It feels initially like a watered-down empires mode from previous entries. Picking a different character to begin with won’t offer a varied locale to start on the map, nor is there really a separate map per character. Imagine that the map of China is just a picture of a finger gun and your journey beings on its glowing fingertip. Each of the game’s sixty(!)-plus playable characters share the same map so there is no need to worry about having to stick with the same character throughout the entire playthrough unless that’s your preference.
For those that are looking for a co-op experience in Dynasty Warriors 7, conquest mode is the only option available. It’s more than sufficient with enough battle variations to keep any two players entertained. If you don’t have a friend on hand, DW7 brings online play to the table. Any map can be played online on a difficulty with your choosing, so it’s really just down to finding a player to join you. Players looking for a match to join can hop into online mode and scour the map looking for highlighted hexes that indicate a host in need of another player. Hosts can simply select their map and wait for an interested party to join. Even during non-peak hours, I only had to wait for a minute or two before I had someone join in.
Gone from Dynasty Warriors 7 is the staple Create an Officer mode. In its place, Tecmo Koei installed a new system where each character is free to use any two weapons of their choosing at a given time. Every character has a given compatibility rating with each weapon type, so some characters may be more proficient and be able to attack faster or with different attributes than another. In addition to the compatibility system, each character has a signature weapon that when used adds an additional EX move to their arsenal (One oddity to note is that each character doesn’t start with 100% proficiency with their EX weapon. More on that shortly).
Dynasty Warriors 7 features an overhauled leveling system that sets to differentiate itself from other games of the genre. Experience points are a thing of the past, although the stat boosts that drop after defeating an enemy officer still remain. Instead, you collect a different type of skill point after every victory against an enemy officer. These points can be allocated to an individual skill table for that character for skills such as extra attacks or another musou gauge. Between different characters, there isn’t too much variation in the skill trees. Characters share the same general layout with only one or two extra skills varying, typically either some sort of extra stat increase or weapon proficiency. Said weapon proficiencies don’t really do too much to differentiate between characters. With a higher proficiency, a given character my swing faster or farther or perhaps dash in the air for some basic examples.
The conquest map of China is divided up into a couple hundred of hexes made up from a number of different icons. These vary from battles with a stat increase after a successful victory, a stage where a normal or legendary weapon is unlocked, towns, or legendary battles.
Towns operate as your central hub for acquiring new weapons. There’s a merchant in every town that carries the same stock as the other towns that will sell you varying weapons depending on how much of China is under your rule. Beside them typically lies a blacksmith. Contrary to initial impressions, a blacksmith exists only to help level up the unlockable skills, or seals, on a weapon that could otherwise normally be unlocked through continuous use in battle. It’s a nice touch for those that want to skip over a given weapon class, but given just how lengthy the conquest mode goes, I recommend using those weapons to give the game a little more variety. The third and last constant npc to note is the teahouse lady. Here you can change your accompaniment into battle, both human officers that you’ve developed bonds and an animal companion, ether for battle or to mount. Whether you want to rush into battle atop a giant elephant or have a falcon at your side is all up to you. Every so often three more npcs will visit various towns across the map. One exists solely to test your knowledge of RoTK lore with a series of random multiple choice questions while another offers a selection of animal companions and exotic weapons to purchase. Officers in your retinue will appear in a given town independent of the other npcs and rather based on their affinity from fighting alongside you in combat. There always seems to be a pattern to their arrival. Endure one or two of their legendary battles for the first encounter, finish the remaining ones for the second (thus turning them into a loyal ally to use in later battles), then a couple more times based on how your bond has grown before finally hitting the maximum level.
Every few hexes lies one with a basic profile of a face on them. Each icon represents a particular character and a battle unique to that character. After going through the few missions for a given officer, they are unlocked for future use in conquest mode. Each battle feels quite similar to any other map in the game, so after unlocking a handful of characters the novelty slowly fades away until it almost becomes a chore to unlock the next character. Thankfully the growth gained on a character during their legendary battles becomes permanent if you wish to play as them in a different mode. These maps really feel like an attempt to extend the game with repetitive tasks instead of feeling like you’re truly taking part in a historical skirmish.
Combat as a whole feels largely similar to previous entries. Some abilities have been revamped or taken out entirely. No longer can your character roll out of an enemy attacks and air dashes are only available on certain characters with a high enough proficiency to use a light weapon. To make up for these changes, Dynasty Warriors 7 incorporates a number of changes from one of the non-numbered titles in the series, Strikeforce. The ability to equip two weapons is the biggest improvement from that game as well as a lesser addition of an arrow on your hud that directs you to the officer you currently have targeted. What strikes me as odd is that the game includes the targeting arrow, yet not a lock-on feature from the same game. It would work a lot better if I could just automatically rotate around to face the nearest target rather than having to manually rotate around the touchy camera, possibly getting smacked around in the process.
As a whole, the camera in Dynasty Warriors 7 functions like you would expect. It can rotate around to a user’s request or automatically re-center whenever your character blocks. Just as in almost any other action game, the camera will tend to act erratically from time to time. On the few parts when you’re forced to battle between two relatively close walls, the camera will on occasion swing around and wedge itself at just an angle that makes it difficult to see much of anything except a mass of flailing torsos. A simple readjusting will typically fix this issue, so it’s not much of a concern as long as you’re willing to move your thumb away from the attack button every once in a while.
Graphically speaking, this game looks the best of the entire series. The ingame display looks for the most part minimalistic. Information on your character’s health and musou as well as their current temporary buffs and equipped weapons are all placed in one central bar beside their character portrait. The staple map returns in the same form that has been in the past entries, only lacking a visible morale gauge.
In the thick of battle, it’s clear to see that the detail has improved greatly on enemy troops. Rather than all following one set pattern of movement or attacking, the game renders each unit in sync with a few others. While it seems efficient, for some reason the game’s frame rate still takes a heavy toll for having so many units on screen. Thankfully Dynasty Warriors 7 is handled in such a way that any severe slowdown is minimal. There were only a small number of instances where the action would chug momentarily, but that was usually due to my insistence on eliminating a few hundred enemy soldiers at once. When the action is cut down to just one or two units on screen at a given time, the frame rate jumps up to nearly sixty frames a second. It’s hard to tell whether the decrease is automatic or if the system just can’t handle the extra pressure. With just how powerful consoles are these days, it’s a little disappointing to see such a drastic decrease in performance whenever there’s an army to overtake.
In addition to being one of the prettiest titles in the genre, Dynasty Warriors 7 brings a fresh overhaul on the franchise, returning the game back to the roots of fan favorites of the series while giving it a fresh new take. Fans that may have been disappointed with the last entry of Dynasty Warriors will be glad to know that Tecmo Koei has listened to their cries and produced a title worthy of being called the best one yet.
While the conquest mode leaves some to be desired, the expanded story mode more than makes up for the experience, especially with fans familiar with the literary version of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Dynasty Warriors 7 is a solid title with plenty of cooperative replayability, newly added online play, and enough characters to field a small army. It will easily keep you interested until the inevitable Xtreme Legends or Empires update.