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TVG gives you the lowdown on the first truly next-gen instalment of Dynasty Warriors, while simultaneously trying to avoid the angry bo staff attacks of ancient Chinese generals...
- First true next-gen 'Warriors' instalment.
- Decent enough sound.
- Extended abilities...like swimming!
- Same repetitive combat.
- Still no online gameplay.
- No doubt the first of many incarnations.
Gamers in the East apparently can't get enough of KOEI's Warriors games. There are now six Dynasty Warriors games in the series with multiple spin-offs, which are based around ancient Chinese Dynasties battling it out for supremacy. Similarly, KOEI's Samurai Warriors series has two games under its belt (also with spin-offs) and revolves around Ancient Japan rather than China. Last September's Warriors Orochi, on the other hand, combined both Samurai and Dynasty Warriors characters into the usual Hack 'n Slash/Fighting/RTS gameplay that the series is renowned for.
The thing is, try as we might (and we really have tried over the last few years), we really can't figure out where the appeal lies with these games. True to form, Dynasty Warriors 6 evokes the same confusion that we've come to expect from the series, leaving us to wonder why so many Japanese gamers carry on buying copies. Is it the gameplay? Surely not, because it's about as varied as working on a construction line. The graphics perhaps? Nope, they're barely worthy of a next-gen release. Could it be the games' depth? Well, given that the learning curve is as flat as Belgium, I don't think it could possibly be that. It will surely remain a mystery but for the record, here's an explanation of what the latest Dynasty Warriors game achieves, and where it falls down quite horribly.
Not Quite The Ming Dynasty
Dynasty Warriors places you in the lands of Feudal China where you fight as an Ancient warrior that's certainly well schooled in Sun Tzu's Art of War. Each level is one large map, which is where the RTS elements come in. As this warrior you must guide armies through the map, taking out enemy strongholds, fighting other leaders, laying siege to castles, and just generally being a war mongering type of guy. While there is the illusion of non-linearity and strategy as to how you approach these maps, the reality is that you're bottlenecked down certain routes, which open up as you've cleared previous areas. So, in summary, there's not a huge amount of tactics involved after all.
The fighting takes the fairly basic form of four straightforward moves: blocking, a standard weapon attack, a fierce weapon attack and a special move. Slight variations can be achieved by combining moves with each other as well as directions on the thumbstick. Additionally, players can perform more extensive combos depending on whether they rhythmically tap the desired button, or simply hold it down. Next to your health bar on the HUD is another bar that tells you when it's possible to launch a special move. The bar can be filled up by killing enemy NPCs or standing still and charging your warrior with the special move button. Once charged, a special move unleashes a volley of unstoppable attacks.
This is basically as deep as the combat goes and it's lacklustre to say the least, resulting in zombified button mashing on the part of the gamer which is never fun. There is one new combat feature for this latest Dynasty Warriors instalment called the 'Renbu' system. It encourages players to tally up as many combo kills as possible with standard weapon attacks, as fierce attacks decrease the 'Renbu' meter (at the bottom left of the HUD). The higher this meter goes, the stronger your attacks become. Unfortunately, this 'Renbu' system doesn't add much depth to the combat experience and it's certainly not enough to stop this particular ship from sinking.
Speaking of sinking ships, this is another of the new additions for Dynasty Warriors 6. You know a game is clasping at straws when it boasts new features such as the ability to climb, swim and jump from high walls. There's rarely actually a need to swim, although sometimes you'll spot a couple of enemies on a boat who you can take out, resulting in their ship sinking. Climbing, on the other hand, forms part of the enhanced siege opportunities, as you'll occasionally mount ladders to climb castle walls. Sometimes you can even fire a catapult at gates, which then crumble under improved destructible environments. However, these features are fairly basic in nature and aren't really something to brag about.
The main mode in the game is the single-player 'Musou' campaign. Initially you can take one of three characters (more open up as you progress) through a series of battle maps, which are driven along by a story told through various cut-scenes. A slight bonus here is that 'Musou' and Free modes (see below) can be played co-operatively. A 2 player offline co-op feature has been included, although it's a little disappointing that these are the only multiplayer offerings in the game.
The two other game modes, Challenge and Free, serve only to add a bit of padding to the main 'Musou' campaign. Free mode is simply the same battles from 'Musou' rehashed without a plot linking them together, while Challenge mode is just a series of high score based mini-games. Some of the mini-games are time based and will have you racing from one point to another as quickly as possible or collecting power-ups as fast as you can. Others are combat orientated, challenging you to KO as many gormless soldiers as possible within an allotted time. In short, these mini-games don't add much content to the game and aren't particularly enjoyable either.
One of the features that we liked from Warriors Orochi was that you played as three characters that you could switch between at your will. Not only did this offer your characters a bit of respite, but it also meant that the variation of the game was, in effect, tripled. Playing as three characters at a time meant more fighting moves and weapons, which certainly improved the experience, and it's unfortunate that KOEI hasn't thought to include this in Dynasty Warriors 6 (even though most of the story-arcs feature two main warriors).
When moving your lonesome warrior around the battle maps, it becomes apparent that the camera is yet another irritating part of the game. While the left thumbstick controls your character's movement, the right stick controls the camera's movement around your warrior. Unfortunately, whenever you move your camera left or right when your warrior is in stride, he also moves left or right. As a result, the only way you can look around with the camera is by stopping your warrior from moving, which isn't much use if a boss character is pursuing you when you're running out of health.
Speaking of that exact scenario, we found that it was possible to beat a boss without taking a single hit. Simply unleash your special move, let him chase you for a while until your special move bar charges up again (this appeared to happen automatically during boss battles for some reason), then rinse and repeat. It got us out of one very sticky situation, although it really shouldn't have. The boss character simply chased after our warrior limply, while it was possible to run through hordes of enemy foot soldiers without even taking a hit. That about sums up the atrocious AI, which really is in need of a tune up now that the series is firmly entrenched on the next-gen consoles.
The Pop-up History of Ancient Chinese Warfare
Pop-up (as well as pop-out) is also a problem with NPCs. You'll often find that a party of enemy soldiers will pop-up in open space 10 metres in front of you, which leaves you wondering if they have in fact mastered some mystical Chinese magic. Strangely, the opposite even happens. Having pursued a group of lowly grunts in the hope of pulverising them to a fine powder, we were most disappointed when they simply disappeared into thin air.
Graphically, there's nothing much to write home about here. In all fairness to KOEI, there are visual improvements since Warriors Orochi, but simply not enough of them. Environments are slightly smoother around the edges, which makes for less jaggies, but the textures are still fairly bog-standard and really aren't of a next-gen standard. I suppose some of the fighting animations have their moments but, again, you really have to ignore the sludge that surrounds them if they're going to catch your eye.
The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions are pretty much identical, with one very familiar exception: Dynasty Warriors 6 is yet another game that has framerate issues on the PS3. When battles become very dense on the PS3 version it has a tendency to exhibit slow-down much more prominently than the Xbox 360 game, which certainly won't please Sony fanboys.
When it comes down to sound, KOEI has done fairly well. If you ignore the fusion Metal music during battles then some of the traditional Chinese tracks are actually quite pleasurable - it's a bit like being in an up-market Chinese restaurant really. Voice-over work is well-rounded in the cut-scenes and mid-battle war cries, displaying the wisdom and bravery of these Chinese warriors in a curious but not too serious way. Finally, the sound effects are also of a good quality as your warrior lets out grunts of aggression while slaying the bad guys, while various types of bo staff inflict hearty thwacks with their various attacks.
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