Will you be the one to end the chaos? Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires places you in ancient times, giving you the chance to bring China under your rule. Play as one of the well-known characters from Romance of the Three Kingdoms or create your own custom character and take your place in the world.
Make Your Own Story
Unlike the mainline titles, Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires has a more strategic element where you manage your kingdom or perform duties for a ruler to try and conquer China. It comes with 8 scenarios (and 3 more in the DLC), with familiar situations such as the Yellow Turban Rebellion and the Battle of Chibi, but you can go your own way from there.
If serving under a ruler, you will occasionally be invited to special event battles. These are scripted story elements. Outside of that though, you will conquer what territories you (or the ruler you serve) like, recruit whichever officers you can convince, and ally with whoever you need to. Who and how China is conquered only follows the script that you create.
I did find it a pity that event battles don’t happen when in charge of your own country. It didn’t seem that there was any reason to exclude this.
Tutorials and Tactics
The first couple of hours playing Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires felt like an overwhelming wave of tutorials. While just rushing in and hitting things is an option, it’s often not a great one. The management element is fairly self-explanatory, but battles involve taking down certain types of bases and doing things in specific orders.
For example, when invading a territory you need to get into the main castle. There are several methods to do this, but one is by capturing all lookout bases on the castle walls. To do this, the normal way is to capture catapult bases around the map, so the catapults can attack the lookouts. You can also use archers. Then after taking over these bases you can use a grappling hook to scale the wall, open the castle gates from the inside and only then attack the main enemy general.
This is just one method. Capturing bases that can produce siege towers or ones that send rams to break down the gates is another. Going around, killing everyone, and capturing all of the bases is certainly an option and will generally work but keeping tactics in mind here is much more helpful. This title actually makes the player think a bit more for a better chance of victory and I certainly appreciated it.
All According to Keikaku
Battles can be quite chaotic with tons going on at the same time. Secret plans add to this – you or your allies can propose plans to use during a battle. The more close allies you have, the more options you have here.
Essentially these are extra objectives that can give you or the enemy a huge advantage. Summoning fire to rain down across the land or a giant bear that shoots lightning for example – some definitely remind you that this isn’t historically accurate! Some are more realistic like requesting aid from an ally.
The way this normally works is that we need to complete an objective to achieve our plan while achieving another to block the enemy from completing theirs. It might be capturing a set of bases, defeating certain officers, protecting someone, or chasing down someone before they escape.
I enjoyed these quite a lot. There are quite a few different objectives and plans – it added a lot of variety to the battle, along with a way to swing the odds. As well as variety, it added some extra pressure – these plans could swing the battle completely, but the objectives are often timed and there might be an officer attacking your siege towers, enemy messengers running away to summon reinforcements and bases that we need to take over all happening at the same time.
Hack and Slash
If you’ve played any Warriors title, the combat won’t surprise you. You run around the area and hack and slash away at thousands of enemies, with a few powerful officers mixed in. This is with a combination of light, heavy and special musou attacks, with quite a few different movesets available.
Two elements to highlight for Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires in particular are secret plans and trigger attacks that stun the enemy.
Secret plans in terms of combat are basically skills. You can earn these through playing the game and level them up. You can equip up to four of these. When charged over time, you can unleash a pillar of fire, a cloud of poison, recharge your special attack gauge, and more. I found these great for taking over bases quickly or saving up and unleashing them all on a powerful general at the same time. There’s quite a variety too, though some are similar.
Attacks that stun the enemy aren’t quite so flashy, but they’re useful. I say stun, but there’s one to stun, one to knock down, one to knock the enemy in the air, and one more. It’s just an extra option to interrupt enemy attacks by holding to charge and then whacking them hard. Sometimes a prompt appears to stop an officer’s more powerful attacks, but they can be mixed in with normal attacks. It’s a nice extra option to keep enemies down.
Overall I enjoy the hack and slash gameplay in Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires. I do prefer it in Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends as that includes weapon skills that add special effects which can change the feel of combat or Warriors Orochi 4 Ultimate with its switching between characters, but it gets the basics right and adds a few bonuses here.
I am the State
When you choose a character in Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires, you’re also choosing your starting position. You can play as a character who is already ruling a country, one of their generals, or even a custom character with no affiliation.
By choosing a custom character, you can rise up, recruit allies and invade a territory to rule or serve someone else. This doesn’t stop you from leaving them later though.
Whether setting the direction yourself or following, you need to spend time managing your own areas. This can be investing money into development to increase your production of food, recruiting officers to your army, pillaging the land to get funds from the peasants, and more.
There are quite a lot of options here. I particularly enjoyed the diplomacy-related ones. In one case, I fought a particularly powerful officer called Lu Bu – Dynasty Warrior fans will be familiar with just how unreasonably strong he is. He managed to beat me and I later found him in an enemy territory that I wanted to invade, serving as its Lord. I didn’t want to fight him again, so I took another route – I bribed him. By doing this, it made him more friendly to me. I then had him betray the ruler he was serving and join me instead. The territory easily fell after that.
Another option is how to take over. Taking the territory where the ruler resides may be difficult or require some other places to be taken first, but all of their areas will then fall to you. Positioning our own forces safely and taking over one by one or making a beeline for the head of the ruler – both are valid options.
Not the Brightest
While I enjoyed the management aspects mostly, I did run into an issue with plans decided by the AI on more than one occasion.
As a ruler, generals will suggest plans to you. These often don’t seem to make sense strategically and are sometimes even impossible. In one instance, it was suggested to make an alliance when we were already allied with everyone. In another, they wanted me to attack a country where I was at an overwhelming disadvantage.
When serving a ruler, they outline plans and we can make suggestions that may or may not be listened to. These plans aren’t always smart either.
In one case, I was serving Sun Jian who is apparently a most unreasonable boss. He scheduled an invasion of a country and didn’t send any other generals – imagine me rushing at a castle alone and that was essentially the situation. I did manage to succeed through the use of secret plans and tactics despite a total wipeout of my army, but it wasn’t the best plan.
When ruling, this isn’t much of an issue – you’re the boss and don’t have to listen. It was a bit offputting when serving a ruler though, even though you don’t need to always do what they want.
Open World. Closed World.
Dynasty Warriors 9 is the only mainline Dynasty Warriors game I’ve never played, but I hear it got a lot of criticism even from die-hard fans. ‘Open World’ was mentioned a lot. There is a vaguely open-world element in Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires, but it’s completely ignorable.
One of the features is building relationships with other officers. This is typically done through choosing to interact with them via a menu in some way. Optionally, you can decide to visit the town and wander around the countryside with one of them at your side though. You can move through different areas while killing bandits and animals that cross your path.
This gives you some minor benefits, but I didn’t find it worth doing. Other than that, there are no open-world elements to worry about.
If you decide to take the route of a custom character, there are quite a lot of options to choose from. Visually you can change characters quite a lot, going fairly into depth on their physical appearance and with plenty of clothing and armor options that can be recolored to an extent.
One minor pain here is that unlike some games, you need to select the piece of clothing, hairstyle, or whatever it may be and then press a button to see it. This makes checking out all options a very slow process.
Beyond appearance, you can select the weapon of any existing officer. When in-game, you can then choose equipment and gems to add some bonuses to attack, elemental attacks, or features like draining enemy health. There isn’t too much flexibility here – it’s more about which secret plans you equip.
Scenarios feel fairly similar. While the layout and events might be different, most of the time it’s the same managing your land and taking part in battles. With this in mind, progression is important.
During a conquest, it’s possible to get married and have a child at the end. This automatically creates a custom character using a mix of traits, which you can manually adjust if desired. I like the idea of this, but it’s a pity that you can’t use the child during the conquest – only in a new game.
More relevant is that the secret plans that you can equip in battle and other equipment is carried over. Any character can use these, so completing one scenario as Cao Cao and another as Guan Yu doesn’t work against you. Levels don’t carry over between conquests, but these certainly give you an advantage.
Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires also comes with various difficulty levels. The easiest lets you slice through the enemies without problems, but still carries some risk of losing if you ignore objectives or are severely outnumbered. The hardest feels surprisingly fair compared to some other titles in the series – it’s very hard, but there aren’t intimidatingly long health bars and enemies that kill you in a couple of hits; good use of skills, tactics, and dodging can let you succeed. I imagine it’s partly due to always starting at about the same level.
There isn’t a huge amount of progression here, so some may find it less interesting after a few conquests. If you enjoy the challenge of beating different difficulty modes or getting all of the achievements, you’ll likely find it more rewarding.
Graphics, Sound, and Technical
Dynasty Warriors has never been known for its graphics and Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires is no exception. It doesn’t look bad, but there are issues.
You can start by choosing movie mode to prioritize resolution or action mode for frame rate. I tried both and in both the frame rate occasionally notably dipped when enemies filled the screen – and I’m playing on a PlayStation 5, so I imagine it happens at least as much on older platforms, if not more. I experienced screen tearing and occasional issues with pop in too. It wasn’t terrible, but it was noticeable. Clipping sometimes happens too – as one example, the first movie I saw had a beard clipping through clothes.
More generally, a lot of the textures aren’t great. Sometimes models can look quite nice, then you’ll notice a blocky pattern on their clothes which does lessen the experience a bit.
Loading times are an issue – again even on the PlayStation 5, so they might be worse on platforms such as the Nintendo Switch. Even at times when it’s loading a movie that lasts ten seconds, it can take almost as long to get it ready.
On a more positive note, the music is top-tier. This is a series standard and I’m glad to see there’s no exception here.
Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires isn’t the best game in the series, but it’s a solid entry that gets most things basically right. While there are certainly plenty of points to pick at, I still enjoyed taking over the country.
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Many thanks go to Koei Tecmo for a PlayStation 5 review code for this title.
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A gamer since the days of Amstrad and DOS and someone who has dabbled in a variety of professions. He enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has been focusing on visual novels and virtual reality in recent years. Head Editor of NookGaming. Follow him and the website on @NookSite.