Dynasty Warriors 6: Empires Review
It's one of the longest running franchises out there, and without skipping a beat, the sixth installment comes marching along for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Some of you may remember the original Dynasty Warriors that released as a launch title back in 2000 for the PS2. It came along with high critical acclaim and many new owners of Sony's console very much enjoyed the title, as it clearly ushered in a new era of gaming; it featured hundreds of characters and enemies on the screen at once, and flashy visuals never seen before on consoles. Since then, though, the DW series hasn't really matured much, and now, over seven years later, the sixth entry in the series only proves that Dynasty Warriors is aging. ...and instead of aging like a fine wine, it's aging more like milk. We won't deny that it's still entertaining - at least for a while - but beyond that, we get the same ol' same ol' with a lame attempt at instituting a "new" combat system. Sorry, but this really isn't what we were hoping for.
One of these days, Omega Force is going to put as much effort into the gameplay graphics as they do with the cinemas and CGI. As usual, we're treated to some fairly impressive cut-scenes throughout the game (including plenty of stellar choreography), but the gameplay visuals don't cut the mustard. The dreaded pop-in has often plagued this series over and over, and unfortunately, that very same flaw is painfully prevalent once again. We do appreciate the fine-tuning in regards to "jaggies" and other unsightly errors, only because Dynasty Warriors 6 boasts very clean lines and smooth textures...well, with the exception of the background elements. While many of the characters have great detail, the developers didn't really bother to flesh out the environment with anything more than a few assorted rocks and trees. They're not even pretty to look at, either, which means the overall package is significantly lacking. Given the potential of the PS3's hardware, we would've anticipated something far more impressive, especially given the amount of time Omega Force has had with this series. Too bad for us.
The sound is worse, because that notoriously bad voice acting DW is so well known for (sadly) has returned in full force; we just can't figure out why they bother with an English translation. Just give us the original Japanese tracks and sub-titles and we'd be happy! Instead, we have to suffer through the lame voiceovers, generic and uninspired combat effects, and an extremely repetitive soundtrack that quickly grows tiresome. At first, the rock music seems to fit the atmosphere quite nicely, but before your first mission is over, you'll be praying for a complete soundtrack overhaul. Overall, both the sound and graphics are in desperate need of an overhaul in the new generation, but this turns out to be little more than a slightly enhanced PS2 title. The PS2 couldn't handle the graphics, but as far as the sound is concerned, this Dynasty Warriors 6 sounds almost exactly like every one of its predecessors.
If we were to give you a brief overview of the gameplay, it would go something like this- run, slash, jump, repeat. We suppose we should elaborate but just remember that the entire experience boils down to that very simple formula, and depending on your outlook, that's either a bonus or a crippling negative. You can choose from several different characters, and when on the battlefield, you can attack, block, dodge, jump and execute devastating Musou attacks. You can also increase the effectiveness of your attack by dispatching more enemies in a row; the more kills you can rack up, the more powerful and elaborate your offense becomes. This is the new Renbu system, which is just about the only aspect of this particular DW that's even remotely dissimilar from previous titles. The R1 button dodges, the X button jumps, the Square button attacks, the Triangle button is a different attack that pops an enemy into the air, and the Circle button unleashes Musou. In terms of actual control, this is all you could ever need to know.
But speaking of control, there seems to be a lack of responsiveness that wasn't present in other DW games. Either that, or there is a slight recovery period for your character after performing a certain attack, but amidst the constant chaos, it was difficult to determine. As for the Renbu system, it sounds like a good idea on the surface, but all it really does is force you to hammer on the attack button over and over. See, you'll become more powerful by building up Chains - number of enemies killed in a row - and that becomes a crucial aspect of the gameplay the further you progress. However, the developers also saw fit to discontinue the system of Light and Heavy attacks in order to implement Renbu, which kinda took away from the minimal strategy involved. On the good side of things, one must remember there is some strategy in every Dynasty Warriors title, and you can't just run around like a lunatic all the time. You'll have to block often, especially against bosses, and sticking with your unit is typically a good idea.
You do have several options when it comes to gameplay modes, but there's not much difference between Musou (the Story mode) and Free Play (similar, but you can replay prior missions with unlocked characters). The latter mode is a bigger benefit because you can play through your favorite missions as many times as you wish, and you can continue to gain levels and skills. There's something akin to the Skill Trees we often find in RPGs, and you can equip your characters with abilities; learning and experimenting as you go. You can also find and equip new weapons or upgraded versions of current weapons, and to assist you on the battlefield, you will choose one of four warhorses that have the capability of trampling enemy soldiers. All of this falls under the preparation aspect of the game, and while there's plenty of depth, we really wished it had more of an impact on the gameplay itself. Almost regardless of whatever character, weapon, skill set, or warhorse you choose, you'll still be approaching most every mission in exactly the same way. The options and diversity is appreciated, but it's simply not all that significant.
In the end, Dynasty Warriors 6 fails to impress, even though it may still fly for avid followers of the franchise. If you've enjoyed previous titles, you'll probably have some fun with this one, but we're giving you fair warning: the Renbu system doesn't add much of anything to the depth, the graphics and sound are mediocre, (especially for a next-gen title), the repetitive nature of the combat is fun for a limited time, and the difficulty can get irritating. If you die out there, you have to start the entire mission over, remember. On the good side, we didn't see much in the way of slowdown, building up our Chain to execute bigger and better attacks was - at the very least - functional, and there are plenty of ways to outfit your chosen character and prepare for battle. Micromanagement freaks can have a field day, and despite the perceived unresponsiveness of the controls, combat remains mostly accessible and fluid. We just wish Omega Force would step forward and issue a major upgrade for this franchise...
And when can we expect that, guys? Do we have to wait until Dynasty Warriors 11 on the PS4?
4/2/2008 Ben Dutka