Dynasty Warriors 2 launched alongside the Playstation 2 in November 2000. It was a new direction for the beat 'em up genre, one which hadn't made the smooth transition to the third dimension due to high profile flops such as Fighting Force. Dynasty Warriors 2 put you as one man on a battlefield with up to 1000 other fighters. You have to help out fellow officers from your side, and defeat the other officers across 8 different battles. It saw moderate success at launch - enough to spawn another sequel; Dynasty Warriors 3. This entry into the series added a variety of RPG elements into the mix, as well as vastly extending the main campaign. Dynasty Warriors 3 was a smash hit, especially in Japan where it became Koei's first game to sell over one million units. Dynasty Warriors 4 has just landed on our shores after a strenuous four month wait (for the PAL conversion), and the verdict is...well, read the rest of the review to find out.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Dynasty Warriors 2 through 4 all take place in China. The Han Dynasty, which ruled China for many years, has fallen due to internal corruption. This opens the path for three young generals and their factions to compete for control over China; Cao Cao and the Wei kingdom, Lui Bei and the Wu kingdom, and Sun Jian and the Shu kingdom.
Weapons of mass destruction
Once you've picked your officer and customized your kit and body guards, it's time to go pick a fight. Usually, there are about 1000 guys on the battlefield, with more than 30 on the screen at once. Your aim is to defeat the other team's soldiers in an effort to raise your team's morale, so that they will continue to fight effectively. The battle is won by meeting the victory conditions, which are usually defeating the other team's general. Losing the battle happens as a result of having your general slain, or losing your officer's life. However, the formula is rapidly becoming more complicated as the series continues, as a variety of RPG aspects have been introduced to the mix. At the end of each battle, your points are totaled based on the number of men you defeated, the names of the officers you defeated and the time taken to finish the battle and so on. This points total is then added to your overall points score, which then causes the officer's ranking to rise, increasing his attributes. Your officer's weapon also gains experience points during the battle. Weapon level ups give the weapon a new appearance, as well as adding extra attacks thereby increasing the number of combos you can perform.
Dynasty Warriors 4 boasts all sort of new additions and improvements over the last game. There are now more than 50 different battles to fight over 17 different locations. Enemy officers can now challenge you to a one on one duel. One on one duels are tougher than you may think, with the result being crucial to your team's morale. Win; you'll get a huge boost, draw; you'll lose morale and if you lose, you lose the entire battle. You can also create your own officers and bodyguards in the new edit mode, though this process is very limited, so much so that it seems relatively negligible. Musou mode has been altered so that each kingdom has its own Musou, rather than each character. This grants you the ability to change characters in the middle of a campaign. There are also three new generals; Cao Ren, Zhou Tai and Yue Ying, and all existing generals have been remodeled. Finally, a new challenge mode has been added which allows you to partake in challenges such as survival, and fastest time for defeating 100 men.
There are still a few kinks that need to be worked out when it comes to Dynasty Warriors' gameplay. Combat needs some sort of overhaul - as much fun as slaying 400 guys in a fight is, using the same combinations over and over again to do it gets boring quickly. The AI of the normal enemy troops, while greatly overhauled in this version, still needs a lot of work. They seem to just sit there, waiting for you to attack, rather than trying to make the first strike. Finally, the conditions for winning battles need to be changed somewhat. The majority of them are still "defeat general X", so there needs to be some sort of other objective in there, be it a level of morale, a certain amount of territory ruled, or just a number of men defeated. Next entry will be the fourth in the series (technically this is only the third (hence the Japanese title Shin Sangoku Musou 3), as the first Dynasty Warriors was a one on one fighter), and we don't need a repeat performance of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4.
Dynasty Warriors 4 offers a lot in the way of long term play. There are the three main campaigns in the Musou Mode, as well as five extra mini campaigns and more than 40 playable officers to unlock and level up, as well as leveling up their weapons. Musou can also be played in co-operative mode, should you have a friend or relative around. Outside of Musou, there is the challenge mode and versus mode, which should offer a little extra challenge. The only problem here is that the repetitive nature of the gameplay may cancel out your will to play through the game in its entirety.
The Great Wall of China
It's fair to say that Dynasty Warriors 4 doesn't feature the strongest of graphics due it its overall rough look, though the game is still somewhat impressive on a technical level. There are usually over 30 characters on the screen at any one time. Most of these are the lesser detailed infantry class soldiers, but there's usually an officer or general there somewhere, which are much more intricately detailed. All of the main officers have been remodeled for Dynasty Warriors 4, and look a lot better than they did the last time around.
The environments are probably the poorest part of the overall graphical scheme, with painfully low quality texturing and oodles of popup, and a ton of fog. Decals and special effects also look especially retarded, though the shadowing and lighting have been slightly tweaked to look less crap. Finally, the frame rate problems from Dynasty Warriors 3 are a thing of the past, as the game runs at a consistently smooth pace. Unfortunately, there is no support for 60 Hz modes.
Sound has always been an especially weak part of the Dynasty Warriors experience, and this entry into the series doesn't disappoint, with horrible voice acting for all of the generals and the same sub-standard soundtrack which has plagued the series since the second game. Some improvement has been made to the soundtrack in the form of more traditional Chinese music, but more of this and less of the hard rock/metal will be required before the music is acceptable. Sound effects are nothing brilliant, but nothing appalling. Unfortunately, there is no surround sound support - audiophiles will have to wait until the Xbox release later this year for their Dolby Digital needs.
That's how the war was won
Dynasty Warriors 4 is a solid addition to an established series; a series which will need a serious overhaul for the next installment, as the formula, while still interesting, is beginning to show signs becoming stale. There is still considerable room for improvement, but Dynasty Warriors 4 is a solid gaming experience, and all fans of action or anyone looking for a title with considerable longevity should give it a look.