The series that started it all gets a makeover
If there were ever a series of games that epitomise the lack of ingenuity and hard saturation that steer gamers away, it'd undoubtedly trace back to Dynasty Warriors. Infamous for constantly releasing title upon title of the same game, along with multiple expansions and sometimes crazy spinoffs, it's no wonder that the series is largely either ignored or frowned upon. Something surprising has happened though. Maybe it's because there hasn't been a good Dynasty Warriors game for over half a decade, or maybe it's because the majority of gamers have given up on the formula Koei has been following. Whatever the case, Koei has dipped its hand in the contemporary magic developer pot and (I'm being honest when I say this) Dynasty Warriors 7 has emerged as, quite possibly, one of the most underrated titles of the year.
I have no shame when I tell you that I'm a Dynasty Warriors fan. Having been introduced to the god-like, seminal Dynasty Warriors 3 when I was very young, I was taken aback by how simplistic yet utterly deep and addicting the gameplay was. Nothing about the title screamed difficulty; it was all about having a plethora of officers to choose from and a seemingly infinite amount of braindead enemies to crush under the weight of your dancing, flame-encrusted, demon dragon sword of truth. You could also bring a friend along for the ride. The time I spent maxing out statistics and locating legendary weapons is borderline embarrassing, but like the esteemed Ma Chao, "I have no regrets."
Saying all this, every title beyond Dynasty Warriors 3 was severely lacking. The only title I found some sort of solace in was Dynasty Warriors 5. We'll just ride right past the absolute atrocity Dynasty Warriors 6 was, which brings us to mid-2011, when Dynasty Warriors 7 jumped out of the bushes and stole my unwavering attention.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it". The old proverb holds complete truth when discussing this game. Dynasty Warriors 7 is based entirely around you slashing up no-name soldiers and beating down the higher-ups for loot and stat increases, just as it always was. There's actually some deep narrative involved in the game but, unless you're a history junkie actually interested in the actual history of what happened in ancient China, or a Warriors fan, there's no Mass Effect-esque storyline here for you. Stop looking.
Unlike its predecessors, Dynasty Warriors 7 brings an entirely new story mode system that will shock long-time fans and moderately please newcomers. Instead of picking an officer and running through the standard maps and scenarios that every faction would always do, Koei has crafted an elaborate campaign that spans hours. Each of the four factions - Wu, Wei, Shu and the new Jin - have a story campaign, and each one is riddled with cinematics, interesting dialogue (shocking, I know), and unique stages. As you progress through the story, the game will actually make you switch officers on-the-fly, in order to compensate for what's happening in the world. Officers will die, kingdoms will crumble, and most of the events are all fairly accurate to what actually happened in ancient China.
At first I wasn't too sure about the story approach, as playing freely on whatever level on wanted was what I was always used to. Right out of the gate, when I bore witness to a cutscene without horrendous dialogue and watched as it seamlessly threw me into the scenario, I was sold. During your adventure with each kingdom, you'll also be running around towns talking to the people and purchasing weapons for your officers. The spaces you can move around within are small, and the things people say are mostly useless, but I still found this much more personable than simply jumping into a scenario without any knowledge of what's going on. However, you can still do this if you wish, by talking to the officer who initiates the fight.
If the story mode doesn't do it for you, then there's the brand new Conquest mode. It's a hexagon-like board that has you moving around from space to space completing scenarios that involve special events. This is also the mode of the game that Koei has finally optimised for online play. That's right: Conquest mode is fully playable with another person locally or over the internet. As far as the events go, sometimes you'll just be completing a standard battle, but if you do then your stats will increase in a specific field. There are also weapon scenarios that will net you an ultra-powerful piece of equipment if you can beat the general at the end. Officers have their very own legendary battle scenarios, too, that are a complete blast to play through. Complete these and you'll unlock the corresponding officer. There are 46 playable officers in the game; that's a lot of unlocking.
Speaking of weapons, Dynasty Warriors 7 boasts a completely revamped gameplay system. Instead of being stuck with the same weapon for a specific officer, you can now hold two types of weapons at any time. Within your stats, though, it indicates whether you're proficient with a weapon or not. Having maximum proficiency means you're faster with your weapon and can perform a special function with it. There are also special EX moves that can only be performed with an officer's innate weapon; these EX attacks are pretty flashy and give you reason to hang onto that type of weapon. There's also a bonus attack for switching weapons on-the-fly in battle.
As you rack up the kills per officer in each and every scenario, you'll actually be achieving skill points. You can use these points to unlock special abilities like longer combo chains, special charge attacks and my personal favorite, the new second musou. Musou is your special attack and, typically, the Dynasty Warriors games only had one per officer. In this game, though, each and every officer has two unique musou attacks that are as over-the-top as they are awesome to behold. Would you say watching a small man hop on his cane, turn it into a blazing phoenix of fire, and shoot off into the distance, melting away the skin of every surrounding soldier is a waste of time? I didn't think so.
A.I. is still a problem in the game, granted, but it's a lot smarter than it ever used to be. Enemies might attack you one minute and then take off in another direction the next. Hundreds of enemies can fit on the screen at one time, at least, but sometimes with another player you'll get some slowing down. Usually it's not a big deal, but it's still present, which is somewhat annoying. Also, the voice acting is superb compared to what we've witnessed before, but some characters still sound completely stupid. All that aside, these are mere minor complaints.
Dynasty Warriors 7 is by no means a perfect game, but what it commits to is what it does best, and that's vintage hack-and-slash goodness. The story mode is incredibly engaging, and Conquest has finally thrown much-needed online play into the mix. The game certainly isn't for everyone, but if you're looking for some simplistic, addictive action, then Dynasty Warriors 7 will do you proud.