Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires is the latest in the long-running Dynasty Warriors series. Developed by Omega Force, a studio under the Koei Tecmo umbrella, the game releases in English on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, Nintendo Switch, and Steam on February 15th, 2022.
Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires combines the popular hack-and-slash, Musou gameplay with a more strategic empire management system. While the time spent in battle is still as action-packed as the rest of the Dynasty Warriors franchise, downtime in between fights is spent managing and growing your empire.
The story for Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires is based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novel by Luo Guanzhong. There are eight campaigns available in the games’ Conquest Mode, each taking place during a different moment of the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history, focusing on officers on different sides. I found the setting to be extremely interesting, even if the story beats contained in the campaigns felt like an afterthought at times. There are over 90 playable characters included in the game, as well as the option to create your own character, which can make parts of the story hard to follow. If you choose to start the game as an important figure, the major story moments will seem more important and will be much more noticeable. However, if you start as an unaffiliated officer, the story feels much less critical to your overall survival and progression.
Still, I found myself really drawn into the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history, as shown throughout the game. While I don’t feel like the story gets very deep into the historical lore, the descriptions of each historical character gave enough information to make them quite fascinating. I actually was drawn into picking up an unabridged English translation of Romance of the Three Kingdoms because I really wanted to learn more. It would have been nice to have more story content, with deeper explanations or explorations of characters and motives, but the game’s main focus is clearly on the gameplay, so I can see why the story feels shallow.
Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires is really two games in one when it comes to the actual gameplay. The first of these is the empire management side. Players are tasked with building up their empire to survive attacks and invade other territories nearby. The ruler of your empire, if you don’t choose to play as a ruler yourself, sets the objectives that the player must complete before the next invasion. These objectives are set at war room meetings every few turns. Players do have the option of attempting to convince the ruler of a different strategy, but typically the pre-selected strategies seemed to work out just fine.
Once the strategy is selected, players have a handful of turns to complete strategic objectives. These objectives range from recruiting new officers, sabotaging nearby enemy territories, and building up gold and ration stores to increase the available armies. While the strategic aspect of the game was interesting at first, it quickly became repetitive and slightly boring. They also don’t feel very challenging or intricate, and the freedom to choose what to do is minimal. There are pretty straight paths to follow strategically that become apparent early on, which removes a significant amount of thinking. It’s a shame because a more intricate strategic experience could really help add a whole lot to the Musou genre.
While the strategic side of things was less than enjoyable, the Musou gameplay was an absolute blast. Let’s be honest, no one is jumping into a Musou game expecting anything more than absolutely chaotic hack-and-slash action. Omega Force does an excellent job making the characters fun to play, with ridiculous combos stacking up as you obliterate hundreds of soldiers in every battle. The battles themselves involve either attacking or defending a castle, with different objectives depending on which side you are on. The number of soldiers and officers you have with you in each battle depends on how well you prepared during the strategic moments of the game. There were moments though when both armies were entirely out of soldiers, yet somehow there was still plenty on the field to assist me and for me to defeat.
There is not a lot of depth to the combat in the actual battles, although war plans and siege objectives attempt to make up for that. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t an absolute blast. Bringing in my custom-created character to bring down massive amounts of enemy soldiers using over-the-top attacks was entertaining. See a formation of over 100 enemy soldiers holding an objective? Don’t worry; you’ll be able to wipe them out in mere moments. Just watch out for enemy officers, as those pose a more significant threat.
Visually, the next-generation version of Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires on the PS5 felt like a bit of a letdown. There is the option for either a 4K visual mode or 60 FPS performance mode, and it’s hard to see why anyone would choose the 4K mode. The artwork in the game feels like it is several years out of date, which isn’t a huge deal but did make me wonder how much the 4K mode really matters. However, playing a frantic combat game in 60 FPS was quite nice. I didn’t notice a massive visual drop-off either, so I would definitely recommend the performance mode.
Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires is a game that I found extremely fun at times but monotonous at others. Strategic tasks become mundane and repetitive quickly, but the combat involved in the actual battles helps make up for it. It can also be challenging for newcomers to the Dynasty Warriors games to learn the ropes, but long-time fans can find enjoyment even if a lot of the game feels quite shallow. There is fun to be had, just don’t expect a grand strategy experience with a deep story or overly involved decisions and mechanics.
Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires
Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires is a game that I found extremely fun at times, but monotonous at others. Strategic tasks become mundane and repetitive very quickly, but the combat involved in the actual battles helps make up for it… There is fun to be had, just don’t expect a grand strategy experience with a deep story or overly involved decisions and mechanics.