So you’ve picked up a copy of Dynasty Warriors 7, slapped it into your console and waited for it to boot up. You know what to expect: the same tried and tested hack ‘n’ slash formula that’s been refined but never really perfected over a lot of instalments, with maybe a new gameplay element dotted here and there. That’s no bad thing: the core gameplay mechanic of thrashing enemy forces as a one-man army on the ancient Chinese battlefield remains as fun and satisfying as it did all those years ago, so you know you’ll at least like this latest offering.
The menu screen loads up sans music and with a traditional oriental-themed menu. ‘That’s pretty cool,’ you think as you jump into the story mode and choose which of the kingdoms’ armies you’d like to initially command. You have a gander, make a selection and then you’re taken to your first battle. The first thing you’ll notice are the graphics. Yes, you’d expect them to look nicer than before, but you’re surprised by just how much better they look. So you take your chosen warrior, charge towards your first group of enemies, press the attack button…
And then something happens that will define how you view the game from this point onwards: a massive smile appears on your face the second your blade makes first contact with your enemy. You’ll destroy the enemy units ahead of you as your button-mashing creates combos that become more and more ridiculously powerful. No enemy unit can stand before you and you wouldn’t have it any other way.
So you charge around the large maps destroying all opposition when you realise that the tide of battle is much more even than before. Rather than rushing around trying to manage events happening all over the battlefield, you’re instead tasked with dealing only with certain objectives, leaving the computer-controlled officers on your side to contend with the others, a blessing since NPC AI has been majorly improved since last time: now they can hold their own, rather than flounder around the field of operations like beached whales.
This fluidity also extends into the narrative of the story mode: whereas in previous instalments each battle felt like a level punctuated by mediocre cutscenes, 7 marries storytelling and gameplay effortlessly, imparting the rich legacy of characters over engrossing FMVs and immersive battling. You actually care about the characters, crying as officers are ungraciously slain to soaring strings and whooping in delight at some of the insanely awesome events that happens, such as Zhao Yun – candidate for best videogames character ever – rescuing the baby son of his emperor from the hands of an invading army single-handedly. The series’ cheesy voice-acting and melodrama remains but somehow serves to make these movies even better. The improved camera work makes you feel like you’re playing a movie, not a game.
Ulitmately, that’s what Dynasty Warriors 7 feels like: a movie. Whereas before you were presented with a huge number of officers with a similar number of stories, this time you’re made to play as the officers relevant to the most critical battles of each dynasty’s history. This character selection restriction actually benefits the player, making them appreciate the tales, histories and legends of each character more than ever before. You’ll find yourself always playing just one more battle to see how the story continues and the final fate of your selected kingdom.
So you finish a legacy feeling satisfied at your accomplishment, and jump in to start another, but something feels different this time: rather than the feeling of glee you had when you first started playing, destroying enemy troops now feels a bit samey, perhaps even – dare we say it? – boring. You’ll still want to hear the stories to be told, but you’re doing the exact same thing that you’d been doing for the last few hours, and, if you’re a fan of the series, for the last few years.
It’s upon this realisation that the fate of your love affair with Dynasty Warriors 7 ends, posed by a dividing dichotomy: you’ll either adore the ceaseless and satisfying slaughter of enemy troops the game offers you or you’ll find the same old hacking and slashing dull and repetitive as time wears on. Yes, there’s another mode to play, but compared to the story mode, Conquest feels disjointed, unfocused and ultimately irrelevant.
Dynasty Warriors 7 is definitely bigger but, depending on your outlook of the series, not certainly better. The developers obviously love their subject matter and so they should – the franchise has been churning out titles since 1997 – but it’s your love for the series that will ultimately define how you view Koei’s latest: you’ll either see this as an essential addition to your library, or another indistinguishable, dull chore. If that’s the case, don’t go out of your Wei to get this game.
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