Monday, December 01, 2008

Dynasty Warriors 6 Review

Dynasty Warriors 6, developed by Omega Force and published by KOEI.
The Good: Straightforward controls and combat, objective-based battlegrounds, player-guided character growth, challenge mode, constant action, same-computer cooperative play
The Not So Good: Extremely repetitive and shallow gameplay, chaotically confusing, laughable strategic elements, no online components, poor performance and severe pop-in
What say you? An action-heavy fighting game, sophisticated it is not: 5/8

I had never heard of Dynasty Warriors. It is, just like Out of Eight, big in Japan (actually I am big in Canada and the Netherlands, apparently), responsible for selling a lot of “PlayStation 3”s, whatever those are. While the PC is certainly devoid of many fighting games, there’s always room for some compelling action on the system of the discerning gamer. Preferring strategy games as my weapon of choice, you could say good fighting games are very-real-time strategy games, countering opposing moves with split-second decisions. And extreme violence is always fun, killing untold numbers of opposing forces with the press of a button. Plus, this is Dynasty Warriors 6, so it must be super awesome by this point, right?

The graphics are, in a word, disappointing. This is the first “next-gen” (meaning “almost as good as the PC”) game in the series, but Dynasty Warriors 6 is quite behind the curve in terms of graphics. First, the highlights: the character models and animations are well-done, at least for the main characters and the various friendly and enemy officers. The rank-and-file troops are terribly repetitive, faceless cannon (well, sword) fodder. The environments are not distinctive, running the gamut from “generic desert fort” to “generic mountains.” The camera is not located out far enough, leading to a lot of confusing battles with tons of people obscuring the view of your character. Probably the worst aspect of the graphics in Dynasty Warriors 6 is the horrible amount of pop-in very close to your character. The seemingly large battles in the game (one of the draws of Dynasty Warriors 6) are not presented as such, as you will commonly only see troops (both friendly and enemy) located immediately adjacent to your character. While the environments are displayed correctly into the distance, people as little as ten feet away from your character will simply not display, and I did not find any option to tweak this shortcoming. In addition, Dynasty Warriors 6 has fairly bad performance with a lot of hiccups during intense action (which is pretty much all the time). As for the auditory aspects of the game, we get some generic action music with Oriental influences with typical voice acting for a foreign game: nothing terribly notable here. Overall, I was expecting a lot more out of Dynasty Warriors 6 in terms of the presentation.

Dynasty Warriors 6 is a action-heavy fighting game where you take on hordes of enemy troops at one time. The main part of the game takes place in the Musou mode, a campaign of sorts where you lead one of the game’s many characters in a series of battles with some historical context, gaining experience over time; more on this mode in the next paragraph. Otherwise, you get a free mode where you can engage in any of the game’s battles that you have unlocked. You can also play the challenge mode that offers four almost similar objectives: record knockouts, record knockouts without being hit, run fast, destroy objects, or collect objects. The challenge and free modes are just minor diversions from the main Musou campaign. Dynasty Warriors 6 lacks online play of any sort, though you can play cooperatively on the same computer. This is not surprising, since Dynasty Warriors 6 was clearly designed for a console with multiple people playing at once instead of finding friends over the Internet on a PC. One very questionable “feature” is limiting the number of saves in the campaign to three per battle. Why am I penalized for having a life outside of the game? There is certainly no memory space reason for this limitation and it serves no real strategic value; I paid for this game, let me save when I want!

As promised, here is the paragraph about Musou mode. It’s a campaign where you lead a single warrior through a series of battles, taking on outrageous numbers of enemies. In addition to acquiring more powerful weapons, your character will increase their skills over time, and you can choose which attributes to focus on in a research tree of sorts. It’s a nice feature that you can customize your character based on your strengths and weaknesses: increased stats in attack, defense, and health can be chosen, in addition to some interesting special attacks. This is the only aspect of Dynasty Warriors 6 that elevates it above a generic action game, as the remainder of the Musou mode is woefully underdeveloped. The game is advertised as a “tactical action” game; while you can view friendly positions in the battleground, you cannot issue orders to any subordinate officers during battle. You will just have to follow the support troops around, and they will typically get stuck in areas if you have not unlocked the next objective. What’s the point of being the top officer if you can’t order people around? The objectives are almost trivial, as they will automatically become completed as long as you push forward and keep killing people. I was expecting at least a simple strategic element to the battles in Dynasty Warriors 6, but the features come up quite short here.

The controls of Dynasty Warriors 6 are quite simplistic in comparison to fighting games from as far back as the early 90’s. You will use the default “attack” key most of the time (which take a set amount of time according to the canned animation), constantly mashing it over and over until you charge up your Musou meter and you can perform a more powerful Musou attack for larger hordes of enemies. Your only other option is to block enemy attacks (only useful for the occasional enemy officer) and a charge attack to counter enemy attacks. And that’s it. Combos, a popular feature of almost all fighting games, have been removed in favor of gradually increasing the power of your attacks as you chain kills together. While this makes Dynasty Warriors 6 much easier on beginners, the grind of repetitive combat wears on more skilled players looking for a deeper experience.

Now I know why I don’t review console games: where’s the depth? Most fighting games have a counter-attack system that at least leads to some skill (or more than one basic attack), but Dynasty Warriors 6 pretty much devolves into uncontrolled button mashing. This is due to the restriction to only one attack type for most of the time, until your Musou meter builds up (and then, that only adds one additional, albeit significantly more powerful, attack), and the uselessness of defending because of the sheer number of troops involved. The replacement of combos with increasingly more powerful attacks removes a vital part of the game. But this wouldn’t be as disappointing if the features were more complete. Beyond the elementary and repetitive fighting, Dynasty Warriors 6 lacks online multiplayer, comes up quite short in the strategic aspects of battle management, and looks outdated while performing worse. If this is a tactical action game, I’ll eat my hat. Personally, I much prefer Iron Grip: Warlord as a game of mowing down faceless troops. I guess the sixth time is not the charm.