Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires review: Empires strikes back

by MaddOx
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It has been a long time coming, but Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires is finally here.

I’m a massive fan of Koei Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors series. I’ve been playing them ever since I was in my teens. There is just something so satisfying about going round and demolishing whole armies on your own, bashing buttons to unleash devastating combos and leaving your foes in a fading mess on the floor.

Whilst all that savagery is there in the Empires games, they do differ slightly from the traditional titles. They have a much more strategic element to them, where you look to build up your kingdom and conquer the land by invading neighbouring territories.

But how does Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires compare to previous instalments? Well, let’s take a look, shall we?

More of the same?

Some things are standard when we get a new Dynasty Warriors game, and the new Empires title is no different. Every game is based on the tales of the Three Kingdoms, and whilst Empires allows you to conquer the lands as you wish, in any way you see fit, the core stories within the game remain the same.

It’s a part of the game that can never really change because you’d essentially be messing with history. However, how many times can you play the same story again and again, and again? It’s understandable there isn’t much you can do about it. But by allowing you to play the game as you choose, and also by allowing you to create your own hero to carve out a new story into the history books, it feels that Koei Tecmo has done all they can.

And without drastically changing things too much that they spoil the game, I can’t really see what else they can do. Except maybe launch a new series or branch out into new eras, such as defending the lands from the likes of Mongolian invaders. 

The core format of the game remains the same as well. You’ll have access to a map of the lands, and who owns each territory. Then, between battles, diplomacy and a number of other options available, you will work to make your dreams of conquering Ancient China come to fruition. However, there are some new changes to this area, and more options available than in previous instalments.

Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires map and artwork

What’s new?

Despite much of the new Empires instalment being the same, there are some welcome changes to the series. One of the most obvious is the upgrade in graphics. Especially with the game being the first of the series developed for and released on next-gen consoles, as well as graphics improving on PC too. And even customizations of your own officers have been stepped up a level as well, with more offerings than ever before to truly customise your officers from more hairstyles than you could ever need, to more detailed changes like changing the size of someone’s nose to adding scars to their faces.

More importantly, there have been some changes to gameplay mechanics too. The first that I thought was a nice introduction, was the introduction of counterattacks. When in battle, depending on which console you’ll play on, a button will flash on screens as enemies prepare to attack. Timing it correctly will see you dodge enemy movements and counter them with your own deadly strikes to take them out.

The second major change in Empires during combat is with that famous Musou that fans of the series will be all too aware of. As well as the traditional special Musou attack that allows you to unleash a devastating combination of blows on your surrounding foes, there are additional uses for the Musou you build up.

Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires attack artwork

There are additional attacks and tactics you can launch. From launching fire attacks at enemy troops to rallying troops in order to break through enemies’ defences. It adds a nice new element to the game series which for so long, has been kind of stale. As we state, little can be done for the story, but usually, the new games come with little that is NEW about them. But for once, it feels like Koei Tecmo has finally injected some energy into Empires and come up with enough tweaks to make it feel like a fresher experience.

There are also additional changes on the battlefield in Empires too, in which you attempt to siege enemy bases. Whereas previously, you would beat a gate captain and surrounding troops and the gates would simply open, now, you must eradicate all bases. This then allows you to deploy siege weapons to break through castle gates or reach new heights with towers erected to help you breach defences.

The level of detail that goes into planning the attacks has also become more detailed, with better access both before and during battles to see where troops are, and what their plans are to attack specific areas on the map. You can assign certain officers to different locations in order to flank enemies and block off exit routes should the enemy be looking to make an escape.

Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires battlefield plan

A helpful tip

If you start with an existing officer or ruler, you will have access to money and supplies already, and very much will likely already have your own territory. However, if you go down the custom route of creating your own customised officers, they will start with nothing. But, it can be easy, if a little too grindy, to get what you need quickly in the game.

Between stages, you will be able to make choices such as political decisions to make allies, use your armies to raid settlements for supplies or summon funds by sending out troops on quests to rally support for your cause. However, I genuinely can’t remember if this was always an option or not because I have never recalled doing it before, but you can stroll around the territories your officer is located in.

Here you are able to chat to other officers, building rapport with them so they join your cause. But, you can also head outside into the local surroundings, fighting enemy troops you may find, or slaughtering wild animals. The rewards are little, but they can help build up your gold and supplies early on in the game, to help give you a better footing. As you conquer the land, it becomes less of a needed tactic, except maybe to practice using new weapons, but it’s incredibly helpful to start things off.

Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires strolling

Should you buy the season passes?

One new thing I haven’t mentioned yet, well I say new, it’s not really, the games have had them before. But it’s season passes. And in all honesty, it’s pointless buying it. Save your money. It unlocks some new parts for dressing up officers and five additional palaces, as well as offering more military units in the forms of Wolf, Bear, Tiger and Panda. Whilst new palaces are cool, offering you more places to battle it out, I feel that should already be included in the Empires’ base game.

For me, season passes are all about additional content that expands on the original experience. New stories like in Borderlands 3, not a few fancy costumes and units that quite frankly, will not hinder your chances of winning a battle in Empires. It is clear to me anyway, that this is just a money-making exercise.

They’ve seen other games do it, and because people will literally pay for extra stuff, they’ve gone down that route. But it is one for me that sours the reputation of Koei Tecmo. Especially when it’s £32.99 on Steam, because, come on, it’s just new skins really. By all means, allow people to purchase them if they wish, but don’t dress them up as a season pass.

This isn’t some battle royale like Apex Legends that people play again and again. Empires is a game you play, complete, and maybe go back to once again later on when you feel the need to Musou the living daylights out of someone. It’s not the kind of game you keep playing on a daily basis to grind out rewards.

Bring back custom bodyguards

Every time I play these games, I always miss the fact they took away custom bodyguards that you had in some of the earlier titles. These were a select few soldiers you could dress up to match yourself, and select certain weapons for. They were your personal security detail, although because you basically blow everything away yourself, they don’t offer up much help except maybe if you get knocked down. But it was still a feature I loved, and still, miss to this day. And it NEEDS to be brought back.

Overall thoughts of Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires

Overall, the new Empires game is one that I enjoyed. It has made enough tweaks for it to feel more like a newer experience, rather than yet another release that is just more of the same old stuff. Besides the graphical improvements, which is essentially what the series has been living off for some time now it feels, the changes to combat, and introduction of new strategic elements has been great and gives Empires a much fresher feel.

Am I still seething with the lack of custom bodyguards? Yes. But am I willing to forgive because we’ve finally started to see some much-needed change to the game? Also, yes.

Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires was co-developed by Omega Force and Koei Tecmo. Empires is available now on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows, Google Stadia, and PlayStation 5. For more game reviews, click right HERE.

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