Dynasty Warriors 2

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Dynasty Warriors 2
Playstation 2
Developed by Omega Force
Released in 2000

The original Dynasty Warriors offered a familiar style of gameplay, that of the semi-3D fighting game, and was obviously inspired by titles like Virtua Fighter. This would not do as developer Omega Force had grander things in mind for the series. 3 years later these plans would be realized with the tactical action game Dynasty Warriors 2.

When we weren’t tired of the Yellow Turbans yet

I feel like over time we’ll probably stop bothering with going into depth about the story of Dynasty Warriors, but for now it’s still worth explaining. Essentially, this series adapts a romanticized version of the Warring States period of China around 200 BC. You pick from a total of 28 characters, many of which do need to be unlocked, and take them on a campaign of conquest.

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You’ll fight in several famous battlegrounds and can get some optional narration on the historical context of any mission. Sadly, once you get in battle there is little of that going around, and characters are portrayed as one of many different variations on the same ‘noble warrior dude’ archetype, with only a few fun exceptions. Even Lu Bu, Omega Force’s own favorite, does basically none of the things he is famous for, turning him into just one of many dumb-looking generals I mowed down that day.

Still, looking at the story as a whole rather than the individual pieces does earn Dynasty Warriors some points. It portrays an interesting piece of history with enough energy to make the historical information stick and keep players entertained. And while it fails to endear the characters through play, there are character biographies to be found in the colorful manual.

Story score: 7/10

A battlefield simulator

The goal of Dynasty Warriors is to eliminate the enemy’s main general in each battle and you do this by moving around as your hero and pushing back the enemy forces. You have a fairly simple control layout where you can easily string together a combo of regular attacks and mix them up with heavier strikes. You can also jump and perform air attacks, excellent for taking down cavalry, or use a special attack once you have filled up a bar. No need to memorize button combinations, you can just pick a different character from what you are used to and quickly familiarize yourself with the intricacies of their moveset within minutes.

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Besides heroes that take a decent punch there are thousands of troops active in each battle, ranging from lowly privates to tough majors. These will clash with each other and block the way to their leader, making for a cathartic pastime on the way to your target. It has be said though that this early in the series the average soldier is a lot tougher than they are in the newer Dynasty Warriors 8. They are eager to start combos of their own or cancel yours. They also love to surround or ambush you.

In fact, the game is just plain tough, even if you turn the difficulty down to easy in the options menu. You can’t just button-mash around, you need to plot a course through the level or you’ll find your allies are getting swarmed. Health can also be rare and you’ll only notice that when you are deep in enemy territory and your health bar is starting to turn small and red. I find this fair and engaging, you need to find a balance between helping allies and taking out your own targets. The only foe I consider “unfair” are the archers; they are way too annoying and can easily lock you in a stun or interrupt any of your attempts to retaliate. Taking them down first is often hard because they scatter when you get close and can fire arrows from way beyond the rendering distance.

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The camera is a bit tough to control. While you have a block move that will center the camera behind your hero, there is no way to manipulate it during a combo and it’s not always beneficial for you to start blocking when enemies are trying to pile up on you. This leads to a lot of blind swinging and getting speared up the butt by opportunistic sergeants. What I do really like is that you build up your hero over time. Beating enemy commanders will result in them dropping an upgrade for you; pick these up and finish the level and you’ll find your attack, health, and defensive capabilities increasing. There are also secret upgrade items hidden in the battlefields and by making lots of kills you’ll level up your personal bodyguard as well.

The levels are also just well-designed and lead to a lot of tactical decisions. You may find yourself working through a side-passage to avoid enemy defenses only to get a cutscene showing a friendly commander struggling. Do you take this as a chance to strike at the enemy general while his forces are somewhere else or do you pull back and help your ally, so you can face the general together. I was also genuinely excited when I noticed a strangely positioned enemy commander on the map and then found out that beating him set the enemy’s camp alight, leading to their morale plummeting, which in turn allowed a nearly-defeated ally to turn the tide without even needing me at the front. It feels so great to discover strategies like this and it rewards exploration.

While it isn’t as over-the-top as later entries in the series, the tough-as-nails difficulty, simple controls, and excellent level design makes this a satisfying and cathartic game. The fact that it’s also easy to just pick up and play easily compensates for the annoying archers and stubborn camera controls.

Gameplay score: 10/10

The army of clones

What made Dynasty Warriors 2 so appealing back in the day is that it featured an impressive number of combatants. Thousands of soldiers are active in each battle and while it’s hard to determine how much they are doing, you can see on the map that they are clashing and contesting terrain. Generally the game can render several dozens of enemies around you at a time without any notable slowdown, but this does come at some costs.

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Firstly, the textures are blurry and tend to glitch out a bit, but most notable is that every resource is stretched to the maximum. While stages as a whole have their own unique atmosphere, you’ll notice the same watchtowers, boxes, and tents in basically all of them. Enemies are also just a horde of the same dude several times with each rank of each faction having only one model, though at least they are easy to distinguish at a glance and the models are at least nice-looking.

The playable characters all made a nice transition from the old fighting game to this 3D action game, retaining their colorful and well-designed outfits and iconic moves. Many of the lesser commanders and newer guys don’t look spectacular, though, and tend to all look the same, including some of the historical big shots. The same goes for the dialogue: voice-acting is limited to a few cutscenes and when you select your hero, but all the written text you get, usually when a foe is defeated, all read the same and feel completely interchangeable.

Probably for the better since what little voice-acting there is can hardly be labelled as “good”. Unlike the music, which is actually a big surprise, providing you with cheesy rock tracks as you plow through hundreds of foes. Despite the historical setting it actually fits the gameplay to a tee to have guitars wailing in the background. Some more grunts from your foes and weightier impact of weapons would have gone a long way to add to this.

Presentation score: 7/10

More characters, more fun

Despite its difficulty, the musou mode is actually not that long, only about five or six stages. You can replay it as often as you like and your character will retain the statistics you raised, allowing you to really beef up your favorites and steamroll the higher difficulty levels. Picking different characters will alter your experience slightly, in the sense that you’ll start missions from a different location than before. Depending on the faction of the character you may also fight in stages that aren’t featured in the campaign of another, though in total there only 8 stages to go around.

There is also a “free” mode where you can replay stages you have completed already with whatever character you please and there are special conditions for unlocking some of the tougher ones like Cao Cao. In a series with releases as frequent as this I find that it’s not that fun to work towards unlocking these characters, knowing you are probably going to fire up the next entry soon and have to do it all over again, but if you intend to stick with the game then there is enough to do.

Extras score: 8/10

Verdict

I thoroughly enjoyed this game! It manages to feel different from the rest of the series, but while maintaining what makes it great. It has the fluent hack ‘n’slash gameplay, the large hordes of enemies, and the strategic decision-making, but gives you a proper amount of challenge that is often missing in later entries. Unless some of the games I haven’t played yet offer this as well this will surely be one of my favorite in series.

80/100

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