Dynasty Warriors 4

DW4.png

Dynasty Warriors 4
Playstation 2, Xbox, and PC
Developed by Omega Force
Released in 2003

After Dynasty Warriors 3 proved to be a buggy mess I was temporarily discouraged from carrying on my conquest through China. Dynasty Warriors 4 stayed in its seal for some time until a drought in games persuaded me to see if Omega Force had made any amends with the fourth entry in their series.

Take it all!

Same thing as last time, but in different wrapping paper: China is at war and you take on the role of one of the many warlords seeking to claim the land for themselves, or one of their underlings just happy to help their lord. The game is significantly longer though, precisely because of that wrapping paper.

DW4 character select.png

The story is now cut into chapters with multiple stages in them that the player tackles in whatever order they please, making each conflict you partake in take much longer. You still get plenty of cutscenes to expand upon the motivations of the characters involved, but one issue is that so many characters are available here that their introductions can be really sudden and rushed, like the game expects you to be so familiar with it that you already know who those characters are and if they are friendly or not. Two guys literally come riding in cutting down random soldiers, barely any words spoken, and it took me until the next mission to realize they were friends and not my new rivals or something.

Another issue I noticed is that the game never explained the missions much. Like in one late battle my strategist just suddenly died and I thought I had screwed up, only for it to turn out this was a strategy and I was supposed to be at a certain spot to do something. Why isn’t stuff like this shown on the objectives menu or in any of those long text-scrolls you get before a mission? How can I appreciate the complexity of these battles and the genius of the warlords behind them if I don’t know anything my side will be doing?

Story score: 4/10

Tactical mishaps

The hack & slash gameplay of the series has been left relatively untouched going from 3 to 4, with most of the changes being tweaks. The push-back move while guarding is now a counter, annoyingly mapped to a different button than before, you can do a taunt move or perform charge attacks in the air, simple stuff. You still play through a series of battlefields with your goal in all of them being the defeat of the opposing leader. On your way to him you claim gates for reinforcements, fight with his underlings, and help your faction dominate the map by tactically deciding where to help out.

DW4 girl

It’s still fun to slash through groups of foes and send opposing generals running for their lives, but I have to say the game is significantly tougher than any of the ones before it, barring the original Dynasty Warriors. Enemy generals are a lot tougher than we are used to and do an excellent job at guarding and countering your moves, often with destructive force to boot. Also new is the dueling, where an enemy general may issue a challenge against you that turns the fight 1-on-1 with a much shorter health bar. If you win, the enemy immediately retreats, but if you lose it’s an immediate game over. Also, refusing a duel or fighting to a draw drastically hurts the morale of your troops.

On top of that, the tactical aspect of the game should not be understated. Both sides of a fight are a lot more inclined to use tactics like sudden reinforcements, charges, and ambushes. And a lot of these you can’t just leave to your allies, who are a lot more useless than normally. One time a general got ambushed and within 60 seconds his army was annihilated; you almost always have to drop anything you are doing to help out or accept that you are going to suffer a ton of losses.

And those reinforcements are really nasty too, often showing up at inconvenient flanks or literally behind your base. While in the early chapters I often steamrolled mission and ended with 100% map domination, by the last chapter I often had to face the enemy general alone because everybody was dead since I simply didn’t want to backtrack half the level to stop reinforcements and other tactics from taking place. It was crazy, but super fun at the same time.

DW4

Another nice change is the way weapons and items work, which were introduced with the last game. Defeating foes, doing a neat combo, and fighting against enemy generals gains you weapon experience now, which fill a bar after the mission. Once the bar is full your weapon levels up, increasing its strength and potentially the length of your combo. This is much better than the random drop chance weapons had in 3. Items still drop randomly, but they are generally more useful and you got lots of slots to fit them into, as well as room for an elemental crystal to upgrade your charge attacks with. If you find a better version of an item, it automatically upgrades it for you.

You also level up again, unlike the bug in 3 that prevented me from doing so. This and collecting the tokens dropped by defeated generals improves your statistics to make your warrior tougher, which is definitely needed for later levels. Bodyguards now also gain experience that makes them stronger and allows you to field more of them, up to a total of eight.

In general Dynasty Warriors 4 just plays really well and poses a fulfilling challenge to beginners and veterans alike. It’s button-mashing gameplay is easy to learn and has enough depth to make you reconsider your style of play when heroes like Ma Chao stomp you into the dirt later in the game.

Gameplay score: 8.5/10

Some things never change

Being the third entry of this series on the same console, little has been done to drastically change the presentation of Dynasty Warriors 4. The game still looks and sounds pretty much identical to the two games before it and that is pretty much fine, if a little stale. More stages and characters are available with nicely detailed layouts and costumes respectively, and the voice acting has improved slightly across the board, making it much more bearable to hear these people speak. The rendering distance is also better, though the game still chugs enemies at you in tiny, unimpressive groups to prevent the framerate from collapsing.

An issue I did have is that the sound regularly cut out in various ways. Sometimes it would be the background music disappearing, which isn’t much of a disaster. Other times, though, the game would freeze before a bit of dialogue or a small cutscene, usually when an officer retreats or dies, then proceed without a voice line playing. This wouldn’t be bad either, if the subtitles didn’t disappear with it.

Presentation score: 7/10

Bring yourself to the fight

In terms of extras there is not much to mentions besides the inclusion of a character creation tool that allow you to make your own warrior to then train. I didn’t dabble in this much because my initial impression was that the system was limited and the pre-made characters are better looking anyway. Besides that the challenge mode has been slightly expanded as has the character roster.

Extras score: 6/10

Verdict

Got a Playstation 2 and a craving for some Dynasty Warriors? Then the fourth entry is pretty strong overall and provides, so far, the most challenging battles and most fluent systems. The improved weapon and items are much appreciated and I enjoyed not being able to utterly dominate the map every time. Still, Omega Force really needs to improve in regards to storytelling or just include decent mission briefings.

64/100

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