Dynasty Warriors 7 Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PSP, and PC Developed by Omega Force Released in 2011
The sixth game in the Dynasty Warriors franchise proved to be a long-awaited overhaul, so my expectation was that we would resume just the same as before, with the next few games bringing incremental improvements to the series. However, the sixth game was also really unpopular among both fans and critics, which prompted Koei and Omega Force to reinvent the whole game again for Dynasty Warriors 7. While it resulted in an overall strong game, I feel that the features that were sacrificed to achieve it don’t justify the end.
Pick a side
Perhaps the biggest change compared to the rest of the series is that the game’s story mode is no longer about just one character. In all the other games you picked a character at the start of the game and would experience the story from their perspective, with their actual influence on it varying based on their actual importance to the plot. In this game you just pick one of four factions, and rather than getting a handful of mission relevant to one character, you do every battle involving that faction, shifting from character to character depending on who is most important in that fight.
This format is excellent for storytelling, as it takes the player along for the entire adventure, rather than expecting them to replay the game with a load of different characters and stitch disjointed bits of plot together. This, in turn, makes this story about the warring states of China a lot more suitably epic, as you partake in every glorious victory, every betrayal, and every rout. You don’t just get a mission briefing that tells you somebody died between two battles, you are there when it happens, and it might be the character you are playing as at that moment.
While I was a supporter of the old format, claiming it was a great way to learn more about the character you chose, now it’s even better. You don’t learn about one character at a time, rather you learn about all of them at once, and in a format that is much better suited to creating drama and explaining the historical significance of each person. I found myself drawn to warriors I never cared about before, and it’s the first game where I actually felt an ounce of sympathy for Cao Cao.
Story score: 10/10
Throw out the wheat and keep the chaff
The storytelling is great for story, as self-explanatory as that may sound, but it does severely handicap the gameplay. Because you no longer stick with one character for the duration of a full campaign, character building has been downgraded a lot from 6 to 7. The old, branching skill tree you could invest points into upon leveling is gone, and in its stead you have a much simpler tree with maybe 10 items that cost exp to unlock (since you no longer level up either). That may still sound like a significant amount of content, but experience is shared across the entire faction, so once you get far enough all you need to do is fill out the paperwork to max out every character.
Leveling is almost entirely gone, with only the tokens dropped by officers remaining as the only way to make your character any stronger, though the effect of that is hard to notice. You can no longer level up your horse, and weapons also function differently. Characters are no longer bound to weapons they are iconic for and can pick almost any weapon from any category. There is no reason to pick anything but the best, since randomized traits are no longer a thing and weapon drops are gone. It’s also just not as cool to have these characters walk around with whatever and once you have completed one story mode, the overpowered gear you bring with you to the next will make most of the campaign a cakewalk.
Unsurprisingly, the gameplay and objectives are largely the same as before, with the one exception being that the combo system from Dynasty Warriors 2 to 5 has been brought back, removing the “renbu” system of 6. On a positive note, Koei has made the effort to make the game even faster, with improved movement speed, better pathfinding for your horse, and the speed power-up now works even when you are mounted. Your mounted musou attack is now also a charge, which can really help you get to a key location in a hurry. The controls are satisfying and simple to get used to, with the destructive results of your actions making this a very satisfying game to play.
However, I again mourn the loss of many of the features introduced in the last game. Castle sieges are now much rarer and simpler, no longer involving defense captains, ladders, and siege engines that must be built. Catapults and the like do make an appearance, but are static parts of the levels that don’t integrate well with the regular flow of gameplay. Bases are much simpler because you no longer have to defeat a set amount of foes to capture it and their effect is more negligible than before. They also no longer have gates that can be destroyed, nor can you take out your frustration on the watchtowers since these are now indestructible too.
Your moves have been changed around as well. You can equip two different weapons and switch between them mid-combo, which can be used to compensate for openings that your attacks create, as switching is an attack in and of itself. If you switch to the characters preferred weapon (their “ex” weapon) there are additional effects to this as well. While this is nice and can be used to create elaborate combo moves, Dynasty Warriors 7 has removed grapples and counter-attacks, as well as heavy attacks while in the air, none of which makes much sense to me.
Dynasty Warriors 7 is a fine game, and possibly the entry in the series I have played the most of all. It controls well and it’s fun to play, yet I find it disheartening how much the sixth game was willing to change, only for its sequel to remove so much that we are basically back to the way things were on the Playstation 2. While my core complaint with the PS2 titles, “why are these games so unbearably slow”, is resolved now that the game is more fast-paced than ever before, critics of the series always cite the lack of innovation between titles as the series’ biggest problem, so backpedaling on what little innovation we did get at this point just feels like admitting defeat.
Gameplay score: 5.5/10
Who turned down the lights?
Dynasty Warriors 7 fixes some of my grievances with its predecessor, but otherwise stays at about the same level in terms of presentation. The music and visuals are neat and the game can now effectively handle the large number of enemies on screen, so no longer do entire groups of foes vanish from the action.
An issue I do still have is that taunts are too repetitive. Each officer you defeat prompts a reaction from both the loser and the winner, and especially the throwaway commanders share the same two or three taunts they repeat constantly. I found myself muting the game, especially when I was playing as the same character for several stages, and was thus forced to listen to his or her taunts repeat as well. To be fair, though, the taunts are less obnoxious than they were in the previous title
A new issue I have is that this game introduces several nighttime stages, which would be a nice change of atmosphere if they weren’t so difficult to play in. I often found myself running into walls or scenery I seriously couldn’t see because these stages were just too dark.
Presentation score: 6/10
A Legend of your own
A peculiar change is that this is the first time that the story mode in a Dynasty Warriors game is not available for multiplayer, and with the removal of Free Mode (why?) this leaves us with just one option to play with your friends: Conquest Mode.
Conquest mode is a nice feature that markets itself as a “create your own adventure” version of the series. In practice it’s a grid-based mode with each tile holding a miniature battle with an objective to it. There are also tiles containing cities where you can buy weapons and horses, meet officers, and do some side-missions. It’s not bad to play through and you can unlock officers you never got through the story mode, but as a replacement for free mode and the only venue for multiplayer it falls a bit short, as the missions are simplistic and repetition sets in too quickly.
I also find it bizarre that you supposedly create your own legend in this mode, but creating your own character is one of the many features that was axed. Instead you just pick any existing character, who you can then swap out at will. I feel petty complaining about it since I never used this feature when it was still there, but conquest mode just doesn’t feel personal if you are going around China befriending everybody while playing as Xiahou Dun.
Extras score: 4/10
As a means of experiencing the story of Romance of the Three Kingdoms Dynasty Warriors 7 is a break-out hit. It tells a fantastic story that feels complete and left me teary-eyed, so it’s a shame that in regards to gameplay it’s more concerned with removing features instead of adding them. This leaves it feeling like several steps backwards in a series that, many would argue, hasn’t budged an inch since 2000. I can fully recommend it as a means of getting the full story of Dynasty Warriors and for the satisfying gameplay, but if you are a long-time follower of the franchise you may want to skip to the more feature-complete Dynasty Warriors 8.