Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires adds a grand strategy campaign on top of its epic hack-and-slash battles. Unfortunately, repetitive gameplay and poor performance let it down.
Hack-and-slash gameplay is as fun as ever
Secret Plans keep missions varied
Strategy elements have depth
Conquest Mode quickly becomes repetitive
Multiple performance issues
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Time Played: 28 hours
Platform played: PS5
Whoever said “war never changes” was probably a Dynasty Warriors fan. Koei Tecmo’s famous hack and slash series stays strong decades later, refining this formula across countless spin-offs and expansions but staying familiar. Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires is our latest strategy-focused variant, this time building upon the ninth entry.
Empires doesn’t do away with Dynasty Warriors signature gameplay: you’ll still march into battle against hundreds of enemies, sweeping your blades through the enemy hordes with each button tap. But outside of battle, your goal is uniting the country under a single banner using diplomacy and siege battles. Between strengthening your military, focusing on domestic affairs, or courting alliances with other nations, how to proceed is your choice.
Empires is both considerably different from Dynasty Warriors 9, yet exactly what you’d expect. If you aren't a fan of the series, this new strategy layer is unlikely to convert you. However, if you are then there's a lot to enjoy, just not quite enough.
Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires price and release date
- What is it? A strategy-focused edition of Dynasty Warriors 9.
- Release date? February 15, 2022
- What can I play it on? Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5
- Price? $59.99 / £54.99 / $AU99.95
A tired romance
Like its predecessors, Empires takes inspiration from Luo Guanzhong’s 14th-century novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. There are eight campaigns in Conquest Mode based around historic events, like the Yellow Turban Rebellion and the Battle of Guandu. You can mix up characters from these eras too with the special ‘A Gathering of Heroes’ campaign. Whichever timeline you choose, your goal of unifying China remains.
Between these campaigns, you can choose from 90 officers, each based on historical figures, who come with different ranks. Personally, We’d recommend starting with a Ruler, since only they can determine when you’ll invade other kingdoms, unlike generals and standard officers. There’s also a character creator if you’d prefer to make an original officer, which isn’t terribly expansive on customization options but does the job.
Your campaign begins by determining your kingdom’s agenda. You face many enemies and it’s not as simple as just picking who to fight next off the map. Your war council will present decisions to you from four topics: domestic affairs, human affairs, diplomacy, and military affairs. You can also add additional political goals, such as upgrading defense and increasing rations. Once your choices are made, you’ve six months of game time to execute these plans. After which you reassemble your war council and set a new agenda.
Dynasty Warriors 9 Kingdoms doesn’t make starting a war easy. You can’t simply invade your enemies’ lands. Troops won’t fight if there aren’t enough rations to cover them, and complacency over regional defenses results in lost territories. You’ll need to organize commercial and agricultural development, recruitment drives, maybe even forge some alliances to deter other kingdoms from invading your territory.
Empires is a game of patience and while scrolling through menus can feel dull, there’s a depth you wouldn’t normally expect from Musou games. You can take a stroll across the open world, too, though compared to the main game, this feels stripped back. The main game’s side quests are missing, so your exploration is mainly used to recruit soldiers.
At the end of the six months you can finally invade. Before the battle begins you have the chance to enact one final piece of skullduggery. You can send an officer to act out a ‘Secret Plan’. This could be organizing reinforcements to join you in battle or creating adverse weather conditions to damage enemies. When successful, these plots can swing the tide of battle.
A key way Empires differs from Dynasty Warriors 9 is its battles are based around castle sieges. Your goal is to use siege weapons to break through the enemy’s castle gates. Once inside, you’ll duel with the enemy commander, ending the battle in mortal combat. When defending, the positions are reversed and you have to hold off the enemy attack.
Dynasty Warriors 9’s core hack and slash gameplay is mostly intact. You control a practically superhuman officer in their fight across a large battlefield. While swinging your weapon wildly can get you far, if you match armament to enemy type you can cause some real damage. Command you infantry to attack cavalry, cavalry to charge archers, and archers to fire on infantry and you’ll make mincemeat of your opponent. You have extra control of the battlefield through Secret Plans, abilities you can activate combat boosts like elemental attacks or healing. Finally, if you charge up your Musou Gauge with successful attacks on your enemies you can activate a cinematic heavy attack to clear the battlefield around you.
Unfortunately, combat falls into Dynasty Warriors’ usual trappings. Players can issue commands from the pause menu, but organization is convoluted. Plus, only taking castles or defending territories quickly gets repetitive too, though Secret Plans do help alleviate this. However, we can’t deny that even now after playing multiple entries, there’s still something deeply satisfying about sending waves of enemies flying around you at once.
History is written by the victors
If you’ve emerged from battle victorious, you can then try and recruit individual officers from the opposing side, having captured them in battle. Should they refuse, players can then choose to release or execute them. Once done, you’ll level up your officer, earning new titles which award further secret plans and rare gems, the latter providing stat boosts when equipped. It’s a nice approach, complimenting the versatility Empires provides officers.
When finished, you’ll return to handling political affairs, and the cycle continues once more. There’s plenty to like about Conquest Mode but, beyond this, we wish there was more to the game. Mechanically, these eight campaigns don’t differentiate much from each other beyond cutscenes and tutorials, there are no other modes. All we’ve got is a gallery for looking between different officers and previously unlocked cutscenes.
The biggest technical problem is that the PS5 version suffers from significant screen tearing during battles and switching between the different graphics modes doesn’t stop this. For reference, ‘Action Mode’ priorities a better framerate, while ‘Movie Mode’ offers a higher resolution at 30fps.
Making things worse, cutscenes also suffered from noticeable framerate drops throughout the game. This was surprising as it wasn’t an issue during battles themselves. I’m hopeful these problems get fixed in future updates but right now, I’d really have expected more on a new-gen console.
Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires is designed for a niche audience, catering to those after a more strategic experience when mowing through hundreds of enemies. Koei Tecmo’s not trying to reinvent the wheel here but significant flaws prevent it from becoming more than another run-of-the-mill addition.
Beyond Conquest Mode, Empires felt bare and even secret plans can’t prevent it from falling into familiar problems. It’s still a decent adaptation and there’s fun to be had here, though if you’re hoping for that ‘mindless’ action Dynasty Warriors is known for, you may be better served to stick to 9’s original release.
Henry is a freelance writer based in Bournemouth, United Kingdom. When he's not wandering in VR or burning through his RPG backlog, he's probably planning his next D&D session.