Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires (PS5) Review

I’m one of the few people who really enjoyed Dynasty Warriors 9, I put over 160 hours into that game in order to claim the platinum almost exactly four years ago when I reviewed it (Here). Despite the criticism and hate the game was subjected to upon launch, due to the drastic change from being mission-based to open-world, I thought the seamless gameplay and satisfying combat was well worth checking out as it was ultimately fun to play. As such, when Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires was announced I couldn’t wait to see how the developers could expand on this new style with the addition of strategic management and empire simulation.

Unfortunately, the game didn’t live up to my expectations, various aspects of the game were changed due to the critical feedback the original game obtained and key features are simply missing, leaving the overall experience quite shallow and lacking replayability. But, not everything is negative, aside from the bare-bones presentation there’s a lot of potential and strong gameplay mechanics which Koei Tecmo and Omega Force could possibly build upon in the following months, re-introducing missing content and fleshing out the experience. But, that’s a big ‘maybe’, and my review today is based on what you get upon launch.

I’ve played through two ‘campaigns’ over the course of around 30-40 hours, playing only the PlayStation 5 version of the game (although we did get both the PS4 and PS5 version as it’s a cross-buy title). I tried both of the visual modes, as well as a third mode, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. So, just why was I disappointed with this long-awaited ‘Empires’ addition to the series and is it worth picking up? Let’s find out…

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Thanks!

Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires is a combination of strategic management and hack-and-slack 1vs1000 gameplay. There are eight scenarios to play through, each taking place on the same map of China – the main differences are which forces occupy each of the regions and the underlying narrative which plays out as the months and years progress. I personally thought the game was stripped of all story elements the first time I played through it as no events or meaningful cutscenes were initiated. However, it turns out you have to play as an officer and not the ruler, something which wasn’t clearly stated when given the choice.

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If you’ve played a previous ‘Empires’ game in the franchise before, you’ll be very accustomed to the strategic gameplay mechanics. I’ve been playing them since Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires yet I was still a little confused as to what I had to do – as it’s been many years since I last played the previous entry. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the game has no tutorial for the strategic element, only three simple gameplay tutorials which show you how to handle yourself in combat (the easiest part of the game).

Well, that’s technically not true as there are tutorial slides that pop up then hide in the second tab of options, within the ‘system’ menu. Why the developers decided to have an interactive tutorial telling you how to button-mash enemies to death rather than how to plan and strategise your monthly duties is beyond me.

DYNASTY WARRIORS 9 Empires 2

Fred, the mighty Warrior!

Choose your Warrior
Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires contains all 94 Musou officers from Dynasty Warriors 9, allowing you to pick whichever warrior you wish to play throughout your domination campaign. There are also supposedly 700 non-unique ‘common officers’ which you can pick between – I say ‘supposedly’ because the website says there are this many and I’m not willing to count! On top of this, and if you have a lot of time on your hands, you can manually create up to 850 officers using the provided character creation feature on the main menu!

This was my first experience of the game, one which gave a good first impression as I tried to create the most stupid-looking officer possible. There isn’t a massive amount of customisation, you can change the skin tone, makeup, eye colours, hairstyles, move-sets, and other standard options, but I was still able to create a monstrosity which I named Fred. Fred is a small big-headed panda-wannabe with horns, fluffy ears, and wearing a cute schoolgirls uniform, complete with a pink tartan skirt. Oh, he also has a chin that puts Jimmy Hill to shame.

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Once you’ve created your character, you can merge multiple together to create a ‘lovechild’ based on both designs, swap in your cosplayers for real officers (so they appear instead of the developer-created ones), or upload them somewhere. As far as I can tell, you can only upload one character which generates a code you can give other people – if they input this code by selecting ‘download’, it imports your officer into their list. This is quite a convoluted approach to what I believe was a simple ‘allow network officers’ toggle in DW8 Empires, allowing officers other people had created to show up within your game.

DYNASTY WARRIORS 9 Empires 3

What will you do this week?

Manage your underlings
If you choose to begin your adventure as a ruler, you’re instantly put in charge of a region of China, responsible for dictating the objectives you wish to fulfil throughout the upcoming five-week month. If you’re an officer or below then you receive these objectives from the one in charge of your chosen region. Over the next five turns, you must pick what actions you wish to initiate, differing slightly based upon your designated role. You can go to the trader to raise money, train your troops, scout enemy territories for potential new recruits, upgrade your defences, and more. 

The more objectives you complete by the time of the next council meeting, the more experience you’ll gain for your character – which also helps you gain promotions if you’re not initially the ruler. However, you also have to be mindful of the other leaders as you can be invaded at any time from adjacent regions, resulting in you losing the land if you don’t step in and help defend it if the stationed officers are weak. Over time, you’ll also have disputes rise from within the towns, with outsiders persuading your own officers to rebel and try to claim independence by becoming a new faction and taking over your region.

Thankfully, you do get a turns notice before this happens, so you can station more officers within the regions that are about to become under fire.

Obviously, not only can you be invaded by other power-hungry rulers, but you can also invade them with the hope of claiming their land and troops as your own. After choosing which officers will be part of the attack, leaving behind a few to defend the region in your absence, you can opt to activate a ‘Secret Plan’. These plans are essentially secondary missions that will either benefit or disadvantage you based upon if you successfully complete them or not. Once the strategy is in place, it’s time to jump into the iconic hack-and-slash gameplay of the Dynasty Warriors series…

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If you squint, you can just about make out my badass Warrior!

Bring it on!
If you’ve played any Musou-based game in the past, you know exactly what to expect. It’s you versus upwards of 2,000 officers and ‘cannon fodder’ infantry units, slashing your way to victory as you gain the advantage by taking over the scattered bases and then infiltrating the castles before slaughtering the leader who resides there. Not only do you have your standard, strong, and Musou attacks, but you can also activate four additional attacks by holding R1 and four changeable special moves by holding L1. 

The battles can get quite frantic and overwhelming, especially if playing on a higher difficulty and you’ve not assigned a healing move to your L1 commands, but you’ll soon find it easy enough once you’ve levelled up. The problem with these battles is that they’re pretty much all identical. Sure, there is a new battlefield for each region, but they’re all a castle with a few scattered bases on the outside and a few stations where catapults and siege vehicles spawn in. Whether invading or defending, you simply run around killing everyone and either destroying the vehicles or defending them until they reach the castle.

Once they’ve breached the doors, or you’ve unlocked the use of your grappling hook by taking over all the external bases, you can storm the castle, kill the leader, then claim victory. There is no variety other than the additional side missions you can opt to accept via the ‘Secret Plans’ before you enter combat. Also, the maps are really small, you can run from one end to the other in around 30-40 seconds – without a horse! I know that Dynasty Warriors games can get a bit repetitive, due to the format of the game, but Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires makes every previous game in the franchise feel like a unique narrative-driven experience in comparison (i.e. Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires feels very repetitive very fast).

DYNASTY WARRIORS 9 Empires 5

Would you let him join? He’s a little ‘horny’…

Weapon Bonding
As we saw in Dynasty Warriors 9, you can equip any weapon to any officer – which a lot of people weren’t happy with. However, each warrior has a set of preferred weapon types which they’ll deal more damage with if equipped. You can also assign gems to your character to add additional elemental effects or passive stat boosts in combat.

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Walkies
Although Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires has scrapped the open-world aspect of Dynasty Warriors 9, it’s still technically here – presented as ‘Stroll Mode’. When you’re in the management stage of the month, picking what actions you or your minions will carry out, one of these options is to go on a Stroll in order to talk to your officers, bond with them, and entice outsiders to join your cause. It’s a strange way to use the open world, especially considering you can simply push Options and choose who you wish to talk to without actually exploring the map.

I’m not sure how this benefits your character, or if any trophies are related to it, but you can freely run around the entire map solo or with a companion (which you can ask to follow you). You’ll encounter bandits and wild animals to fight, vistas to observe, and you can utilise various emotes. However, considering this is all within single-player and not with a friend online, I personally don’t see the point. I actually enjoyed the open world within DW9, so seeing it only used in this way was confusing, as if they simply placed it here because they spent a long time creating the map for DW9 so wanted to place it in Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires somewhere.

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Thank god, we’re saved now the lovable pandas have arrived!

Personal Opinion
Personally, I didn’t like Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires at first, but then I really got into it and found myself addicted to it all night. Once the strategic management side clicked with me, I began to really enjoy ruling my kingdom and planning what my minions were going to do the following month, joining them in battle both protecting my realm and trying to claim my rivals’. I also found satisfaction in executing every officer who refused to join me after I’d eliminated their ruler, refusing to let them side with anyone else and come back to claim revenge at a later stage. I also enjoyed swapping out my special moves, taking on the different Secret Plans, and designing my own custom character.

However, the lack of variety in the gameplay really upset me, I went back and played some Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires this morning and the amount of content missing was unbelievable. Another thing, which is what Koei Tecmo seems to do all the time now, is that the game is quite light on customisation due to selling additional ‘Custom Part Sets’ as DLCs. According to the £32.99 Season Pass, by April 2022 you’ll have 14 Custom Part Sets, 5 Palaces, and four additional military units (wolf, bear, tiger and panda). There are a few free costumes on the PSN store, until the end of Feb 2022, but everything else is behind the paywall – which doesn’t seem to actually include bonus scenarios or additional missions/Secret Plans.

I can see myself obtaining the platinum trophy in Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires, I already have 53% of the trophies from playing the game twice. However, if I’d not been interested in trying new things to unlock the trophies – such as getting married and maxing out each of my personality traits – then I don’t think I would have had as much willingness to replay the other campaigns, due to how similar they are. Despite my enjoyment of the game, as I love all things Musou, I have to say that Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires is a very barebones entry in the series, delivering a fun and detailed experience in the main gameplay mode but omitting everything else, such as…

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Each campaign is the same, only with different factions in each region.

Where did it go?
So, what’s ‘missing’ from Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires (compared to Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires)? First of all, there’s no online or local co-op anymore – the game is single-player only. This doesn’t personally bother me, as I was always going to play it on my own, but it is a shame they couldn’t keep this feature considering they’ve returned to a small map-based style instead of being open-world. I’ve mentioned this above, but you now have to give an officer download code to people so they can import your creations, rather than them appearing automatically when you’re online – yet another online feature removed.

There’s one mode in Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires, you no longer have the option to enter ‘Free Mode’. This, in DW8 Empires, let you play custom invasions, defensive battles, event battles, quests, and raid scenarios. You also can’t create your own scenarios, warhorses, banners, or units anymore, all you can create and alter are the officers. I’m perplexed as to why these customisation options aren’t here, being able to create your own scenarios by mapping out China with custom kingdoms extended the gameplay infinitely, letting you play a countless number of unique campaigns.

Basically, other than the character creation, Council meetings and hack-and-slash combat segments, all other gameplay features are gone… Sadly, despite features being removed over the previous game, I didn’t actually see anything new other than the ‘Stroll Mode’. 

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Fire and explosions look great at night.

Technical
Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires isn’t the best performing Musou title, sadly. There are two modes on the PS5, Performance and Quality. Performance mode unlocks the framerate to 60fps yet it fluctuates often when there’s lots of action on the screen, visibly dropping frames and introducing minor screen-tearing on occasions. The Quality mode runs at 30fps and feels much more stable, but you do sacrifice half of the framerate for this. The resolution I have no idea about, they both look the same other than the framerate, so that may be the only difference.

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Due to the inconsistent performance, I tried something – I set my PS5 to output at 1080p. This actually worked, I was getting a much more stable 60fps (there are still drops when the action is really heavy) but a side-effect was more screen-tearing than when I was running it at 4k. It’s a shame as I would have expected the next-gen native version of the game to hold a solid 60fps, I think the developers need to focus on a dynamic resolution scale or maybe drop the resolution a little so there’s overhead to keep the framerate locked. 

Visually, the game looks like Dynasty Warriors 9. I’ve seen a few reviews bash the visuals, saying it looks bad, but I disagree – the game looks like the previous title because it’s simply the Empires version of that game, so the assets are obviously going to be borrowed from there. My only complaint would be I wish there was more variety in the stages, more colour and different buildings. Also, I wish every map wasn’t a simple square – Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires, for example, had maps consisting of corridors, interiors, tunnels, and areas linked together via passageways – they were also much bigger.

Also, despite Dynasty Warriors 9 having full English vocals, Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires is Japanese only – probably due to the criticism they got. I’d usually say this means I missed important information during battle because I didn’t see the subtitles when my officers were talking. However, you now get important details in the middle of the screen, partially obstructing your view but you never miss them! My one gripe with the UI is the ‘mini-map’, it’s huge! there’s no way to make it smaller and it takes up a lot of the screen, so that and the fact the camera is zoomed in to your character a little too much for my liking, means you can’t always see what’s going on around you.

On a side note, Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires launches with an in-depth photo mode, as we’ve seen in other recent Koei Tecmo games. You can adjust things such as the date of time, expressions, dirt and rain on your clothing, the weather, and pick from a selection of filters. You can even move the action forward one frame at a time, up to 30 frames, just in case you know something is about to happen but you activated the mode a fraction too soon.

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Official trailer:

Final Conclusion:
Despite missing a lot of features from the previous Empires game in the franchise, I quickly became addicted to the strategic and hack-and-slash gameplay within Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires. Once the management mechanics click, it’s easy to lose hours as you command your minions or follow your ruler’s orders. However, we can’t overlook the amount of content ‘missing’ when compared to DW8: Empires, various customisation menus, Free Play, Gameplay Modes, and co-operative options, all absent without any comparable or additional features. 

If you’re a fan of Musou games and aren’t too bothered about playing with a friend or having full control over customising everything and creating your own scenarios, then you’ll enjoy Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires. The strategic mechanics are simple yet detailed, and the combat is what you’d expect from a game within the franchise. I honestly can’t recommend the game at the full retail price, as it feels more like an expansion to the base DW9 game, but if you see it in a sale for around £30 then I recommend you try it out.

A copy of the game was kindly provided for review purposes

Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires

£54.99
7

Final Score

7.0/10

The Good:

  • The gameplay is very addictive once you fully understand the strategic mechanics
  • The music is great, as is the Japanese voice acting
  • Despite being light on additional modes, you can easily sink 50+ hours into the game if going for the platinum
  • There's literally hundreds of characters to play as, over 1,500 if you create an additional 850!

The Bad:

  • Far less features than we saw in Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires
  • The framerate isn't stable in 60fps mode, with screen-tearing popping up every so often
  • Every region and battle feels the same, making it even more repetitive than previous games in the franchise
  • No online or local co-operative modes
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