Dynasty Warriors 7
The art of score
Review Parkouring across the backs of galloping horses; fighting while cascading down a majestic waterfall; evading a ball-and-chain attack before using the weapon’s momentum to swing to safety. What do these things have in common? Simply that they’re all shown in Dynasty Warrior 7’s rather epic FMV intro and they’re all acts you’ll never get to actually do in-game.
A bit of a tease really, and an insight into the fact that Omega Force – Dynasty Warriors’ long-standing developers – know exactly what people want from a current-generation take on their ageing franchise, but seem unabashedly indisposed to developing it. Instead, after an intro which promises so much, we’re left to button mash our way through the same old waves of enemy armies as has long been de rigueur for the series.
Before embarking on a discussion of whether this is a disappointment the game overcomes, let us return to the start. Dynasty Warriors, for those unfamiliar with the franchise, is grand-scale beat-em-up set within the Three Kingdoms period of China’s illustrious history. It was a time when tactical dominance of the battlefield was everything and legendary texts on war and psychology were penned - Sun Tzu’s The Art of War amongst other works…
The historically accurate – at least in terms of overarching facts – story mode boasts four contemporaneous campaigns: Wei, Wu, Shu and Jin; the player cast as any one of a number of high-ranking generals and bodyguards. Each campaign has its own cutscenes to reveal both story and history (who said games aren’t educational?) while the more studious will enjoy reading the biographies and descriptions, which appear during loading screens. Overall an improvement on previous offerings, but nothing we don’t expect of current generation games.
On that subject, loading times are just long enough to be annoyingly noticeable. Most, especially upon dying mid-mission, can take an age (well, 30-plus seconds) for the game to reload the scenario. This is surely an issue well up there in the dos and don’ts of videogame development.
Choose your weapons
Once in the thick of the action animation, backdrops and effects are okay, but never spectacular. Draw distances are unforgivably poor, with garrisons and war machines suddenly popping into existence. Similarly, groups of soldiers will appear on the battlefield, as if by magic. Character models can also be unwieldy and appear awkward, particularly if asked to do anything except run or fight. One particular section, in which you must ‘climb’ a rock face, is of particular embarrassment as the character model hops jarringly up the unconvincing terrain.
Tai Chi break?
Each fighter is able to hold two weapons and switching between the two is essential to prolong combos and up the damage quotas. Faced with a choice of weapons from the humble sword, through to pike, club, rapier, tonfas, claws and more, you’ll soon be wreaking a particularly deadly havoc on the field of war, as the kill counter gleefully spirals forever up.
Disappointingly, however, while there are a huge number of weapons on offer, each of the game’s heroes wielding swords, axes, and the like, are exactly like the next – seemingly the motion capture and animation budget didn’t stretch to include different techniques within the same weapon category. Hero characters might be capable of felling fifty enemy soldiers with the merest swipe of a sword, but it will always be the same swipe; not ideal when it comes to keeping things fresh.
As in previous games, the hostiles on show are a mix of foot soldiers, captains and generals – only the latter two categories offering any sort of resistance. Despite often being surrounded by fifty or more soldiers you’ll rarely feel threatened. In fact, in my experience, most game over screens tended to be caused either by one of a fraction of singularly powerful enemies, such as the peerless Lu Bu, or else a mission-critical friendly unit dashing off to his death; much to my personal chagrin.
Fighting largely consists of hammering the standard attack button while interposing a strong attack here and there in order to pull off a variety of finishes to your combos. Once fully charged, it’s also possible to unleash so-called ‘Musou’ attacks, magical assaults ideal for causing widespread damage and knocking down all hostiles, regardless of size and strength. It’s a simplistic formula, but one which becomes oddly hypnotic due to the sheer number of foes cast asunder.
Once the opposing forces at any one area have been scattered, you’ll be checking the map for the next flashpoint, ad infinitum, until the battle’s won. Of course, this being a war and all, friendly units will often accompany you, just don’t expect them to contribute much. Lowly soldiers of both sides are usually content to stand motionless in front of each other, rather than bother to swing a weapon (just when you thought the battle couldn’t get less convincing).
Give it a whirl
To throw in a little variety, some missions take the action indoors, much to the detriment of the camera, which has to be cajoled into a useable angle much more often then when fighting outside. Further variety, in the shape of the more open ended ‘Conquest’ mode, at least offers something beyond the campaign, but even planning domination of the land requires the same old fights time and again.
Multiplayer options are similarly meagre, limited to a poorly implemented on-line two-player version of Conquest mode, which seems to hinder players starting a game at every turn.
Lacking ambition, overly repetitive and with only barely passable special effects, Dynasty Warriors 7 feels like the gaming world’s equivalent of the straight to DVD movie – a cash-in built to take advantage of a loyal following. Now that’s done and the money has been made, can the inevitable eighth offer something new please – maybe some of the parkour and waterfall surfing hinted at during the introduction? ®
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