WARNING: DO NOT PURSUE LU BU.
You’d think after six main series entries and several spinoffs to the Dynasty Warriors series, Koei would grant us our PhDs in Asian History with a focus on the Later Han Dynasty, but alas, they’ve decided we need one more refresher course and thus, we have Dynasty Warriors 7.
Once again, you’re thrust back into a fantastical retelling of Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms and yes, you’ll once again put a stop to the troublesome Yellow Turban Rebellion along your path to glory. Each of the kingdoms (Wei, Wu, Shu and as a bonus: Jin) has its own campaign, telling their side of the story, though honestly, the only substantial difference beyond all the grandiose posturing and fortune-cookie dialogue is what characters you can play as.
Combat is still based around stringing together normal and strong attacks to build up your Musou gauge, which lets you unleash a powerful, army-destroying attack. Stringing together combos and using your Musou as a finisher is a necessity, especially once you become locked in combat with enemy officers.
"Behold! My ultimate attack! DREAMY GAZE: ACTIVATE!"
A new addition is the ability for your officers to carry a secondary weapon. Switching between your weapons triggers a special move or effect, such as an area-of-effect stun or even spawning a phantom clone of your character to fight alongside you for a few seconds. Weapon switching also allows you to extend your combos, building your Musou meter faster. Mastering this sytem will definitely make murdering (pardon me, “knocking out”) thousands of medieval Chinese soldiers an easy task.
Defeating enemy officers allows you to collect weapons as well as health, damage and defense upgrades. These stat increases are permanently attached to the character who picks them up, and are persistent through all of the game modes. By the time you clear a campaign and move on to Conquest mode, you’ll have a suite of high-power officers to choose from.
The big problem endemic to the Dynasty Warriors series is repetition. If you’ve played through one campaign, there’s little reason to go through the others unless you want to unlock officers or see the different sides of the story.
Twice the players, twice the Musou!
While there’s no co-op in the campaign mode, the considerably lengthy Conquest mode allows for two players, both locally and online. Contrary to the set storylines in the campaigns, Conquest allows you to pick an officer of your choosing and play through hundreds of missions, either solo or with a friend. Missions come in several flavors, from defensive battles to pursuing an enemy officer, or even an all-out battle royale where every kingdom shows up at once, and you must defeat them without any aid. In addition to the standard missions, you may play “Legendary Battles” for a specific officer, which allow you to unlock that officer for play if you haven’t done so in the campaign already.
Co-op works exactly like single-player, though when you’re within a certain distance of your partner, you can combine your Musou attacks to multiply the damage effect. It’s an absolute blast to completely demolish the final boss of a mission with an insane dual-Musou combo. Many high-fives were exchanged after doing this in local co-op sessions.
Where I begin to question the sanity of Koei is in the completely backwards way your local co-op partner has to deal with half of their customization options being restricted to player one. You see, purchasing new weapons or setting guardian animals/sworn allies is done by going into various provincial towns, and only player one may do so. In my local sessions, any time we wanted to make such changes for the second player, we had to back out to the character select screen, and swap characters. We’d change the option and swap back, which was extremely tedious.
"Make fun of my hat, will you?!"
The weirdness doesn’t stop with local co-op: in order to play online, all players need to toggle their session into online mode (off by default), otherwise you cannot invite anyone to your game. Additionally, the game asks if you want to keep your current partner or boot them after each completed mission. Anyone mindlessly dismissing status messages could potentially kick their friends out. If the guest player heads into town, they’re also prompted to leave the party. It just doesn’t make sense.
Once you learn to deal with the odd limitations, rolling through Conquest mode with a buddy is extraordinarily, albeit mindless fun, and once you reach some of the later missions where things get extremely over-the-top, you’ll be glad to have a friend along. Again, the biggest problem here is repetition: though the missions themselves are plenty of fun, the sheer number of them combined with the fact you’ll repeat mission types so often really begins to wear on you after extended play.
Most well-versed gamers will know whether a Dynasty Warriors game is going to appeal to them, but for players new to the series, this is about as good an entry point as there has been in a very long time. Series veterans will enjoy the upgrades to the story presentation and the much-needed overhaul of the game engine, but unless you’re absolutely craving a game of this type, it’s hard to recommend to everyone.