After Dynasty Warriors 9 massively angered much the fanbase, it was probably not the best idea to press forward with Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires. The wait between DW 8 and its Empires release was about a year and a half, but, astoundingly, Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires comes four whole years after its base game. With that amount of time, you’d hope Omega Force would have done something different or more ambitious while making good use of the much-maligned DW 9‘s open world. That open world is indeed present in the install, but almost pointlessly so, as absolutely nothing new has been done with it. But the question stands: is Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires worth it, or is it too late to right this ship?
Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires places you in campaigns based around certain timeframes in the story. You can design your own character with the character creator, or pick one known in the series. Then you jump into the month-by-month minutiae of time management and conquest. You can try to go things on your own, or serve a ruler and work your way up the ranks, all the while accruing stockpiles. This should all be very familiar to anyone who’s played an Empires game before.
However, there’s a pretty big asterisk in this version. Other entries were expansions of games that had detailed stages which lent themselves well to the more strategic elements of the subseries. But Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires didn’t have stages to draw from. Instead, all of the battles take place in chopped-up parts of DW 9‘s open world, with jarring white barriers making it clear where the boundaries lie. These are all just the various castles from that game’s map, which means they all feel highly similar and copy-pasted. While this made a certain kind of sense in DW 9, it’s even more redundant here.
Thy kingdom come
Things also aren’t helped by the fact that Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires combat is purely 9‘s with few differences. Movement speed is extremely high by default, and you can equip secret plan moves to use as you like. But Empires has the exact same combat as the base game, for the most part. If you didn’t like how much it was dumbed down four years ago, your mind will likely not be changed at all. The secret plans are mostly unchanged from other Musou games: use an elemental attack, temporarily power up your character. It’s not all that different from magic in Warriors Orochi 4 or abilities in Samurai Warriors 5.
Of course, Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires also carries its predecessor’s technical foibles. Performance at 4K is just as bad here as it was in the base game, even though you typically won’t be in the open world. Visually, it doesn’t look any better. The same bland visuals, low-quality textures, and weird, janky shadows are everywhere, making this a game that’s just as unattractive as 9. After four whole years, you might have expected some improvements here and there, but, nah.
The basic structure still plays out the same. You’ll spend a lot of time in menus picking a single action for a month. These are extremely boring and typically don’t feel like they matter at all. It isn’t helped by the year’s orders basically dictating what you’ll do. You have a short list of goals that, if accomplished, will net you extra experience when the next war council approaches. Plus, you’ll want to invade territories to expand your control, as well as defend your own when you’re under attack. Defense missions are kind of a weird crapshoot as, if your forces in that territory have a lower overall number than the attacking forces, then you’ll probably lose.
Strolling through life
One of the other frequent things you’ll pick on the menu is going for a stroll, which lets you build up relationships with other characters, represented by letters. Members of the opposite sex will sometimes propose marriage and you can have a kid with them. It’s best to just do all of this from the menu, but strolls are also where 9‘s open world is dumped. If you press start while in stroll mode, your character will get dropped into whatever stronghold you’re in and you can walk around and talk to your comrades, if you wish. You can also have them accompany you, if your relationship is strong enough, which means they’ll follow you into the vast, empty open world.
If you thought the world was empty in the base game, you’re going to be surprised that it now feels even emptier. Gone are the materials to harvest, along with the bases and side quests. Instead, you’ll find wide swaths of nothing, aside from occasional enemies to fight. Defeating 100 enemies with another character accompanying you will net you a gift, such as a secret plan. But the world is completely and utterly wasted here.
Just thinking about the applications that the open world could have had for Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires is intriguing. Imagine leading an army around the world itself, conquering enemy keeps, jumping on your horse to ride into battle to aid your forces. The possibilities were many. Instead, the map mostly just bloats the install size to 40 GB, which is nearly that of the base game. After four entire years, I wasn’t sure what Omega Force would do about the elephant in the room, but I didn’t think its corpse would be left rotting in the background for no reason.
All your base
Despite how boring the menu stuff can be, how basic and repetitive the base maps are, and how simple the combat is, the battles themselves are still entertaining. You’ll either be invading or defending, and each side will have its own plan that they attempt to pull off. You’ll often need to refocus your efforts to stop an enemy plan while bolstering your own, which can be fun. Plus, capturing bases by mowing down enemy peons is a thing that Musou games have long made enjoyable, despite the way enemies just stand around unthreateningly.
I didn’t have a bad time playing Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires, even if I did find myself horribly bored a fair amount of the time after the first few hours, but it just feels like even less than the bare minimum was done here. It doesn’t help that previous Empires games have had a lower price tag, and this one is full price. That being considered, the fact that a $60 USD game four years in the making has done this little is kind of staggering.
If you’re a giant Dynasty Warriors fan who buys every game no matter what, yeah, you’re going to buy this and put dozens of hours into it. But even hardcore fans are going to be left scratching their heads and fuming at certain things. Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires isn’t worth it at full price, even if there is some fun to be had with it. Between how it carries over material that so many viciously hated and how it reeks of a lack of effort, I just can’t imagine most people taking much satisfaction in their purchase.