February 19, 2008
Dynasty Warriors 6 in one word: Gorgeous. Beautiful, dramatic scenes, motion-captured choreography from martial-artists, and detailed characters reward all gamers who use high definition receivers. The artistic talent poured into the latest installment in the series clearly pushes the Xbox 360’s graphics capability to new limits. Previous Dynasty Warriors games available on the 360 were obvious ports and the graphics often showed little or no difference when played on standard definition or high definition. KOEI built this game’s graphics engine from the ground up with a focus on using all the capabilities offered by the Xbox 360, and without a doubt they did a fantastic job.
Much like its predecessors, the latest offering in the franchise centers on the key concept of one mighty hero destroying thousands of enemies with huge weapons whilst scoring massive combinations. However, many of the maps are not as linear as prior games, giving you the option to apply a little strategic thinking. Most battles will be based on capturing a battlefield defined by strong points (bases, outposts, guard towers and the like). Bypassing the right ones gives your AI teammates incentive to take them out for you, leaving you to focus on critical areas of the battlefield. The downside is that if you bypass a critical base, the artificial opponents may surge out and retake areas in your rear, forcing you to double back or lose the battle.
Along with thinking strategically about the various installations around the map, players can use terrain to their advantage for the first time in a Dynasty Warriors game. You can elude enemies by jumping off bridges into water, run through the brush or stands of trees and over or around hills to break their line of site, and then turn the tables by circling around and falling on their flanks with your furious combos.
The combo system has also been completely rebuilt, and is referred to in the game as the “Renbu” system. The basic approach is that you have a gauge that fills up as you score combos, and as the gauge increases you unlock bigger and better attacks that contribute even more power to the gauge if you press the right buttons at the right time. One of the most noticeable changes is the theoretical ability to continue your combos infinitely, which was not possible in prior installments. At the higher ends, the combos are so big that essentially the entire screen only shows the combo graphics and it actually can be difficult to determine where any enemies are left standing, hindering your attempts to continue.
The fighting system is still a button-mashing, hack-and-slash approach to victory, but the cinematics have all been rebuilt using motion-captured choreography from martial arts experts. While you won’t feel like Bruce Lee whilst playing the game, if you are a big fan of martial arts movies you will definitely recognize some of the movements. The accompanying graphics tie-in well with the rest of the visuals, including the movement of clothing around kicking legs or capes pinwheeling with spins, and so on. In addition you have a great deal more ability to interact with the environment which is used to replace many of the cinematics with actual gameplay. For instance, if you needed to cross a river in prior versions of Dynasty Warriors, you would reach a certain point, a cinematic of you crossing the river would play, and then the game would resume. In Dynasty Warriors 6, however, you walk your character into the water, swim across, and climb out (potentially being shot at by bowmen on the near or far shores) with no interruption to the game play itself.
The other side of the fighting system provides an adaptable opponent that learns from your tactics and attempts to counter them. Unfortunately, while the changes in behavior are noticeable after a while they don’t particularly increase the effectiveness of the opponents. As an example, after six hours of game play on the hardest setting I have not lost a mission, died, or even been grievously injured. Apparently my superhero really is pretty super compared to the poor schmucks with their pitiful weapons that make up most of the opponents in the game.
The initial game mode most people will focus on is the Musou (or mission) mode, which runs you through the various campaigns. Characters all have different campaigns that run basically simultaneously, although generally you would finish one prior to starting the next, sometimes fighting the same battle multiple times from different perspectives. After Musou is the Free mode, which lets you replay any mission previously beaten in Musou mode and is good for leveling up your characters after the campaign is done, especially if you struggled on one mission and want to experiment with different tactics before moving on to the next – presumably harder – mission.
The Challenge mode has you aim for specific goals on particular maps, such as complete the objectives in a set time period. There are five different challenge modes, and all have leaderboards to compare your performance with other gamers around the globe. The multiplayer experience is limited to split screen, with no Live support. The number of enemies does not seem to change with two human players, so this can lead to very fast objective completions. The two can split their attention and take different routes to the objectives, or stay together and wipe out the enemy in a concentrated area very rapidly. In this case, the players can actually perform a double Musou attack by doing the special attack move for their characters simultaneously, which does extra damage. Certainly I am sympathetic of the additional challenges posed by adding in Live support for multiplayer, especially for a company that does not have much experience in this field, but I still feel that with 10 million plus Live members this is a critical shortfall for Dynasty Warriors 6. Hopefully when DW 7 comes out, KOEI will have heeded the popularity of the true multiplayer experience and added this in.
The individual characters level up by earning experience points in battle. The better you perform at obtaining the objectives, the more experience you obtain. This can then be used at the Officer Development screen which is essentially a talent tree. Purchasing one skill unlocks other skills that can be purchased when you have more XP. There are multiple starting points and several unique (unrelated) trees, so you can branch out to work on several at once or specialize in one area and move rapidly up that tree.
The types of skills that you can unlock are broken into basic abilities, immediate power ups and special attacks. Basic abilities include items such as increased damage when attacking or the ability to take more damage before dying. Immediate power ups include faster movement, and special attacks are, well…attacks that are special. Doing more damage over a broader area is fun, but you can still win the game by running through and pressing X 95% of the time.
To a limited extent, this also applies to your mount. Warhorse development is a new feature for Dynasty Warriors 6, and lets you essentially train your warhorse to be faster, hardier and more dangerous to your enemies. A pretty simple concept, but implemented well and the differences are quite noticeable between a starting horse and your fully trained mounts.
The achievements are sadly bland, and all secret as well. The official company documentation on this states: "All of the game’s Achievements will be set as secret in order to keep the identity of the playable characters a secret, as well as to prevent from showing what the upper limits of a certain class of Achievement are." In principle that may sound fine, but the descriptions of the achievements could be worded to just say “achieved all targets” instead of “achieved all (135) targets.” The achievements can be grouped into a few types:-
Needless to say, I am not particularly impressed with the cloud of secrecy and the uninspiring and highly predictable achievements. Still, better than most launch games I suppose. Oh, wait, that was more than two years ago…
The soundtrack is grandiose and impressive, completely in-character for the sweeping storyline and fast paced action. Battle sound effects are quite well done, although most of the characters really could use a bit more testosterone in the voice acting. Many of the hardened officers sound like teenagers struggling with puberty…but since that is the target audience, it may have been done on purpose. Still, after several missions I was quite happy to stream music via the Xbox 360’s dashboard and forego most of the audio in the game.
There is no denying the beauty of this game. From the opening cinematics to the detailed costumes worn by the various characters, the developers clearly were making a huge effort to find the limits of next gen graphics technology. For the most part, they succeeded, and while there are some minor issues here and there such as hordes of nearly identical enemies, they are well within the accepted norm for this genre.
The game is easy to pick up and play with no need to use the manual at all. As stated above, it is quite possible to play the game pressing pretty much only the X button, and you can win even on the hardest difficulty doing this. You will win faster if you use the various special attacks that you can unlock with your experience, but you don’t actually NEED to. After going through Musou mode nine separate times, plus multiple free mode missions to rank up your characters the game is quite repetitious, and it is doubtful that playing through again using different tactics would do anything but put you to sleep.
The game menus are nice and intuitive, and even KOEI’s first serious stab at a skill tree is well done. There are no real surprises here, but nothing outstandingly innovative either. Functional, easy to understand, and quick to move through.
Sigh. Okay, so they are better than others in the genre such as Ninety Nine Nights, but only because they have clearly figured out that it is okay to have more achievements than a number in the title. The achievements are boring, lack innovation, requiring only time and the ability to press the X button to earn, and are secret for a stupid reason. A clear challenger for the worst achievement list in 2008.
If you like Japanese hack-and-slash games, this is a good one. From a visual perspective, arguably the best ever released for a next gen console. However, it is still ultimately a button masher, and the strategic additions are not yet significant enough to change this. On the plus side, DW6 is an easy 1000 points if a bit time consuming.