The mighty Lu Bu returns to wreck havoc upon your plans for legendary status in the Three Kingdoms! Koei has returned with Dynasty Warriors 7 and has brought back a formula that long time fans of the Dynasty Warriors series will rejoice over. To top things off, they’ve gone yet another step further to achieve something the few other DW games have achieved… they actually tell a story.
As many of the die hard Dynasty Warriors fans know, the characters of this game are based on historical generals of China whose stories were passed down through generations via a novel entitled Romance of the Three Kingdoms, written by Luo Guanzhong. Filled with almost 60 generals, Dynasty Warriors 7 is probably the most complete of the entire series with regards to covering the chronicled fall of the Han Dynasty.
Differentiating itself from the previous efforts, the story mode of DW7 goes to great lengths to delve into the different generals, their relationships with each other, and the intent of the Lords of each faction. Beginning each battle or general changing moment of the mission, you are placed in a town or base with the ability to speak to other generals and soldiers within the camp to gain further insight on the story. Also, a weapons dealer is provided to allow for the purchase of new weapons.
By using narrated cut-scenes, near seamless interaction of events, and implementing unique duels into the battles, you are always getting a true feel for the storyline that the game is trying to weave. This immersive approach will push fans of the series to love their favorite generals even more (for more reasons than “he just looks cool”). Sticking to this storytelling mindset, each battle is purposefully told from the perspective of your chosen general for that particular battle. This will be an adjustment for DW regulars but in the interest of telling the story, it works well. This mode is also the primary method for unlocking the various generals in the game.
Loyalty, betrayal, cruelty, vengeance, and loss fill each faction’s storyline in a way that sheds many of the characters in a different light than in past versions of the game. As a result, there is less of a sense that one faction is evil and the others are virtuous. Cao Cao is depicted more as a cold and calculating general whose methods were misunderstood in his quest for the end of chaos within his land. Even some of the newer characters in the series are shown to have more of a personality than just a few quirky quotes spouted in the midst of battles. Still, all of these historical personalities are presented with a graphical quality that is much improved. In both cutscenes and within the battles, the graphics in DW7 are top notch. The vibrant elaborate outfits and shiny appealing weapons are beautifully rendered and animated.
To really complete the Three Kingdoms storyline, Koei decided to add an additional faction (the Jin Kingdom) and track the story to the actual unification of China. Don’t get all gassed up though. There isn’t an in depth story for Lu Bu. In truth, his contribution to the Three Kingdoms story is not as engrossing as other generals. Still, he’s a blast to play as and yes, his traditional halberd has replaced the four bladed star looking weapon he was stuck with in DW6.
Fanboy-moment aside, DW7 is still uses the same hack n’ slash formula that it always has. The soldiers are still fodder and the maps are still relatively boring and generic. Still, DW fanatics will notice a welcome return to a combo control scheme that was seen in DW4 and DW5. Out with the dreaded one button Renbu system and back to the good old charge based system. In that I mean you’ve got one button for normal attacks, one for charge attacks, and another for the special musou attack. This allows for the return of aerial juggling and elemental charge attacks that somewhat varies the types of attacks and combos that are possible. This will be necessary to acquire the highest skill point bonuses possible when defeating the various generals. Just as in DW4, the higher the combo used to defeat a general, the higher the bonus awarded.
These bonuses are a part of the RPG elements which have always been a signature of the series. Extending the replayability of the game ten fold, DW7 has upped the ante by allowing for each unique general to be able to wield any weapon from the 36 different categories that they added. Each category, such as swords, spears, bows, lances, and fans, have about 10 different weapon types. Each general is ranked in compatibility with each category which affects the effectiveness and types of combos they can perform with each. Each general’s preferred weapon has an EX upon the icon which allows for them to perform one special attack which is always explained on the generals move list.
When switching weapons, a specific attack is performed before the switch is complete. This can be used to extend or end a particular combo once the attack is recognized. While on the battlefield, the generals can quickly swap between two different weapons and even change which two are equipped in the midst of the battle. No longer are you trapped with your pre-battle decisions throughout the battle. Top that off with seals (or skills) that increase different attributes and you have an abundance of ways to upgrade your battlefield death dealer. To say the least, you will be playing this game for many hours trying to max out the statistics for each of the generals.
This leads you to the addition of the Chronicle mode. In a way, this is a replacement for the Free mode that was regularly a part of the series in the past. In this mode, you are given a hexagonal map of China that you are expected to explore. With each hexagon featuring up to 3 different battles to conquer, you are allowed to ‘create your own path’ with whichever general you choose. Not to be confused with the strategic element that the Empires ‘expansions’ typically add, this mode is more of just an RPG mode that provides the ability to build your generals’ stats, acquire weapons, mounts and attack pets, as well as unlock even more generals.
This mode also adds 2 player online co-op but oddly enough, it just isn’t that satisfying. Even though you are allowed to build your generals and weapon list if you are playing in your friend’s mode, these missions seem tragically short. Each of the missions seem to be more of a race to defeat the most generals rather than the two generals strategically advancing forces against the enemy. This changes a little as the mission difficulty increases but that difficulty balance in this mode (as well as in the story mode) is a bit odd.
Normal difficulty doesn’t present much of a challenge to veterans that take heed to the orders requested by your general throughout each battle. The fodder get their occasional hit upon your general but that doesn’t interrupt your combo string. Meddlesome archers chip away at your health from a distance and even manage to avoid staying in comical formations as you approach to dispatch them. Ambushes even have an effect on the fodder as they appear stunned for a time. Still, achieving victory is typically less about your general being defeated and more about a supporting general falling victim to an ambush or a swarm of rival forces. Strategy is not much of a factor in this battlefield. Instead, a wealth of temporary bonuses dropping as you tear through enemy forces becomes the definition of which difficulty level you are on. As the difficulty level increases, the bonuses drop with less frequency and enemy strength and health is increased a bit.
Overall, the game has a ton for you to do and achieve but the change in gameplay simply isn’t enough to not make things feel repetitive. Even the addition of siege weapon use seems tacked on and relatively needless, there just isn’t enough innovation here. Those not interested in the Three Kingdoms storyline or hack n’ slash gameplay will find little reason to see DW7 as anything more than a more cinematic Dynasty Warriors wrought with long loading screens. Fans, on the other hand, should be happy enough with the combo system return and the new attempt to tell and reveal a story that is less fantasy and closer to the historical events chronicled in the novel. If you’re into the Dynasty Warriors then I can’t see you being disappointed with the game. You know what to expect and the game will deliver on your expectations. Just don’t expect anything groundbreaking or innovative.
A cinematic and immersive story mode that returns the historical label to the series is what stands out here, but the game also features a wealth of features and RPG elements that retain the series’ high replayability and length. If you've been a fan up till this point, then check this one out.