Oh no, it's Lu Bu!
The most important ingredient for a successful franchise is to blend the familiar with the new. Minor inclusions to keep people coming back for more. The masters of this craft are global trendsetters. Every high street or industry has a particular brand that is for some people at least a welcome sight. Gamers recently ventured into parts largely unknown with the PlayStation Vita launch lineup, though these initial jitters were calmed down by the likes of Uncharted and more specifically to this point: Dynasty Warriors. By billing this version as the next generation in quite literal terms, Dynasty Warriors Next is not only trying to bring us the comfort of the old, but also freshness from the new. The question is; does it achieve this goal?
First we have the familiar. It is still based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms story based on Chinese history. The basic gameplay hasn’t really changed a great deal between versions as it is the same hack and slash concept that has been around since the PlayStation 2 days. Enemy generals will still give you a bit of a hard time, but with combinations of strong and all-powerful Musou attacks you can take anything down with ease. Going from base to base and decimating enemy numbers well into the hundreds, possibly into the thousands, still feels like a mostly engaging gameplay prospect.
The series has never really been known for extremely stunning visual detail, but rather generating tons of enemies on-screen. This doesn’t really change here, but it is surprising just how well the game holds up on a handheld. Frame rate drops are minimal despite displaying many foes at any given time. Level design is rehashed as the game progresses, but when you are ploughing through enemies it rarely becomes noticeable. Even the music is familiar in tone, especially if you played Dynasty Warriors 7 on the home consoles as it is directly taken from that game. Voice acting is still pretty awful, but by now it is to be as expected.
But as the game is on the multi-functional PlayStation Vita, there are bound to be some differences during gameplay and beyond. These range from the gimmicky yet empowering to gimmicks that shatter immersion. Characters can perform three kinds of Musou attacks in the game: Regular, Break and Speed. Regular ones still deal the most damage, while Break attacks will automatically capture a base in the enemy hands and lock it under your control for the rest of the battle. You also have Speed Musou attacks which use the PS Vita’s various input options to mostly great effect. During battles you will also encounter ambushes which require a quick input to overcome, adding a little bit of tension. Where the game falls flat is in the duels, which feel like a cheap knockoff version of Infinity Blade. They really grind all momentum that the game generates to a screeching halt.
The variety of gameplay modes may at first seem diverse, but when you look under the bonnet, the truth becomes clear. Both Campaign and Conquest modes have the same genetic makeup in that you are tasked with conquering entire areas in a scenario similar to tactical board games such as Risk. Each “turn” you get to invade a territory, generating income from your previously captured territories. These funds are used to buy tactics that help turn the tide of battle. Officers also have condition markers that reflect how much their perk costs and how effective they are in battle. This discourages over-dependency on one character set alone, but officers can also get disgruntled if they are left on the sidelines too many times or their tactics are ignored constantly. The key is to maintain benevolent rule over the kingdom, while not squandering too much money on random items. In Conquest these choices matter far more, as in Campaign they’re fairly redundant due to scripted scenes override some of your choices.
There are other modes too, such as the ad-hoc only co-operative and the mini-game filled Gala mode, but none of these really provide much beyond the original game. The only online functionality is interlinked with the Campaign and Conquest modes, where you have the chance to be put against rivals in duels. At the time of testing, it is unclear as to whether they are computer controlled or human controlled; as while the skins are of custom characters, the actions are eerily similar to CPU duel bouts. The main draw is therefore the lengthy Campaign mode that splits into various levels after its rather linear beginnings by giving you “what if” scenarios. There is a basic ranking system, but this essentially boils down to unlocks for the games Edit Mode. For the completists; there is a lot here for you to work through, but after a while it does feel like work.
Certainly addictive without compromising the things that did work, Dynasty Warriors Next is moderately successful in bringing the classic gameplay, theme and music to Sony’s newest handheld. It also brings exclusive features that, for the most part at least, are flavourful in the heat of battle. But in turn, not only do some of the new features stick out like a sore thumb, none of them fundamentally change how the core mechanics work. As it turns out, Dynasty Warriors Next feels like a missed opportunity for the series to capitalise on a new audience, but at the very least it keeps the core demographic sweet by not messing around with what works.