I like the Musou genre. There, I said it.
Yes, I know that this was kicked off in 2000 by Dynasty Warriors 2 – the original was a fairly competent one-on-one 3D fighter in the vein of SoulEdge, which I remember playing and actually quite liking too – and yes, I know this genre is saturated at this point. The Warriors brand has grown – Samurai Warriors, Warriors All-Stars, Hyrule Warriors, Gundam Warriors, Warriors Orochi, Beserk, Legends of Troy… and it is a good genre. The volume does get it painted in a negative light but it speaks to a success that it’s managed to grow to this extent.
That’s not to say that it hasn’t been in need of a lick of paint or some technical tweaking; the core concept is absolutely there and still fun, but the actual process hasn’t changed much. A map, boxes which are bases, take bases, kill captains, kill commander, move on with story. It’s often been inside the spin-offs and one-offs, like Fire Emblem Warriors, where real change and progress is made only to be forgotten when Omega Force move onto something else. It’s frustrating because rather than evolve the mainline Warriors games through their interactions with other franchises, it seems to just forget that any of this good stuff – ordering around units, team-ups and vanguards, solid end-game – ever even happened.
And when they try to reinvent outside of having learned any of this, you get Dynasty Warriors 9.
Okay, I know some have seen the rants – particularly from Jim Sterling – saying that it sucks. It doesn’t. At least, not completely. It’s not even terrible in a silly way, it’s just so… damn… average. It’s the base concept that Vanguard: Saga of Heroes had back in 2007; it’s just a fairly open and empty world with no interesting design peppered with level-gated enemies and encounters that still force you to go about the place in a relatively linear fashion anyway. We’ve had so many open world games – and in the last year, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey – that this looks generic, slapdash, dull, lifeless and boring. Yes, it’s a hell of a step back… but it could have been worse. Oh jeez, could it have been worse…
The weapons system I agree with critics on. Tecmo-Koei and Omega Force have stripped it all out to sell it back to people as DLC and it’s not like they’ve been averse to stupid DLC in the past, but they did this already in Dynasty Warriors 6 and people bloody hated it! So now they’ve robbed characters of their win poses, their weapons and any locational charm. Oh and the game still takes place over many decades and eras and nothing changes. Not a damn thing. “Realism”, Tecmo-Koei? No. Just… not washing here.
So it’s a disappointment – especially if, like me, you’re coming in off the pretty damn remarkable Fire Emblem Warriors variant. It’s a 5/10 game at best. Absolutely serviceable to a point but not a single person could look at it and go “that’s some damn fine work.”
… and it shouldn’t be that way.
One of the criticisms I had of Fire Emblem Warriors is perhaps applicable to all Warriors games; the maps. They’re often done with spacious areas and tight corridors but there’s absolutely no complexity or nuance to them – they barely fold in on themselves half the time, and this makes them feel flat even though there are of course higher and lower regions. The single biggest upgrade that could be made to the Musou genre, right now, is better and more complex map design.
We exist now in a post-Souls world; post-Nioh even and absolutely post-Breath of the Wild. The bar on how in-game maps work, especially in combat-focused video games, has been exceptionally high for some time and I am of the viewpoint this is why people see the Musou genre as somehow “outdated”; it’s always the same kind of fairly flat, fairly basic map with big squares that are forts. And there was a point this was fine – I remember holding big square forts back in Unreal Tournament 2004. But it’s not 2004. Or 2007. It’s 2018 as I write this. Hardware has improved, design has moved on and the Warriors branding just… hasn’t kept pace. And it still hasn’t in Dynasty Warriors 9.
Forts don’t need to be squares – and the maps can curve in on themselves, have upper and lower regions, be more complex and nuanced. You could even have just two forts – one for each side – and a bunch of “control points” in between for more open, plains-like maps. The maps can be more complex, more interesting, more grand and fun than before… but then it’s not a generally flat and featureless open-world, is it? *sigh*
I’m not going to defend Dynasty Warriors 9 any further than “it’s just average”. But if the Warriors series is to have any kind of future, Omega Force has to take a moment to work out how to advance the core conceit of tons of fighters, with varying weapons, having a smack-down and players being one-man armies just crushing everything under their leather-clad heel. Yes, that means looking to your spin-offs, where all the good ideas have been going, and pulling just a handful of those into the mainline series.
But easily the biggest improvement would be to go back to the basic maps system, but just… make better maps. It seems to silly to say that but hell, people were able to look past Bloodborne‘s myriad flaws (I’m going there) and enjoy the ride because the setting was just so bloody amazing. The way Yharnam is set up, the way it looks, the way things logically and sensibly fold in on themselves for ease of moment and backtracking where necessary. Dark Souls 2 had a solid eye for detail, and Dark Souls was just one massive column split into areas but still… what areas! And Nioh’s self-contained maps wound, wove and weaved in on themselves with a deft hand that still makes me smile. Who wants a flat, boring Musou game anymore? Well… me, but not by making it open world. That’s just being silly.
It seems so obvious, so comical, so daft to say it because it shouldn’t even be an issue. But if the Warriors-brand is to carry on, they don’t need to push for big open-world concepts or take away weapons or even push for “realism”, after all, the Romance of the Three Kingdom‘s novels are themselves noted works of fiction – yes, there’s some historical detail but it was never above the mythical or fantastical. Hell, they don’t even need to take the artstyle of their recent Nintendo outings, or the command functions of Fire Emblem Warriors. They can ignore that if they want (but they shouldn’t).
All Dynasty Warriors X needs to be a massive step forward in how the series plays… is to make better, more complex and more nuanced maps. That’s all that has to be done. Nothing else. Better maps? Better gameplay comes as standard, it’s prettier to look at, more interesting to run around…
So please, Omega Force. Play some Souls games. Some Nioh. Hell, go back and play some Unreal Tournament – a lot of those maps were far from straight-forward. You get away with it everywhere else because you’re adding in good ideas, but you never come back to them and now Dynasty Warriors 9 is just… well… an open-world game from like, a decade ago. This wouldn’t have been acceptable before Breath of the Wild dropped but after? You realise the goalposts have shifted, right?
You don’t need that. You just need better constructed, more complicated maps. And the series will shine again…