Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Dynasty Warriors 6

Being a fan of the series I snatched this one up once I found it used at a local Gamestop (even I can't bring myself to pay the new price for a Warriors game). It had received favorable reviews, which is unusual for a Warriors game, so I figured it must really be rockin' since I loved the other entries which were panned by critics.

However, as it is with other entertainment mediums, so it is with video games: critical love doesn't equal a better product. Koei diligently listened to the past criticisms and redid much of what worked in the franchise. Gone are the heavily customizable weapons and characters. The special character tasks of the past which were used to obtain these customizations are gone in favor of map specific tasks of uneven quality and little in-game benefit.

Also trashed is the excellent move-set system that added some depth to the combat. Although it could be done in previous installments, the latest version actively encourages players to run around the map and press square, A LOT. When doing this, a gauge would charge up that allowed me to occasionally use the triangle button as well, but this could be more trouble than it's worth depending on the character being used.

Another item that grates me is that it's more difficult to level up characters. In previous installments, the first characters you use in the story mode would have nothing, making survival an ongoing issue until enough power-up items are found to make the character stronger. In turn, subsequent low level characters could use the same items, which shortens the grind level for the back half of the game. Apparently in a bid to pad the playing time, possibly because so many characters were removed from the game, Koei took that ability out.

Not that there weren't mediocre characters worth removing from the previous games, but taken as a whole it seems like the character removal had more to do with a restrictive development schedule rather than some justified desire to tighten the ranks in order to improve the remaining characters. Another character related knock against the game is that many of the voice actors were dumped and cheaper actors found. The game is devoid of some ham-fisted favorites of the past ("On the chopping block!", or a character who wears bells who says something like "when you here the bells, you better answer the call!"). This light level of humor provided some padding to what are rather repetitive stories.

Okay, so they took a lot out, they must have put something in, right? Well, the game does look gorgeous. Gone are the pre-rendered videos and everything is handled in-engine, making the game a bit less disjointed. Maps are huge and lushly rendered (which in and of itself is a bit of a detraction since overly large maps don't seem to be as tightly focused). Players can now climb towers and what not, but since they took the bow out of the game there's really no reason to do so. In what is probably the strongest gameplay improvement, the method for taking 'capture points' finally makes sense and is an interesting challenge to boot.

And then there's...well...nothing else, there just isn't all that much in this installment. Part of my disappointment was my expectation that the with all the computing power in the newer consoles, that the developer would be free to take the series in slightly different, open ended direction. Instead of something different though, this game seems to be a throwback to Dynasty Warriors '3.5'*. Another layer of frustration set in when I had occasional glitches with the sound in the game and a few lock-ups while saving. Needless to say, if you're a fan of the series I'd suggest holding out for 7.

*I think it needs to be said that while this game is compartively weak, it proves the point that even bad next-gen titles are still pretty darn good.

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