Dynasty Warriors 7 is back-to-basics fan service with a formula that's a blast for newcomers as well, but a lack of risk-taking holds the game back from greatness.
- Astronomical body counts provide endless stress relief
- Fascinating story if you don't know it already
- More than your money's worth in play time
- Level design lacks creativity and variety
- Conquest mode fails to reach potential
- No hand-holding for newbies
The opening cutscene of Dynasty Warriors 7 shows one of the game's greatest fighters running down a waterfall, swinging through the sky, grabbing weapons out of the air and kicking a horse in the face. Perhaps it's an allusion to God of War's over-the-top acrobatics, but despite the cutscene's high-flying stunts, Dynasty Warriors 7 is different kind of button-masher.
The game won't give you frightening bosses, arbitrary puzzles or buckets of gore. And forget about quick-time events and elaborate set pieces. In Dynasty Warriors 7, all that matters are the high-ranking officers spread across the battlefield and the hundreds of generic, disposable foot soldiers that stand in your way. With the series celebrating its 10th anniversary, Dynasty Warriors's cult following knows all of this already, but even if you've never played a Dynasty Warriors game before, its easy to understand why these rabid fans exist.
It's a Massacre
The allure lies in killing a thousand enemies or more in a single battle, felling five or six at a time with each swing of your sword, axe, staff or nunchucks. You're not required to kill all of these grunts, but thinning the herd charges a special attack that can kill dozens of enemies at a time and bite huge chunks of energy out of the officers that dot each level. The formula -- slaying hordes of enemies and then focusing your most devastating attack on a single, more powerful adversary -- is intoxicating.
The backdrop for all this violence is second- and third-century China, when warlords fought to control the land as the Han Dynasty crumbled. Like its predecessors, Dynasty Warriors 7 draws upon Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a 14th-century novel that mythologized this chapter of history. But instead of telling a story from one character's perspective, Dynasty Warriors 7 instructs you to pick a kingdom, and then forces you to play as a revolving cast of characters.
The steady supply of fresh faces seems jarring at first, because you're barely used to one hero before the game shuffles you on to the next, but it actually helps Dynasty Warriors 7 break some of the monotony that plagued previous games. Players can bring any two weapons into battle, but each character has only a few proficiencies, along with one preferred weapon that enables a unique attack. It's a subtle change, but one that alters the flow of each level.
This steady rotation through the game's massive arsenal, along with each character's charged special attacks -- called Musou moves -- also help mask the simplicity of the combat. A string of weak attacks followed by one strong attack is all a player needs to create combos, and on normal difficulty, you won't even have to block. I actually like the simplicity; it's as if the developers decided to cut away all gimmicks to focus on the catharsis of cutting into enemy hordes.
While new characters and weapons breathe fresh air into the game, Dynasty Warriors 7 falters on its level design, which doesn't provide enough surprises on its own. Even when the objective changes to something special, such as defending a base or escorting a VIP, you're almost always running or riding on horseback across the battlefield to hunt down another officer.
Here and there, the game provides glimpses of creativity. In one instance, you must navigate a thorny entrapment packed with officers, and in another, you must pick a fork in a path based on an untrustworthy ally's advice. But too often, Dynasty Warriors falls back on those big battles, where you can conquer any challenge with brute force and no strategy. Before long, you're grinding.
Like History, But Fun
Fortunately, Dynasty Warriors 7's story is good enough to string players along. Stories play out kind of like a history lesson, with a deep-voiced narrator describing the big picture in between cutscenes that zoom in on personal conflicts.
Someone didn't get the memo that this is a video game; the dialog is undeniably cheesy, but the characters are three dimensional, and I was shocked to see clever examples of foreshadowing and symbolism throughout the story. Part of me wishes the game made an effort to describe the personal lives and back stories of these warriors -- they're often introduced in rapid succession, without explanation -- but I'm also content to see them as war heroes whose only purpose is to fight. If you stick with it, you might even learn something. (The only glaring anachronism is a heavy metal soundtrack, a staple of the series that sets the tempo for slaughter.)
Endless Pain and Suffering
For a game that can easily become a monotonous exercise, Dynasty Warriors 7 doesn't skimp on playable hours, but it's laid out in a way that feels complete even if you don't have much time to commit. Credits roll in the Story mode after about seven hours, but that's only a quarter of the entire campaign. You're free to go back and play as the other kingdoms to see how events unfold from their perspectives. As you might expect, overlapping levels play out differently depending on the kingdom you've adopted.
Beyond the Story mode, there's Conquest, which lays out a hexagonal grid of levels that you can roam at will with any character. This mode's for the collectible junkies, who can spend countless hours finding weapons, unlocking characters and maxing their stats.
I just wish this mode amounted to more than a paradise for collectors. You can build alliances with all the game's heroes by fighting alongside them and meeting with them in cities, but that's essentially just one more thing to unlock. Two players can cooperate in Conquest, online or locally, but the end goal of amassing more booty remains the same. Conquest mode would benefit from real alliances -- ones that put you at odds with opposing kingdoms -- and the risk of losing captured territories. As it stands, it's just a glorified list of levels through which to grind.
More of a Good Thing
When a video game comes appended with the number seven, it also comes with a dilemma for critics: Do you pan the game for treading familiar ground, or treat it like its own entity? It's a valid question with no easy answer, but after 10 years, Dynasty Warriors 7 still offers something different from the genre-defining fare of Devil May Cry and God of War. It happily strips away all the flare and delivers nothing but easily-digestible slaughter and a boatload of unlockables. It's mindless to a fault, but the formula is divine. Maybe the cult is onto something.