Poor touch controls and a lack of dedicated online multiplayer drag down an otherwise serviceable portable Dynasty Warriors game. Fans of the series will find things to like in Next, but the offering is mediocre at best.
- Dual analog stick Dynasty Warriors gone portable. 'Nuff said.
- Cool online integration for Conquest Mode.
- Small screen frequently feels overloaded.
- In-battle touch/motion minigames break the flow of the action and can't be turned off.
- Duels in particular don't work very well.
- No true online play
Dynasty Warriors Next Review:
The PlayStation Vita's launch lineup is filled with slice and dice action games, but the sliciest and dice-iest of them all is, without question, Tecmo Koei's touch-enabled horde-killer, Dynasty Warriors Next. What better way to show off the hardware capabilities of the new handheld than to fill the screen with so many enemies that your death toll for the typical mission hovers around 800? Not to mention the crapton of Vita-specific new content, in the form of features that take advantage of the handheld's touch, motion and camera capabilities.
If It Ain't Broke. . .
Tecmo Koei's Warriors games may not be blockbusters, but they've got a dedicated, die-hard fanbase. As a result, there tends to be very little iteration as each new number entry in a series or each new spin-off is released. This holds true in Next for the most part, barring those Vita-specific features. If you've played one Warriors game, you should already have a pretty good idea of what you're sitting down with when you fire the game up for the first time.
Next probably finds its closest console comparison in Dynasty Warriors 6: Empires, and the Empires track of Warriors games in general. The on-the-ground combat scenarios are all framed against the larger picture of a meta-game involving the gradual takeover of China, in the time of the "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" tales. In fact, the story-driven campaign portion of the game follows "Three Kingdoms" closely, introducing players to the various game concepts while playing out the story across three acts.
It's important that you play through the campaign first, both to learn the game's specific quirks and to unlock the characters and tools you'll need to more fully enjoy the rest of what Next has to offer. The marquee mode that you'll spend most of your time in once the story is finished is Conquest.
Structurally, Conquest is similar to the story in that you'll slowly spread your army across China as you take over territories held by opposing forces. The difference here is that you're not bound by the "Three Kingdoms" fiction. You can build your own army with your own officers and slowly carve a path of your own choosing across ancient China.
Proper preparation is the key to any victory in Next. Before a battle, you'll have the option of outfitting your chosen officer in a variety of ways. You'll purchase Strategems, mission-specific buffs that improve one or more traits for either a given character or your entire army. You'll also be able to equip weapons and items -- such as horses, weapon enhancements and stat buffs -- that you find on the battlefields.
The action on the ground is much the same as it's always been. You're dropped into a large, open environment filled with bases, some held by your own forces (blue) and some held by the enemy. You'll work your way around the map, taking out named enemy officers and capturing bases by killing everything inside them until a counter drains to zero.
Each base serves a different purpose. As you capture more and more of them on a given map, your forces will be strengthened with various buffs. This can be anything from a straight-up attack boost to a creature spawn of some kind (tigers!). There are also bases that, once captured, will render a nearby base impervious to enemy assaults.
Dynasty Warriors Next carries over the Edit Mode that allows players to create their own officers. Playing through Campaign unlocks a wide variety of customization options for you to make use of here, and you can then use your creations in Conquest. This customization feature also feeds into Conquest's online functionality, but not in the way that you might expect.
By choosing to play Conquest mode online at the start, you allow the game to feed in data from other players to populate your battlefields with. You'll be the only human-controlled officer in a given mission, but you'll find yourself facing off against Edit Mode creations belonging to other players in addition to the stock cast of characters.
Be warned, however: Conquest's online mode can break your game a little bit. There are a lot of human creations out there already, and some of them are pretty powerful. You might find a particular officer lineup has an easy time in Conquest offline, only to get shredded online.
For those who would rather play Next in the company of other human players there is sadly only an Ad Hoc option (ie those other humans will need to be in your immediate vicinity): Coalition Mode. I wasn't able to connect with anyone else who had the game for the purposes of this review, but Coalition is playable solo as well.
There are four basic modes to choose from in Coalition: Sentinel (protect all the bases), Marauder (capture all the bases), Blitz (capture the enemy main camp) and Sudden Death (capture all the bases, with one-hit kills enabled). Each mode plays just like any of the game's other ground battles, only with the option of having one to four live players in the mix. Why this wasn't built for wi-fi play as well is a total mystery, but it’s an unfortunate omission for a series that has always been more fun to play with a friend.
Everything I've described so far speaks to a solid Dynasty Warriors game. It's a shame that there's no true online play functionality, but Next otherwise offers all of the features that a Warriors game should. Unfortunately, the Omega Force dev team felt compelled to really make use of every facet of the Vita hardware. The results range from silly to downright frustrating.
In the silly category you have Musou Snapshots. It's a camera mode in which you can snap photos with the Vita's cameras and then trick them out with various game assets-- weapons, items, characters, frames and the like. It's... I mean... yeah. Strange.
Dynasty Warriors Next also comes packing a wide range of touch- and motion-based minigames that pop up randomly during battles. Sometimes you'll need to tap a group of incoming enemy soldiers, tilting the Vita to adjust your view so you can catch them all. Another minigame involves swiping incoming arrows out of the air. Completing these successfully is the same as grabbing a Life/Musou pickup.
The big loser of the bunch is a touch-based Duel minigame. If you've played the iOS game Infinity Blade then you have an idea of what Next's Duel is like. The thing about Infinity Blade is that it's quite awesome. The problem with Duel is that it strays just about as far from awesome as possible.
For starters, the Vita screen, proven to be so sensitive to touch with other games released so far, doesn't respond very well to swipes during these Duels. I don't know if you need to hit the swipe direction perfectly or go at a certain speed or what, but swipe-based counters don't always seem to register.
Beyond that, the controls overall have a sluggish feel during Duels. There’s no real on screen indication of when you should strike or not strike, making the whole affair feel more like a matter of luck than of skill. Bafflingly, there’s no health indicator for your character either. The screen turns a deepening shade of red as you take damage, but it’s not exactly the clearest system imaginable.
Duels and the rest of the minigames pop up randomly during battles as mentioned above. While it’s sometimes useful to receive the Life/Musou boost you get for successfully finishing one, the minigame appearances are more disruptive than anything else. They can and do happen at any moment, seemingly at random. Win or lose, you’re immediately dropped back into the battle wherever you were. Not only is it jarring, but it often means a quick Vita fumble as you transition from a standard grip to a minigame-friendly one and then back to a standard one. There’s nothing wrong with touch screen controls, even as minigames, but the dev team forgot to give players a moment to catch up as the switch occurs.
You'll also unlock minigames in Next's Gala Mode (also where Musou Snapshots is found) as you progress through the rest of the game. You can play these at any time to try to beat your high score and unlock bonus items. These are a diversion at best, but at least they're all more fully baked than the touch/motion-based events that occur during full-blown battles.
The good news is that the console Warriors experience is re-created pretty perfectly on the Vita. The graphics look great and the action moves at a solid clip, though the small five-inch screen sometimes feels a little too busy. The Vita-specific features aren't a total bust, but the fact that you can't simply turn off Duels and other touch/motion-based minigames during battles is definitely a major mark against, as is the lack of dedicated online play.
What you're left with is a portable Dynasty Warriors game that gets a lot of things wrong but does manage to deliver what fans of the franchise are looking for. It could certainly have been a better game than it is, but there are good bits in there to please fans of the series. If you're a Vita early adopter and you're looking for a sizable horde to slice the crap out of while on the go, Dynasty Warriors Next will fill that need.
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