Stylized and fictionalized events from China's massive historical novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms are the basis for hours of hacking and slashing. Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce is ported from the PSP title of the same name, and like that release features four-player online play, aerial combat and more RPG elements than any previous Dynasty Warriors title.
- Adds online multiplayer to consoles
- Attempts battle scenarios beyond basic 'run and slash'
- Customize weapons and powers via RPG elements
- Offline AI partners more useful than online friends
- Combat can be intensely frustrating
- Small battle areas not as epic and strategic as past maps
The Dynasty Warriors series could typically be summed up with the line that opens Fallout: "War never changes." Sometimes, however, it does. When Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce hit the PSP in 2009, it switched up tactics to offer small, contained battle areas and the online multiplayer action for which fans of the series had long clamored. The action worked well enough on the handheld, but does it have enough moxie to be worth a console upgrade?
Hit X. Hit it Again. Then Again!
It's easy to make jokes about Dynasty Warriors, as the series has long lived and died on a few basic concepts. Characters from the epic historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms are caught in eternal battle to unite or destroy feudal China, with every battle won and lost based (more or less) on the mashing of one controller button.
From one perspective, nothing has changed for Strikeforce. Has it got the same characters? Yep! Will you mash one light attack button ad nauseum? Check! Are there are a few other combat techniques, which add superficial color, while really underscoring how repetitive it all is? Absolutely.
But there are some alterations that make Strikeforce a significantly different game. Trouble is, it isn't a more entertaining game. Gone are the massive, wide-open battle plains through which military heroes used to race around like headless chickens. Now you'll move through maps made up of small, interconnected “rooms.” There's a lot more stuff in each of those areas than there ever used to be in a DW battlefield. That's a plus. But there are a great many drawbacks, too.
Up in the Air
Often the new stuff requires aerial tactics to defeat. You'll encounter massive, multi-level machines and airborne foes. In theory, launching combat into the air is a great idea, since one of the long-standing criticisms of the series that it just presents the same old fight over and over again.
But one of the other long-standing issues is the camera. Somehow, the Dynasty Warriors camera has never been properly tuned. Strikeforce has a soft, unreliable lock-on targeting system, and while you launch into the air to fight wizard generals that zip about like hummingbirds, the camera will circle and swoop and do pretty much everything but help you keep an eye on the battle. When a few bosses gang up and relentlessly pile on with attacks while you lay prone, it’s wildly frustrating.
There was always something oddly satisfying about sweeping through the massive battle plains of previous games, eradicating one pocket of resistance after another. This time, not only are the areas much smaller, but enemies respawn, so there is often no way to clear out many regions. That's one small satisfaction the series offered, eliminated.
Misery Loves Company
Unless you've got friends who are absolute die-hard Dynasty Warriors players, there really is no reason to play with other people online. It works, yes, and with friends who are fanatics for the series you'll at least be in proper company. But playing solo, you can summon up to three other officers to fight by your side, and they can soak up a hell of a lot of damage. Oh, and they can't be killed. That sounds like a bug rather than a feature, but enemies and bosses will be appropriately stronger to compensate for your allies. Still, it's better to play with the extra help than without it.
A smaller addition to Strikeforce is the town hub. In between missions you'll repair to a cozy little village that sports a storehouse, armory, training center and a few other useful structures. At least it starts out cozy; over time you can boost each building using cards. Better buildings provide better gear.
“Wait,” you might ask, “why cards?” Good question, but after some missions you'll be able to talk to a new arrival in your town square, and doing so earns you that officer's card. You can place them on buildings to improve them, and when prepping for battle, you can combine cards to earn special tactics. At the very least, players who love gathering items and experimenting with tactical combinations will have plenty to do.
The difference between an epic game and a game with epic ambitions can often be in the details. Strikeforce cuts corners left and right, all of which undermine the details. You can carry two weapons, but each character has a primary weapon model, meaning that you don’t see the alternate weapon onscreen, even when you’ve equipped it. Switch to the second weapon and it won't appear in your hand while roaming around, but it will when you swing. Then there's the numbing repetition of the world. Only a few enemy character models are offered, so you'll slay the same grunt a million times. Many of the visual limitations have to do with the amount of action that will take place onscreen at once. With four allied characters fighting dozens of enemies, there can be a near visual overload.
Although Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce offers some new ideas, such as air combat, online multiplayer, and a town hub that implements an upgrades-via-card system, there are familiar cracks under the façade. The camera is still infuriatingly troublesome, it’s rather ugly, in-game AI is more beneficial than playing online with friends, and the enclosed battle areas don’t really improve on the sprawling environments you’ve seen ad nauseum. If you just want stuff, stuff and more stuff on the screen to mindlessly slice through, then pony up for Strikeforce. But if you want a battle game that rewards thinking, strategy and skill more than button-spam attacks and numbing repetition, consider a hasty, tactical retreat.