We're now knee deep in the next generation - which is now actually the current and soon to be old generation - but some series are just catching up. We've seen versions of Dynasty Warriors on current systems, sure, but Dynasty Warriors 6 is the first one built specifically for the 360 and PS3. The title might be a bit confusing as there have obviously been more than six Dynasty Warriors games; this has got to be at least the sixteenth release, all told. And since this one plays more or less like all the others, it's easy to wonder what the fuss is all about.
Once again the source material is the sprawling, old-time China epic Romance of the Three Kingdoms (there's even a nifty encyclopedia to explain all the characters and history) and for the something time you'll guide a lone warrior across countless battlefields, slashing at even more countless Chinese soldiers. They still look more or less the same and generally act like they're milling about waiting for the war to start, except for the odd times when a squad runs by like someone's announced that the craft service table has been restocked with ham.
As before, you can unlock extra characters, level up according to boilerplate action RPG convention, find new weapons, cringe at the voice acting and wish every bloody horse in the game didn't traverse the map more slowly than a hobbled My Little Pony.
The combat, however, has undergone a rather inexplicable simplification. Previously, there was a mix of heavy and light combos. Now you're expected to string endless attacks together in order to fill your Renbu gauge; the Renbu system allows characters to perform more and more elaborate sets of attacks so long as they don't take a hit.
Yawn. First off, 90% of the enemies you'll face can be swept aside with one or two hits, which means endless stretches of mashing the light attack button and watching your animations change slightly. Doing so will also build your Musuo gauge, which (as ever) powers special attacks. Enemy officers will take a few more hits, and some bosses are genuinely tough, but the old thrill of rushing in to attack with a few combos then retreating to build Musuo before unleashing a special attack is now much less thrilling.
Even so, it's easy for to become obsessed with Dynasty Warriors, which, when viewed from the map screen, is a lot like an expanded and violent Chinese Pac-Man. For every battle, there are loads of little red dots on the radar and you've got to sweep through the map eating (actually killing, but work with us) them all. There's a slight nod to tactics, as you'll have to choose targets wisely lest you wind up on the wrong side of the map while your other generals are decimated elsewhere.
It's the sort of addiction common to MMOs, only without anyone to chat with or pester for invites to private gaming message boards. It's a grind, pure and simple.
DW6 adds a few new touches; you can now climb ladders and (gasp!) swim, which finally allows the series to ride the cutting edge of 1997. In the next game, perhaps someone will invent the wheel. If you expect either of those changes to alter gameplay at all, consider new medication.
The most obvious 'next-gen' difference is the graphics engine, which allows so many more characters on screen at once that you'll often be at a total loss to pick out your own warrior, leaving only the option of mashing the attack button while jiggling the camera around looking either for your floating nametag or one belonging to an enemy upon which to fix.
Not that it improves the scenery or level design. Compared to past chapters, this looks more like Half-Life 2. But compared to Half-Life 2, this might have been drawn on an Etch-a-Sketch. Squint a bit and you'll mistake it for Dynasty Warriors [insert number here]. The Xbox360 version, for what it's worth, performs more smoothly than the PS3, with less slowdown and only an occasional chug. The two-player mode is actually playable on the 360, if not particularly pretty.
The best thing to say about Dynasty Warriors 6 is that it's an easy way to kill quite a few hours, but that doesn't make it particularly good. In much the same way, many people will salivate thinking about a can of Pringles, but that doesn't mean the reconstituted potato shingles are food.
Feb 21, 2008