Dynasty Warriors is one of my favorite series. I still have cherished memories of playing Dynasty Warriors 4 on PS2 with my brother for hours, battling Lu Bu over and over again, charging through enemies and watching those sweet ending videos multiple times mostly just for Cross Colors, which was and is a bop. (Go listen, you can thank me later.)
But beyond Cross Colors, the Warriors series resonates with me because of its unpretentious love of goofy, unadulterated fun. It's a series characterized by over the top, campy storytelling, bad-ass weapons, massive fights, and mowing through thousands of enemy troops to see that K.O counter go up. It's not just me though, the Warriors games have been doing well enough to last for 21 years and nearly 50 releases, including the series' many collaborations. Despite their reputation for being repetitive and easy, the series has and continues to do well, commercially and critically, with its tried and true formula. So, it was disappointing when the news first broke that Dynasty Warriors 9 would be open world, a massive departure for the series and ultimately, a terrible move.
Why do Warriors Games Succeed?
Warriors games have remained one of my favorite self-care game series since childhood because they allow the player to let loose. Players choose a character, pick a battle mode or map, go there, and they are immediately in the center of a massive conflict only they have the ability to win. The game feeds the player objectives like capture an enemy base or defeat one of their commanders. Along the way you slay thousands of enemies with a myriad of needlessly flashy combos and watch joyously campy cut-scenes. It's hedonistic, pleasurable, unpretentious, and just plain fun.
Later games in the series started to introduce strategy into the game but it was never so much that, if you wanted to, you could just let your mind go blank for a few hours and let off some steam. As much as there's room and, indeed, a need for games which deal with complex subject matter and mechanics, there is also a place in gaming for the Warriors' games' brand of fun. And it all relied on those game's speed. Plowing through enemies on horseback, killing a hundred men in one combo, having your palms go sweaty during a duel with Lu Bu at Hu Lao Gate because that shit was intense, unrelenting, and visceral. The fights were just on a massive scale and you did the work of more than a thousand ground troops. It was deeply satisfying and the open-world format undermines all of this.
Open Worlds are Inherently Slow
The strength of the open world genre lies in its unmatched ability to allow for player driven exploration. Developers create a world and the let the players loose on it to do what they please, go where they want, at the speed that they want. A successful open world game is packed with interesting places, compelling means of traversing it, and things to do. And a lot of open space. Though an open world Dynasty Warriors could exist, to be the Dynasty Warriors folks love,every inch of the map would have to be covered in troops and objectives but that would make traveling a pain in the ass. So, it can't happen.
Even if combat comes up often in an open world, its not usually the central hook. For instance, in Saint's Row 3, combat is fun, exciting, and a constant but, the real fun is in the exploration, customization and being in the irreverent, hilarious universe. Combat in Zelda: Breath of the Wild is great but the best moments came from knowing how to avoid it or make it trivial using the game mechanics. Everything is meant to slow the player down so they can explore and they justify this by being genuinely interesting to slow down and enjoy.
Dynasty Warriors has always had a timed element to them. Unlocks were often linked to how fast you went through a battles and no matter what there was always a time limit on every level. No series that thrives on its speed of play should be an open world game. And that's where Dynasty Warriors 9 leads to some very sticky territory. How do you reconcile a Warriors game with a genre which it is diametrically ill suited for? You, um, don't. It was a bad idea which defeats the purpose of the game and dilutes every strength of the series.
It Ain't Just a Koei Temco Problem
Koei Temco's strange decision, to take the air out of a beloved series, speaks to a greater problem in the AAA industry. What do the latest Assassin's Creed, Zelda, Ghost Recon, Metal Gear Solid, and Dragon Age, Final Fantasy XV have in common? They all take series which operated in either limited open or linear worlds and turned them into sandbox style games.
While I can't speak to Ghost Recon, the rest of these games are ranging from decent to amazing. But all these games take the tradition of a series and they throw it away to chase the latest trend towards open world experiences with crafting and RPG elements and that's a shame. Distinct series are becoming progressively more alike as developers and publishers ignore what made the series good or even the strengths of the developers. I Hope that the continued creativity of indies and other developers who dare develop original games or stick to their guns soon beak this damn cycle, cause it's certainly a bad one. I'm going to keep pretending like Dynasty Warriors 9 doesn't exist. There's no kill counter? Really? Fuck this game.