Dynasty Warriors is the series that pioneers the Musou formula, letting you play as a heroic warrior while hundreds upon thousands fall to your blade as part of this wildly over-the-top and unrealistic action experience. It's worked for years, whether that be with past Dynasty Warriors games or others that have adapted its key gameplay appeal, such as Warriors All Stars, but with Dynasty Warriors 9 both Omega Force and Koei Tecmo looked to change things a bit and shake up this tried and tested approach.
The biggest change here is that it's an open world this time around. Whereas past instalments had you choose your historic fighter (based on Chinese history, as existing fans are no doubt aware) and then head into a pretty large level, here there are no menus between missions, and instead you either need to actually travel to where you need to be or fast-travel to a location you've discovered. It's a pretty sizeable map too, one that'll see you riding for a long time to get from one place to another.
The trouble with this open world is that it's not a particularly interesting one to explore, and thus it makes us wonder if the shift was worth it. Sure, throughout the world you'll get crafting materials, treasure, and other loot to pick up in an attempt to make exploration worthwhile, but not only are these few and far between, you'll often find yourself not even looking at them. As Warriors fans know, you're already super powerful from the start of the game, so it's not exactly like foraging for supplies to upgrade is your number one priority.
On top of that, the world itself is pretty bland and lifeless. There are nice little features such as farms where we get to see historic Chinese labourers, but then once you leave the interesting parts like cities you just get miles upon miles of featureless forests or wide open plains or mountain ranges. It seems like its open just for the sake of being open, and the world serves more as a distance which you must ride through rather than an organic, believable world which is fun to explore. In fact, it's often quite the opposite: a chore.
Grappling hooks have been advertised as a big new feature for this entry as well, but these don't seem to add anything particularly worthwhile to the series either, and instead they make things easier than they need to be a lot of the time. Say for instance that you need to eliminate a target in a fortress, you can either spend time taking out the bad guys guarding the gates outside or you can just scale the walls using the grappling hook with a simple push of a button. It's not exactly opening strategic doors as much as closing others.
We should mention though that the settlements and cities you visit are much more interesting than the wilderness outside, as they offer merchants and services that can help you on your journey, whether that be upgrading weapons or buying supplies like Vitality Powder. Here you can make sure you're recovered and prepared for each battle, and their visual presentation is impressive as well, being packed with houses and citizens and feeling like a living, bustling town.
As with previous games, here we take on a slice of Chinese history, and the game opens with a grand battle between the forces known as the Yellow Turbans, a rebellious group led by Zhang Jiao who is rebelling against the Han Dynasty's regime, and the Dynasty itself. This isn't the whole plot, but it's a great starting point, as after you complete one quest with one character (like returning favourite Cao Cao), you can then position yourself on the other side of the conflict as well, playing as Zhang Jiao himself, which offers a nice alternative perspective on proceedings.
In terms of structure, the narrative itself contains all these different characters, but you can only play as each character for as long as they're in the story. As such, you can only play as some characters for one chapter, for example, while another may only be present between Chapters 4 and 6. Either way, there are plenty to choose from, spanning from Wei, Wu, Shu, and Jin to 'Others', which includes the Yellow Turban leader. The narrative for the entire game remains the same, but your player choice determines where you sit within this story, which is a pretty epic one spanning the entirety of China, standing on a level with the quality offered by previous entries.