Like clockwork, since the heady days of Dynasty Warriors 4, the base game is followed shortly after by the Empires spin-off. This version of the franchise takes away some story and adds in strategy and empire management to go along with the fighting. A worthy trade-off? Let’s find out.
The Romance of the Three kingdoms continues to form the backdrop of even the Dynasty Warriors spin-offs, but here the narrative does take more of a back-seat to everything else. Major events or battles in the story are no longer told through cutscenes and stages, instead offering each as a scenario of sorts. The battle is a snapshot of a larger play, with China at that time split into various factions, each scenario will have different leaders and faction strengths starting out. This adds a little variety to each battle and can make for some interesting starting positions. Creating a custom character is also an option, and the custom units etc. from 8 makes a return too so you can fully flesh out your own standing army.
Personally I just did the usual for me that I’ve done on the past few Empires games when starting out. Create an officer and start alone, move to Nanzhong and get stronger defending the land, woo Zhurong and partake in marriage before overthrowing Meng Huo and leading the southern tribes on a glorious conquest of the north. That’s what I like about Empires, you can play how you want really. Be a renowned general if you want under a grand leader, or maybe take up the responsibility of a ruler yourself and even have children that can take over if you perish. Plenty to do & see amongst the chaos.
Having a release for both PS4 & PS5 available, I went with the version for the new machine, but I I did sometimes think I had installed the PS4 version instead. The character detail on the generals is as high quality as you would expect of the centrepiece, with plenty of foot soldiers on screen when the action starts, and there’s some nice small details if you can put up with the pop-in. You get a choice in what you prefer at least for visuals, high resolution and 30fps or a lower quality for 60fps. The 30fps mode is noticeably better visually, but this could just be the resolution, with a more stable image to boot. I did mainly play using the 60fps, but it does have its share of issues to leave you pondering the performance choice
The biggest issue visually is the screen tearing, performance is fine depending on your choice of course. Screen tearing is pretty much always there in performance mode around ¾ of the way down the screen, even when just strolling around the town between battles. Surprisingly it can even crop up in the 30fps mode, tho it is further down the screen and is more of a rare occurrence than a nuisance. The PS5 version is generally disappointing in this way, doesn’t seem much improved and there’s a lack of new features used. 3D audio? Haptics? Hell even the SSD is under utilised with loading times reminiscent of how running the game from a sata SSD is on the PS4 Pro.
The empire spin-offs always have two parts to them, the battles and the strategy/management. The battles play out using the same system as the regular games, so this one takes it from DW9, so will have all the . Having skipped DW9 initially, this is my first time sampling the latest iteration of the series and I’m not really convinced this time. The basic combat itself feels a little streamlined, your heavy attack for example seems powerless now outside of acting as a counter or officer finisher, with the gems etc. you can equip seeming wimpy till a decent quality is hit. It’s not all like that as there’s some genuinely good additions, such as the secret plans that gives you missions during the battle. Completing the mission leads to events that can turn the tide of a battle, first battle I though nothing of it only to find a unit of juggernauts spawn in and turn the battle into a slog costing thousands more casualties.
The other part of the game is the strategy and management aspect which you’ll be getting to grips with when an officer or leader of an empire. Here your task is to maintain and expand as you seek the materials and wealth needed to further that ambition. Your monthly choices can have an impact on progress as you don’t just need to focus on improving the land you have, but also train yourself and your officers so you can defend and expand on it. As an officer your options can be limited depending on rank, so interacting with other officers to build relationships is key for when a war council comes around, as your responsibilities grow as you climb the corporate ladder. Keeping your friends close can lead to things such as oaths of brotherhood, which can give you the allies needed to wield influence within a land or seize it if needs be.
The Empires spin-offs have always been my preferred way to play the series these days, and the Dynasty Warriors 9 iteration continues that trend having skipped the base game. There has been some streamlining to the combat over past releases that some may like or not and the PlayStation 5 version seems to woefully underutilise the system, effectively a box ticking port, but the strategy side of the game picks up the usual slack with some nice additions and added depth to the madness of musou. May not have enough to entice owners of 8 Empires, but for everyone else its probably the best time to jump into the spin-off series.
Basic PS5 port aside, continues the time honoured tradition of adding strategic empire building to musou combat.