Dynasty Warriors Next is one of the few Vita games that I honestly could not recommend to anyone.
This game, like other Dynasty Warriors games before it, is an action-based hand-to-hand combat game where you control 65 different historical figures from ancient China. This game revolves around three in particular – the power struggle between Liu Bei, Cao Cao and Sun Ce (Liew Bay, Tsau Tsau and Tsun Say, phonetically), almost 1900 years ago. I’m a big fan of games steeped in history – even if that history is half-fictional, like in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. This game had a very low standard by which it had to impress me; it should have been an easy sale. Not only did it fail to impress me, but it failed spectacularly.
Dynasty Warriors Next is poorly designed at best. My first complaint here is a relatively small one: the game is set over a world map which you aim to conquer, region by region. You finish a level and that region becomes your color, signifying it’s yours, showing your prowess and hard work. Each chapter is finished by filling out the entire sector in the respective color of your three protagonists, solidifying your foothold. However, once you move on to the next character (so if you move on to play as Liu Bei’s nemesis, Cao Cao), you aren’t shown what you conquered as the previous one. If Cao Cao was unaware of this previous military expedition, that would be understandable; it would be internally consistent. But you watch an entire cutscene where Cao Cao and his generals discuss Liu Bei’s advance, and then it greys out Liu Bei’s territory to the same color as everywhere you haven’t been, which is frustrating. As I said, it’s a minor point that the game makes you feel like your efforts are for naught, but it brings me on to a much bigger point.
If you’re new to action-based hand-to-hand combat games, I strongly suggest playing this Vita-exclusive near a computer or a tablet. I was in the middle of a fight when I made the mistake of opening my mini-map. The game tells you how to do this in the first level, and I decided to direct soldiers towards a meat bun I wanted to capture. After arriving and seeing that the meat bun denoted an area that stored enough food to literally feed an entire enemy army, I discovered that I didn’t know how to close the map. I flicked, pinched, and tapped the screen. Nothing. I pressed every single button on the Vita. Nothing. So I paused the game and opened the manual. Nothing. I shrugged and tried to continue, but after about 30 seconds of trying to judge my attacks through half a screen, I gave up and went to Google. It seems a number of people had this very same issue before the game bothers telling you in Level 3 of Chapter 2 how to close the bloody map.
There were even more issues I had with the first level. A popup tutorial told me I could summon a horse by tapping the down button. I summoned it and then tried to get on the damn thing. Only after looking up the controls again did I discover that mounting was handled by the X button. So I went back to the horse, pressed X and jumped over the horse a couple of times. I eventually managed to get on the horse and discovered that it handles like the cars in Grand Theft Auto 4. I found myself wanting to hail a rickshaw instead of using the horse; it would have actually been faster, considering that the horse only bothers spawning approximately half the time. So pro tip, when you want to summon a horse, spam the down button and spin the camera in circles. One of those presses will actually cause the horse to appear.
These weren’t the only terrible tutorials in this game. Every tutorial in the game is signified by a little card with screenshots of the game, so it felt a bit like playing one of those PowerPoint games you make in IT in the early 2000’s. Mull on that for a second. I could make the same tutorial in PowerPoint. Because there’s no real training area, you’re stuck trying to memorize the barrage of cards thrown at you. This may not be much of an issue to seasoned gamers, but this is not the sort of game you can give to an entry-level gamer or someone unfamiliar with the genre without putting them off for life.
The worst thing about this game are the sudden encounters. These are QTE-based minigames which devastate the flow of the game. Imagine this: you’re riding your horse from a newly conquered meat bun, and head towards your next target. You’re high on momentum when your Vita screams that you’ve been ambushed. Five deadly assassins are descending on you from high, swords drawn and at the ready. You have to point the Vita at the sky to aim at said assassin, and tap the hell out of them. First of all, really? Tapping an assassin to death? Excuse me while I look at the shiny penny on my desk instead! Bearing in mind that you were sitting on a horse before this happened, that is pretty impressive. Maybe the would-be assassins parachuted, or even HALO (High Altitude Low Oxygen) jumped. But wait, this is ancient China; you can’t HALO when you don’t even have a plane you can jump out of…and why the fuck do I suddenly have a mini gun!??
I’m serious. At one point you are given a big spiky mini gun and told to defend the castle gates. This thing fires arrows and has a cooldown. I have no problem with Assassin’s Creed taking liberties with Michelangelo, but this is one step too far. Yes, China invented gun powder. Yes, they even had semi-automatic weapons that could fire arrows hundreds of years before this game was set (see the repeating crossbow). No, China did not invent the fully automatic mini gun 2000 years ago. That is just plain fucking stupid.
There are other minigames which you are forced into. There’s a particularly obnoxious one where you are knocked off your poorly programmed horse in order to stand on the spot for 30 seconds while people shoot arrows and throw medicine balls at you, forcing you to flick them out of the sky. I’m no military general, but surely standing still while people shoot at you is a very poor strategy if your aim is to actually live. There is another minigame where you are forced to write Chinese characters using the Vita touchpad. This would have been fine, and has the potential to be really interesting – but I can actually read and write these characters, and even I found it tedious and laborious. Everything about this game is either poorly designed, sloppy, or haphazard at best.
Talking of haphazard, the merchant / item systems in this game are diabolical. You can buy random items from merchants every once in a while when you finish a mission. You pay 500 gold for a random, unknown item, which you are promised you will not regret. You get the item, which is either an upgraded version of one you discovered earlier, and you drop the old one on the floor, or it is a downgraded version of an item which you already have, and you drop it on the floor. How are you supposed to unite the land and rule the people when you can’t even understand that selling your useless crap to the merchant standing right in front of you is better than dropping your new magic orb on the floor in front of him?
There is also a leveling system in this game for no real reason other than to unlock clothes for multiplayer. As you play the campaign you get EXP, which levels you up. As you level up you unlock extra clothing for when you play with your friends, but considering how awful this game is, why would you want to share the experience with your friends? They certainly won’t thank you for the offer.
So far I have slated this game like no other to date. I like to end reviews on a positive note, so I will say this: despite the soundtrack being very simple and the voice acting being almost offensively bad, the one song that they do play repeatedly is actually fairly good. Also, the pre-rendered cutscenes are exquisite. They are a joy to watch, and the only reason I bothered finishing the game. Perhaps Omega Force should go into movie production, instead of games. Play to your strengths.
Overall, this game works, but barely. It has severe issues with both gameplay mechanics and design, and I honestly don’t even see anything redeemable in the gameplay that fans could possibly enjoy. If Omega Force made a few simple changes, dropped the minigames, and were less in-your-face and ambitious with the Vita’s features, it might have led to an ultimately more enjoyable experience. However, I cannot in good faith give an honest recommendation.
Unless I don’t like you. If I don’t like you, buy this game.