Omega Force’s debut Warriors title on Vita is fantastic effort that is a vast step up over their PSP game and successfully integrates elements of the Empires sub-series, but some forced gimmicks detract from the overall experience.
World-building & Story
Based on the historical novel series Romance of the Three Kingdoms (itself spun-off into a semi-popular videogame franchise), Dynasty Warriors Next retells these events in Chinese history from the Yellow Turban Rebellion through to the uniting of the lands.
Honestly, it’s a whistle-stop tour through the major events that may leave you completely confused without any prior knowledge of the series. New characters are introduced at breakneck speed plus invasions and battles are happening almost constantly. If you’re already a fan of the story then there’s nothing here you won’t have seen before; while newcomers may be put off by the rapid delivery of major plot points – alongside the rather obtuse method of explaining the majority of the story with narrated text boxes or talking head conversations.
Still, this is an interesting period of history and it’s quite easy to get sucked into the tales of warring factions and power-hungry generals. Certain characters remain a focus throughout (Cao Cao; Lu Bu; Zhao Yun) and it’s an intriguing device to see some of these battles from both sides, meaning you’ll attack with and then against certain people.
World-building obviously remains central to a title like this – whether it be the references to the overarching politics at the time; the constant reminders of the geographical makeup of the land or even just exploring each zone and admiring the architecture mixed in with vast open plains. Next handles this extremely well, providing an enjoyable interpretation of the era in nearly every aspect.
Presentation & Sound
As a launch title for the Vita, Dynasty Warriors Next could have easily been a rush job to get the game ready for the console’s debut. Instead, we got a desperately gorgeous release that looks and runs best out of all the Warriors games on the handheld even to this day; as is worlds apart from the foggy low-res titles available on PSP.
After watching a stylish opening scene, you’re flung into a series of menus to decide how you want to play. In fact you’ll spend a large amount of time sifting through various screens like this – whether it be editing a character or planning a strategy in conquest mode. They’re functional in terms of appearance, but nothing special or noteworthy. This functionality extends to conversation scenes, which feature talking models of characters on bland backgrounds – they’re fine, if a little unimpressive.
It’s the rest of the game that’s the real stunner. The playable characters are all absolutely gorgeous, featuring some fantastic modelling that’s among the best on offer on Vita. They’re realistic, high-quality, full of colour and life although occasionally look like dolls rather than humans due to a little too much in the way of smooth facial textures. Still, they’re impressive not only for the hardware they’re running on but especially as it’s a launch title.
In combat things take a slight hit, as the numerous enemies are all reskins of each other and feature a lot less detail, but this is balanced out by things like animals being thrown in the mix that are well animated. And really, animations across the board are top notch – attacks pop and light up the screen in terms of specials; running looks natural and foes fly when hit with the slightly exaggerated yet mostly grounded nature the series is known for. Occasionally things appear a little stiff, but otherwise everything about the game looks smooth.
This extends to performance – Next is one of the most rock-solid titles I’ve played on Vita, rocking a smooth framerate no matter what’s happening on screen. The fact that it’s all native resolution is just the icing on the cake. You may suspect this is due to cut-backs in the environmental detail but this isn’t the case – areas are expansive featuring nice lighting effects, plenty of objects to populate them and some pretty features such as sunsets or water effects. It’s also worth noting that there’s far less pop-in of objects and characters than the PSP Warriors games, although it obviously is still here. Texture work does take a hit in some places, but it’s far from a deal-breaker.
In the sound department, a now-ratity for the series is that English voice acting is present – although it’s nothing special and begins to grate after a while when the same phrases are repeated in combat over and over. Effects are standard fare as is music – nothing bad, but almost deliberately designed to fade into the background.
Gameplay & Content
While it follows and refines the long-established Musou formula for the most part, Dynasty Warriors Next introduces a number of new features making the most of Vita’s inputs. Unfortunately the majority of these are superfluous at best and some almost ruin an otherwise polished experience.
In terms of modes, the game offers an initially impressive package. There’s a full campaign to play (comprised of a decent number of interconnected mini-campaigns) alongside a ‘conquest’ mode; character creator and local ad-hoc. The star of the show here is Conquest – similar to Galactic Conquest from Star Wars Battlefront and taking more than just influence from the Dynasty Warriors Empires sub-series, this sees you taking control of territories and managing resources to eventually rule an empire. It’s tactical; provides freedom and is a whole lot of fun.
The problem is that when you dig a little deeper, there’s not as much here as it first appears. The campaign is basically just a load of pre-made conquest battles and is hamstrung by a low-budget feel thanks to talking head conversation between each conflict which repeat far too often. Editing characters is fun and more expansive that you’d think, but otherwise there wasn’t a whole lot to do since I’ve had no-one to play ad-hoc with; although Conquest did provide me with incentive to keep returning.
Still, battles have a decent amount of nuance to keep you coming back. At its core Next is a hack ‘n’ slash that has you plowing through hordes of enemies while slowly taking control of bases to give you enough strength to take on a final enemy stronghold. Battlefields are large and you’ll spend a lot of time running from one end to the other – thankfully movement is swift and you’re able to summon a horse at any point for faster travel. There’s a certain thrill that comes from running across a warzone towards an objective on horseback that’s enjoyable no matter how many times you do it and the game absolutely nails this feel.
Moment-to-moment combat is fun at first, but sometimes becomes repetitive and dull – a problem which is inherent to the genre unfortunately. The spectacle of taking down foes is nice, but when it comes from mashing the same two buttons over and over the excitement is dulled a little. Little additions such as the ability to block and dodge or a super meter that fills up as you attack add a little bit of variety and battlefield control is always an enjoyable metagame (I particularly liked that certain bases grant certain buffs, allowing you to plan an optimal route), meaning that although repetitive Next is one of the most polished and complete Warriors games in recent memory.
Unfortunately it’s the Vita-specific control additions that really break the experience. Some are great – like the ability to expand the map from the corners of the screen and then drag the icons of your commanders to tell them to attack specific bases. Yet nearly everything else feels forced and in no way beneficial to the game – such as minigames ranging from tapping the screen shooting down enemy arrows which pop up in the middle of battle to tilting the console to ride a horse. It all reeks of being a tech demo.
The worst offender is the one-on-one duals with enemy commanders. These take you out of the battle and play like rock-paper-scissors with you reacting to enemy attacks with a counterattack of your own by doing actions such as holding the touchscreen. It’s incredibly un-fun and really disrupts the flow of combat – in addition, foes have inflated health pools which make the whole thing a chore.
Without these additions Next would simply have been a beautiful, polished version of Omega Force’s bread and butter series with all the frustrations it was already known for but with them, the title adds an extra layer of annoyance to proceedings.
Content-wise, despite my earlier grievance that there’s not as much here as it first appears, if the game grabs you then it will keep you occupied for a while. The campaign is fairly meaty, offering a variety of different viewpoints of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms storyline and Conquest mode is the kind of thing that’s gonna keep me coming back every now and again to dip into on a replay.
A technical marvel from Vita’s launch and a great example to show the true step up in power from PSP to Vita, Dynasty Warriors Next takes much of the series’ staple gameplay and polishes it to great effect, as well as adding the strategic elements from the Empires series which work extremely well. Yet, the addition of forced touch and motion controls don’t enhance the experience in any way – in fact they detract from it – meaning the end result is an enjoyable but at times frustrating game.