This post has not been edited by the GamesBeat staff. Opinions by GamesBeat community writers do not necessarily reflect those of the staff.
In an unforeseeable twist, Dynasty Warriors 7 actually make[sic] some big changes from it's[sic] predecessors. And they're all for the worse. WTF Koei?
That’s what I tweeted on August 17, 2011. Cut to today, the ninth of September of the same year, whereupon I’ve logged over 30 hours into Dynasty Warriors 7.
Why? Call it a palette-cleanser. After embarking on a Summer-long JRPG bender in an effort to make something resembling a dent in my gaming backlog (almost all of which are RPGs of some ethnicity), I’d about had my fill of spending anywhere from 30-60 hours slowly powering up my heroes in order to achieve the strength necessary to save the world from a retro-tech cyborg Nazi and his land-battleship that shoots lasers out of a giant lance that used to be a castle, or a time-travelling military intelligence officer/monster made from the ruins of M.C. Escher-like architecture….
JRPGs are weird.
After all of… that… there’s just something refreshing about being able to rush into a feudal Chinese war zone and come out the other side unscathed, with 1,000 notches on my cartoonishly over-sized sword. But playing Dynasty Warriors 7 made me realize something: as good-enough as this game is for what it is, it has room to do so much more. I’m not talking about any drastic changes to the basic mash-X-and-stuff-dies grinding formula — just a few simple suggestions to add some weight to the game’s tertiary strategy elements.
Make Trash Mobs Dangerous, Not Just Annoying
There’s nothing in Dynasty Warriors more frustrating than having a super-powered combo interrupted by some anonymous trash-mob soldier. Here you are, unleashing an endless chain of fuck-you-up from your surfboard-sized sword, only to be stopped dead with a flinch because some overly-ambitious dickweed with a spear hit you with what he’s delusional enough to refer to as a “strong” attack.
Now his boss, a fellow super-powered officer who can unleash his own lengthy combos, is juggling you in the air while you curse that little pissant who worked up the nerve to actually attack you. The gall of him….
But this is the problem: that attack, though it interrupted your combo and totally ruined your day, didn’t scratch you. The regular troops aren’t there to harm you — they’re there to annoy, pure and simple. Except archers. Fuck archers.
The solution: When I, as a low-level officer, attack a much stronger officer, my attacks don’t make him flinch or interrupt his combos in any way. I still do damage (sometimes a pretty decent amount) and can chip away at his bulwark-like defense. If I’m persistent and crafty enough, I can even defeat him (suck it, Lu Bu), but he just absorbs the actual physical force of my attacks.
Do this with trash mobs.
1,000 anonymous soldiers should pose at least some threat other than the fear of annoyance. What if they actually attacked more often instead of just crowding around you and nervously shuffling around? Make them actually do some damage, if only a trivial amount, but (and this is the key “but”) make the force of their strikes pass through me so they aren’t constantly interrupting combos at the worst possible moments. That way, striding alone into an army is kind-of a big deal, but I won’t be throwing my controller in frustration because of that one random guy who chose to wear his big-boy pants that day. Also, the idea makes fighting alongside your own anonymous flunkies a viable and useful tactic and makes the reinforcements that spawn from control points matter.
Loot and Experience
Rewards in Dynasty Warriors kind of suck. You defeat an enemy officer and pick up a shield icon that adds +2 to your defense. What does that mean, really? There’s precious little context to the statistic and whether you’re rewarded with a gain to your attack, defense or health seems largely random. Sometimes you get a new weapon and that’s where I get giddy.
I don’t know about you, but loot makes my face light up. Progressively better-and-better stuff is a carrot on a stick that never gets old. I’ll wear my knees to the bone chasing after that new staff that has a blooming flower on it. Or, you know, something less girly too. I have varied interests because I’m a sensitive, complicated person!
The problem: weapons are the only items in the game and progression is completely linear. When I pick up a new weapon it’s either going to be better or worse than what I have currently, assuming it’s even fit for my character. There are Guardian Animals, such as mounts, that can be purchased from a Guardian Animal store, but again, their progression in terms of speed and power is linear.
The solution: The last Dynasty Warriors title I played before DW 7 was DW 4, which (if my memory serves) introduced an inventory system featuring armor, accessories and (I think) consumable items that has since (mostly) been stripped away. Bring this back and randomize the loot.
Grinding to incrementally increase a character’s power is one thing, but grinding to acquire tangible rewards is a whole other level.
Give us an instantly-familiar loot system with items defined by rarity and a certain amount of randomization. Give me a reason in the form of randomized stats and abilities for why I might choose one weapon over another instead of simply upgrading to the next-most powerful on the list. Give me an inventory — nothing crazy, not even at the level of Diablo or WoW — just give me the standard weapon slots, a guardian animal to take into battle and X number of slots for miscellaneous items, whatever those may be (armor, accessories, consumable items, etc.). Give me something to chase after that I can recognize, not just abstract stats.
And make experience more… let’s say… noticeable. Give me levels. When I defeat an officer and pick up an item that gives me +2 attack… I don’t really know what that means. Seeing that I’ve gained a level is so much more gratifying. And make experience and level-gains instant — not something that’s tallied at the end of each battle. Make fodder soldiers worth X XP, captains worth Y XP, etc. and keep giving us skill points from defeated officers — more of that is what I’m looking for (just give us more abilities to spend them on).
Make Control Points Matter
See the map in the upper-right? This is the best image I could find for this part.
If you aren’t aware, one of the key “strategic” (and I use the term very loosely) elements of Dynasty Warriors is the use of control points — forts, castles or walls on the map that serve to slow down advancing armies, spawn reinforcements and boost morale (the most important commodity in DW, as in real life, if you ask me).
The problem: control points are completely interchangeable — one doesn’t matter more than any other. They all do the same three things outlined above and they don’t do any of them particularly well, except for the morale thing. Capturing them is like a whole other level of grinding on top of a game that’s built around mindlessly slaughtering hundreds-upon-hundreds of dudes largely just for the sake of mindlessly slaughtering hundreds-upon-hundreds of dudes.
(Hm… it was kind of a bummer to live in feudal China if you weren’t a superhero.)
The solution: different types of control points. Capture a forge to upgrade your army’s weapons and armor, boosting the attack and defense of your side’s anonymous troops, or a capture a supply depot to boost their health and morale with the promise of plentiful… uh… supplies. Maybe different kinds of bases can spawn different kinds of reinforcements — a stable for cavalry, barracks for infantry and target range (or something) for archers. How about a factory to built catapults, ballistae and medieval, fire-breathing tiger tanks? (Yes, Dynasty Warriors has those.)
Mid-Battle Dynamic Events
After six games of presenting the player with identical story modes to grind through with each of the games dozens of characters, Koei did something that only any other company in the industry (except the makers of Madden) would think to do: change something. In a completely unprecedented move, Koei called an audible and said, “Look. We can use the story mode of Dynasty Warriors to tell a story. We can build a narrative, make each battle unique, and make the whole experience mercifully shorter for those obsessive-compulsive completionists who still play our games.”
The result: Dynasty Warriors 7’s (that’s hard to say) story mode, which lets the player jump between characters in a linear narrative while playing through the stories of each of the Three Kingdoms, plus the rise of the Jin Dynasty which would go on to conquer them all. They even added some for-real history education in the form of narration. Pretty cool, but….
The problem: one thing those old, interchangeable, grindy story battles had going for them was the last thing you’d expect from a Dynasty Warriors title: dynamism.
Take the character Taichi Ci, for example. Historically he dies in the Battle for… uh… Hubr…vrbr…vruh… after being ambushed by some archers. But if you know that’s coming and can defeat those archers before that event triggers, then Taichi Ci lives. The pre-cognitive player saves the day, gains a huge morale boost for that battle, and Taichi Ci sticks around for future battles.
As far as a “dynamic” event goes, it’s pretty simple and not really “dynamic,” but come on, changing history in unexpected ways is kind of neat and unexpected. And think of the way dynamic mid-battle events could be handled with the technology we have now.
I found a panda! Now it's my murder-machine….
The solution: random events and encounters in Conquest Mode.
A quick primer: Conquest Mode is arguably the main mode in Dynasty Warriors 7 — a long, persistent campaign stripped of adherence to source material, wherein you lead any chosen character to conquer the three kingdoms, gaining allies in the form of the game’s other characters along the way by fighting with them and bonding. Literally, your “bond” with another character matters and increases the more you fight alongside him/her.
Early in DW 7’s story mode, there’s one battle in which a village asks for help against the rampaging Yellow Turbans. Defeat the officers harassing the village and the peasants offer a small reward as thanks. It’s a quick, mid-battle quest of little consequence, but any reward for your efforts is carrot to chase after.
More mini-quests such as these would add a little bit of flavor and unpredictability to battles. Maybe you save a tribe from enemy soldiers and they spawn a small amount of reinforcement archers as thanks, slightly stronger than your typical archers; maybe you help a neutral officer mid-battle and he joins your side; maybe a rampaging, wild elephant appears somewhere on the map and by defeating it you gain its use as a powerful mount. The possibilities aren’t limitless (come on, that would be crazy), but they are staggeringly expansive!
Either Dial Down the Superhero BS or Go All-In
Dynasty Warriors 7 begins with a cutscene in which Zhou Yun busts out some serious mutant power-type shit on a bunch of anonymous troops. He leaps tall buildings, runs along walls at blinding speed and dodges enemy attacks like Neo. He grinds down a fucking waterfall like the love child of Tony Hawk and Aqua Man! He kicks a horse right in its stupid horse face!
Obviously, DW is all about empowering one of the Olympian-like officers and decimating enemy ranks with super-powered special attacks, but COME ON! I don’t remember any other DW setting the cutscene-to-gameplay cool-shit-you-can’t-really-do disparity bar quite that high. The DW 2 intro basically just shows what you’ll actually be doing in the game: smacking anonymous soldiers around like Sauron did at the beginning of Fellowship, which is still plenty badass….
How not to do it.
The solution: pick a road and sprint down it. Either let us be insanely over-the-top superheroes or dial it back to the tame-by-comparison older days. I know DW isn’t any kind of platformer or Ninja Gaiden-style action game and I don’t want it to be, but if you’re giving me The Matrix in the intro cutscene, then let me do more overpowered cool shit than just my standard special attacks. Make overpowered the new standard; instead of making me slowly climb a ladder over a wall, just let me jump it in spectacular fashion. Make 1,000 KO’s the new low score. Make the officers into straight-up do-not-give-a-shit-about-anything war deities.