Lu Bu now online, looking for you.
Saying “Dynasty Warriors Online” rolls off the tongue. The idea makes perfect sense: Take a game that is already busting at the seams with characters from a romanticized era in Chinese history - and has a simple but addictive “hit, squeal, die” combat system - and turn it into a free-to-play MMORPG. It sounds like a match made in celestial heaven.
[image1]Now, reviewing a free game might sound like a waste of time, but on the contrary, it’s about questioning whether the game is worth the time in the first place. Staring at drifting dust is also free, but it’s not entertaining (unless you’re as special as Osaka-chan from Azumanga Daioh… just throwing the reference out there).
Where Dynasty Warriors Online succeeds and fails is in the same place: the concept. On one hand, you’ve got the repetitive but admittedly satisfying whack-tastic battles, coupled with true online multiplayer, weapon grinding, item crafting, and all that MMORPG goodness. On the other hand, the slowness of the MMORPG elements conflict with getting to the ultimate payoff, which is hearing the death screams of a thousand ill-equipped soldiers in what can be seen as the most classical form of Chinese population control.
Perhaps to allay the perception that free-to-play titles lack content, Dynasty Warriors Online overcompensates by introducing too many elements and making the game far more complicated and slower than it needs to be. There’s weapon tempering, tailoring, an antiques dealer, merchants, honor, equipment, an open marketplace, a tavern, a house, furniture, generals, stamp cards, officers, pets, and more than enough to fill this sentence two times over. Apart from weapon tempering and selection, everything else lacks depth and some of the content should have been edited out to make the other features stronger.
This extremely wide breath of content isn’t necessarily out of place in the MMORPG genre - and by that measure, it can be seen as expected – but it will feel muddled by the ordinary Dynasty Warriors player who's used to more immediate rewards and less waiting time. It takes at least two minutes to start another battle, and that’s if you speed through the menus and travel time. Just walking around from your house to the marketplace and back takes much longer than it should. A faster-paced system closer to Dynasty Warriors Strikeforce would highlight the fact that Dynasty Warriors is first an action title and an RPG second.
[image2]That said, Aeria Games doesn’t slack on bringing new ideas to a repetitive franchise. The most obvious one is that every player is a customizable character from head to toe, made from an editor that is as robust as that in Dynasty Warriors 6 Empires. There could be a few more clothing options, though, as the limited number of equipment pieces will make you think you’ve found your long lost twin more than once.
Adding a healthy amount of strategy to the combat is the concept of flasks, which soldiers drop randomly when they die. Each weapon has an upgrade list for flasks slotted number one through seven; once you collect a certain number of flasks, you can spend them to upgrade your stats as noted by the slot. So if “Attack+” is in slot three, all you need is three flasks to upgrade your attack stat for the remainder of the battle. This creates an exciting rush at the start of every battle where you try to tear apart as many grunts as possible to collect upgrades, before facing an opponent or taking down a fort.
But the most substantial improvement is the introduction of multiple PvP modes: 4v4 Arena in a small space, 4v4 Melee Battles in large maps and with plenty of variants, 4v4 Campaigns on the weekends that determine the balance between the Wei, Wu, and Shu factions, and 12v12 Showdowns that occur when no Campaign is scheduled. If you want to grind for items or gold, and want to experience a battle of wits between players, PvP is where it’s at. It’s a shame then that players need to earn a whole lot of honor points and go through training levels for eight hours or more before they earn the right to participate in any PvP match. The carrot dangles much too far from the stick, but it’s a scrumptious carrot if you have the patience to get there.
Unfortunately, that also means having to slug through repetitive battles with repetitive objectives against repetitive foes in repetitive forts. Hearing the same two looping songs over and over again doesn’t help, either. The same goes for the fact that the Wei kingdom has completely dominated the other two kingdoms for more than a month.
[image3]Not that the Dynasty Warriors brand is that much to work with, really. But the fact that this free-to-play version has comparable content brings into question just how much we get from the console versions for the retail price. I mean, you could plug in the Xbox 360 controller via USB for Dynasty Warriors Online (and it’s a lot better with it, by the way).
Dynasty Warriors Online is a competent, if a little droll, recreation of the longstanding franchise with just as much polish as you would expect from a regular installment. Considering it’s free-to-play, that’s commendable. Fans of the series, though, will most likely wish they could get into the action quicker and not have to wade through the grinding nature of the MMORPG; this isn't going to tear them away from simply playing Dynasty Warriors 6 or Strikeforce. But the wealth of content is there for MMORPG seekers to enjoy. Given more time to attract casual fans, Dynasty Warriors Online has the potential to become the sure-fire underground hit Aeria Games is looking for... that's free.