Retro Respawn – Dynasty Warriors 4

Last week I gave some of my thoughts on the Dynasty Warriors movie, and watching the film gave me the impetus to go back and look at one of the games in the series. I ended up plumping for Dynasty Warriors 4, owing to the fact that I’ve already written about the third game in the series, and Dynasty Warriors 4 is the only game in the series that I have for the original Xbox. I really neglect the big black slab that is the O.G. of the Microsoft gang, so I thought that I would write about the Xbox version of DW4 this week. Honestly, I have this game on PS2 as well, and there wasn’t really anything about it that stood out as being drastically different from one platform to the other.

 

Backstory

Dynasty Warriors 4 was developed by Omega Force and published by Koei, coming out in the first half of 2003 for the PS2 and then seeing a release on the original Xbox in the second half of the year. I had first discovered the series when I played a demo on DW3 and enjoyed the demo enough that I ended up getting the game. DW3 was a fun game to play, so when I heard that Dynasty Warriors 4 was in the works, I was moved to pick it up. The game is set in ancient China during the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” period of the country’s history, where the three warring factions of Wei, Shu and Wu all went at it with one another in a variety of scraps in order to see who would gain complete control of the land.

Not surprisingly, this makes a pretty good story to base a video game around, and indeed, the Three Kingdoms story has been told in many a different style of game, be it strategy, one v.s. one fighters or wild hack ‘n’ slash epics, like the Dynasty Warriors series of games. Dynasty Warriors 4 sold well and received mostly decent reviews in the 75% range for the console versions of the game, although the version for Windows received lower scores overall. It’s interesting that other people tend to have a similar story as me when it comes to DW3 being the game that introduced them to the series, with Dynasty Warriors 4 being a game that kept them hooked on the series going forward. Indeed, Jane Stephanie Sterling is probably the most famous DW fan out there in the “biz”, and they first came into it with DW3 too.

 

Gameplay

Dynasty Warriors 4 mostly retains the same gameplay from DW3. You have a normal attack that allows you to do a combo of up to six attacks, depending on the level of your warrior, a heavy attack that you can either use on its own or as part of a chain with your normal attack, and a special Musou attack that you can use when you fill a bar, which will allow you to do one big, special attack that will lead to bodies flying all over the place if you deliver it just right. The Musou bar builds up with successful attacks, but it will also go up when you get hurt in battle, which means that there is always a chance you can get out of a tight situation if you get your Musou attack in at the right time. In fact, if you take a lot of damage, your Musou attack will be even more devastating than usual, which provides a nice element of give and take to the battles.

Dynasty Warriors 4 also introduces some new heavy attacks that you wouldn’t find in DW3, such as characters like Huang Gai flinging bombs across the battlefield. Like in DW3, Dynasty Warriors 4 sees you take control of a warrior who is taking part in a big battle, with the goal being to achieve the victory conditions either before you are personally defeated or your army suffers defeat overall. The main form of victory usually comes from slaying the lead general of the opposing army, but sometimes you will win by escaping the battlefield or by causing your opponents to retreat. The most common form of defeat usually comes from the lead general being defeated, meaning that you have to keep a constant eye on the main camp so you can get back to help out if the lead general starts getting overwhelmed.

The battlefields do have a sense of magnitude to them on the bigger battles, something that becomes clear when you have to scamper from one end of the battlefield to the other in a desperate rush to prevent your leader from getting slaughtered by the enemy soldiers. One thing that can help you in that instance is if you can acquire the horse of a defeated enemy general, which allows you to get across the battlefield in a speedier manner. In some stages you can even ride atop of massive elephants and break your way through barricades in order to open up other areas of the battlefield, adding interesting unexpected elements to battles.

The gameplay in Dynasty Warriors 4 is never going to be confused for being overly intricate, but the game is fun to play, and it feels great to scythe your way through an army’s worth of infantry enroute to a battle with one of the generals. In a new feature this time, you can take part in duels with some of the other generals, which gives you a chance to take them out then and there, saving you some considerable effort and also increasing the morale of your fellow soldiers. Sometimes there can be a lot of fighters all on the screen at once, which gives the game a real madhouse vibe that can sometimes be as equally frustrating as it is exciting.

By far the two worst parts of the game in battles are archers/crossbow wielders who will pick you off from afar whilst you are trying to defeat a burly chap armed with a ruddy, big scimitar, leading to you getting sliced and diced in brutal fashion. You also can get utterly swarmed by guys when trying to get on horseback, leading to you frustratingly getting knocked off over and over again whilst the game constantly bugs you that the main camp is under attack and you need to assist at once. Also, the hit detection when it comes to knocking enemies off horses and elephants is very finicky, with you sometimes flying through an enemy instead of knocking them off, leading to you getting trampled by their elephant chum.

The gameplay in Dynasty Warriors 4 is far from perfect, but I personally found it enjoyable to play the game again after all this time. One thing I would say is that the game would probably benefit from a bigger variety of difficulty modes as I tended to find Easy was too easy, whilst Normal was utterly punishing once you reached the latter stages. Maybe Very Easy, Easy, Normal, Hard and Very Hard would have found a better sweet spot difficulty-wise as opposed to the Easy, Normal and Hard set up that we have?

 

Graphics

Outside of some nice cutscenes, Dynasty Warriors 4 is unlikely to blow you away from a graphical perspective. To be honest, this is something that regularly happens with the DW series, even into the latter years due to the need of having that many people on-screen at once. There can be some pretty wretched slowdown sometimes when the numbers on-screen are at their highest, and the battlefield has a constant fog due to the poor level of draw distance. However, there is a good variety of stages to fight in, with some ensconced in snow, whilst others take part in vibrant jungles with toxic lakes that drain you of your health. If graphical excellence is of big importance to you, then Dynasty Warriors 4 probably isn’t going to tick that box for you, but most of us didn’t tend to play this series for the visuals, in all honesty.

 

Sound

This is one area where Dynasty Warriors 4 will divide opinion as the soundtrack in DW4 is a mixture of rock and heavy metal, which isn’t really apropos for the timeframe but gives the battles a lot of energy. I personally really enjoy the music, but I can also understand why others wouldn’t or would find it unfitting. Ultimately, it all comes down to personal preference, but I do think the music complements the action on-screen well. The voice acting is another area that might divide people as it’s pretty cheesy and is akin to a kung fu movie from the 70s. Again, I quite enjoy that (although the fact names are regularly pronounced incorrectly is one thing that’s kind of unforgivable), but I could completely understand why some would hate it. I do think the voice acting is of a better standard than it was in DW3, but DW3 is pretty much the gold standard for voice acting in a game that is so bad it becomes perversely entertaining.

 

Longevity

There’s plenty to do in Dynasty Warriors 4, with story mode campaigns for all three of the main factions in the game, as well as including some smaller ones for some of the other factions. You can play these campaigns either on your own or with the assistance of a friend, which makes Dynasty Warriors 4 an excellent game to play if you have a companion who is willing to play it with you. I spent many a joyful hour playing the game with friends, as well as with my sister. Indeed, the DW series remains one of the rare occasions I’ve actually managed to coax her to pick up a controller. There are plenty of characters to unlock, and you can even create your own officer, as well as name your own bodyguard troupe.

There is a total cast of 42 fighters once you unlock everyone and plenty of additional extras, such as a versus mode you can play with chums and a challenge mode for when you’re playing on your own, so there is plenty to keep you occupied here. Some warriors will even have their own unique levels in story mode, so there is an added incentive to play that mode with different people. Overall, Dynasty Warriors 4 has quite a lot on offer from a longevity perspective, provided you enjoy the core gameplay loop. If you don’t, then you won’t want to see it all, but if you do, then there are plenty of reasons to keep coming back.

 

Would I Recommend Dynasty Warriors 4?

I definitely would, yeah, but then again, I’m a fan of the series. I think Dynasty Warriors 4 works well if you’re already a fan because it will give you more of what you like. DW3 probably works better as an introduction to the series, so I would suggest playing that first as copies of it are plentiful, and if you enjoy that, then there’s a great chance you’ll like DW4 as well. If you’ve played a DW game before and liked it, then this one is a no-brainer to add to the collection.

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