Sunday, March 4, 2012

In Which I Whine About Dynasty Warriors Next

So, while my initial impressions of Dynasty Warriors Next, I've thrown a lot more time into it and I've gone long past the point where I start to see wrinkles with the game and see outright flaws with it now.  It's unfortunate, really, and while I should preface this with the fact that I do think it's a good game regardless, I also think it's a definite step back Dynasty Warriors 7.  Aside from my constant whining about 7, I do believe it's one of the better games in the entire series - while I doubt any game could knock Dynasty Warriors 3 off its throne since it has the crown of nostalgia, 7 comes really close.  So I'm not too happy that a game that pulls directly from 7 as Next does, does it rather poorly, leaving a lot of the good on the cutting room floor to make room for some decent or poor additions.

The above pictured is a screenshot taken from the Conquest Mode of the game which plays like a stripped down version of the Empires off-shoots which are stripped down versions of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms series of games from the same company.  Of course, it could very well be a picture of Campaign Mode just that easily since they use the exact same method of play (minus Territory Level which I'll cover in a bit) which I'm not too happy about.  There is literally no other way to play the game other than jumping into a map like this and playing it out til you win or lose which is mostly random.  You'll notice that every Territory has a number attributed to it as its Territory Level (Xuchang, for instance, is 1 by pure luck of the draw) which basically limits how you can attack.  A territory can only invade another Territory if its level is at least one higher than it.  As such, a Level 1 Territory cannot invade anywhere, whereas you can invade a level 5 with a 6 or higher.  Fairly simple stuff.

So how do you make a Territory's Level increase? having it border enemy territory which is more or less completely beyond your control.  Theoretically, you could say that you can invade how you want and thus control what could possibly gain, but every round starts up by giving a single number to one of your territories so long as it borders enemy lines.  If all four of your territories are against the enemy, then any single one of those could go up and if you have a 1, and your enemy has all 3s and above, you could very well be left to stagnate for a turn if that RNG decides to make your 1 a 2 and none of your other numbers are high enough to invade.  This happens far more than I'm comfortable with for the simple fact that there's absolutely no control over it.  Something like that will likely wreck your game and cause you to lose when it's completely not in your hands.  This is not good as a baseline, and in practice it's at least frustrating if not outright infuriating.

There are a few issues that compound this initial problem as well, further limiting just how much control you actually have.  The rule of thumb in play is that if you conquer the territory the Ruler is in, you take their entire kingdom which is as handy as it is not.  It's handy because it means you can take them out rather fast, meaning you get closer to the "50 Conquest Mode Completions" trophy and with your kingdom having no such Ruler Territory, you won't just lose in a single turn despite having three or so territories.  However, the presence of two other trophies, specifically the "Become Sworn Sibling with all officers" and "Form a Marriage Pact with all officers" (which should read, male and female respectively since you can't be Lian Shi's Sworn Sibling, nor can you form a Marriage Pact with Zhang Liao) makes it counter-intuitive, since those trophies require that you try and purposefully elongate games that you have very little control over.  It takes, at minimum, roughly four to six turns of using the strategy of the person you want to get with (in one of the above ways) and including them in battles for them to form that pact.  Under the best circumstances, you'll be able to do that, but not having money for strategies, being forced to attack the Ruler territory (by virtue of it having the lowest level which happens sometimes), or not being able to attack anywhere always have the chance to rear their heads, threatening to kill your progress one way or another.

Yet another wrinkle comes in when you realize that the officer cards have been doubled up on and that you have to collect them all.  You'll get all the first runs, more or less, through Campaign Mode, but the Alternate Cards (I say that because they're associated with an Alternate Outfit; the above is Lu Bu in his Dynasty Warriors 6 armor) all have to be earned through Conquest Mode.  Sounds easy, right?  Because if you can only get these cards in Conquest, logic dictates that they're the only ones used, right?  Right?  Not via KOEI logic.  I'd even venture a guess to say that there's an uncommon to rare chance of these alternate officers being in place on the board as, you'll notice there are only seven "Other" officers, meaning there's fourteen Other Officer cards.

I'm missing three because I simply haven't seen the other versions of Zhang Jiao, Zhurong, or Meng Huo.  (Actually, I saw two Zhurongs but couldn't attack either place because their level was too high and could only attack the Ruler territory Meng Huo was in.  Frustrating.)  That sounds fairly harmless if you don't consider that I've run at least a dozen if not slightly less than two dozen Conquest Maps going solely against "Other" because it -should- be the easiest to fill out.  From what I can tell, there's no real way to 'force' the alternates on the board, and even if you could, the above issues would suggest as to why it still wouldn't be a cut-and-dry procedure to mop them all up.  I guess the most damning thing I could say here of the entire system is that you could go into a Conquest Mode map with the specific goals of getting a Marriage pact, a sworn sibling pact, and mopping up some alternate cards and not only walk away without doing any of those things, but walk away without doing any of those things because of the RNG screwing you over.

The worst thing of it all, however, is that it eventually just insists on you not playing at all by employing the horrific Dueling System in every single battle.  It's mildly annoying at least and almost insurmountable at its worst simply because of every single facet of its execution.  I've found that it's very reliant on your equipped weapon (but nothing else), so if you happen into a battle with a character whom you don't have a great weapon for, be prepared for an uphill battle when, not if, you run into your Duel opponent.  Being able to only knock off slivers of health, three or four in a burst, when their health bar comprises of a full bar and a half or even two full bars in an exercise in near-futility, especially when you can be taken out in a single grouping of attacks.  Like hitting them (even accidentally, since some guard breaks will register as a slash because fuck you) when they're blocking, causing a deflect which deals damage and then a guard break which will wreck you because you can't do anything about it.  Or even when they attack you while you're in the middle of an attack.  It happens - I don't know how, but it has happened and it's terrible.

Despite all this, I do still like the game.  I don't regret my purchase at all and even though there's still things I could complain about after all this (namely Coalition Mode.  Long story short - Ad-Hoc Only, required for trophies, impossible to do alone.) I'm glad I own it.  I just hoped for something a little better when all was said and done, but it's new tech and they wanted to play around with existing ideas.  I can always respect that, but still take issue with the execution which I obviously do.  With any luck, the next Warriors game to grace the Vita will kick some of the limitations Next put itself under and shine a little brighter than it for it, but we just won't know til it's out.

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