The Dynasty Warriors series certainly has its share of detractors at this point, but all that iteration means developer Omega Force knows a lot about slashing packs of dudes. You know what you’re getting here: Chinese warriors with cool, big weapons, wiping though hordes of enemies and taking out opposing officers. Though the series has taken some turns in the past that were questionable, with the Vita launch, the Dynasty Warriors Next team took it back to what worked and made that as good as it could.
The first thing you’ll notice is how slick it looks on the Vita’s screen, While previous games in the series have tended to lag a bit technically, Next has no problem showing the enemies it needs to without breaking the map up into chunks or popping in soldiers three feet in front of you. There’s some cool lighting tech here, too, and though it’s certainly not realistic… it’s Dynasty Warriors, so that’s never really been a concern.
The scope of the game isn’t diminished like we’ve been used to with the PSP installments, either: full campaigns are here, as well as an edit mode to supplement the game’s dozens of playable characters. Those characters matter now, too, due to the one questionable design decision in the game: touch-screen Musou moves. Each character activates the special by tapping both sides of the screen simultaneously, which we actually like, since it’s not an action you take often and can be moved off the buttons. When you do, it triggers something silly, be it spinning your finger in a circle, slashing left and right or tapping the back to send waves of damage to areas of the screen. It’s weird, but it does give a bit more variety to a huge roster of otherwise-similar fighters.
Boss fights are similar, with a feel that’s a bit like Infinity Blade with just a dash of Fruit Ninja, and new “ambush” events have you doing little touch-screen quick-time events to avoid attackers in the middle of a fight. It’s not great, but it does break up a game that constantly struggles with monotony. Also a focus this time: holding onto control points. When you take one, the base fills with loyal troops, and a counter shows how many troops the opponent needs to defeat in the area to switch control. The big shift means it’s important to keep even one point from flipping, so the game’s “just run and kill everyone” plan may meet a few detours as you double back to protect your turf. (And need to get a better look at the map? You can flick it to pop it out larger or move it back in the corner on the fly.)
If you’re expecting the campaign to tread new ground, that’s silly: yes, you’re starting with the Yellow Turban Rebellion, and yes, then you move on to Cao Cao and the gang as everyone tries to take over China. Different this time is a focus on tactical moves. You have branching paths to take in your invasion, and you choose from various officers and stratagems for each stage. Stratagems cost money that you earn from your controlled areas, and they can range from boosting your own damage to strengthening the defenses of your main camp. (And their cost varies accordingly.) The Conquest Mode is similar, but doesn’t follow a set narrative and allows use of custom warriors.
There are some extras, though they’re largely inconsequential. You can play with three friends in one place, as long as you all have Vitas and the game. (That’s a nice feature, but it will be a while before the system’s that ubiquitous.) You can also take photos and put stamps of logos and characters on them. That’s a thing, somehow.
If you aren’t tired of Dynasty Warriors yet, Next is the first solid portable version we’ve seen and a nice step for the series. If you’ve taken a break for a while, it’s a good installment to step back in for too.
Pros: Slick look, solid implementation, nice depth for a launch game
Cons: “Just Dynasty Warriors” not enough for some, gimmicks are not great