Omega Force gets plenty of stick for sticking too closely to the same old template with its Warriors titles, and while the aptly titled Dynasty Warriors Next sticks to its tried and true basics, it also shakes up the formula by making creative use of Vita's control inputs. The real-time hack-and-slash feudal warfare is further refined once more and plays wonderfully on the handheld, creating a perfect entry for those looking to experience the series for the first time, as well as making this the ultimate portable Warriors title for veterans.
The series has always been about bringing the action of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms literature to life in a dynamic, action oriented way compared to its turn-based RPG brethren, and has found its niche with gamers, as well as allowing history buffs to relive the major battles of ancient Japan and China. While previously criticised for being a mindless button masher, Omega Force has finally started perfecting its gameplay formula so players not only feel the weight of the battles turning with each blow of their weapon, but also need to deliver calculated, life or death commands to their allies.
Bases return from Empires to increase the strategic element, and their implementation here fits perfectly to Vita’s touch interface. While defeating all your adversary’s troops inside the main base is the top priority, getting to the encampment isn’t always exactly easy. Littered throughout the maps are all sorts of bases with varying benefits to turn the tide of the battles: some will continually send in reinforcements for whoever owns it, while others will unleash deadly war animals, continually fire long-range projectiles, boost attack/defence and so on. A quick swipe on the in-game mini-map enlarges it, allowing you to issue commands to your allied officers on-the-fly. Simply rushing towards the enemy’s stronghold will almost always find your allies being destroyed on their path to arrive there, while constant enemy reinforcements push themselves into your main stronghold – even on the normal difficulty settings..
Upon approaching any of the tougher adversaries, the usual button mashing is lost to an Infinity Blade-inspired touch screen battle. These short segments have you poking the screen to break your opponent’s charge attack, while quickly countering with furious finger swipes. As well as thwarting normal attacks by following on-screen arrow prompts or Elite Beat Agent-style timed circle prompts. These visually impressive electric stand-offs shine on Vita’s OLED screen, and are a welcome break from the standard gameplay. The visuals aren’t just brilliant there either, as the cinematic cut scenes are some of the best we’ve yet seen on Vita, showing off the intricate details of its cast of likeable characters and their elaborate attire. Once again, characters are fully voice acted with the same witty dialogue that we’ve come to expect, and the rocking soundtrack makes its return as well. While the in-game graphics don’t feature the same level of detail as the cut scenes, they still look great, and close to equal the detail level and draw distance of the console titles.
In Campaign mode you’ll need to sort a stratagem before each battle. Performing well in battle earns gold, and this can in turn be spent on these stratagem cards, which adds additional benefits to the upcoming battle (e.g. boost attack/defence, extra bases, etc.). Also, item drops can be acquired and equipped in between battles to enhance character stats. As always, when enemy officers are defeated, many of them will join forces with your cause, and they’ll become playable. In a change from Dynasty Warriors 7, each character can only carry one weapon, giving a good reason to try out each one in battle as they all play differently. New to the series is a break gauge, that when filled allows for a quick tap to instantly capture an enemy base. When used strategically, this can instantly sway battles to your cause, and on the higher difficulties, it’s absolutely essential to victory. Musou Attacks, character specific strong attacks, also feature quirky inputs to elevate them to their ultimate strength once initiated. This can have you swiping the screen, shaking Vita in time with attacks, furiously tapping the front screen to launch projectiles and more. All of these extra controls are optional and can be performed with button presses, but they’re intuitively implemented and, well, just fun to use. There’s also an option to turn off all the motion controls for those who desire not to use them.
Further breaking up the occasionally repetitive action are numerous short-lived mini games. These brief segments can have you using Vita’s gyroscope to look around to fire projectiles at rushing war animals, swiping away incoming projectiles, slicing through rushing enemies with rapid finger swipes or even using continuous taps to knock aerial surprise attacks from the sky. While somewhat intrusive, these minigames never outstay their welcome, and most importantly, never feel overused.
In Conquest mode all of the unlocked characters and items, as well as player created and fully customisable characters can set out to try and claim all of feudal China as their own. In turn-based style, higher ranked territories can invade lower ones in their proximity on their turn, only finding yourself on the battlefield if you initiate an invasion yourself. It’s a constantly enthralling struggle of gaining and losing territory, and can last for hours on end. If you’ve got a friend close by, they can even jump in on the action via local multiplayer. While there’s not a straightforward online multiplayer mode, connecting to the internet during Conquest Mode will find other players entering into your battles, as well as challenging you in a one-on-one duel. You won’t be fighting them in real-time though; instead the game calculates their play style and stats, and pits a resemblance of them against you. This system works automatically when connected to the internet and it’s satisfying to know that your hard-levelled characters are out sill out there continuing the fight, even while you’re away. It’s another good entry for the series and one that we hope Omega Force expands on further in future instalments.
The perfectly titled Dynasty Warriors Next shows what’s next for the long running series. While the core hack-and-slash combat is present and further refined, DWN creatively takes hold of Vita’s multiple control interfaces and online connectivity, and melds together an exciting, console quality Warriors title that’s perfectly fitting for the handheld. For purists, newbies or even those just looking to try a Warriors title again, Next is definitely worthy of being the next game booted up in your Vita.