Dynasty Warriors 2 was released for the Sony PlayStation 2, and it chronicled the Wu, Wei and Shu kingdoms' epic battles in true 3D beat 'em up fashion. Dynasty Warriors 3 takes this same formula, and makes a number of slight tweaks and changes to offer a more complete product to fans of the genre. Each of the many skirmishes in Dynasty Warriors 3 pits your warrior against hundreds of foes, across a huge battlefield where allies and enemies are struggling to control chokepoints, supply lines, fortifications, and other key locations.
Dynasty Warriors 3's character models are one of its most distinctive features. Each warrior is drawn with a very stylistic flair, and they all wield a diverse array of powerful and unique weapons. Proceeding through a mission to get the maximum possible reward is more complicated than merely killing as many soldiers as possible. Your warrior may need to reach a certain skirmish within a brief time limit, defeat the enemies there, and then race on horseback to the next conflict. Opening barrels and crates along the way to gather power-ups may seem like an afterthought, but is necessary for finding the most possible hidden secrets. Proceeding through the waypoints as intended would treat you to attractive cinematic sequences that drive a story that closely follows the Romance of the Three Kingdoms saga.
The number of playable characters, once all is said and done, is most impressive. Forty-one heroes and villains of Romance of the Three Kingdoms fame are available, each with a distinct fighting style, alternate costumes, and four different weapons. Some of the more notable characters include great leaders like Liu Bei and Cao Cao, the Five Tiger Generals, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Zhao Yun, Huang Zhong and Ma Chao, the powerful Lu Bu, Pang Tong, known as the Fledgling Phoenix, and Meng Huo, of the Southern Barbarian tribes, powerfully armed with a pair of bestial head armaments. Unlocking all the characters, maxing out their stats, finding all of their fourth weapons, and earning all of the stages is a sizable task for anyone, and Dynasty Warriors 3 offers a prospective player hundreds of hours of entertainment.
One of the most significant changes to Dynasty Warriors 3 is the new attack and combo systems. The square and triangle buttons perform regular and strong attacks, respectively, and can be entered in different combinations for varied effects. For example, a normal-normal-strong attack may make one character spin his blade in a wide circle on the final attack, while a normal-strong-normal-strong combination may launch enemies into the air, where you can pound on them with successive normal attacks. The number of combinations available to each character is satisfyingly extensive, and allows for a number of strategies for instances where you may be battling large crowds, or especially strong "boss" characters. The musou, or special attack, has returned as well, in a number of varieties. Warriors charge their meters by taking or meting out damage, and can unleash their stored energy in a wide-range attack that deals considerable damage to all nearby enemies. When low on vitality, the musou attack may also do elemental damage, most often flaming fiercely, and accompanied by a stop-motion, camera panning Matrix effect.
While Dynasty Warriors 3 doesn't look much different from its predecessor at first glance, the most noticeable changes should add considerably to the game's appeal. The hidden characters are no longer "clones" of the standard set of generals, and have individual fighting styles, combos and musou moves. You can find useful equipable items, most of which have their roots in the history, such as the Red Hare saddle, named after Lu Bu's famous infallible horse, or Sun Tzu's Art of War. You're not limited to just horses, however, as in one epic battle, your warrior can mount a war elephant to break down wooden barriers and crush his or her foes from a higher vantage point.
We were able to try the different options available in the final version of Dynasty Warriors 3, including the 2 player modes, the endurance mode, and the time attack. The two player modes allow you to play through the missions cooperatively, with the warriors of your choice, and often, with a choice of bodyguard retinue as well. Two characters fighting cooperatively can even unleash a combination musou attack, to great effect. If playing nice isn't your cup of tea, you can do battle in a number of locations suited to player versus player combat, more of which can be unlocked in the story mode. Many of the versus battles take place in very cramped locations, like across a bridge where your movements are restricted to its confines. Endurance mode pits you against 600 enemies, and challenges you to defeat them with a single life bar. Time attack mode is perhaps the most compelling alternate play mode available, where you must defeat a group of enemy squads led by several opposing generals in less than six minutes.
We did notice that the game still makes heavy use of fog to disguise pop-up, and that characters on screen would often appear or disappear. Slowdown was also a problem when two players were in the same area at once, and executing the more flashy techniques. Some of the opposing warrior AI also seems to lack a competitive edge, as noted by their defenseless, inactive stance. Despite these graphical flaws, it still is impressive to see dozens of warriors battling on screen at once. The addition of character speech during battles is also a nice touch, although some of the battle cries can get a bit repetitive. Those who enjoyed the background music in Dynasty Warriors 3 will be pleased to note that the sequel also makes use of the guitar-rock that fueled the battles in Dynasty Warriors 2. In fact, much of the game is essentially unchanged, as it still contains the original eight stages, and uses identical character models to those who appeared in Dynasty Warriors 2.
Those who enjoyed Dynasty Warriors 2 will undoubtedly be elated to discover all of the secrets, and explore the much deeper combat system available in Dynasty Warriors 3. There's apparently going to be much more to discover this time around, and the variety of characters available promises to make the experience a lasting one. Koei has already released this game under its original title Shin Sangoku Musou in Japan, and is planning for a U.S. release in mid November. Stay tuned to GameSpot for our review shortly after release.