Dynasty Warriors 4 Preview

We check out the latest installment in Koei's 3D brawling PS2 franchise.

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Koei's Dynasty Warriors franchise managed to make a place for itself in today's highly crowded gaming landscape when it made the leap to the PlayStation 2 in 2000. The series' arcade-style beat-'em-up gameplay, which is the spiritual kin of classic 2D franchises such as Final Fight, Double Dragon, and Streets of Rage, offers an accessible alternative to the more complex games on the market today. We recently had a chance to try out an early build of the Japanese version of the fifth installment in the series, Dynasty Warriors 4, to see what it will have to offer. Although early, the game appears to be serving up a solid dose of brawling and some new gameplay tweaks, all wrapped in a pretty solid graphical package.

Dynasty Warriors 4 keeps the action fast, furious, and hectic.
Dynasty Warriors 4 keeps the action fast, furious, and hectic.

For those unfamiliar with the Dynasty Warrior franchise, the games take large-scale 3D brawling and put Koei's distinctive stamp on it by making use of historical characters and settings. Dynasty Warriors 4 will stick to this formula and put you in the role of a general from one of three warring states in the Han dynasty: the Wei, Wu, or Shu kingdoms. This time out, you'll find three new generals added to the large roster seen in Dynasty Warriors 3, one for each kingdom. Dynasty Warrior 4's 50 stages will be set throughout China and weave bits of history into the action.

You'll find several modes in the game: musou, challenge, versus, free, and edit. Musou is the series' story mode, and it has undergone some tweaks for the latest installment. You'll align yourself with one of the three kingdoms and pick one of its available officers. At the end of each stage, you'll have the option to continue using that officer or try another one. At the moment, it looks like you'll want to stick with one officer in this mode to ensure you gain enough experience and upgrades to make your character a butt-kicking machine. Challenge is a series of timed challenges you go through with a single character. Versus is a two-player mode that pits you against another player and his or her army for a set amount of time. Free lets you and a friend go through a single stage once you've unlocked it in one of the other modes. The edit mode in Dynasty Warriors 4 now features a new editing option. In addition to being able to edit your bodyguards, you'll find an officer edit option that will allow you to create an original general to use in the game.

The gameplay in Dynasty Warriors 4 expands on the previous entries in the series with quite a few extra features, although it manages to remain accessible. The game's brawling mechanics are similar to what we've come to expect from the series, and each general will have a decent variety of attacks that you'll be able to perform with certain button combinations and a supermove that you'll be able to perform as you fill your character's "musou" meter. The combo system has been tweaked to offer a wider range of moves. A significant addition to the combat is the inclusion of catapults, battering rams, and other siege weapons, which significantly up the amount of havoc you can wreak. Additionally, a new experience mechanic has been added to weapons in the game, allowing you to upgrade your weapons by killing enough enemies.

Judging from our early build of the game, Dynasty Warrior 4's graphics appear to be staying true to the hallmarks of the series. There aren't any tremendous differences between the game's look and the style of the previous installments in the series at this point, although there have certainly been some additions. As in every game in the series, you can expect to find hordes of fairly detailed characters duking it out in large environments that are a bit sparse and foggy. There have been some tweaks to the game's look to coax more performance out of the PlayStation 2 and keep things visually interesting. You'll now find breakable elements that are actually part of the environments, in addition to the standard assortment of jars and crates. The new siege weapons feature some dramatic effects that are suitably impressive. You'll also find some improved particle effects when you lock horns with a foe or trigger your character's special moves and cut a swath of destruction through a cluster of enemies.

The series' combat system has seen some good tweaks.
The series' combat system has seen some good tweaks.

The audio in the game consists of an assortment of crowd roars and individual enemy death cries during battles. Your character will interact with enemy generals, most notably in pre- and postbattle smack talking, and let out rousing battle cries when performing his or her supermoves. The game's soundtrack will feature a blend of modern music with an obvious Asian influence.

Dynasty Warriors 4 is shaping up to be a promising entry in the franchise. The tweaked graphics are looking sharp, and the expanded gameplay should offer quite a bit to explore in the game. Dynasty Warriors 4 is currently slated to ship in late March. Look for more on the game soon.

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