Dynasty Warriors 6 is the first game in Koei's long-running hack-and-slash series to be built specifically for current-generation consoles, and as such it benefits in one major area: It looks pretty. Other than that, this is Dynasty Warriors as it has been since its inception: a huge, sprawling, button-mashing affair set in ancient China, complete with the series' requisite cheesy cutscenes, dozens of playable characters, bad dialogue, and mostly incomprehensible storyline. Of course, there are new gameplay additions in Dynasty Warriors 6, but they're tweaks rather than overhauls and will be more exciting to long-term fans than casual players of the series.
If you are a newcomer, then suffice it to say that the Dynasty Warriors franchise has represented some of the best button-grinding fun to be had on consoles, although the series has been widely criticized for being just that: unashamed, action-focused, and strategy-light games that become almost hypnotic in their repetitiveness. The gameplay in Dynasty Warriors generally consists of your chosen character taking on hundreds of opposing soldiers single-handedly, which is usually accomplished by pressing one or two buttons ad nauseam. Like previous entries in the series, Dynasty Warriors 6 is set in the Three Kingdoms period of ancient China, a time when three rival factions were battling it out for supremacy over the land. You take the role of a general from one of the factions--Wu, Shu, or Wei--and are set loose in large, open battlefield areas to take on an opposing army practically alone. (The kill counts at the end of each level usually number in the hundreds, if not thousands.) Although only nine generals are initially selectable, there are a total of 41 playable characters who become unlocked as you play through the game, a number that is not quite as many as in previous Dynasty Warriors offerings.
One of Dynasty Warriors 6's key innovations is the Renbu system, a new way for characters to build up their attack combos. In previous entries in the series, combos were usually tied to the quality of weapon your character was wielding, with more powerful weapons (usually found throughout the course of a campaign) allowing generals longer and longer consecutive attacks. The Renbu system ditches the weapon-based combo count completely and replaces it instead with a gauge that gradually fills as you perform attacks. If you string together enough attacks without getting hit, then your Renbu will go up a level, which in turn lets your character perform a longer combo. If you go too long without attacking or suffer from a serious blow, then your Renbu goes down. This means that characters will be able to perform up to six-hit combos practically from the get-go, although longer strings will still have to be unlocked as you progress through the game and earn more Renbu levels.
Though the ability to do wicked six-string combos from the opening level of the game is all well and good, what the Renbu system really does is make the Dynasty Warriors brand of basic button-mashing even simpler by boiling down a two-button-mashing affair into one. Previous games in the series forced you to use both the normal and charged attack buttons to perform different hit-number combos, but with Renbu, you can now simply press the normal attack button over and over again to come up with flashy-looking and effective moves. (Charged attacks in Dynasty Warriors 6 are now best left for trying to break the block of an enemy.) It doesn't do much to dispel the series' reputation of being a brainless bash-'em-up, but then again Dynasty Warriors has never positioned itself as gaming's version of advanced calculus.
Another major addition to the series is a skill tree that you can use to improve the attributes, attacks, and special abilities of your generals. Generals still earn experience in campaigns and go up in levels, but instead of attributes such as health, defense, and attack improving automatically, you now receive skill points to spend on building a character. Skill points can also be spent on other abilities, such as more Renbu levels, bigger damage to specific attacks, being able to carry more items, and others. There's enough in the skill tree that you won't be able to unlock all of a general's abilities during your first play-through, but it's certainly not as exhaustive as in other games.
The rest of Dynasty Warriors 6's new features, though quite significant in the context of the series, will probably leave everyone who hasn't drunk the Three Kingdoms Kool-Aid scratching their heads, given that they've been staples of many other games for quite a while now. Generals can now--wait for it--climb ladders and swim. Series stalwarts will most likely appreciate the introduction of ladder climbing, which--in addition to the ability to now jump down into lower levels of maps--gives Dynasty Warriors 6 a more multilayered feel. You can send your generals up into castle battlements to take down enemy archers and ballistas, and you can also take a shortcut down a winding mountain path to quickly get behind an enemy unit. Swimming seems less integral, although it's neat to now be able to swim through some of the game's water-based levels (such as in the Battle of Fan Castle) instead of taking a longer but dryer path. In another addition, enemy bases can now be invaded by simply bashing down the door that leads into them, as opposed to finding the appropriate defense captain and sending him sprawling. Duels with enemy generals have also been tweaked somewhat; enemy soldiers now form a cordon around the two combatants during their battle.
With so many generals in the game's lineup, there's plenty of replay value in Dynasty Warriors 6, although the amount of replay you'll get from this really depends on how you feel about doing the same thing and going through the same levels (albeit with a different character) over and over again. If you're fine with the repetition, then there are well over a hundred hours of play to be had in Dynasty Warriors 6, considering that each general's campaign will take roughly three or four hours to complete. Returning in Dynasty Warriors 6 are challenge modes, which task you with performing set tasks such as defeating as many enemies as possible within a set time limit, moving from base to base as quickly as possible, and more. The game also features a two-player, split-screen cooperative mode, although sadly there's no online option whatsoever apart from leaderboards.
Thanks to the power of current-gen consoles, one of the key areas of improvement in Dynasty Warriors 6 is in the looks department. Each of the generals has undergone a complete facelift from previous games, and now all sport snazzy motion-captured moves that make their attacks look more fluid and realistic. The series' dreaded and much-mocked fog of war has also disappeared, which means that Dynasty Warriors 6 has a decent draw distance that lets you see the lay of the land more clearly. However, it's not all sunshine, given that the game--much like every other Dynasty Warriors game before it--still suffers from horrendous pop-ups and pop-outs. Enemy and allied soldiers will routinely just appear out of nowhere while you move through the expansive battlefields, and pieces of the environment (grass in particular) will simply disappear as you get closer to them. And though the game does have many more characters on the screen at once, we encountered several instances of serious slowdown during some of the more hectic scenes. The slowdown wasn't enough to affect gameplay, but it was most definitely notable, particularly when playing two-player split-screen. Where audio is converned the series' cheesy and generic rock soundtrack still dominates. As always, it's mainly uninspiring and seems to have not changed at all from the series' PlayStation 2 days.
There's no question that Dynasty Warriors 6 plays it safe with the series' tried-and-tested formula, which means fans will lap it up, whereas those who tried a previous game and found it not to their liking will find nothing here to change their view. For everyone else, Dynasty Warriors 6 is a decent beat-'em-up with plenty of gameplay packed in.