I absolutely love the Warriors series, Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, Hyrule Warriors, it’s all good. I realise they can be a bit too repetitive for some people but, for me, they are consistently good fun. Sadly there are few people in this world who seem to agree with me that Dynasty Warriors 2 is the best in the series. So, me being the generous and giving person that I am, thought I should use my small amount of internet influence to educate the gaming world by reviewing Dynasty Warriors 2 for the PlayStation 2.
Cast your mind back to the launch of the PS2. An untold world of possibilities lay ahead of the gaming world, the leap from the PS1 to the PS2 promised to be huge and Dynasty Warriors 2 was a great piece of evidence for this. Featuring 28 characters and 8 large stages, the game gives you superhuman strength and endurance and has you battle against armies of hundreds upon hundreds of soldiers, with dozens of people on screen at any one time. The aim of these grand battles is pretty straightforward, kill the enemy general and keep yours alive.
The game draws inspiration from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the book inspired by The Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history where the kingdoms of Wu, Shu and Wei faced off against one another following the fall of the Han Dynasty to claim control of China. Don’t worry though, the game doesn’t let the history get in the way of the fun, it just draws it’s inspiration from these real people, places and events. It paints it more as a legend than as history and so you, as one man, can lay waste to hundreds of soldiers and dozens of officers.
The game uses a deceptively simple Hack and Slash system. You mix light and heavy attacks and build up your Musou meter until you can unleash a special move. You can also fire a bow in first person or fight on horseback, with light, heavy or Musou attacks. L1 blocks and through a combination of all of this you can win some fairly challenging fights against officers, learning when knocking them down might cause them to use a health item or powerup and learning when to block and which of their attacks will overwhelm you. As an officer you can improve your stats by defeating officers and gate captains, collecting the stat boosts they drop. You also earn points for your kills, as do your body guards and, at the end of each stage, you can improve in rank and your bodyguards can improve in rank and number, with their appearance changing to reflect their improvements.
There are a number of items to collect, with food serving as health, bottles providing full health and Musou, bags filling your Musou meter, axes doubling your attack for thirty seconds, armor doubling your defence for thirty seconds, gold statues giving you infinite Musou for ten seconds and arrows giving you, well, arrows - duh.
By playing through an officer's story you can unlock the other officers - you start out with 9 - and at the end of each you’re greeted with a short summary of that officer's legendary deeds. You can also unlock and play as some of the enemy officers like the legendary Lu Bu but these characters can only be played as in the game’s Free Mode, which lets you play as any of your unlocked officers in any of the unlocked stages.
The game can be a tad tiresome at times, you have to play the first two stages as each of the officers from the Three Kingdoms and the fact that there are only 8 stages means things can get a bit ‘been there, done that’ but for the most part the characters are varied enough to keep things interesting. Also the limitations of the graphics can be a bit frustrating, there is a hefty amount of pop in, with characters sometimes only a few paces away disappearing from the screen completely if you are in too large a crowd. Also some stages rely on darkness or fog to keep the draw distance low while others, particularly the early areas of Hu Lao Gate, simply restrict your view by keeping the draw distance low. It isn’t a huge issue but it is a sign of the game’s age.
The game’s soundtrack has aged a lot better than it’s graphics, with a mixture of absolutely amazing face meltingly awesome heavy metal and some more traditional sounding Chinese elements. Most stages only rely on short sections of music but they’re all very catchy, some of them have stayed with me for years and most will get your foot tapping while your fingers are mashing away and the hours are flying past.
The best part about the game though, the reason that it is better than any other Warriors game, is that it isn’t just a mindless power trip. Sure you end most stages having killed some of the greatest warriors in Chinese history, as well as hundreds upon hundreds of soldiers but you are not a one man army. If you venture too far ahead your general and bodyguards will warn you to fall back and, if you don’t, you’ll likely find yourself surrounded and taking a frightening amount of damage. It’s important at these times to remember that if you haven’t found one of the memory card crates to save your game then death means restarting the level. In other words, don’t get carried away.
Working with your army is crucial, helping them advance, taking out officers and the reinforcement spewing enemy gates and preventing your fellow officers from biting the dust. You also need to react to - or if you played the game before pre-empt - any enemy strategies, this is where the game shines.
During the opening stage, the Yellow Turban Rebellion, it's important, regardless of which faction you are playing as, to defeat the officers guarding the gates that the other factions that make up your alliance are attacking. This allows the full force of the Han army to progress to the second gates, where you should really do the same. Then there is the wind tunnel and boulder trap, both of which should be neutralised to allow your allies to advance. Otherwise you will only have one third of your forces to attack Zhang Jiao, not a good idea unless you want a challenge.
At the Battle of Hu Lao Gate you must again open gates for your allies and then you can choose to either face Lu Bu, who is as tough as the Terminator's balls, or you can bypass him, leaving him to lay waste to anyone who crosses his path. There is also an ambush force that attacks your leader, who in this battle is Yuan Shao. When this happens you need to decide whether you can rush to defeat the enemy leader, Dong Zhuo, before Yuan Shao is killed and you lose the battle.
I won’t go into detail for the other stages, if you haven’t played the game then I don’t want to ruin the surprise of what happens in each one but the game has plenty of tricks up it’s sleeve and keeps you on your toes. It is not the dull Hack and Slash that some would have you believe, it is deep, challenging and thoroughly enjoyable.