The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, an ancient Chinese novel that dates back a good couple of millennia, is Koei's inspiration for its best-known games. Its Dynasty Warriors series of action games has brought the novel's legendary characters to life in chaotic battles inspired by the book, while the long-running Romance of the Three Kingdoms series (which takes its name directly from the novel) has always been a complex strategy game in which players tried to unify a warring China under one flag. Dynasty Tactics is Koei's newest series based on the novel, and it's the middle ground between the other two--it's focused squarely on exciting battles waged by thousands of soldiers at once, but it's still a deeply strategic game that rewards methodical planning and foresight. The new Dynasty Tactics 2, released a year after the first game, is a Koei-style sequel in that it largely recycles its predecessor's elements but introduces some key features. The result is an excellent strategy game that fans of the original Dynasty Tactics will enjoy for the same reasons they enjoyed the first one and that gives new players a chance to experience this highly original, entertaining, and complex style of gameplay.
Those familiar with The Romance of the Three Kingdoms will quickly recognize some of the characters in Dynasty Tactics 2.
Dynasty Tactics 2 is structured just like its predecessor. It features campaigns focused on a number of the powerful warlords who rose up in the wake of the fall of China's Han Empire, include Liu Bei, Cao Cao, and Sun Ce. Another character, Lu Bu, joins the playable roster this time, and the campaigns feature some nicely done prerendered cutscenes, plenty of text-based dialogue between the characters, and the occasional branching point--as the leader of your faction, you'll sometimes be expected to make difficult decisions about how to proceed, which will significantly affect how the campaign progresses. Gameplay is split between a strategic layer, reminiscent of the board game Risk, in which you organize your armies and move them about the region, and the battlefield, where your armies, composed of unique officers each in charge of many thousands of soldiers, clash against their enemies. These tactical battles are the heart of Dynasty Tactics 2, and those who played the first game know that they play out uniquely--not quite like what you'd expect from other turn-based strategy games, or anything else.
Dynasty Tactics 2 borrows its predecessor's unique brand of turn-based tactical combat.
The word "tactic" in this game specifically refers to the special moves available to your officers, who appear in battle almost like chess pieces on a chess board. Tactics are single-use special attacks that can cause great damage to enemy forces and that cannot be retaliated against. Some tactics can bolster the morale of friendly forces, while others can instill confusion in the enemy's ranks, preventing that officer's army from moving for the next few turns. Most tactics can only be used from certain positions, so the facing of your units relative to your enemies is always an important consideration. Effectively using your officers' various tactics--there are dozens of different options, including many new ones since the last game--is what the action on the battlefield is all about. As you proceed through a campaign, you'll unlock new, more-powerful tactics for your officers as they themselves gain experience levels and larger, stronger armies.
Tactics are useful in and of themselves but are far better when used in concert with other friendly officers' tactics. Learning how to create tactical combos is what gives Dynasty Tactics 2 its somewhat steep learning curve, as well as its depth. Essentially, your units can be made to automatically initiate their tactics in succession if positioned properly with respect to the enemy and if ordered to do so by a strategist unit (typically, a powerful officer in his own right, but he must use his turn to order the combo rather than to attack). Each tactic that is added to a combo tends to be even stronger than the last, so you can conceivably use these to defeat armies of many thousands of troops in just a single turn. As your helpless foe is bounced back and forth between your officers' crushing attacks, you'll be pleased to see your plans executed just as you'd hoped. Defeating enemy officers with these types of over-the-top combos not only earns your officers more experience points and other benefits, but also gives you a chance of capturing the enemy officers, who may then be persuaded to join your ranks after the battle.