There was a time when the Dynasty Warriors franchise wasn't just exciting for its devoted fan base. Mowing down hundreds of enemies in was a good, early display of the PlayStation 2's power. Since then, however, the series has been scorned for being monotonous and for iterating very little from one entry to the next. Dynasty Warriors Next attempts to pump some new life into the series' combat with the power of the PlayStation Vita by throwing touch and movement controls at you, which flirt the line between being interesting diversions and being unnecessary annoyances. Still, there can be something cathartic about destroying hordes of enemies with a few taps of a button, so it might be worth revisiting China for longtime fans or casual players who have been away from the series for a while.
Capturing bases gives you worthwhile bonuses.
Like all other games in the series, Dynasty Warriors Next is loosely based on the Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which itself was loosely based on ancient Chinese history. Therefore, the campaign mode tells a story you may be familiar with, dense with details about royal families, broken alliances, and ambition to rule. It often feels like the CliffsNotes version of a much larger epic, which it more or less is. The story is told in a relatively linear fashion, and you play as generals from different kingdoms as the plot demands. Some missions let you play as any available general from your kingdom, while others force you to play as someone specific. Different generals use different weapon types, which give them slightly different movesets.
While most Dynasty Warriors games are rightfully accused of being the same old song and dance, they do tend to differ somewhat outside of battle. In this regard, Dynasty Warriors Next is most like the Empires subset of games. Between battles you have a map showing you the different territories of the country, including who controls what. From here, you have some choice about where you want to attack next, giving the illusion that Dynasty Warriors Next is a turn-based strategy game. This comes into play most in the Conquest mode, which lets you play random skirmishes against AI opponents. Here, the strategy map plays out almost like a simplified game of Risk, with territories having different number values that come into play when attacking your opponent. In the campaign, however, the strategy element can be largely ignored, with the choice of missions being meaningful only if you want to grind out new weapons or items.
From the map screen you are also advised to choose stratagems to employ in battle. Stratagems are essentially abilities associated with generals that give you an edge over your opponent. You can select up to four of them per battle, and each has a cost associated with it that fluctuates depending on the mood of the general they're associated with. (If you've been using Cao Cao in every battle, for instance, his stratagem will cost more to use than if he's all fired up and ready for a fight.) Some stratagems are purely positive, such as those that increase the defense for your entire army or one that sends fire attacks to the first enemy base you attack. Others give a little and take a little, like one that greatly increases your attack power while also lowering your movement speed. These bonuses can be a big help in winning a battle (or just finishing it more quickly), though in many cases you may not need to use them at all.
Duels are an interesting premise, but they end up being simple and tedious.
Once you've decided to invade a territory, you are dropped directly into a battlefield filled with a variety of bases and a seemingly endless supply of allied and enemy soldiers. Each base on the map can be captured by eliminating the required number of enemy forces defending that base, which is a number that can change as reinforcements arrive. Your goal in almost every battle is simply to capture the enemy's main base while making sure he doesn't capture your own. Along the way it's advisable and sometimes required to capture smaller bases that can provide your army with certain bonuses if controlled, such as more reinforcements or occasionally boosted attack strength.
Keeping an eye on the minimap is key because it tells you where both your forces and your opponent's are, letting you know if you need to hoof it back to your main base to play defense. Thankfully you're never a one-man army, and you can use the touch screen to expand the map and issue attack or defend orders to certain allies on the fly, which adds just a hint of strategy to the action.
As you fight, two different meters fill up: your musou meter and your break meter. The break meter is very useful because it lets you capture any non-main base with a tap of the touch screen, with the added bonus that such captured bases cannot be retaken by the enemy. The musou meter lets you unleash a special magic move that can annihilate large groups of enemies at once. These moves come in two varieties: normal and speed. Normal musou attacks are activated at the touch of the circle button. They're more powerful when your health is low, but generally they're over quickly and leave much to be desired. They're unimpressive compared to speed musou, which are activated by touching the left and right sides of the touch screen at the same time.