The fourth entry in Koei's action-packed Dynasty Warriors series presents an interesting question: How many times can a company revisit the same gameplay concept, adding just enough features to please hard-core fans, and still get away with selling it as an entirely new game? With Dynasty Warriors 4, Koei is walking a fine line between updating a venerable franchise with valuable new features and simply milking a cash cow. True, the Dynasty Warriors games have met with commercial success, both in Japan and North America, so clearly a lot of players are into this tried-and-true, hack-and-slash formula. But for the casual gamers who are on the fence about whether or not to try yet another Dynasty Warriors game, the blatant uniformity of the fourth installment will probably cause them to pass on it.
The gameplay in Dynasty Warriors 4 will be extremely familiar to anyone who's played the previous entries in the series.
Dynasty Warriors still takes place in ancient China, beginning with the downfall of the Han dynasty. You start the campaign (or "musou") mode with one of three factions--Wu, Wei, or Shu--and engage in a series of branching battles that chronicle the turmoil that engulfed China during the latter Han. There's a classic piece of ancient Chinese literature about this period called Romance of the Three Kingdoms, so the story of this and all the other Dynasty Warriors games is indeed deeply rooted in historical fact. This adherence to history has always been one of the most appealing features of the series, but now that we're in the fourth iteration, it's starting to lose its luster. How many times can you really fight off the same Yellow Turban Rebellion or fight the same battle at Hu Lao Gate before you get tired of the whole thing? Dynasty Warriors 4 brings back many of the same characters as well, and though there's an almost absurd number of characters and alternate character models to unlock (creating ample replay value for those who are into that sort of thing), the key figures--in terms of the gameplay and plot--remain more or less the same. To be fair, Koei's use of actual history as a storyline limits the liberties it can take with such things, but that doesn't help make the game seem any less familiar.
The gameplay in Dynasty Warriors 4 will be familiar to anyone who's played the previous entries in the series. After choosing your faction, you then choose from among several officers to go out and wage war. The actual missions are as fast-paced and chaotic as ever, with literally hundreds of friendly and opposing soldiers running back and forth in the midst of battle. All the available, playable characters are of the superhuman variety--as their attacks can lay out literally 10 or 20 foes at once--and, as always, it's pretty amusing to see a whole pile of bodies flying like rag dolls before the swath of your sword. All the characters have a basic combo attack that can be improved with experience, and they can increase their stats in a number of other areas too. Items picked up during battle will also help you out, as you can equip them between missions for added effects later. In a welcome change to the musou mode, you can now change characters between missions, so you're not stuck playing the same officer throughout an entire nation's campaign.