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PlayStation 3 Review: Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce

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Dynasty Warriors has been around for a very long time. It's Koei's cash-cow and they have milked it extensively for every platform possible since the franchise was launched. Quite honestly, there are more titles in the series than one can shake a stick at and all are similar to, albeit marginally improved from, the one that came before it. And, again with their latest console release, Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce, Koei changed up their game a little.

Originally a Sony PlayStation Portable title, Strikeforce has now made its way to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Like just about every other game in the Dynasty Warriors lineup, Strikeforce takes place in China and features a story revolving around three factions all vying for dominance in the region. When players start their game they'll be able to choose from the Wu, Shu, or Wei kingdoms and select a character. The story here is essentially about a conflict between the three factions (a la Romance of the Three Kingdoms) and it's similar to the backbone of other Dynasty Warrior titles. As players progress, they'll unlock additional characters and some kingdom specific scenarios. In that sense, the game doesn't break from tradition.

For those who haven't played a title in the franchise yet, basically, Dynasty Warriors is a series that's all about tossing players in front of insurmountable odds. In control of a lone warrior, gamers enter a stage and essentially have to fight their way to the end by using straightforward button-masher-style controls. The environments are large scale and contain several foes (sometimes in the hundreds) that have to be slain in order to progress. There's often a mini-boss thrown in for good measure, and every once in a while a big boss will make an appearance. The core gameplay in the franchise, and to some extent in Strikeforce, isn't anything particularly new, but it's the sheer number of enemies players have to strike down that is where the real heart of the challenge lies. Strikeforce does, however, change some pieces of that puzzle.

Here, before and after each mission, there is a hub city where you can find side quests, buy weapons, adjust stats, earn new skills, and explore the game's motif. In all fairness, this kind of set up is tried and true in other games, a lot of titles have done exactly what Strikeforce is doing, but with here it feels different somehow. The role-playing elements in the game give the hub world a feeling similar to other RPGs like .Hack or Phantasy Star Online. It's a small shakeup in the dynamic of the franchise, but it's enough to infuse some added life into the title.

On the battlefield this entry also breaks from tradition.  For starters, rather than having an army at their back, players have a three man squad. The computer controls these characters and they prove themselves to be much more useful than the AI partners from other Dynasty Warrior titles. These guys'll actually cover your back.  Additionally, you have the ability to issue commands which certainly helps as well.

 Want to know what's better than the computer having one's back though? Three other players.

That's right! For years fans of Dynasty Warriors have been dying for the game to feature online connectivity, and now it finally does! Strikeforce allows for four-player co-op or versus. The co-op plays out exactly like you'd think it would and unless you already have a team set up, your experience will vary greatly. Some people don't talk, others don't play well, but occasionally you'll find a group that actually works as they should and that's when the game shines. The versus mode is similar in structure and features two teams tackling each other. Both modes feature decent amounts of customization so there's plenty of room for experimentation.

Said customization is just one of the many other things about Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce that will endear itself to newcomers and veterans alike. From the online mode to the single-player campaign there's much more variety in this title than in previous incarnations. From character stats to Chi abilities (think Dragon Ball-like superpowers), weapon styles, and playable personas, there's a never-ending supply of things to mess around with. That's a big part of the charm this game casts, but in all honesty it's the entire package as a whole that makes it stand out within the franchise.

Strikeforce is presented on the PlayStation 3 with a 720p resolution and the game looks very good all around from the designs to animation. Characters are large, environments are detailed, and the effects found in the game stand out. There are never any "wow" moments, but some impressive boss battles and special attacks do leave an impression when first used. The graphics leave a more positive impression than the audio package does. The sound in this title is a mixed bag with messy techno music and plenty of bad voiceovers. Not everything is grating on the ears, but enough is so as to leave a somewhat negative impression.

Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce is the first installment in the franchise for a while that I've actually enjoyed playing. The previously stale gameplay has been given a facelift with loads of customization, awesome powers, great online functionality, and a hub city. It doesn't quite topple the current standard in the action genre, but for the Dynasty Warriors style of play, Strikeforce stands out as the best title to come along in quite some time. Anyone who was ever a fan of the franchise should definitely give this one a shot and see how different it is.

Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Violence. This game can also be found on the Sony PSP and Xbox 360.

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