The Dynasty Warriors games, despite their apparent absurdity, usually make a fair attempt at being historically accurate. You can, in series tradition, flatten ten men with the push of a single button; but you can also try–and fail–to save a comrade’s life in one particular battle, only to look it up on the internet and find that they actually died there on that same battlefield in real life.
Dynasty Warriors: Godseekers is a departure from the norm in that it closely follows the exploits of esteemed warrior Zhao Yun as he investigates a spooky cave with his old friend, Lei Bin, only to awaken an ancient god who gives him the power to influence the minds of others and control them in battle. This, as far as we’re aware, is not an accurate retelling of true real-life events, but rather Godseekers’ narrative justification for being a turn-based strategy game rather than the usual hack-and-slash fare.
Not that such an excuse is particularly necessary; Dynasty Warriors has actually trodden similar ground before with Koei Tecmo’s heavyweight strategy series, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, though its enormous depth makes it off-putting for many. Godseekers, on the other hand, shares much more in common with Koei’s more accessible Kessen and Dynasty Tactics series, but it’s been a long time since we’ve heard from either of those. So, a return to a slightly less hardcore approach here is more than welcome.
So, rather than controlling a single general and sprinting around ancient China carving up hundreds of armed but terrified peasants–quite an unpleasant task, when you think about it–you instead take control of a number of Generals on a giant square grid. Most of the Generals come and go as the story progresses, with the focus almost entirely placed on childhood pals, Zhao Yun and Lei Bin.
Godseekers does a fine job of adapting the key concepts of the mainline Warriors titles. Traditionally, the series is all about learning your character’s moveset so that you know which attacks are best to use when you have an orderly queue of enemies in front of you; or a whole crowd of them; or you’re dueling with a single enemy General. Despite the series’ reputation as a button-masher, understanding the area and distance covered by each attack is the key to higher-level play.
This is echoed in Godseekers, where, instead of fighting enemies one-on-one a la Intelligent Systems’ Fire Emblem series, many of your characters’ available attacks will cover a number of squares on the grid. It pays to watch enemy formations and to make sure your units are all suitably positioned to damage as many enemies as possible based on the area covered by their attacks. Further damage bonuses are awarded for attacking units from behind or the side, and the series trademark musou attacks are present, requiring a little time to charge up but eventually laying waste to a large area.
The real star of the show, however, is the Sync Gauge, which fills up as you deal standard damage to enemies on the field. Once it’s fully charged you can ‘Synchronize’ your units, which gives you a number of big advantages. First, any units in a set formation with your currently-selected character are allowed to act again if they’ve already acted in the current turn, giving you a huge advantage. Second, and more importantly, you can unleash a Synchro Attack, where all of your units within the formation go absolutely wild at any enemies in a nine-square area of your choosing, while you repeatedly mash the X button to increase their damage output.
If planned correctly, you can wipe out half the enemy’s forces in one go, and do enough damage to completely charge the gauge again; don’t be surprised if you find yourself tearing your shirt off and roaring like an ape at the numbers flying out of your television.
The idea of players actually becoming invested in any of the characters or the game as a whole seems far-fetched
You’ll also find yourself getting incredibly bored watching your enemies’ and allies’ turns play out on screen. A handy fast-forward button has been provided, but the second you press it you’ll immediately lose track of what’s happening as enemy units start magically teleporting all over the place. It would’ve been far more useful to have a happy medium between the standard action and the fast-forwarded speed, so that you can skip the boring drudge while also keeping track of the chess-like antics.
Meanwhile, outside of battle, there’s an alarming amount of dialogue to sift through, and its appeal wears thin very quickly. Long-time Dynasty Warriors fans are used to the endless talk of honour and how super-tough everyone is, so they may actually appreciate the daft supernatural twist on the traditional yarn, but the majority of it is the same stuff the series has depicted countless times before. Newcomers, meanwhile, would likely find themselves utterly bewildered by the whole thing.
The game also does little on a mechanical level to endear you towards any particular character. The poor dialogue is one thing, but the game’s systems surrounding character improvement often feel superfluous at best. Each character has a vast grid of abilities to be unlocked as they gain experience through combat, but you’ll spend more time trudging your way through the various menus involved than actually considering which abilities you should unlock. Similarly, new weapons can be earned and upgraded, but the impact of this on your performance feels minimal; it’s something you figure you’re supposed to keep on top of, but you’re never quite sure what effect it really has.
None of this is helped by the fact that, although Zhao Yun and Lei Bin are a permanent fixture throughout, you’re otherwise dealing with a rotating cast of characters. Just spent all your money on upgrading Liu Bei’s swords? Congratulations! He’s now wandered off for the next three missions.
Despite the occasional high points of the game’s battles, the idea of players actually becoming invested in any of the characters or the game as a whole seems far-fetched. Compare this to the Fire Emblem series, where players develop personal favorite characters thanks to the snappy dialogue and intricate systems that govern combat abilities and social interactions in tangible ways. In this context, Godseekers suddenly comes up short.
As entertaining as Godseekers can be, you have to wonder who you could happily recommend it to. It’s not going to draw in any new Dynasty Warriors fans, nor will it satisfy fans of the main games, effectively making any potential players a niche within a niche. The appeal of being able to play the Vita version on the go is great, but even then you’ve also got access to the likes of XCOM, Disgaea, Steamworld Heist and Frozen Synapse Prime, all broadly similar titles that are easier to recommend.
And so, any suggestion that you should pick up Godseekers comes with major caveats. If you really like Dynasty Warriors and you’re jonesing for a new strategy game to get into after exhausting all the other brilliant ones available, it’s worth a look. But that’s hardly enough of an endorsement in a strategy genre full of far better crafted games, is it.