PS4, Vita •
Mention the title ‘Dynasty Warriors’ and some folk blanch at the prospect of once again scything to hair-metal through hordes of hesitant Han. Truth is, the Dynasty Warriors games are actually pretty damn good, and they’re one of the last bastions of the moribund beat ’em up genre. I’m here to talk about one specific spin-off for PS4 and Vita in Dynasty Warriors: Godseekers, a fresh turn-based twist on the long-running series.
The Omega Force gang were said to have been jonesing to create something like Godseekers for a while, give the series hasn’t seen a tactics game since the PS2, largely honing their Han-themed crowd control simulators. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and time in the wilderness has justified the return to cogitative griddery.
Cutting to the chase, Godseekers is absolutely terrific and the rest of year ought to get its tactical act together, because this is 2017’s turn-based strategy to beat.
We’re here for another embellished crunch through the shattered remains of the Han Dynasty; the great self-sundering that threw the Middle Kingdom into a tripartite state and all its interim chaos. Starting softly with a short skirmish against the Yellow Turbans, players are introduced to Godseekers’ brand of grid-based tactics via in a brief but comprehensive manner. It’s not long before your coalition of Eastern Han warlords are slicing and dicing through the Middle Kingdom.
Godseeker’s mechanics are comparatively lean against contemporaries like Disgaea. Heroes operate one per grid, and offer movement and attack in much the same way as other tactics games. Based on their weapon type, characters have discrete attack ranges. Spears have an attack range of two squares deep, whereas halberd-wielding characters can slice and dice laterally to the tune of three squares. This is, of course, as it should be.
What really makes Godseeker’s tactics sparkle is the Synchro mechanic. As well as illustrating movement ranges, character selection highlights their Synchro lanes – for lack of a better term. These are specific locations within a character’s movement range that can offer a highly-customisable chain reaction attack if friendly heroes are positioned within. For example, Zhao Yun sports a diagonal synchro reach of two squares. So, any allied hero standing within either of those two diagonal rows can be counted on for a synchro attack or repositioning. Each hero has a specific synchro lane, which makes positioning for a big hit very crucial. The collective synchro gauge features as a special bar in a fighting game; once enough damage is wrought upon the foe, time to link arms.
Once you’ve got a few heroes coupled to a character’s synchro, they’re allowed to attack as though it was their discrete turn. After the contributing heroes attack or move independently, there’s a coup de grace mauling to cap off such cooperation. Synchro’d comrades join forces in a furious beat-down, targeting anything within a promixal player-selected three-by-three grid. In addition, you can jam a button to increase a bonus boost percentage to really hammer home the brutality.
After familiarisation, the synchro mechanic really comes into its own; squads begin to cleave swathes through enemy lines with devastation efficacy. Once leveled, characters can cut lines in opposing ranks in their own right, but when coupled with synchro, not only can they punch twice into an army, but tear out their center force like coring an apple. It’s a highly flexible, ridiculously satisfying addition to an already highly mobile game.
Godseekers does push back, though. Mission progression features a good upward swing in difficulty, and there’s certainly a hardy challenge in playing each battle on hard mode. Enemy troops swarm in classic Dynasty Warriors style; short range troops harass and block, spear formations lunge from the safety of a square’s distance, archers and siege weaponry heave scarifying volleys across the landscape. The bombastic dramatis personae of this classic tale are in attendance, wading across the battlefield and doing untold damage to player units. The enemy can wipe you out as fast as you to them, so knowing when to hold the line and when to position for attack is crucial.
Once missions are bested, they offer up additional sub-missions to play for items and gold. These prove a good way to casual grind up an economy and characters. Each sub-mission ranges from simple slaughter to escort missions. As with the main story missions, you can attempt to surmount secondary objectives for a greater selection of trinkets; targets like achieving a synchro attack with three heroes, or said attack clocking up an army-shattering value of two-thousand. Hitting those targets ushers items like special weapons on the triumphant, and given the relative succinctness of each sub-mission, replay value is strong.
Borrowing again from Dynasty Warriors, characters grow in level as they carve and cleave their way across China. There’s a substantial skill table to drop level points into, with hero-specific skill traits dotted among the generic ‘+5 to attack’ boosters. Traits such as ‘heal self and adjacent characters %5 of health at start of each turn’, or ‘increase the chances of influencing enemy state by +10%’; each to swap in and out of a hero’s clutch of active proficiencies. It’s a growth and customisation aspect that doesn’t disappear up its own fundament. In keeping with Godseekers’ other elements, character development is wholly limber. Deep enough for meaningful choice, but thankfully cruft-free.
Between missions, players can buy, sell, temper and reforge weaponry. Tempering merely upgrades the base traits of the weapon, whereas reforging lets players strip attributes like bonuses to attack or agility and place them on another. I found myself perusing merchants’ wares like a mechanic in a wreckers yard, looking for affordable weaponry sporting tasty bonuses to reapply.
I’m speaking solely from the Vita experience, and as good as this all sounds, Godseekers’ portable outing is a bit of a rough port. Still highly playable, but features a touch of muddiness in its presentation. Character models aren’t particularly sharp outside of their special attack vignettes, and there’s a strange intermittent sluggishness when panning around a busy battlefield. Again, still very playable, and largely mitigated by genre, but if you’re looking for a technical feat, seek God on the PS4, where horsepower saves the day.
In comparison to the Fire Emblems, Disgaeas and Final Fantasy Tactics of this world, Godseekers brims with a kinetic vitality not found anywhere else in the genre. Omega Force’s choice in leaning towards faster tactics makes the competition feel staid and lethargic. This does for medieval fantasy tactics what XCOM did for science-fiction strategy. Vita issues aside, Dynasty Warriors Godseekers is utterly Lü-Beautiful.