A couple weeks ago, publisher Aeria Games presented the first major content update for its new hit Dynasty Warriors Online, called "Heavenly Strike". The content upgrades have already been covered in part here on MMOsite, but to give a quick recap on the new features:
1. Two new weapon types: Zuo Ci's "Cursed Deck" card set and Jiang Wei's "Trident".
2. New ranks from the Japanese version have been carried over. Now players can rise to the rank of Cavalry General after collecting a mind-blowing 75,000 honor (the only confirmed rank that hasn't carried over yet is Grand General, earned at 100,000 honor).
3. Faction coalition, allowing factions to team up in battles to accomplish unified goals.
4. Elephant lieutenants have been added to the game, who can be ridden as mounts after reaching a certain affinity and being fed a "Submission Remedy".
5. A Garden has been added to every home, serving as the stables for ridable lieutenants (currently only the Elephant, but Aeria promises more ridable lieutenants in the future).
6. Several new quests, and a whole slew of new crafting recipes (perfect for the complimentary pot and loom that players can now get), as well as two new melee maps.
7. A new in-game tournament mode where teams compete in a traditional elimination-style contest for swag and props.
8. A beautician who can change your character's look for a pittance of Aeria Points.
9. The new Peach Garden, where players from all factions can join and unite in a new unified game mode called "Battles of KunLun".
10. The biggest selectable faction list yet.
Talking about features, that elephant is pretty damn popular.
But what do all these features mean to the player? Sure, all this new stuff has been added, but let's talk about the new scenario, as this is the centerpiece of Heavenly Strike.
The new scenario, as has been well-noted, is called "Diao Chan's Plot", and it takes place shortly after the famed battle for the capital. Unfortunately, this means that those Three Kingdoms fanatics and/or Dynasty Warriors fans looking to duel Lu Bu at Huo Lao Gate will have to wait until another scenario (rumor has it that the scenario after this one will feature that battle, but it's still far too early to say). Despite that, though, all of the players from that era are available. This means that aside from the boring ol' three kingdoms, players can also align with Dong Zhuo and Yuan Shao. And yes, just to be clear, the "three kingdoms" ARE represented in this scenario, they're represented by their respective leaders rather than their more familiar names (Cao Cao represents Wei, Sun Jian represents Wu, and Liu Bei represents Shu).
Unfortunately, because Dynasty Warriors Online only represents the main characters from Dynasty Warriors 5 as its "main generals", this means that town bonuses based on officer service per faction can be severely limited. Cao Cao and Sun Jian have plenty of officers with plenty of possible bonuses to pass around, but Liu Bei's force only has his himself and his sworn brothers, and Yuan Shao's force has himself and what most Dynasty Warriors players might consider "odds and ends" officers eligible to serve under (Zhang He, whom Yuan Shao won by annexing Han Fu, and Zhen Ji, who was married to Yuan Shao's second son before she and Zhang He joined Wei following the Battle of Guan Du). This may not matter much to players when they're choosing their sides (I, for instance, couldn't care less because I was representing Yan Liang as always, and I wasn't going anywhere but with Yuan Shao), but this fact might prove to be a drag for players when they're choosing their force.
As for the actual gameplay...so far it's been about the same. "Main" officers haven't been appearing as much in Melees (as far as I've seen anyway), but by and large anyone looking for a different gameplay experience with Heavenly Strike won't find it anywhere but within the Peach Garden. You must be a Lt. Colonel or higher to access the Peach Garden (and, through that zone, the Mount KunLun battles), but at this time I can't really talk about that portion of the game (due to a technical error, I haven't received the Lt. Colonel promotion I'm due, but I'll have it before long and I intend to talk purely about this new feature soon). Anyone expecting anything different in Heavenly Strike will be, for the most part, disappointed (apart from some new ranks, new lieutenants, etc -- the core gameplay is largely unchanged). Still, fans of Dynasty Warriors and DWO will dig Heavenly Strike.
I enjoy the Dynasty Warriors games (and DWO), and I can say that, though the games have a very cheap beat-em-up feel, the appeal of the series is in its mindless fun. It helps to know the officers and the story of the game, but DWO is one of those games that, at its core gameplay, you can just pick up and play at any given time with little to no experience and be able to get into without the need to fully "get in to" the game and devote a great deal of time and energy. Naturally, a deep and involving game that requires you to immerse yourself within and really offers you a lot to absorb and contentrate on is great fun; but for players that just want to play something really quick and get a quick injection of fun, a game like Dynasty Warriors Online has its merits. Heavenly Strike just opens things up more in that department by giving players more forces to choose from, and the split in factions means that new players can get into fights with little hassle or trouble, and will most likely have the opportunity to ease gently into the game's PvP (take, for instance, the fact that in those screenshots I could only get one player from Dong Zhuo's force to fight me -- and I wanted several minutes for invites, too!)
And, as you can see here, I took him out like a boss.
The only concern with Heavenly Strike is that the new ranks require a LOT of honor to get, and the gaps between ranks are bigger and bigger with each promotion. This means that new players might find the game a bit grindy while they wait for campaign battles and other special battles to open up and become available. Quests help break up the tedium, but the problem is that quests are more for domestic gains, cash, and items, so while the quests provide something different for players, they may make the game seem even more grindy. Old players from the "Unrest in Jing" scenario don't have to worry as much, as players can "reincarnate" their characters and guilds in new scenarios, and any items they locked will carry over with them (I should have reincarnated my old YanLiang, but like I fool I deleted him a day before I found out that I could carry him over), and when "Diao Chan's Plot" ends, players can reincarnate their characters here to the next scenario and future scenarios. It may be a cold comfort to know that honor and the grind are cumulative, but it's a comfort nonetheless.
Fans of DWO will enjoy the new Heavenly Strike content, that much is certain. As for added gameplay features...well, as soon as Aeria corrects the issue and lets me bump up to Lt. Colonel, I'll provide my impressions and a quasi-review of the Peach Garden and the new KunLun Mountain gameplay mode. Until then, see you on the battlefield.