In XL, Koei and Omega Force has introduced many gameplay changes and tweaks are overall improves the game. Storywise, you get to play the Musou Mode for the seven unaligned characters from DW3, namely Lu Bu, Diao Chan, Dong Zhuo, Yuan Shao, Zhang Jiao, Meng Huo and Zhu Rong. These provide some insights into each character’s motivations and how their action ties up with the overall story. I can’t say much without revealing spoilers, but I do suggest you try out Zhang Jiao or Zhu Rong’s Musou Mode as they are very interesting and entertaining.
As I’ve said before, the biggest improvement in XL is the gameplay engine. But before we go into details, let’s take a look at the modes offered in XL. First there’s the Musou Mode, where get to take the unaligned characters in DW3 through their respective stories. Then there’s the Free Mode, where you play the various stages which can be unlocked with a DW3 save file or by finishing the characters’ Musou Mode. There’s also the Vs Mode, where you got head to head with your friend in split-screen battle.
A new addition would be the Challenge Mode, which is divided into Balancing Act, Speed Demon, Combo Mania and Iron Man. In the first challenge, you have to knock as many enemies off a bridge without getting yourself knocked in 10 minutes. The next one has you racing to the finish line the fastest, while traversing the terrain and avoiding obstacles spike barriers, enemy soldiers and the always-annoying archers. Combo is pretty self-explanatory, and the last Iron Man stage is the combination of the previous three.
As for the gameplay refinements, the biggest one is the bodyguard system. In DW3, each character has their own bodyguards, which depends on the character’s rank and stats. XL changes this for the better, by making 4 generic troops that can be used by all characters. As they no longer are tied to the character, a fresh character having trouble can take a maxxed-out bodyguard unit for full support. These bodyguards can be upgraded based on the character’s points in a stage, which earns the bodyguards advancement points. These points can then be spend on either specific attributes, such as defence, attack, rank, or balanced. In battle, they can prove to be an important aspect of your overall strategy, as you can assign additional commands to them. Apart from the basic ’attack’ and ’defend’ commands, you can also set them to ’support’, where they will only use charge attacks and target any archers in the near vicinity, and ’shield’ where they will attempt to block any incoming hits for you. These additions will increase your chances in battle, as you can for example order your bodyguards to attack enemy generals while you hold on for an opening to counterattack.
Not content with your bodyguards? You can create your own units from scratch, and advance them in any way that you like. XL also enables you to take any of the game’s 41 characters in place of your bodyguards.
Further additions to XL include new items for the player’s use, and also a fifth weapon which will no doubt cause several bleeding fingers and sleepless nights to acquire. And for those that thought DW3 was too easy for their taste, Omega Force has included a ’Very Hard’ mode, which is literally very hard and almost impossible.
If you’ve played DW3, you should know that there’s nothing new in XL. It’s pretty much the same as Omega Force only mage improvements in the gameplay, and left the graphics untouched. For those new to the series, XL provides some of the best graphics on the PS2. The character models are very detailed, as this is especially true on the main characters themselves. You can even see the inscriptions on their clothing and weapons, which is very impressive indeed.
As mentioned before the game pits you and your army in a massive battlefield. How massive? Well, on some of the larger levels, it’ll take you quite a few minutes of constant running to cover the field from end to end. These vary from outdoor and indoor stages, with the former looking the more impressive of the two.
All this is not to say that XL is not without fault. The game allows more than 20 characters on screen at any one time, which is very nice, but this unfortunately results in a shorter draw distance and fogging effect outside a set radius. Although this may sound like a big drawback, the game remedies this by making only enemies you can see/within your radius to hit you, or vice versa. So, no more being hit by invisible enemies, which is always a good thing.
Make no mistake, this game will keep you playing till the early hours. The XL enhancements is a godsend as it remedies several issues in the last game. You can choose to play XL on its own, or load up your DW3 disc and play it with XL feature. This extends the playability and replay value of this title several folds, and it’s last you quite a while to get all those weapons, items and unlockables.
This is no a full sequel, and they’re not advertising it as such. As an add-on, XL score very highly in my books for the refinements made in the gameplay, the addition of an extra difficulty level and great replay value. Fans that can’t get enough of Dynasty Warriors will be hard pressed to find anything more enjoyable than XL. At the very least, it’s something to tide you over until the release Dynasty Warriors 4.
Former owner and editor in chief of Darkstation.com