A classic franchise returned this week, powered by a brand new engine and supporting both the current-gen consoles and their mid-generation refresh equivalents. There are key enhancements here - a seamless open world with no loading, dynamic time of day and weather rendering plus a new system for dealing with animation and in-game physics. However, what's immediately clear from booting up the game is that Dynasty Warriors 9 has issues. Despite the inclusion of performance and image quality orientated modes (on all systems bar base Xbox One), frame-rate is sub-par, no matter which system you own or which mode you use. At best it's sub-optimal, at worst it's a mess.
What's also curious is that the implementation of the 'action' and 'movie' modes varies across platforms. So, let's kick off with what we thought would be the most optimal way to play the game - action mode on PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. In both cases, frame-rate is unlocked and v-sync is disabled, meaning that the uneven action is accompanied by ever-present screen-tearing. Busy scenes drop to the low-20s here - not exactly the kind of performance level we'd expect from the enhanced consoles. Pro runs at 1080p resolution, but Xbox One X trumps it with a native 1440p framebuffer - albeit with some cutbacks to the visual feature set and an overall lower level of performance.
Movie mode on both systems often drops performance to the 20fps level - sometimes dipping beneath - but the actual implementation varies here. Xbox One X appears to just turn v-sync on, effectively giving users a Hobson's choice of continual tearing or obvious judder. As the arrival of each new frame in movie mode is tied to the display refresh, frame-rate also drops noticeably. Aside from that, we could see no real difference between the two modes.
The situation with movie mode is very different on PS4 Pro, however. It uses geometry rendering techniques to target native 4K. This technique uses 1080p render targets and shading, but the actual geometry itself should be native 4K - Gravity Rush 2 is an excellent example of this working well. Pro's efforts on Dynasty Warriors 9 result in an image quality upgrade - it is cleaner overall - but the geometry itself presents in a similar manner overall to nearest neighbour upscaling. It doesn't seem quite right, but the overall improvement still doesn't justify the hit to performance.
Xbox One X's drops to draw distance and foliage detail (and seemingly reduced texture filtering too) are curious, but perhaps explained by the fact that in development, X titles are scaled up versions of the base Xbox code, as opposed to enhanced versions of PlayStation software. Regardless, it's not great, and PlayStation's advantage here extends into the feel of the game itself. Xbox One X also exhibits more stutter, even with v-sync turned off, leading to more uneven response. Performance is disappointing on all systems here, but PS4 Pro does have the edge - just steer clear of the movie mode.
All of which begs the question: what happens to the base consoles? PS4 Pro's best-case scenario delivers only 1080p resolution, and does so with uneven, often very low frame-rates. Surprisingly, the performance profile remains much the same on the standard PlayStation 4, with just few instances of breaking the 30fps barrier. The developer's chosen path here is to strategically shave the Pro experience, downsizing it for the standard PS4. First of all, that means a resolution downgrade, bringing action mode down to 900p - a 30 per cent drop in pixel count. The visuals themselves are also pared back, with environment detail that's reduced compared to both PS4 Pro and Xbox One X.
Update the PS4 version with the latest patch and users of standard hardware also get the option to run the game in either action or movie modes. The latter upgrades the pixel count to 1080p and turns v-sync on, but retains the same pared back settings. The boost to image quality comes at a cost though: frame-rate is once again consigned to 20fps territory and below in Dynasty Warriors 9's packed combat scenes, with gameplay veering into unplayable territory.
At the bottom end of the scale, things really don't look good for users of the standard Xbox One. The actual functionality of the action and movie modes on the other platforms is questionable, but at least it's there - there's no choice at all with the base Xbox game locked to what we assume is the action mode. The downgrades certainly come thick and fast though: PS4's 900p drops back to 720p on Xbox One, while foliage is more aggressively culled compared to all of the other systems.
On top of that, shadow resolution takes a big hit, texture filtering is very noticeable pared back, depth of field is cut from some scenes and ambient occlusion appears to be absent or dialled back considerably. It's a poor state of affairs all-round, and remarkably, even with all of these reductions in place, Xbox One still has a measureable performance deficit against the PlayStation 4 release, while retaining the off-putting screen-tear.
In conclusion, it's a disappointing turn-out for Dynasty Warriors 9 on all of the systems tested. Looking back to the franchise entries on PlayStation 2, the game targeted 60 frames per second. Yes, there was slow-down but it was fairly solid overall and the fluidity was a key part of the spectacle. Over time and across the generations, the focus has shifted more towards fidelity, with performance less of a priority. With this new release, action mode frame-rates range between 20-40fps, but the busiest scenes are when you need consistent performance most, and the results here are just not good enough for solid response and satisfying gameplay.
It's interesting to note the developer's choices for the enhanced consoles. Yes, resolution is increased, but there's also a conscious effort to make the game prettier than the standard set by the base PS4 - the end result is the same depressed frame-rates, as opposed to the smoother performance we would have hoped for. Just a concerted push for a solid 30fps would have made Dynasty Warriors 9 a lot more enjoyable but as things stand, this is a disappointing to abject showing on PS4 and Xbox One, and the results on the enhanced consoles are indeed the lowest consistent levels of performance we've seen from these systems.