Dynasty Warriors 8 Review
When a videogame series gets to its eighth iteration (not counting the many spin-offs), you’d think that said series would have an established base of fans who buy the game regardless of critical reception, and a group of gamers who are cautiously interested in the series, but fear diving in due to the fact that they’ve missed the previous seven entries. In the case of Dynasty Warriors 8, both groups have nothing to fear, seeing as the game does a good job of both catering to those familiar with the series, and serving as a jumping-off point for those interested in finding out what the fuss is all about. Developed by Omega Force, and published by Tecmo Koei, Dynasty Warriors 8 is heavily based on The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th Century, and tells of the turbulent history China experienced during the 2nd and 3rd Centuries (AD), with a large dash of historical liberties being taken.
Though the game does have a definite historical bent, players shouldn’t come in expecting a dry retelling of names and dates, interspersed with some boring gameplay. In fact, anyone who believes that this will be the case is swiftly corrected as early as the opening cut-scene (pre-Main Menu), which proudly features a side-flipping horse, one-on-one battles in mid-air, and a handy selection of over-sized weapons carried by warriors who look lighter in frame than the weapons themselves. And so, with militarily historical accuracy out the window, what is Dynasty Warriors left with to draw in the historical gamer? Quite a lot, actually. Alongside the huge amount of content on offer within the game, each (named) character featured in Dynasty Warriors 8 is based on a historical figure, and though aesthetically they almost certainly don’t match up with their real-world counterparts, the fact that interested players can step away from the game and research anyone that they’ve particularly enjoyed playing as, or any battle that has piqued their interest, is a nice touch. The fact that this can also be done in-game, through the Encyclopedia, is even more impressive.
As mentioned, Dynasty Warriors 8 contains a ton of content. Most players will start with the Story Mode, which is broken down into the histories of four different Kingdoms: Wei, Wu, Shu and Jin, alongside a selection of ‘Other’ characters which are afforded their own scenarios. Each story is fairly lengthy, containing a number of levels each, and branching narrative lines for players who fulfil or fail certain objectives, such as defending particular characters or defeating certain enemies. Also on offer is Free Mode, in which players can take on the roles of different characters, including enemies, in levels already completed through Story Mode. Lastly, Ambition Mode (new to the Dynasty Warriors series) tasks players with creating a base and building it up in order to entice the Emperor to visit. This is done by fighting various battles and adding or expanding buildings such as shops and markets. There are five different difficulty levels to play the game on as well, although the fact that you have to restart the often lengthy levels entirely from the beginning upon death may prove a deterrent to novices looking to try out a higher difficulty.
Battling makes up the majority of Dynasty Warriors 8’s content, and comes on a huge scale. Though players shouldn’t expect a historical strategy epic à la the Total War series, fights in Dynasty Warriors 8 are often enormous, as are the maps in which the battles take place. Most stages will see players defeating somewhere between 500 and 1000 enemies, though most of these are killed by mindless button-mashing as opposed to any thought-out strategy. What’s more, the vast majority of your gameplay will be taken up by attacking nameless enemies who merely serve as cannon (or more appropriately, blade) fodder, as they stand still for much of each battle, and the slightest brush with a weapon is often enough to vanquish them. The main aim of each level is often for the player to defeat particular named opponents, who take the role of Generals in the opponents’ armies. These enemies are harder to defeat than standard grunts and can inflict a fair amount of damage themselves. Killing these individuals is usually the only way to open previously locked gates and progress through the level.
It is in fighting these Generals that the element of weapon selection proves most crucial. There is a great amount of weapons on offer, and though most of them are variations on fairly basic swords and axes, there are also a number of more exotic weapons to be found throughout the levels. Whatever the type of weapon, it will be assigned a particular category, be it Heaven, Earth or Man. These categories operate on a Rock, Paper, Scissors type triangle, with Heaven beating Earth but proving weak against Man, and so on. As your character is allowed to be equipped with two weapons, chances are you will have at least one weapon that is either on an equal footing or advantageous against your opponent, while the other will likely be equally matched or weaker. This is about as deep as strategy goes in Dynasty Warriors 8, but it does prove an interesting mechanic, as you’re constantly kept on your toes to ensure that you’re fighting with the best weapon possible for the dilemma that you’re currently in.
There’s always a lot going on during Dynasty Warriors 8’s levels, particularly with a varied range of objectives that can change on the fly, and can involve storming castles or stealing the enemies’ catapults, as well as the more common task of reaching a particular area or defeating a prominent enemy leader. There are a lot of optional items to pick up within the arenas as well, with weapons, experience items and stat boosts all dropping from defeated enemies. Though some of these boosts serve more mundane purposes, such as temporarily improving your speed or attack, some help with filling your Musou Gauge, which allows your character to perform one of three special attacks. These three attacks are each activated under different circumstances, such as being in the air, or being in a Rage state (which increases all of your warriors’ stats). The Musou Gauge attacks are some of the more visually pleasing aspects of the game, with some fighters raining down fire arrows on their opponents, and others rapidly swiping away at their opponents’ defences.
The experience that you pick up from the battlefield adds to the experience the you earn from defeating named enemies, and alongside improving your characters’ basic statistics, it also goes towards unlocking skills, which can also be earned by performing certain tasks in battle, such as defeating an enemy General while in a Rage state, or whilst possessing a full health bar. These skills do a good job of allowing players to customise their characters to fit their own personal fighting style, and can allow for extra health, extra item drops from enemies, or even extra damage when fighting opposing Generals as well as a host of other options. Players are also able to level-up these skills multiple times, making them more potent in the process. These skills are assigned to the player, rather than particular characters, meaning that you don’t have to unlock them over and over again, but can instead make them more powerful if you perform the same task with a different warrior.
At the start of each level, before you even get the chance to equip weapons and skills, you are required to choose between one of (often) three characters. The two that don’t get chosen still feature in the battle, oftentimes alongside a sizeable selection of other allied Generals, and for the most part, they serve a worthwhile cause in aiding you to defeat the enemy. Dynasty Warriors 8 does a good job of creating an air of your character being merely a small cog in a larger machine, even if your particular cog can defeat close to 1000 enemies with nary a scratch. There are multiple occasions where you’ll arrive in a particular area of a map to see a battle well underway, with your allies doing their fair share of fighting and causing a decent amount of damage to the enemy’s forces. What’s more, many levels feature branching paths, and though these often lead to the same final destination, some of your allies may take a different path from you, and you’ll be able to track their progress on the mini-map. They also provide you with generic (and oft-repeated) updates related to their status as well, which helps in making the battlefield feel alive. The AI isn’t all great though, as on multiple occasions I noticed allies attempting to take corners too early, and attempting to run into walls whilst their running animation kept them awkwardly running on the spot.
Levels in Dynasty Warriors 8 will take you through a range of environments, from castles and towns to snowy landscapes and deserts. Whilst the environments generally tend to look better than the character models that inhabit them, each character has a certain unique look and feel to him/her, to the extent that you’ll never get confused as to whether you’re playing as Cao Cao or Dong Zhou. With over 75 characters, that’s an admirable achievement. Despite this, there are still issues, mainly surrounding characters clipping through objects and walls. It can also be difficult for novice players to find their way around levels due to a mixture of size, poor directions, and a map which, though largely useful, needs more explanation in its functions than is currently present in-game. Audio-wise, the game’s soundtrack is particularly guitar-heavy and repetitive, though at times it can also be orchestral, but unfortunately, still repetitive. Dynasty Warriors 8 isn’t a bad experience in terms of sound and visuals, but it also doesn’t contain anything that you’ll remember with much fondness when it comes time to put the game down.
Though Dynasty Warriors 8 doesn’t win many points for historical accuracy, in terms of sheer content and value for money, it scores a lot higher than many other games on the market right now. Each branch of the Story Mode alone is a comparable length to the campaign of many other releases, and the fact that there are two other modes on top of this, which are both sizeable in their own right, means that Dynasty Warriors 8 could easily keep fans occupied for a good while. There are some issues, however slight, which detract from the experience, but on the whole, Dynasty Warriors 8 is a solid attempt at keeping an established series feeling fresh. It does more than enough to drag both those familiar with the series, and those new to it, right into the heart of battle, and may just do enough to spark an interest in slightly more authentic Chinese history.
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