Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Release Date: March 25th, 2014
Available On: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Reviewer’s Note: I played this game on the PlayStation 4. There may be differences between versions.
Dynasty Warriors is still around, and I haven’t played the series since Dynasty Warriors 4 back on the Ps2. Back then It was all about mashing square to kill everything in front of you (and there was always a lot in front of you!), and sometimes triangle or circle to look cool while doing it. Four games later and the basics haven’t changed much, but I was surprised to find Dynasty Warriors 8 was bringing more to the table and be a lot of fun while doing it.
Like the past games Dynasty Warriors 8 is a retelling of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the most famous Chinese novels. You can play from the perspective of either the Wei, Wu, Shu, or Jin kingdoms, each of which have their own storylines and characters. While Dynasty Warriors 4 only gave some vague hints as to what was going on, Dynasty Warriors 8 is more than happy to fully flesh out the story with cutscenes and characters. The game also features both a historical and hypothetical story line and will change it depending on weather or not you complete (sometimes obscure) optional objectives. Each of the four story campaigns take about 7 – 10 hours each so you already have a good chunk of game ahead of you. Furthermore, players coming back from Dynasty Warrior 8’s original release will find a new fifth story focused entirely on Dynasty Warrior legend Lu Bu. It’s shorter than the others, only about 5 – 7 hours, but it’s a great addition both for returning players and for new players that are interested in the legend that is Lu Bu.
The very basics of gameplay haven’t changed much, which shouldn’t surprise many people. Dynasty Warriors is the series that made the hack ‘n slash genre and you’ll be doing a lot of that. Attacking is as simple as hitting square and you can make simple combos by hitting triangle after a certain amount of attacks. Each of the game’s 80+ weapons has unique combos to be preformed, but the character you chose to play as is just as important as the weapon you give them. The game has 80+ playable characters and all of them have one weapon they are an expert in. By using this weapon they can use special expert attacks that either absolutely devastate the battlefield or give them passive boosts to do more damage. Still, there is some humor in giving characters funny weapons: watching the super manly Guan Yu or Cao Cao prance around with a harp or flute is a thing of humor.
Not only this, but each of the weapons is given either the Heaven, Man, or Earth element. The three elements work like a triangle with each one losing to one, but beating another. Each of the officers can carry two weapons with them and you can hit R1 at any time to switch between them. When you fight an enemy officer you always want to try and beat their element while not letting theirs beat yours. Doing so allows you to catch them in a devastating “storm rush” attack that wipes out basically any nearby enemy. Get caught on the disadvantage and the enemies won’t flinch as you attack them, but hold out for a little bit and you can catch them in a powerful counter attack while switching weapons. It’s not a deep system, but it’s enough to keep you changing things up on the battlefield and preventing the entire game from being “smash square to win”.
You also need to pay some attention as to what’s going on in the battlefield as your objectives aren’t just “go out and kill everything.” During the course of the battle I found myself doing things like escorting carriages, to maintaining a siege on a castle, to escaping from burning ships. While it may not be a massive switch up, often a lot of these still boiled down to “go here and kill things”, it was still enough to make me appreciate a change. There are also occasional segments where you may hop onto a catapult or ballista to either hurl rocks or arrows, though I found these kind of awkward. The controls for the devices were weird, why the fire button isn’t the same as the attack button is beyond me, and the whole thing had a sluggish feel to it as it never really moved anywhere. Thankfully, these segments were short at best and never really impacted game play for more than a few minutes.
Besides the story there was also two other game play modes. The first, and biggest probably, was called Ambition mode. This mode had elements of both RPGs and strategy games. Here I started with just one officer, I chose Xu Shu because I enjoyed playing him the most, and I had to recruit more by defeating them in combat. Not only that, I had to grow my empire through four different mission types. In battle I could find supplies to upgrade buildings in my camp to give me boosts, or to level up my officers so they would be more effective in combat. I even got to play the strategist a little: every officer came with their own special abilities to use in combat and finding the best and most effective ways of using them would become important on harder difficulty levels. It’s a pretty interesting departure from the regular Dynasty Warriors stuff and I found it to extend the life of the game greatly.
The other major mode was a challenge mode with a bunch of silly little challenges in it. From knocking enemies off of bridges to trying to kill as many enemies as possible while they ran in a big circle, it’s a goofy mode that does a pretty good job of offering an entertaining diversion. I’m not sure if it’s much of anything beyond that, but maybe you can get some laughs in trying to beat your friend at the trap-laden speed run course, or seeing who can defeat more officers in the arena. Beyond this there is also a free play mode that lets you replay any of the game’s (many) stages as anyone you like. You can also hop online and tackle a stage, or play the story, with another player. It makes an easy game easier, but there’s an appeal to teaming up and unleashing a ton of unnecessary destruction upon enemies.
I found myself pretty pleased that, even after years and years, I can go back to Dynasty Warriors and find that it’s still pretty similar to how it was back on the PlayStation 2. Yet at the same time I’m glad that the series has been evolving in some interesting ways. The Ambition mode and improved game play do a lot to make Dynasty Warriors 8 stand out and feel much better than past games. Turns out old dogs can learn new tricks, and they can learn some really nice ones.