Platform reviewed: PS4
The last time I played a Dynasty Warriors game was on the PlayStation 3 over half a decade ago. Back then I loved the series and have many fond memories of carving up the battlefield solo and cooperatively with a buddy using our favorite generals. I still remember the joy of dominating maps as I took over enemy posts and supported my ailing allies when they called for help. Even back then however, it was hard to ignore the fact that the series did very little to evolve with each new iteration. Unfortunately, the same holds true even a console generations later on the PS4.
The bread and butter of any Dynasty game has always been the combat and it’s still just a matter of running to all of the enemy outposts on the map and mashing combinations of square and triangle to perform various combos until you can unleash your super attack. The hive-like enemies, who do little but stand around waiting to be slaughtered, fly through the air as you unleash your attacks until the red marker on the mini-map turns blue and the outpost is yours. You’re able to switch weapons on the fly which gives you options in how you take on your various foes. Some weapons and combos are better at wiping out hordes of soldiers whereas others are better suited to taking on single foes.
As is the norm in the Dynasty Warriors franchise, your goal is to advance your forces by systematically capturing the map’s territory. Stratagems can be applied mid battle which offer advantages such as various buffs, installations like an archer’s tower, or the ability to summon an officer immediately to your location. I don’t recall if these were present back in the series’ early days but I did enjoy this new (to me) element of combat and, while some stratagems may seem to offer you too much power, they often require sacrifices like the withdrawal of some of your officers from the field for the duration of their effect. Even though this formula is somewhat aged, I still really enjoyed slowly advancing my control over the territory as I captured a base before racing off to decimate the enemy troops unfortunate enough to be occupying the next one in my path to victory.
Empire Mode is what sets this installment aside from the older ones. Unlike the set stories from the ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ I was familiar with, Empire Mode allows you to forge your own epic story and really brings a lot of depth to the game outside of the combat. You goal is still to take all the territory in the land but it’s what’s wrapped around this goal that was a pleasant surprise.
You can rise through the ranks as a loyal aid to your ruler of choice or reach those ranks and take the power for yourself. You can create bonds with your favorite warriors through a friendship rank system that’s augmented through things like bite sized quests which are done outside of the traditional invasion fights. You can even marry those of the opposite sex and have children. Conquest of the land is not all about fighting though, this is something that happens periodically as the game months roll by. These months are essentially phases where you can choose what actions you’d like to do to advance your experience. You may want to recruit soldiers, make an alliance with another kingdom or do the aforementioned quests. Other actions like adding stores to your territory offer better items for you to acquire. The depth comes with an element of confusion though as it’s kind of easy to be overwhelmed by the text filled menus that constitute your gameplay between fights.
You may choose to play with the preset and iconic characters that have remained a staple of the series but those who want to create their own unique warrior are in for a real treat as the customisation options are pretty insane. You are given so much control over how your custom officer looks and plays with a wide variety of appearance and combat options. The creative-inclined could spend hours alone crafting the perfect avatar for the quests to come as they go on to create their own custom banner, warhorse and soldier units. Further customisation and editing can be done via the scenario editor which enables you to set up your own land and choose which Kingdoms rule which land and how individual battles are set up.
The character models have certainly have come a long way since the last time I played but the environments you play in are somewhat uninspired. I wouldn’t say they test the metal of the PS4, but with legions of soldiers flying eight ways from Sunday with each swipe of whatever weapon you choose to wield, you won’t notice it much until you’re moving to the next control point. The music consists of the same electric riffs I remember from the past and provides an adequate soundtrack to the body dispersing mayhem. English dub would have been a nice addition to the game too but is absent here.
If you’re a fan of the series, you more or less know what you’re in for with Dynasty Warriors 8 when it comes to the minute to minute gameplay of battle. If you’re new to the series, you may be a bit overwhelmed by all the elements that exist outside of combat and in today’s age of gaming the simple and repetitive nature of the combat may not suit your tastes. For the latter I would suggest waiting to try out the newly announced free-to-play version of the game which comes with a sample of the features but will give you an idea of what you’re in for before deciding whether this kind of game is for you.