The eighth installment of the hack and slash Dynasty Warriors franchise, developed by Omega Force and published by Tecmo Koei, is one of the more promising titles in the series. Dynasty Warriors 8 has an incredibly deep story line, visually impressive graphics, and the most varied gameplay options of any other game based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novel.
For those unfamiliar with the premise of the Dynasty Warriors series, or Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the story follows the lords of Chinese nations who attempt to take over the land as the Han Dynasty collapses. The story greatly romanticizes what actually happened by combining history with myth and legend. Revolving around the states of Cao Wei, Shu Han and Eastern Wu, Dynasty Warriors 8 summarizes the key events that took place from 169 AD to 280 AD and the rise/fall of the aforementioned nations.
The three main types of game options in Dynasty Warriors 8 are Story Mode, Free Mode and Ambition Mode. The Story Mode takes players through a predetermined path of events which pretty much follow the events laid out in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. There are, however, “hypothetical” stages which can be unlocked by completing certain objectives and future missions are often affected by the actions taken in previous battles. The story mode is available for Shu, Wei, Wu, Jin and there’s even a campaign for “other” factions. Instead of following a specific character throughout each campaign, the individual nation is followed and thus players are required to play different characters during the progression.
Free Mode is basically what it sounds like: players can pick any character and battle that they have previously unlocked through the story mode and go at it. The most interesting gameplay mode, and the one that makes Dynasty Warriors 8 shine above its recent predecessors, is the Ambition Mode which allows the player to create, and maintain, their own base of operations. The base is called a “Tongquetai Tower” and the idea is to become prominent enough to gain the Emperor’s favor. Allies, materials for construction, and fame are all gained through an endless series of diverse battles. While not exceptionally complicated, it’s fun to create your own little dynasty, and how often do you get a grow a city by mindlessly slaughtering thousands of people?
As far as combat goes, Dynasty Warriors 8 seems to have hit a sweet spot between complexity and reward. The game still revolves around chaining weak and strong attacks; however, each character has a unique EX attack which can only be trigger with a specific weapon. During fights involving enemy officers a “Commander Affinity” mechanic has been implemented; each weapon has either the Heaven, Earth, or Man affinity and a rock-paper-scissors trinity is created. The officer with the affinity advantage obviously deals more damage and has the chance to do a “Storm Rush” technique, which is essentially a massive, quick (but stationary) combo.
The Commander Affinity adds a new level of depth to the franchise and re-inforces the need to have two powerful weapons with different affinity types to allow the player to always either have the advantage or at least be even with enemy officers. On the other hand, Storm Rush just feels a bit overpowered and allows even the more difficult enemies to be taken out in a couple of combos. In addition to affinities, the “Switch Counter” has been added. This technique performs a powerful counter attack if timed correctly while switching weapons.
The final two combat updates are Rage Awakening and the addition of a 3rd Musou bar. The Musou attack is a powerful, area-of-effect attack that differs between each character. Each officer has three separate Musou attacks, standard, air, and alternate. Basically, kill a bunch of enemies to charge your Musou bar, then press “Circle” and watch even more enemies die. The rage system is brought back from Dynasty Warriors 5 and is another bar that differs from the Musou bar. When activated this dramatically increases the player’s stats and allows for a much longer Musou attack to be launched.
In Dynasty Warriors 8 game mechanics are your friend. If used and timed properly, affinity, rage, musou, and switch counter can easily turn the tide of even the most difficult battles and allow multiple options when backed into a corner. Now it may seem like it’s also really easy to abuse all these tools, build up full meters in every category, and then rush the final objective and blow everything at once, but a simple crank up on the difficulty meter and even your musou attacks aren’t going to get the job done.
Visually speaking, Dynasty Warriors 8 is not the prettiest game on the market, but it is the best looking in the Dynasty Warriors franchise. Omega Force’s ability to improve their graphics engine on the dated console hardware is quite impressive. Textures have slightly improved, officers look more vibrant, there are better weather effects, and uniforms become soiled as the fighting lingers on. Not only do things look better, but the performance has improved as well; with hundred of soldiers on the battlefield at any given time, there is virtually no significant drop in framerate. There is one major gripe I have, as far as aesthetics go, and that is the atrocious horse jumping animation. It is as if some Omnipotent being grabs the horse, lifts it 20 feet in the air, and then lets it plummet to the ground.
For fans of the series, Dynasty Warriors 8 will be a breath of fresh air, and for those new to the genre, there is so much quality content here that it will be hard to walk away dissatisfied.
This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of the game, which was provided to us.