For pretty much as long as I’ve been seriously gaming, Dynasty Warriors has been around. The series got its start in 1997, but it was the first sequel that introduced the formula it has become known for — large-scale battles set against the backdrop of Chinese history. In the 20+ years since, developer Omega Force has replicated the blueprint for everything from Japan’s Sengoku period to the absurd world of Fist of the North Star. Rather than port the newest entry over for the franchise’s arrival on the Switch, publisher Koei instead went with Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Definitive Edition, an enhanced version of a celebrated earlier edition.
Although this is the first Dynasty Warriors game to hit the Switch, it’s not the first “Musou” title to appear on the platform. If you are familiar with 2018’s Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition, you should be at least somewhat at home with Xtreme Legends. As in the past, you get the chance to step into the shoes of classic figures from China’s historic Three Kingdoms period. All of your favorites from the Wu, Wei, Jin, and Shu kingdoms are here, along with others that don’t fit into any of the states, such as the iconic Lu Bu. While far from historically accurate, what other franchise lets you mow down thousands of faceless troops with the ringed blades of Sun Shangxiang?
Once the warrior of your choosing has been selected, you are thrust out into the middle of the battlefield. Your commander is capable of wrecking just about any number of enemy troops, and that’s largely what you’ll be doing in Dynasty Warriors 8. You hack and slash, and hack and slash, and hack and slash through what feels like a million guys in your quest to rule China. There are other goals to keep in mind, such as keeping allies alive or meeting with specific NPCs, but for the most part, you’ll be focusing on demolishing your foes in battle. Whether it’s with the hundreds of weapons you can acquire, or powerful Musou specials that each character possesses, you are never short on options for devastation.
It would be easy to write the franchise off as simplistic at first glance. And to be fair to the haters, the core formula can get pretty monotonous. However, that would do a disservice to the depth that Omega Force has developed over the past 20-ish years. The big addition with the 8th entry is the “Three-Point System” used for weapon designation. Every weapon can be classified as either Heaven, Earth or Man. This creates a rock-paper-scissors-like mechanic where one class is strong against one class but weak against the other. Depending on if you have the advantage or not, you could either trigger a Storm Rush attack or have your guard wrecked by a general. With the option to bring in two weapons per battle, this opens the door to some welcome strategy being necessary on the harder difficulties of the game.
It’s also nice to see that even in the face of the intense action on screen, the Switch holds up under the pressure. Playing the game both docked and undocked, I encountered little slowdown, despite the mass of people on screen at once. If the system had cracked under the stress of the gameplay, that would have been a significant black eye for the port. However, Omega Force was able to optimize the engine in order to have it run smoothly on the Switch.
Mission length is largely based on which mode you decide to delve into in Dynasty Warriors 8. The more familiar option is the returning story mode. Taking charge of one of the clans trying to seize control of China, you’ll have to take part in several historical battles. What’s fun about this is that Omega Force lets you explore “what if?” scenarios that significantly divert from actual history. It’s a fun way of getting around true-life events, and the multitude of paths you can venture down is impressive. Some of the missions do run a little long, which can get frustrating, but for the most part, you’re looking at something between 10-20 minutes per level.
More interesting to me is the newly-included Ambition mode. A variation of the Empires side-series, Ambition mode has you working towards building a “Tongquetai Tower” for peasants to hang around in. Oh, and Emperor Xian is supposed to come to visit it as well. Crafting this building is done through — what else — slaughtering your enemies. Different types of battles let you either gather material, gain new allies, or achieve fame throughout the land. Each one contributes to the size of the camp you are in the midst of building. Successfully building the tower will lead to a second scenario where you are sent out to conquer new territory. It doesn’t quite have the depth of Empires, but it is a nice diversion from the other, more straight-forward options of the title. Base-building is fun enough, and being able to bring in your defeated foes to serve as bodyguards for missions is a cool feature.
Outside of those two, there’s also Challenge and Free mode, which are both pretty self-descriptive. Challenge mode has you taking on a variety of challenges with unique rules. Again, most of these follow the same basic formula of killing a bunch of dudes, but the added challenge of throwing them over a bridge or fighting off several generals in a row at least gives it some variety. Free mode lets you play through previously completed missions in any fashion you wish. It’s certainly a way to kill time, but I don’t quite get the appeal of it.
The biggest strike against Xtreme Legends is its dated visuals, though. The franchise has never been known as being a looker, and this one is no exception. The levels are bland and boring, with muddy textures and pop-in constantly being an issue. The character models look a little better, but they definitely look as old as the base title actually is. I know it’s striving for somewhat historical accuracy, but this is really a series that could use better art direction. It’s always so bland to look at, despite the sometimes outlandish costumes.
While Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Definitive Edition may not turn non-believers into fans, it is arguably the best entry in the franchise to date. The addition of the “Three-Point System” adds another layer of depth to the gameplay, and the sheer amount of content included will keep you busy for months. There’s a staggering, and sometimes overwhelming, supply of options for players to get lost in here. And best of all is the fact that the set makes itself right at home on the Switch. It’s arguably the biggest edition of the best entry in the long-running series to date.
This review was based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game, which we were provided with.
Absolutely jam-packed with content and technically proficient on the Switch, Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Definitive Edition is far and away the most complete entry in the long-running franchise.