Review: Dynasty Warriors 8 brings the series to new heights
I'll preface this review by saying if you've never enjoyed a Dynasty Warriors game prior to Dynasty Warriors 8, you won't find enjoyment here either. However, for those that take Koei's hack 'n slash affair for what it is, will find some sweet surprises in store and changes that elevate the series to new heights.
The Dynasty Warriors series is often faced with the stigma of being filled with mindless, unstrategic button mashers. To be fair, that's not that far from the truth. But while the games certainly started out as that, it's obvious that Omega Force kept trying new things to innovate the genre, if only just a little bit. What we got were titles with some great new gameplay elements, but not enough to evolve the series in any major way.
Dynasty Warriors 8 claims to be the definitive version of the franchise, and I see why that claim is absolutely true. DW8 is a finely balanced mash-up of various gameplay elements from previous titles, which combine to make for one hell of a good time.
If the "Yellow Turban Rebellion" rings any bells to you, that means you're more than familiar with the Dynasty Warriors storyline. Various Kingdoms, (four in DW8's case) are vying for power and land, and you're thrust into the shoes of generals for each Kingdom and tasked with mowing down legions of enemies and officers. Of course, you still get the cheesy drama that's infused into each campaign, along with the often over-the-top voice acting, though, it seems that DW8 has seen the most improvement when it comes to that department.
With a roster of over 70 characters, you're probably wondering how many of them play exactly the same. After all, a sword is a sword, and a staff is a staff. The great news here is that DW8 features completely unique weapon sets for each and every character. Where EX weapons (favored by specific characters) were shared before, they're all unique here, making it worthwhile to at least give each and every character a try, to see who fits your gameplay style the most. Characters can still equip secondary weapons to change things up a bit amidst the hordes of enemies, but they actually serve a much deeper purpose.
New to DW8 is the rock-paper-scissors mechanic of taking on enemy officers. Each weapon has either a Heaven, Earth or Man attribute, and they all have relationships with each other that make them either weak or strong against one another. When face to face with an officer, you'll see an icon above their head. An exclamation mark means you're using a weapon with an attribute that's weaker. This means you should switch your weapon (hopefully you didn't equip the same attributed weapon, though the game does warn you when you do) and then do either more damage since you're attribute now beats theirs, or at least be on their same level. Having a winning attribute-equipped weapon will allow you to not only deal more damage, but perform a flashy finisher move which also happens to damage any poor sap that gets trapped in it.
As you defeat enemies, a Rage meter will build, which will, for a limited time, enhance your character's strength and speed, and also add a unique and much more damaging Musou attack.
Speaking of Musou attacks, you now have more of these to choose from. Aside from your standard Musou, you have an aerial one, a low health one, co-operative one, the increased Rage one and a much more powerful Musou that you unlock when you reach a higher level with your character.
Aside from the rather meaty Story mode, you can also take part in Ambition Mode. Here you can play as any of the previously unlocked characters and progress through the game by building up your settlement into a full-fledged city. You do this by gathering Materials to build and upgrade facilities, Allies to take into battle with you and manage said facilities, and Fame, which lets you amass more Allies and build more facilities. It's a symbiotic relationship that constantly has you gaining more of one to support the others.
Omega Force designed this mode to be addicting as well as rewarding. Unlike the various skirmishes in the Story or Free mode, Ambition's battles are smaller scaled, albeit taking place on the same big maps. Battles to gather Materials are the shortest, with only a few enemy officers lying in wait, all having Material drops. Fame battles are slightly bigger, as they tend to have you running around the map to complete various objectives for bonus Fame. The biggest of these are the ones to gain more Allies. What's more, since these battles are generally shorter, you can continue doing these missions in succession, which not only keeps the difficulty increasing but yields higher rewards.
With all the good, DW8 is still plagued by the same problems the series is known for. Character pop in is far more frequent than it should be. I shouldn't run into a seemingly empty post only to have enemies literally appear around me.
The worst is the slowdown. When it's slight, it doesn't ruin the game, but when too much is happening on screen, say the stage is on fire, the game goes into a frustrating slow motion. I shouldn't be surprised that this is still happening, but I really hope, for the franchise's sake, that once next-gen Dynasty Warriors is released, these problems will be taken care of once and for all.
Like I previously stated, if you don't care for the previous games, you're not looking at a game-changer here, even with all the refinement. Fans of the series, though, shouldn't hesitate and buy Dynasty Warriors 8 immediately. The Story Mode is brimming with battlefields to cut down, Ambition Mode lays on the addiction of upgrading your settlement, and, with over 70 unique characters to play as, you truly are looking at the definitive installment in the series.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]