Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires Review (PS4/X1): “Hack, Slash and Take Control of China Once Again”

DW8E Wallpaper

Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires (DW8E) takes command of the hack and slash world again by offering players the opportunity to take control of China, one divided land at a time. In a more strategic layout than its sister games, DW8E aims to bring the player a new experience of not only conquering, but all of the politics and tact that go with it. Does DW8E coerce its way into our blood thirsty thumbs? Or can we simply not handle the alliance right now?

Story: 4/5

Dynasty Warriors has always been known for having the same story – that is, you can’t really change history; and as this game is based on real events, it can be difficult to sway from how the unification of China actually occurred. Therefore, in traditional fashion, DW8E sets the scene for what is expected. The Yellow Turban rebellion and Romance of the Three Kingdoms make their appearances once again, however they’re handled a little differently. Like in past Empires games, they follow a non-linear storyline, which basically disrupts the entire history play from the start. Instead of following real battles, resulting in certain well-known kingdoms unifying China, you’re allowed to dictate how history actually happened.

When starting up the campaign mode, you’re able to choose from a number of different kingdom distributions. Either the traditional Yellow Turban rebellion set up with China vastly divided, or with certain powers already beginning to take hold, or even a completely random division. From here on out, it’s essentially up to you how history unfolds. You can choose to be your own Lord, starting your own kingdom as whichever character (or custom character) you’ve chosen. You can choose to pledge your allegiance to any number of different kingdoms and fight for them until the end – or you could betray them, or leave and start anew. The options really are impressive. So while it was a slight disappointment that the traditional history lesson offered by most DW games wasn’t entirely present (absent a plethora of interesting facts and mini-lessons during loading screens and the like), it is somewhat refreshing that you’re able to take the history of China into your own hands. Don’t expect anything in-depth and gripping however, as without the traditional events, we’re left with a somewhat dry and repetitive narrative of seizing land and capturing officers until there’s simply no one left. 

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Gameplay: 5/5

While the story didn’t have that “come back and play” feel to it, the gameplay certainly brought me back time and time again. The first few hours of gameplay are riddled with tutorial messages which are more than necessary. Unlike most DW games, it was almost as if the set up to each battle was more gameplay than the actual hack and slashing! On average, 70% of the time spent playing DW8E was actually utilizing planning what to do next in the kingdom: raise currency, troops, construct facilities, form alliances, participate in raids or quests, get married?! With so many options having major effects on the outcome of your story, you really had to think about what you were about to do – and what that meant many turns down the road. 

The game is set up in rotations of months. Almost everything you do takes up one month, and you’re limited to 50 years of gameplay (600 turns). As stated before, you can start the campaign in any distribution you want, but for the most part you’re either be starting with very little land owned – or none at all. As a free officer (no allegiance to yourself or any kingdom), you can travel the country and enter any kingdom you’d like. Each kingdom contains different weapons, items and quests to undertake to unlock more gear. Therefore, travelling to different locations to purchase different equipment can be very beneficial. However, once you’ve settled down in a kingdom, you’re limited to remaining there. However, you now have the options of building up your kingdom to anything you choose. Should you create your own kingdom, you can pretty much do whatever you want. However, if you join a pre-established kingdom, you must work your way up through the ranks. Performing small quests (capture a caravan, or deliver a supply chain, etc) will unlock different equipment, as well as either boost or hinder your reputation. During large scale invasions, there are also battle objectives which can be completed in order to earn positive merit. Either of these help you move up in the world to both the officers serving in your kingdom, as well as the people of your kingdom. 

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Once you’ve established some rank, you gain more responsibility which involved keeping generals healthy and people happy. You’ll have to partake in war councils where you set planned invasions to overthrow different territories, or choose to partake in multitude of other events to boost your kingdom. In the end, there are countless ways to succeed or fail in growing a kingdom, which adds a serious amount of depth and strategy to the game unseen in any title previously. 

Thankfully, it’s not all politics and business. The core gameplay has remained largely the same with a few additions. You’re still a one person powerhouse essentially able to turn the tides of any battle, something that is absolutely necessary for any DW game. There are also an extremely large amount of different characters to choose from (with more and more being added every installment) and each containing their own weapon makes them each extremely unique. The dual weapon system has made a return where you contain a main weapon but also a secondary to switch to. Either of these can be switched out before a battle, but it’s best to stick to classes your character has decent proficiency in. A lot of the weapon attributes have been removed, leaving only random skills for weapons and a “rock-paper-scissors” elemental system. There’s also a new system called stratagems. Essentially these are commands (or spells) that affect the entire battlefield. They can be anything from short-lived attack boosts, to archery towers, to entire ambushes. While this offers a nice change of pace, often it was neglected and unnecessary, as being a one person powerhouse meant you could go into battle alone and come out victorious (at least for most of the battles).

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However, as with any new title there tend to be some omissions. The lack of the option to control voice output from the controller or TV was obnoxious, not to mention the extremely high sensitivity had no way to be adjusted leaving my character and horse control looking like a sporadic, choppy mess often in the wrong direction. The map and text was also very small, leaving me needing to get uncomfortably close to my TV at many times. While you could zoom in on the map during battles, it felt like an all-or-none, where either I could see the entire map but nothing (including my character icon) in it; or I could zoom in to see the 10 foot radius around me and nothing else. 

Multiplayer still exists in both campaign and free mode where you can set up any sort of battle scenario and play it out in a once-and-done type manner. Not only is splitscreen an option, but online was completely present throughout the entire game! As mentioned earlier, the create-an-officer is back, but more importantly create-a-horse is present! You can also customize banners and set up entire custom regiments. Beyond the campaign and free modes, there wasn’t much in the way of challenges as seen in some past entries, but there is definitely enough unlocking and conquering to keep you busy for a long time.

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Graphics: 2/5

Dynasty Warriors has never been the leader in graphical quality and DW8E follows suit “xtremely” well. While the menus are vibrant and clear, the text is quite small. Normally this wouldn’t be as big of an issue, but when the gameplay involves spending the vast majority looking at the text, it can be a very frustrating thing. It also appears Koei Tecmo has yet to understand what draw distance is. Enemy troops pop in and out drastically in a very small radius of the player. This is not something new by any means, but once would think that after so many successful titles, this would have changed from the PlayStation 2 instead of remaining quite honestly, the exact same. The environments in each battle are nothing to be proud of and have even taken a step back from previous, last gen titles. No longer do we have somewhat lush forests or colorful fall Asian backgrounds; instead we’re presented with dirty, open landscapes equipped with one time of day: grey. Lighting hardly plays a role, but even fires during night gameplay should be able to spark some illumination. Instead they fall flat and are barely seen to display on the surroundings. Enemy troops outside of well-established officers are a clearly lower graphical quality than the rest of the game. Perhaps this is due to their vast numbers on the battlefield, but then shouldn’t we see more than approximately 50 characters render at once instead of pop in and out? Even the cutscenes are nothing to brag about. Where in many games animation and details can shine, DW8E cutscenes are left in the same quality as the gameplay, with clear lines and polygons visible and distracting. The saving grace is that not once during the onslaught of death brought on by my hands was I disappointed in the flow and feel of power from the weapons. Attacks are fluid and smooth, complete with exciting effects that display how different playable officers are from the normal troops. While some of the weapons are truly ridiculous (there’s a weapon called an “arm blade” that is literally a mini canoe), the feeling was immediately overridden by the visual power of using them. 

 DW8E Gameplay

Sound: 4/5

As in any DW game, DW8E contains the always interesting mash up of rock and classical Asian music. The best thing, is that it works time and time again. The soundtrack gives you the moral boost needed to charge headfirst into battle, or sit down and strongly contemplate who to strike an alliance with. Simple selection sound effects are bold and reverberate your choices, making you feel as though whatever you have just selected is the most important thing you’ll do all day. The voice actors are all original actors, meaning they’re speaking Chinese which is wonderful immersion, but I couldn’t easily find any option to revert to English – as has been present in most past games. The lack of an ability to also turn off voices from the controller got obnoxious fast, as it also came out of the TV creating a strange sudo-echo. Yet again though, the sound of the weapons tearing through crowds of troops utterly defenseless against my battle fans or 11 foot sword created the immersion necessary to bring about a feeling of true power. 

 DW8E Gameplay 2

Overall Score: 15/20 = 7.5 out of 10 

DW8E brings a lot of new features to the table – most of which occur outside of what was the original gameplay. The story is different from past titles, yet the ability to make it personal creates a brand new desire to complete the campaign. While the graphics are nothing above last gen or even last-last gen in some circumstances, the fluidity and emersion of the other factors won’t pull you out of rage mode and hitting that 2,000 troops killed mark! Thankfully, the original gameplay has stayed true, allowing you to become a one-general army and in the end, is all you could want from a Dynasty Warriors game. 

Pros:

+ Impressive and addictive strategy driven campaign mode
+ SO MANY unique characters to choose from
+ One-person powerhouse of death

Cons:

– Graphics from the PlayStation 2 in cases
– Small text in a text driven campaign
– Controller sensitivity

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires! Copy reviewed on PS4.

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