Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires
Genre: Hack and Slash
Developer: Omega Force
Release Date: 2/28/2015
As someone who hadn’t played a musou game in a long time when I reviewed Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate I went into it with some uninformed assumptions about what a Warriors game was, namely a repetitive button mashing game, and ended up being impressed with the depth, scale and variety found in that game which made me toss my assumptions right out the window.
Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires, on the other hand, appears to reinforce every negative stereotype of these kind of games.
Before I get into it let me explain what the game is first.
Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires is a spin off, from my understanding the sequential titles in the Dynasty Warrior series typically are released with new mechanics, an XL edition comes along to expand on that framework, and an Empires title is released which turns it into a strategy hybrid game. I have not played Dynasty Warriors 8 or the XL edition of the game, and this was the first Empires game I’ve ever played. One of the main differences between the main series and the Empires games is that this game allows you to create your own warrior, along with being able to craft your own units and banner, as well as modify the appearance of your horse and soldiers that accompany you to the field. From there, in Empires Mode you can select various scenarios inspired by history that have also appeared in other Dynasty Warrior games, only this time instead of playing out specific objectives you get to essentially craft your own story and try to conquer and unify China on your terms.
For this the Create a Warrior section is surprisingly robust and you can with some effort create a diverse set of characters. I made a pretty decent looking Kazuma Kiryu with a white/red robe and armed him with glove and foot weapons to switch between, a dragon banner and created a Tojo Clan unit all of which took me about 30 minutes. You do not need to create a character to play the game though, in Empires Mode you can select between familiar characters who have different roles, such as Ruler, Prefect, Strategist, Officer, and so on. If you create a character you can also start as a Free Officer bound to no land and work your way up through the ranks up to and including becoming a Ruler as well.
In Empires Mode you select the actions of your character or kingdom through a menu screen. If your character is part of a kingdom already it will begin with a War Council where the Ruler will indicate the actions of the kingdom, or if you are the Ruler you will dictate the actions of the kingdom. If you are beginning from the bottom and are not a part of any kingdom then you’ll have the option to select from different available quests. Each menu action moves time forward by a month. Different options are available depending on the role of the character you are playing. As Kazuma, a Free Officer, I could take a number of quests like fighting tigers and wolves, protecting a caravan, or theft and assassination missions. These also would affect my morality rating within the game.
The quests are goofy little distractions that are usually under a time restriction and involve killing wild animals and bandits. There are quests that involve theft that are like playing hide and seek with specific objects and assassination missions which are an attempt at shoehorning stealth missions into the game. All of this using the same battle engine of the regular game, which is weird and really doesn’t work well. Like you’ll get a bigger map with tigers everywhere but only three minutes to kill them all, so the timer becomes more of a danger for failing the mission than what you are fighting. The stealth parts are just awkwardly bad.
Doing these missions earn merit points that allow you to earn advancements through the ranks of a kingdom. Eventually you’ll be able to invade and defend areas and can choose to participate in battles. These are what I was looking forward to, only in Empires these aren’t multi-objective affairs with large scale battles between opposing officers. Instead both sides of a battle have basses and you have to capture bases and increase supply lines until you take over the opposition’s base or take out their commander. Taking over a base means going into that area, which will bring up a number at the top of the screen, and killing guys until that number reaches zero. Then do that again while paying attention to your supply lines and bases. Then do it again. And again. And again. That’s in fact all you do, and these battles can be over pretty quickly if you make a beeline to the main base. When defending you do the same, only you mainly have to defend your main base for 5 minutes and then it counts as a successful defense.
This is really boring. Really, really boring. It also takes away much of the interesting dynamics of the fighting system because you’ll figure out which attacks do the most damage over the widest area and then go into a base and spam them over and over again since most other attacks are pointless to use. After a while going into a base and spamming an attack to watch the number drop is about as interesting as mowing grass or watching paint dry. The game gives you all these things, like a weapon affinity system, musou attacks, rage musou attacks, stratagem cards to utilize, but then makes them feel not very necessary. This is also due to the fact that regardless of difficulty level selected the AI has a lot of A but very little I. The other officers on my side of any battle have been worthless, sometimes just standing there or running around in a circle like a headless chicken. The enemy officers are a little better in that they’re aggressive, but they rarely do much more than hack and block. I’ve never seen one switch their weapon when I switch to a superior weapon affinity for example.
When not in battles the rest of Empires Mode is about as interesting. There are several menu options but the choices feel extremely basic and lack any kind of personal feedback. You raise taxes on your lands and people are unhappy. Give money back and they’re happy. Hang out with another officer and their friendship level with you goes up a notch. That’s about as deep as it gets. You can get married and have kids in the game but they’re treated as almost afterthoughts. Get an officer of the opposite sex to a high enough friendship, express your love via stock cutscene, if they accept you get married via another (with both dressed as though for battle still) and that’s it. A year later I got a notification that we had a child and could rename it. The mode just feels dry and lifeless with little emphasis on materials management or much in the way of rewarding the player with either a feeling of personalization, accomplishment, or with unlockable items earned in game. There’s no real empire building aside from conquering and defending territory.
It should be noted that you can play online easily from this mode if you are logged in, and being signed into PSN or Live gives you the option to pull unique officers other people have created just randomly into your game which I realized as I found myself fighting Tiny Tina and the emperor of rock and roll El Vis.
Aside from the Edit and Empires modes you can craft your own Free Battles and set specific conditions for those battles if you didn’t get enough of the same battles in Empire mode. There’s Gallery mode for viewing movies and character models if you want to do so. The most interesting aspect of this is that the game will create a unique timeline based off of your cleared Empire games and that’s actually kind of cool. There’s also an Encyclopedia…and that it. After playing Warriors Orochi 3 which had a lot of various modes this seems sort of lacking and makes the game feel more like it could’ve been a DLC mode for Dynasty Warriors 8 as it reuses a lot of the same content.
I played the game on the PS3 so the game wasn’t graphically stunning. The character models still look excellent and there’s an a lot of enemies on the screen at once, only the stages look kind of flat and bland and don’t vary much. There’s dirt, and dirt with some puddles, and dirt with temples, and one that has a dirt canyon. A lot of dirt themed levels. I did not encounter noticeable slowdown on the PS3 version. Enemies faded and popped in a lot, however that’s not entirely unexpected in these games. There are supposedly weather effects in the game however I never saw any during the time I played. As far as the audio of the game goes it is entirely voice acted in Japanese with subtitles. The music selection seems limited though I don’t have too many other titles to compare it too.
The overall presentation is kind of weak. The game is menu-centric and the general user interface is a mess of poorly explained options and sub-menus that I wasn’t even aware of for a while.
The controls for the game will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played a similar title. On the PS3 the Square and Triangle button do light and strong attacks, with various combos depending on button input, X jumps, Circle activates Musou attacks, L1 blocks. R1 switches weapons, a tactical part of the battles in the game due to a Rock/Paper/Scissors affinity system for weapons only here it is called Heaven/Earth/Man. You can have two weapons and it’s useful to have one of each type on hand to that in case an opposing officer has an affinity advantage you can switch. This is easy to tell in the game as officers will have a symbol above their heads, blue symbol if you hold the advantage, exclamation mark if you are at a disadvantage. If you see the latter, switch. There’s some strategy for switching during a counter and so on as well. L2 whistles for the horse. R2 pulls up the stratagem cards on the screen, you choose between them with the D-Pad and select the one you want by pressing up. The game controls perfectly well and is responsive.
The game potentially has a lot of replayability if you enjoy the Empire mode present since each can take several hours to play through, there are several scenarios to choose from and different roles and areas to start from, you can create your own scenarios, and once completed if you go through with a new character you can run into your old characters who will act on their own dependent on how you played that character previously.
The thing I struggle to understand is exactly who this game is for. If you’re a musou game fan this is the fifth type of musou game released in the last year, with a One Piece variation also being released soon. That seems like a lot of games with a lot of content to serve a very specific niche of fans. If you enjoy this kind of battle system…most of the battles in this game are short and repetitive. Technically you could play a role where you never have to play out the battles at all. Strategy fans will find the strategy portions overly simplistic. I can see that there are fans of Dynasty Warriors who might want to create a warrior and play through the game in a way where they get to craft their own tale, I just can’t imagine this creatively sterile game really fulfilling that desire however. It’s the game that fits the negative perception of the Dynasty Warriors series. You button mash because there’s little point to strategy when you’re just ticking a number down at bases. The battles all play out pretty much the same way over and over again. There’s very little sense of progress or accomplishment, and the ‘memorable scenes’ for your character look and feel like impersonal canned scenes that you’ll see every time you gain a sworn brother or get married. Playing it I wondered if they were under some sort of contractual obligation to make this game and what small percentage of an already niche genre this is supposed to appeal to.
If you are a new fan to the series, avoid at all costs. Play any other of the recent Warrior releases. If you’re an experienced player, maybe wait for the upcoming free to play version of this title to try it out before deciding to buy.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Ruling a kingdom means you have to deal with annoying bureaucracy and lots of tedium. In that sense, Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires successfully delivers that experience to the player.