Review: Dynasty Warriors 8 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Dynasty Warriors 8
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Genre: Action / Strategy
Release Date: July, 18 2013

Being a fan of Koei’s “Warriors” series in all forms and fashions over the years, it’s still amusing to reminisce on the fact that the very first entry in the series, at least for those of us outside of Japan, was a bog standard one on one fighting game released on the original Playstation in 1997.

The tried and true blueprint for Koei’s franchise was first realized in Dynasty Warriors 2, which launched with Sony’s Playstation 2 console. The combination of beat em up gameplay and battlefield tactics proved to be something really special, and the series has managed to pull in fans worldwide based on its unique mechanics, badass characters, and the unmatched thrill of laying waste to hundreds (sometimes thousands) of grunt troops single handed.

For those unaware, Koei’s Dynasty Warriors series is based on the 14th century historic novel Romance of The Three Kingdoms, which details various factions at war at the end of China’s Han Dynasty. Each of the games, this one being no exception, generally follows the same plot lines, driven by the key officer characters that detail their respective state’s trials and tribulations with the other states amidst war. Koei has developed specific personalities over the years for their representation of the historical characters that appear herein, and DW8 does not skimp on the varied and colorful personalities that have come to be expected with each new game. Hardened war veterans, fiery tomboy princesses, religious zealots, and corny cheeseballs are but some of the character archetypes you can expect to see during your time on the battlefields, and even if this is your first Warriors excursion, you’re certain to have more than a handful of personal favorites from the experience. These are the characters you’ll want to unlock and power up as soon as possible in the next game.

Taking the reoccurring roster that appears in each new game into consideration, it’s not a far stretch to compare the Warriors games to various sports titles in this regard, and the faction that has the most of your favorite characters enlisted is your proverbial favorite team of sorts. DW8 features many of the series favorite characters, including ten new additions, raising the roster of total playable characters to well over seventy. The individual story modes are kingdom based, much like the previous game, but allow you to play as any one of a number of key characters in any given battle. DW8 incorporates several “what if” scenarios among the traditional battles and plot lines, that see some characters survive past where they are typically killed off in the story. While the reoccurring dramatics are always depicted and scripted somewhat differently in each game, these historical revisions certainly make things considerably more interesting, especially for those of us who could write a complete term paper on ancient feudal China based solely on what we’ve learned playing the hell out of the Dynasty Warriors games over the years.

Alongside of the story mode comes the return of “Free Mode,” which was absent in the previous Dynasty Warriors 7. Free mode basically allows you to use the character of your choice and replay any of the stages you’ve completed within the story mode, regards of the chosen character’s faction. This is a great way to power up the skills and experience levels of certain characters, and if you are a dork like me, play particular battles as certain characters based on some kind of screwy premise your imagination has cooked up.

Over a decade of Dynasty Warriors has proved that the quirky formula has staying power, though it’s easy to argue that series treads the same ground habitually from one iteration to the next. Dynasty Warriors 8, to no real surprise, is more of the same, but to fans of the series this is the equivalent of discovering that water is still wet. Much like other Warriors games that have been released this generation, each one offers something different that is worked into the expected formula. While those of us who can never seem to tire of beating down tens of thousands of grunts in front of the same historical backdrop the series has used all these years appreciate the basics well enough, fans usually grade a Warriors experience by the quality of these new additions over the core experience.

DW8 features a nice handful of gameplay tweaks and new mechanics in addition to the new “Ambition Mode,” which we’ll get to momentarily. In terms of pure gameplay, DW8 introduces a new “Three Point System” that essentially translates to a roided up version of “Rock, Paper, Scissors”. Any officer character can equip any two of the numerous weapon types available in the game, but each has their preferred equipment of choice, which enables them to execute an EX combo attack.

All weapons come with one of three affinities as well, wherein the core of the three point system comes into play. Taking on the roles of the traditional “Rock, Paper, Scissors” is the elements of “Heaven, Earth, and Man”. Based on the affinity of the weapon your character is currently equipped with, opposing enemy officers on the battlefield will have an active affinity either equal to, lesser than, or greater than that of your weapon’s affinity.

Fighting an officer with an affinity weaker than the one your character currently has equipped will not only deal additional damage to them, but also trigger a “Storm Rush” that pulls any surrounding grunt units into a barrage of repeated damage. This is, of course, awesome, as any addition to DW‘s gameplay that allows you to put dozens of dudes into a a ball of hurt all at once is catering to the franchise’s fans at the most base level.

Consequently, there will be enemy officers that have an affinity that bests the one you have currently equipped, and in these situations, an appropriately timed attack will result in a “Switch Counter,” which will have your character deal a substantial amount of damage to the enemy officer as they switch to the other weapon they have equipped. The other ability that is new in DW8 is the “Rage” attack, which can be activated when your character’s Musou gauge is full.

Typically, activating Musou attacks will consume a single portion of the character’s gauge, and result in an awesome barrage of attacks capable of knocking an entire squad of enemies on their faces. This has been a Warriors gameplay staple for a good number of years. The Rage ability is similar to “True Musou” attacks that have appeared in previous DW installments, but this time it literally executes itself as a long barrage of wide sweeping attacks that deal insane damage to anyone (which is usually every enemy on the screen) that gets caught in them. You’re able to move your character around whilst this onslaught of bladed fury is activated, which equates to big dude leveling fun.

Skills are universal, meaning that any unlocked and powered up skills can be equipped on any character you choose to play as. These range from attack and defense boosts, to adding various elemental affinities to your attacks. Initially acquiring and increasing the potency of the skills requires you to take out enemy officers in various ways, very much like the skill acquisition in the first Warriors Orochi game.

The final new gameplay addition of note is the ability to mount your character’s animal ride while you yourself continue to move. By holding down the L trigger you will whistle for the mount, and jump right on top of it as it catches up to you. This function is a definite improvement, as previous DW games required you to come to a complete stop and press the jump button within the animal’s activation circle to climb on.

As previously mentioned, the new gameplay mode in DW8 is the “Ambition Mode”. While I personally had more fun with DW7‘s “Conquest Mode”, Ambition Mode proves to be a lengthy and enjoyable time sink in a similar fashion.

This mode puts you in charge of an upstart village with the ultimate goal being to build Tongquetai Palace, provide a refuge for peasants amidst the war, and attract the attention of the Emperor. Doing this will require you to play through one of three types of battles that will net you the various resources needed to make your village one worthy of the Emperor’s praise.

Working with a simple progression system, you can complete battles to earn fame, which will increase the number of allies you can take command of, battles to recruit allies, which will make new kinds of facilities available in your village, or small scale battles that will allow you to gather materials needed to upgrade the facilities you have in place, or provide you with materials to fuse weapons together. You can depart from the village and take on battles consecutively, regaining only a portion of lost HP, as the battles get increasingly more difficult and offer higher rewards. Playing dozens of battles in one go is actually the only way to see some of the very rare weapons and animals. It, of course, translates into a grind, but every battle will earn you resources towards the ultimate goal of the mode, so the feeling of actual progression remains throughout.

While upgrading the various facilities will get you a slew of options to work with from your village base, the most interesting collecting aspect of the Ambition Mode, to me, was filling out the roster of allies. Any enemy officer you best in battle during Ambition Mode will eagerly join your cause, so while only a handful are available when you first start, you eventually can recruit all the playable officer characters, as well as all the Dong Tuna and He Man generics. This makes scouring the battlefields and beating every single officer in even the most out of the way garrisons a rewarding endeavor, and with an ultimate total of close to eight hundred allies in the roster, it feels like a real conquest of power when all is said and done. Unfortunately, the generic officers only appear as computer controlled allies on the battlefield, but you can assign any of the playable characters you’ve brought over to your cause as a bodyguard, and by completing battles with them, raise your personal bonds, and deliver more effective joint Musou attacks.

As you lay waste to all who oppose you in Ambition Mode, you’ll earn gold to buy weapons, single serving status boosts prior to setting out for battle, animals, and evening training, which allows you to increase the levels of characters without actually using them. Levels, weapons, skills, and mounts carry over throughout all game modes in typical DW fashion, making the task of collecting everything and powering up everyone just as flexible as it has been in past installments. It’s also possible to connect online with other players, visit their individual villages, and partake in co-op battles.

Upon its initial release, the Xbox 360 version of the game suffered severely from framerate issues, which is a really big problem for a Dynasty Warriors game. On average, the game would come to a crawl when there was anything more than a few dozen enemies on screen, which was a good portion of the time. To Tecmo Koei’s credit, the details and textures on the enemy grunts are a bit more detailed than they have been in previous games, but not considerably more so than those in DW7 or the recent Warriors Orochi 3, which both performed without a hitch on the 360 console.

While it hurts my feelings that Tecmo Koei allowed Dynasty Warriors 8 to ship in this state, an update patch was released on August 2nd that completely remedies the framerate problems, and gets the game running like it should be. I applaud the quick response, but hope that things like this are ironed out in any future games.

Short Attention Span Summary:
In the end, Dynasty Warriors 8 provides more than enough Warriors fun for any fan of the series. The Ambition Mode caters greatly to the “I rule everything” powertrip so many of us love the games for, and the few modest yet thoroughly welcome gameplay change ups and tweaks add just enough variety to the thrill of mowing down dudes. Having the game ship with the painful slowdown issues has indeed hurt my feelings as a fan, even if the response to resolve it was fairly quick, and hopefully this will not be an issue going forward, as the remainder of Dynasty Warriors 8 was a great time otherwise.



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One response to “Review: Dynasty Warriors 8 (Microsoft Xbox 360)”

  1. […] is essentially an enhanced addition of last year’s Dynasty Warriors 8, so if you’re looking for an involved discussion of the specific gameplay improvements when […]

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