For over twelve years, Omega Force’s Dynasty Warriors franchise has provided visceral and fantastical interpretations of Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms. While the series’ hack-and-slash gameplay has proved contentious, few can argue that each iteration supplied an encyclopedic amount of material, as players besieged enemy generals in the hope of establishing a unified China. Bolstered by a trio of game modes, Dynasty Warriors 8 retells the traditional narrative- offering a remarkably sinuous combat system in addition to an unprecedented amount of content. Considering the changes brought made since last year’s Dynasty Warriors 7, it’s obvious that Omega Force listened to fans- an act which should warm the heart of any Musou maniac.
Jumping into Story Mode chaperones players through the campaigns of the Shu, Wui, Wu, and Jin kingdoms as well as a collection of one-off stages for characters unaffiliated with the fours realms (dubbed “The Others”). Recalling DW convention, each movement is broken into chapters, with players able to choose their protagonist from a selection of three characters. Meeting certain stage objectives unlocks imaginary “What If” scenarios. These wholly fictitious levels are poised to please series stalwarts, setting up circumstances of rival kingdoms in unlikely cooperation and cameos of characters who have expired in the canonical Dynasty Warriors storyline.
Caving to fan pressure, Free Mode makes a return, presenting players with the ability to control any of Dynasty Warriors 8’s 77 characters on any stage. This variant bestows a respectable amount of flexibility, allowing gamers to manipulate certain stage variables such as support animals and NPC uniforms. Most levels even permit players to direct opposing forces, providing a pleasing shift in perspective. Gratifyingly, unearthed weapons and experience carry over to all of Dynasty Warriors 8’s other modes, giving another incentive to explore the component.
Recalling Dynasty Warriors 7: Xtreme Legends’ identically entitled mode, Ambition tasks players with constructing a municipality to impress the reigning emperor. For gamers who need additional encouragement for the trouncing of thousands of peons, this deviation proves engaging, as there’s a gratifying persistence throughout. After players choose a specific character, battles of three different scopes await- contributing materials, fame and followers for your efforts. Most notable is Ambition Mode’s risk/reward facet, which bestows loot of increased quality and quantity as players persevere.
DW 7’s weapon switching endowed the series with fluidity, allowing skillful players to subdue swarms of foes into submission. For Dynasty Warriors 8, this mechanic returns, albeit with a bit of tempering. The game’s new weapon affinity system bestows a roshambo-like quantity on the title, with armaments falling into an Earth, Heaven, or Man classification. Unsurprisingly, each affinity has a natural strength and weakness, affecting encounters with officers. Tackling an adversary with an advantaged weapon shows a cautionary indicator above the enemy’s head, warning of an increased defense and inability to stagger the enemy. As such, spamming combos against an opponent with a better weapon has been mitigated.
On the contrary, having a superior weapon is denoted by a blue marker. Continual strikes against these antagonists slowly whittles away at their defense, and once it’s depleted, characters issue up a injurious assault called a Storm Rush. Once triggered, this devastating offensive has the power to carve away at an opponent’s health bar, putting players in an advantageous position. Taken collectively, Dynasty Warriors 8 affinity system endows the game with a bit of strategy, while not slowing the pace of play. That said, some gamers will be irked that the title doesn’t foretell of enemy affinities before they depart for battle.
Absent since Dynasty Warriors 5, the rage meter makes a surprising return to complement the new Storm Rush and reoccurring Musou attacks. Once the ‘rage gauge’ is filled, players can release their riotous fury with a press of the right analog stick, endowing characters with a greatly increased attack speed and the inability to be staggered. Issuing up a Musou during this phase releases an absolutely devastating wave of destruction, capable of KOing a wide swath of soldiers.
Unquestionably, Dynasty Warriors 8’s savviest enhancement is the removal of the homogeneous weapons and cloned movesets of the last game. Whereas playstyle and arsenals were replicated, now each character feels distinctive, urging players to learn the nuances of each character, their three Musou attacks, and their favored EX weapon. That said, there are a few snags that need to be ironed out, such as area-of-effect finishers which only seem to damage opponents on flat ground. Likewise, NPC characters still have the tendency to get stuck around corners, requiring a bit of shepherding from players.
Visually, DW 8 is a minor improvement over its predecessor, demonstrating farther draw distances and an increased stability to the framerate (at least on the PlayStation 3; numerous reports indicate that the Xbox 360 port suffers from debilitating slowdown). That said, there’s still the sporadic instance of a squad of enemies spawning onscreen, but it happens with a greatly diminished frequency. Pleasingly, Tecmo-Koei has granted gamers a dual-audio option, with a forthcoming download to augment the default English dialog with Japanese speech. While sticklers might notice that cinematics and in-engine sequences are lip-synched to different tongues, the disparity in understandable. Most others will be too busy enjoying a soundtrack that complements the typical rock guitar riffs with instrumentation that is both pleasing and more appropriate to the period.
Each succeeding iteration in the franchise has steadily pushed the game along, evaluating new features while removing moribund elements. Dynasty Warriors 8 demonstrates Omega Force deftly evading stagnancy, delivering a sequel that confers a wealth of content while reinventing the series’ core gameplay. Hopefully, Cao Cao and company’s jump to the next hardware generation will be just as adept.