This generation has been something of a journey for the Dynasty Warriors series – when Dynasty Warriors 6 landed, many fans of the series were disappointed as the series attempted to reinvigorate itself with a new combat system, and I was worried that the series I had grown to love had become a different beast. However, Dynasty Warriors 7 changed all that, smashing all expectations by revamping the classic gameplay style, adding a whole new kingdom to play, and giving us the best re-telling of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms saga so far. Dynasty Warriors was back, and better than ever. It’s been two years since Dynasty Warriors 7′s release, and now the next installment has arrived. Will Dynasty Warriors 8 match the previous title’s success?
As you may well know, the general basis of the Dynasty Warriors series is a retelling of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, an epic Chinese historical novel chronicling over 100 years of warfare over the rule of China. The Three Kingdoms are Shu, Wu and Wei, and a fourth, Jin, comprises of the combined efforts of the forces that would eventually unify China. In gameplay terms, this translates to large-scale battles involving cutting down hundreds of opponents who stand between you and your objectives – having to defend and support your own army, whilst routing the generals of the opposition and foiling their traps and schemes.
Fans of the last installment will be glad to know that DW8 takes the gameplay of DW7 and builds upon it – all of the new features that were added have a welcome return – a solid story mode, weapon-switching, EX-attacks, multiple Musou special attacks per character, and of course the ever-growing roster the series is famous for. With ten new playable characters – that brings the current total to a whopping 77 characters! And don’t worry – not a single character has been cut since the last installment and it’s expansions.
While the general gameplay remains much the same as before – the game’s charge system involving using a basic combo, which can be interrupted at different points with a “charge” attack, which will differ in effect depending on when it is chained into the combo. For instance an X, X, Y combo for one character might result in a heavy blow, whilst X, X, X, Y would instead end with a projectile attack. While simple to learn, this system offers a good variety of moves per character, and is easy to pick up and play – however, making the most of your abilities is where it requires more skill.
Characters have access to “Musou” attacks, which are special attacks that can be performed when a full block of their Musou gauge is full. While they only start with one special initially, they each have access to three different Musou attacks once you have developed the character. New to DW8 is the “Rage Awakening” – when it’s gauge fills up, you can click the Right Stick to enter an awakened state where your attacks are more powerful, and your Musou gauges combine into one long bar – giving you access to the ultimate Musou attack that is more reminiscent of the long, devastating Musou combos seen in the PS2 entries – and are extremely satisfying to perform!
While Dynasty Warriors 7 focused on revitalising the classic gameplay for the current generation of consoles, Dynasty Warriors 8 takes a very smart move and works on refining a lot of the more intricate details of the game’s system. Every character now has a unique weapon type (whereas some characters shared weapon types in DW7), which gives them access to a unique attack available only to them when equipped with the corresponding weapon. Of course, weapon switching is still here though – meaning that characters can all still mix and match with different weapons if you choose so.
Which weapon you have equipped is more vital to success in DW8 than usual. Each weapon has one of three affinities – either Heaven, Earth, or Man. A character wielding a weapon with a “Heaven” affinity is strong against an opponent with na “Earth” affinity weapon, while weak against an opponent with a “Man” affinity - and so on, in a rock-paper-scissors style. Every weapon has all three variants – so don’t worry, this won’t force you to change a character’s moveset if you don’t want to – simply equip two of the same weapon, with two different affinities. When fighting an enemy officer, an indicator will show whether you are at an advantage or disadvantage to your enemy – having an advantage allows you to chip away at them until they are open to a “Storm Rush” attack, which allows you to hack away at an opponent with their guard down by mashing the attack button – catching anyone nearby in the rush and also helping your Musou gauge to fill. When at a disadvantage to an opponent, you have access to the “Switch Counter”, which allows you to counter heavy strikes by tapping the weapon-switch button with the right timing, knocking enemies away and giving you a temporary stat boost. By equipping a weapon of a different affinity in your second slot, you can swap your weapon to suit your situation, which is a welcome concept as it adds more depth to your weapon choice.
Skills work differently to the previous Dynasty Warriors game – characters now level up to increase their stats and open up their extra Musou moves, and you can collect passive abilities by completing certain tasks in battle – such as defeating officers when you have low health, or killing them with a counter-attack. Up to four skills can be equipped at once – with effects such as extending your health bar or increasing item drops.
Weapon seals have been dropped, and instead collected weapons have attributes attached to them much like in the Warriors Orochi series. Similar to skills, these can include attaching elements to weapons, or allowing them to restore your health when attacking enemies. The game’s “Ambition Mode” (I’ll touch on this in a bit) has a facility that allows you to upgrade your weapons once you’ve progressed a bit.
The game also adds a few little touches that are very welcome - tapping left trigger allows you to call your horse – but holding the button will allow you to mount the horse while runs past you, meaning there’s no need for a slow mount and it doesn’t lose any momentum. Characters’ clothes also get dirty as the stage progresses, and the game has more weather effects than in the previous game. Of course, the characters all have updated designs – but I was happy to see that all of their DW7 designs are all included in the game, too. Sadly, all those DW7 costumes I bought in the last game are of course incompatible (character models were re-built from scratch for this title, so it wouldn’t have been a simple import as you might think) - it has already been confirmed that DLC will be available later on in terms of alternate costumes, weapons and skins. One thing I was happy to see, however, is that there is now an option to activate DLC skins for all NPC’s in battles – meaning you can select the costumes you want for everyone on the battlefield, not just the one you are playing. More games need to do this! I’m hoping the Dynasty Warriors 4 pack makes a return, so I can relive my old memories from my first foray into the series with every officer in retro style.
Compared to Dynasty Warriors 7, I can’t decide if the game looks better or worse – the new lighting does indeed make the game look a bit different. Dynasty Warriors 7 seemed a little brighter and had more open landscapes, while Dynasty Warriors 8 seems to have more detail on smaller-scale areas. I think it’s more a matter of personal taste really, but I get the impression that this title was focused more on efficient running, tighter gameplay and getting as many enemies on-screen at once – there do seem to be more than ever before. Don’t get me wrong, though - the game looks great. Just not necessarily better than DW7.
However, I did encounter a fair amount of slow-down in this entry. Often when a lot of enemies were on-screen at once, my character would seem to slow as though running in treacle. I can’t say what the reasoning is behind this – I played DW7 on PS3, so it could be a matter of differences in hardware. Either way, it was a little more apparent than perhaps I would have liked, and I had installed the game to my HDD. It’s possible this might be fixed with a patch, but there’s no way to know just yet. The game still retains some usual issues related to the series – groups of enemies sometimes appearing seemingly out of thin air, for instance (such as when an “ambush unit” appears) but with so many enemies on-screen at times it’s not unexpected for a Dynasty Warriors title.
The choice of modes is really where this entry shines – the game offers a full campaign for each of the four available Kingdoms, and also brings in a selection of individual missions for the unaffiliated characters like the fearsome Lu Bu. Again, this title contrasts in comparison to the previous entry by having it’s story focus more on the Kingdoms than the characters – while DW7 forced you to play as set characters to mirror it’s storytelling, this entry focuses more on the battles and progression of each side, with every battle giving you a choice of multiple officers to play. While I did feel that DW7 did wonders for character development, this change allows for much more open gameplay, with each character having slightly different roles in each battle and taking different routes toward victory.
The openness of the game’s story mode has been opened up hugely from two features not present in DW7 - firstly, Free Mode makes a very needed return, allowing you to re-play any available chapter with any character of your choosing – great for generally having a blast or working on building up a certain character. Even better, many battles allow you to fight as either side once more - so you could play as either Liu Bei or Sun Jian in the Battle of Xiangyang, for instance - allowing you to see both perspectives of the battle. It’s these changes that really open the game up to much more replay value than in the last core entry.
The game also introduces a “Hypothetical” toggle for every level – when active, this allows battles to turn to “What if?” scenarios where events will unfold a little differently - people who died will live on, opening up new side-chapters that can lead to an alternate set of endings for each faction.
Lastly, we have “Ambition Mode”, which allows you to pick any character as your starting officer, and gives you the task of building up a base to serve the Emperor of China. You start off with nothing but a blacksmith and the foundations of the “Tonquetai”, a majestic building that will serve as the pillar of your new land. To build upon your base, you can go out on battles set in the game’s various locations, taking on small forces to collect materials or recruit new officers to your cause, or embarking on battles to gain fame for yourself. All of these things allow you to expand your base by adding new facilities that open up more options. Much like DW7‘s Conquest Mode, you can “collect” all of the various playable characters as generals for your side, allowing them to assist you in battle and build bonds, or you can assign them to supervise the various facilities in your base to open up new dialogue options. Some players may find this mode more of a grind than the main story, but it’s a great alternative when you want to just play around or level up your character. Of course, you’ll need to at least upgrade the Blacksmith if you want to access the game’s weapon upgrades.
Overall, this latest entry in the series is perhaps the strongest yet. The last entry did wonders for the story, but DW8 combines almost all of the best features from the series into one solid experience. Brimming with characters and modes, there is so much to do that the game almost feels like it’s already got some “Xtreme Legends” features. Sadly, the slowdown issues do taint the experience a bit, but I found myself enjoying the game so much that I could look past it a little. Of course, a patch that fixes this would do wonders for the game if possible.
The new affinity system gives the game some added depth, and there’s plenty to collect to keep you busy for quite a while. Fans of Dynasty Warriors 7 might not find the story mode to be vastly improved, but at the same time it does take a different stance - and the new features do feel like they add a decent chunk of content into the mix.
+ A solid Dynasty Warriors experience
+ Massive selection of characters, all with their own unique default weapon
+ Chock-full of modes with plenty of replay value
+ Loads of content with tons to unlock
- Some slowdown issues
- Enemies can pop-in erratically at times
A couple of flaws hold it back, and it doesn’t feel like quite the leap that Dynasty Warriors 7 was - but it’s arguably the best and most content-filled entry in the series to date. As ever, it’s a bit of a niche series, so it’s not for everyone – but it’s a perfect place to dive into the series if you haven’t already done so.