Review: Dynasty Warriors 8

Review: Dynasty Warriors 8

After a considerable wait, Dynasty Warriors 8 is finally available outside of Japan. In traditional Dynasty Warriors fashion, this game is loaded with characters, stages, story segments and tons of unlockable content, not to mention the frantic hacking and slashing. Series fans have no doubt already purchased this game without bothering to read anyone’s review, but does this title do much to appeal to newcomers?

The short answer is “Not really,” but this is hardly a complaint because for the last decade or so, you’ve known exactly what you were in for when picking up a Dynasty Warriors title.

The first thing that I noticed about Dynasty Warriors 8 was that the visuals look quite good compared to other games in the series. While it of course can’t hold a flame to any of the big AAA or console exclusive titles we’ve seen recently, this is easily the best looking Dynasty Warriors title yet. The big maps are diverse and depicted with a satisfying level of detail.

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The series’ wonderfully unique character design is on full display here. Pre-rendered cutscenes demonstrate a particular level of polish.  All in all the game is easy on the eyes, but again not necessarily a graphical powerhouse.

Like the Dragon Ball series, the Dynasty Warriors has a way of telling the same story over and over again throughout different releases. At its core the Dynasty Warriors 8 narrative focuses on the lore of China’s Three Kingdoms period, and the assorted conquests of Cao Cao, Liu Bei and Sun Quan. For good measure, a handful of new characters with unique goals and backstories are thrown in.

Wei, Shu and Wu all have their own dedicated campaigns and together they comprise the story mode. A cool feature is the branching paths in the story mode. Meeting certain conditions in certain skirmishes can have big impacts on the ending, and you can even rescue character’s that would otherwise be killed in battle, enabling them to see the battle to the end.

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Any fan of the series has already been enthralled by events like the Yellow Turban Rebellion and the Battle of Chibi many times before, but these sequences look better than ever here and are still entertaining. Even with relatively good narration between each battle, the story can be quite confusing, which makes the timelines and summaries in the gallery very useful.

While I have typically been indifferent to music in the Dynasty Warriors series, Dynasty Warriors 8 offers a mixed bag. Many of the tracks that play during regular missions are still throwaway metal with very little distinctive flavor. However, there is also a nice number of slow, somber, orchestral pieces and these are the real highlights of the soundtrack for me. The music that plays between missions is an example of this.

Other classic sounds make a return, such as the exciting “ding” of a musou bar maxing out. Like the soundtrack, the voice acting in this game is also a mixed bag. It was previously mentioned that this game would support dual audio, allowing gamers everywhere to enjoy the typically more legitimate and sincere Japanese voice acting. Unfortunately, that is not the case, as the voice settings can’t be changed. I also couldn’t find a way to disable the subtitles. Rumor has it that dual audio will be released for the game as free DLC at some point, but that could just be wishful thinking.

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Anyway, some of the voice actors are terrible while others are pretty decent. I liked Wang Yi’s voice, for example.

Dynasty Warriors 8 sports pretty solid game-play, if it isn’t at all new or innovative. Players take control of any of dozens of unique playable officers and defeat hundreds or thousands of enemies in a struggle for control over a huge map.

The combat is fairly nuanced and the huge number of different weapons and the ability to switch between two during battles spices things up. There are dozens of different kinds of weapons, and possibly hundreds of variations on them. Each character has an affinity for certain kinds of weapons, which adds some structure to the system. The weapons also have an affinity related to each other (such as Man, Heaven or Earth), but I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this.

The combos your character has access to depend on which weapon they have equipped and the ability to switch weapons on the fly makes the button mashing less tedious than in some previous series entries. You can also equip characters with various skills which add great bonuses like increased attack and defense, musou recovery or enhanced item drop rates. Characters level up by completing battles and grabbing experience point boosts dropped by significant enemy generals.

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Each character has access to a whopping four super attacks. There are more than 70 characters in the game, so that’s nearly 300 unique, show stopping finishers to collect and see. This must be some kind of record for the series. In battle, strategy is more important than ever. I mentioned earlier how meeting certain conditions in battle would change the outcome of certain events.

Helping a certain character escape or keeping a certain character from being killed can have interesting consequences. The new “What if” branching scenarios add a ton of replay value to the game and they make truly “completing” even one of the three main campaigns a very lengthy endeavor.

One unique thing about this game is how useful your generals and bodyguards are. In this kind of game, the bodyguards and the NPC generals typically tend to just kind of stand there while you do all the work. That isn’t so in Dynasty Warriors 8. Letting your generals get killed could result in you being overrun by an impenetrable mob of enemies and your eventual defeat.

Keeping the morale of your forces high and keeping any general from getting jumped has a very positive and noticeable effect on the flow of a battle. If your morale is high and you’re doing well, your generals will meet your effort and conquer bases, slay enemy generals and eventually clear the entire map (save for the stage boss) of enemy units. This is the most effective AI the series has seen so far.

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You collect weapons, experience points and money throughout each battle. Money is used to purchase weapons from vendors, but I really didn’t have a need for this service since the weapons dropped during battles were more than sufficient. Battles are chock full of events and conditions that need to be met before you can proceed to the stage boss. Destroy the ballista, lower the draw bridge, defeat all the gate keepers, ram the blockades, and so on and so forth. These distractions make the game feel like more than just a mindless beat’em up and they add depth to the stages.

Often times there are numerous ways to go about finishing a battle and strategy comes in here as well. You can go straight down the middle of the map and risk every confronting every enemy between you and the enemy (which may result in one of your generals getting killed), or you can go at the exposed rear flank, bypassing many lines of defense and overwhelming the confused foes. These choices are especially crucial in the game’s hard modes, which I’m pleased to announce are actually very challenging.

In true series tradition, Dynasty Warriors 8 is crammed full of content. The gallery mode allows you to view character models, listen to their dialogue, keep track of your stats from battles and even examine weapon models and view cutscenes. The encyclopedia goes into great detail about the events in the story, the relationships and histories between the characters and the significance of certain battles and events.

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The story campaigns could take upwards of 12 hours apiece to complete (I’ve so far clocked 11 hours in Wei’s campaign and am just unlocking the alternate route), and that goes without mentioning the lengthy ambition mode or the free mode. Unlocking all the characters, fully completing all the campaigns, clearing ambition mode, filling up the gallery and unlocking all of the weapon could honestly take hundreds of hours. Let’s not even get into the trophies or clearing all of the difficulty settings.

As always you can enjoy the entire game with a second player for splitscreen action. This game also brings back Dynasty Warriors 7’s online co-op mode, and players can complete missions together. Unfortunately, there were so few people playing whenever I was that I didn’t get to extensively test this mode, but I’ve heard that it works pretty well.

Any gripe I have with Dynasty Warriors 8 is very minor. The game is in no way spectacular, but the developers have definitely honed the series formula to a fine edge. This is a hit or miss kind of title and series. I can’t imagine any existing series fan being unhappy with this and at the same time this game is very unlikely to woo anyone who hasn’t liked the other games.

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Dynasty Warriors 8 delivers the full DW suite. Dozens and dozens of playable characters, stages, weapons, cutscenes, skills and unlockables await those willing to invest hundreds of hours of hacking and slashing into this game. These stories have been told a bajillion times before, but the series has never looked this good, the combat is relatively rich and you can enjoy a huge campaign and the free mode with local and online co-op. If you’ve played this series before, then you should already have a good idea of what you’re getting here. If you haven’t played the series before, then Dynasty Warriors 8 is as good a place as any to start.