There is something rather cathartic about it, isn’t there? I mean, there must be. Dynasty Warriors 8. Eight. You don’t get to eight titles by being a bad game. Actually it’s more than 8 when you think about it. Pile on top the Fists of the North Stars, Bladestorm: The Hundred Years War, the Samurai’s, the Orochi’s and the Gundams and you’ve got a huge swath of mob-squash games. And those are just the ones from Tecmo Koei…
So what does a franchise do when it gets to entry number eight? To be honest, I expected very little. Dynasty Warriors does tinker with its foundations in its various offshoots – the Empires throw in a little more RTS, for instance – but through this outside experimentation, the core franchise has remained somewhat vanilla in flavour. Which is why I expected Dynasty Warriors 8 to be an absolutely unashamed return to what the series does “best”. A field, some enemies, and a whole lot of hackin’ and slashin’.
And it is. Well, mostly. There are a few new tweaks and additions but pretty much, yeah, it’s Dynasty Warriors. With some extras. But it’s the same core concept. It is all presented in an unwavering 60 Frames per second mind, can’t argue about that part…
So what’s actually new? Let’s cover that first. 10 new playable characters (the full roster is somewhere in the region of 80 – 90) and 40 “new” stages make for some strong back-of-box facts, while “what if?” branching narratives allow Omega Force to explore new avenues of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms tale that they’ve been re-tracing for years. Considering that the quality of the dialogue is certainly faithful to past iterations of the franchise, I’m not sure if that’s such a blessing…
The new Ambition Mode, on the other hand, is a blessing. This mode is independent to the core story and introduces a nice spot of agency for the player. This isn’t a grand strategy enterprise, al a Empires, but it’s a mode that adds a diverting spot of architecture in between the mass-murder. You take the role of any hero you choose and stand in front of a part-built Tongquetai. You then have to go out and fight, bringing back resources from your conflicts to expand your little village and build your big castle. It doesn’t change the way combat works, but it adds a cute, compelling framework that feels more rewarding than the achingly arduous story modes (though you can play story mode online now, which is nice).
The changes don’t stop there, as Dynasty Warriors 8 introduces a few new elements into the narrative of its most important aspect – its combat. Shocking, I know. Over-powered EX attacks remain from Dynasty Warriors 7, and will become anyone’s most used attack within five minutes, while a Rage mechanic gives players another crutch to fall on should they take one too many heavy hits. Once the rage bar is full you can enter a state of pure power and carve through hundreds of enemies without a care for getting hurt. Cathartic indeed. The other big change to the rhythm of combat is the addition of Weapon Affinity, Switch Counters and Storm Rushes.
Put simply, each weapon has an affinity (Heaven, Earth and Man). Approaching an enemy general when you’re armed with a weapon that’s weak against his means you will have the ability to activate a “Switch Counter” in combat by tapping R1 just as they power up an attack, but you will take more damage from them should they hit you with their dominant weapon. Conversely, the Storm Rush can be activated when your weapon is of the stronger affinity. A blue diamond appears above the commanders head and is depleted as you attack them, and on its expiry you will launch into a whirlwind of swings known as a Storm Rush, pulling in any enemies in the vicinity.
Now, these may only be two extra bits of punctuation in the grand tale of a Dynasty Warriors battle but they’re two surprisingly compelling concepts that feed perfectly into the sheep dog nature of Dynasty Warriors’ combat.
Picture the scene. You’re approaching a huge group of enemies and amongst the rabble you spot a general, identified by a glinting red mark. A strong affinity means strong damage for you, but it also presents the allure of a Switch Counter. Instead of just wading into the group ego-first, you lure the general out, coaxing him, interested more in the proficiency with which you can dispense everyone.
Then you see it, the glint of blue on his hilt. R1! Switch Counter. The counter hits the general into a juggle state and switches you to a weapon with a strong affinity, meaning attacking the general for long enough now will activate a Storm Rush. You get fancy with a combo and give the general some last minute flying lessons before his demise and then boom, Storm Rush! Every enemy around is pulled in to the onslaught, your combo meter going crazy with every slash. 30, 40, 60, 80 hits, but that’s not your last trick because boosh! Musou attack! An almighty flame erupts and fries every minion from the group in one swing, scattering them around the battlefield like charred confetti.
Sure, doing that time and time again doesn’t fix any of Dynasty Warriors 8′s problems with repetition, but it’s a pleasant expansion on the game’s systems that capitalises on the raw amusement spectacle of killing lots of guys while chalking up eyebrow- hoisting combo strings. The simple addition of a counter mechanic was welcomed by me in particular, but the focus here is on entertainment; Dynasty Warriors hasn’t become Ninja Gaiden over night.
Aside from that this is exactly the Dynasty Warriors you know. The same bad voice acting, constant enemy waves, questionable music, enemies appearing from thin air, occasionally awkward horse mounting, don’t pursue Lu Bu…
VERDICT: This is the best entry in the Dynasty Warriors series purely by the law of evolution. Nothing has truly changed a great deal but new additions to combat gel well with the outrageous, barbaric choreography. There are plenty of modes and while none advance the systems drastically, Ambition mode does a good job of framing the endless head-smulching with some personal construction-based triumphs.
So if you’re the sort that reads the franchise name and scrunches your face in disgust then I can confidently say that Dynasty Warriors 8 is not going to do much to alter your facial composition. That said, if you’re of the mindset to enjoy Dynasty Warrior’s cathartic mass-murder clean-up operations then Dynasty Warriors 8 will satisfy your need to rid oversized maps of dirty red spots, and it will do it with the sort of penaché and “charm” that only Dynasty Warriors is capable of. The music’s still awful though. Really, really awful.
DECENT. A 6/10 indicates that, while this game could be much better, it still has a fair amount to offer the player. It might be an interesting title sabotaged by its own ambition, or a game denied greater praise by some questionable design choices. Don’t avoid it outright, but approach it with caution.