domstercool's Dynasty Warriors 8 (Xbox 360) review

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Dynasty Warriors 8 is the best entry in the mainline series to have ever been conceived.

I first discovered the Dynasty Warriors franchise through Dynasty Warriors 4. It was one of my first imported games from America (I had an imported PS2 because I wanted to play Suikoden III at the time), and I was in love with the open-scale battlefield and the amount of soldiers you could hack down. It managed to make the player feel like an over-powered battlelord that could only be touched by other battlelords. The game was brilliant fun. It’s pretty crazy to think that we are only on number eight in the main series, since there always seems to be a Warriorgame of some sort every year.

What I find amusing is that people on the outside who don’t play these games just shun them as rehashes of the same old thing, and that isn’t technically true. Dynasty Warriors is a game that Tecmo Koei has one target in mind with – the fans. It doesn’t try changing the game drastically to appeal to new audiences or capture the “Call of Duty player,” but instead it experiments, listens to fan feedback, and then alters this for future instalments. With Dynasty Warriors 8, it seems that Tecmo Koei has hit a lot of the right things fans will be happy with.

Most people already know the story for Dynasty Warriors, but if you have been sleeping under a rock or for some other reason don’t know what it is about, then here is a quick summary for you. Dynasty Warriors takes place in China during the period of the Three Kingdoms, a time in history which was full of war between the three main kingdoms of Wu, Shu and Wei, as each one tried their best to rule over the land. Dynasty Warriors allows you to take control of a historical person from one of those kingdoms (and the option of the smaller fourth army of Jin) and tells the story of the era through exaggerated takes on the historical military and political actions of the large-scale battles during this time period. It makes for a very good book, too.

Jumping into the story mode is probably the best way to start, thanks to the detailed tutorial that outlines all the mechanics you’ll ever need to know. Once through that (which is all optional), you can jump into one of the four campaigns selected from the classic list (the other group is unlocked later on and features individual stages for each “Other” character). In here, you’ll play through the most important battles for that selected kingdom. Rather than limiting the story to a character, Dynasty Warriors 8 offers between three or four characters to pick from per stage. This offers freedom, but at the same time gives the player a chance to get a feel for each of the 70+ characters that exist in this game. Everyone will find their favourite, and that’s a decision that comes into play in a new game mode that I’ll speak about later on.

There’s not much to note about how Story Mode pans out. The mission structure is simple to understand, often resulting in the player needing to kill someone, defend an area or reach a destination. Occasionally you’ll have to backtrack to base or go to a specific point to protect a commander who is in need of help, but for the most part, you’ll be fine following the green squares flashing on the mission map. One thing I did notice about the missions in Story Mode is that some offer chances to branch the story off in a different direction. Tecmo Koei calls this a “what if” scenario, which will lead to a new mission stage. You can see all the branching paths and what missions access these by looking at the Stage Select screen in Story Mode.

Outside of Story Mode, you have the newly included Ambition mode, in which you select a hero and are given a task to create a home base called the “Tongquetai Tower” to welcome the emperor to your “unknown” settlement. To be able to build new buildings or improve them, players need to participate in battles, which can be selected from a choice of four when you leave the base. There are three types of missions: skirmish, raid and the typical large-scaleDynasty Warriors battles. Each battle you successfully win will offer resources, fame, or additional heroes to help your base or support you in future battles by being bodyguards. A relationship metre is in play with your bodyguards, offering better bonuses as you grow your friendship with them. Ambition Mode is a nice inclusion and gives players a very swiftly paced reward system. As the missions become tougher, the rewards get better, but you’ll often find your health getting low, as healing is only replenished in limited amounts after each mission. It’s a welcome addition to the norm, and will last you a while to see everything it has to offer.

Fans will be stoked to know that Free Mode has returned to the series. This is a huge bonus, since your character progression carries on from each of Dynasty Warriors 8’s game modes. In Free Mode, you can replay any stage and take part in the battle on any side of the war. It’s best to play through Story Mode first, as levels are locked until you have arrived at them in Story Mode. It’s another example of Omega Force and Tecmo Koei getting feedback from fans and putting back in the things they loved about previous Dynasty Warriors games.

Combat, the meat of the game, is what has been given the biggest upgrade. Long gone is the recycled weapon usage of characters, as each character now has its own unique main weapon and move set. This is huge, since there are over 70 characters, meaning a lot of variety. Characters can take two weapons into battle and can switch between these with an easy press of the RB button. This can be chained into combos, as pressing RB will initiate a mini-combo before switching over to the other weapon. Every hero has a preferred weapon, and when this weapon is used, that hero is given an EX attack that is triggered with an easy combo. EX attacks are powerful moves that will hit everyone close to the hero – very good for crowd control.

There are a tonne of weapons, and some of them will make you laugh with their insanity. One of my favourites is the metal boat – yes, you heard that right. Whoever is equipped with it will smack people in the face…with a metal boat – just let that sink in for a moment. If you do the right combos, then the hero will begin to surf on the ground at high speed. The EX attack includes a massive wave of water that arises from the ground, with the hero enjoying a quick surf on top as it takes out any soldier standing in its way. It’s hilarious! There are some genuinely exciting weapons to use here, and you’d have to have something wrong with you if you don’t find one that suits you.

Weapon affinities are something new in Dynasty Warriors 8, and can be one of three: Earth, Heaven or Man. This is a rock-paper-scissors mechanic that is put into play between all the major characters. This offers advantages or disadvantages in battle when fighting with the other commanders. If your affinity is weaker, an exclamation point will hang above the enemy’s head, and this translates into doing less-than-normal damage. If your own weapon is the stronger alignment, then a blue symbol will appear that will slowly break down when the enemy is hit. Once the symbol is smashed, the enemy is put into a state where a Storm Rush can be performed – which is basically a fury of swipes at the loser commander, who can’t do anything but hover in the air and take the damage.

Combat improvements don’t stop there, as you can also now counter attack the enemy. When commanders do their special attack, a green light will shine on their weapon. Pressing the weapon switch button at this time will activate a counter attack that will have your hero perform a small combo and then receive a temporary power-up for a very short time. While this isn’t something you’ll often use on the normal setting, jacking the difficulty up to chaos will mean you’ll have to use it a lot more or risk having your health viciously removed. It’s the same with the inclusion of three musou attacks. Every character now has two ground and one air musou attack to use, along with the Rage metre, which when charged offers the chance to go into Rage state and perform an extremely devastating True Musou attack. One was over 1400 hits, with the finale offering a wave of dead bodies falling from the sky. It’s the ultimate destruction attack and will make anyone ask the question “what the heck?!” with a nice chuckle of enjoyment at the end.

Emphasis on replayability is what Dynasty Warriors 8 strives for, and there is a lot here to keep people interested for a long time. It’s all about progression and levelling up. Every character has its own level, which means you’ll have to play them a while before unlocking all their moves and features. One thing I really liked was how the skills are done this time around. Skills have their own level, with higher-level skills offering more bonuses in that particular category. Now, in some games, skills would level-up from use, but not in Dynasty Warriors 8. Each skill in this game requires the player to do a specific task to level it up. One might require you to beat a general who has an affinity stronger than yours, or to beat a general when you are in the attack x2 state. This skill mechanic makes the combat more engrossing, as you no longer are awarded for brainless button mashing. I’m not saying you can’t do that, since Dynasty Warriorsis a staple for brainless action, but this adds depth to people who want reward, and a lot of that goes towards all these new mechanics that have been added to the game. As I mentioned, power-ups – speed, defence and attack – all make a return with their 30-second temporary boost, but gold and weapon drops are a lot more often, and it’s rare you’ll ever finish a level without getting a new weapon or two. There is a tonne of content to enjoy in Dynasty Warriors 8, which is something that the series has never fallen short on.

While I have a lot of praise for this new entry, that doesn’t mean it isn’t without its problems – especially the 360 version that I was playing for this review. The 360 version has some awful slowdown at points. I never went through a mission without some sort of slow-mo turning on and affecting the game’s speed. It’s not like it jerks; instead, it is as if everything is moving through treacle. It’s even worse in split-screen cooperative play, in which about 70% of the battle was spent at half the speed. From what I am hearing, the PS3 version has none of these problems, so it seems to be an issue with the game running on Xbox 360. It reminds me of the time when Warriors Orochi 2 suffered a similar problem but thankfully was fixed soon after launch. I really hope this is the same situation, because it spoils the game. I wholeheartedly recommend getting the PS3 version instead if you’re in the position to, because I’m marking down this version by a point for the horrid slowdown. (Update: Slowdown is now fixed, woo!).

Graphically, the games have never been a technical showpiece. The developers sacrifice graphics to push as many soldiers as possible to flood the battlefield. The main characters look good and are probably the best graphics featured within the game. Their unique animation sets move well, and the combat with them is fluid enough. The rest is quite barebones. Environments look plain and lack content, and all generic soldiers look like they could belong in a PS2 game, but that’s never hurt the series before and I personally don’t think it does now. It might not be a looker, but it has its own sense of style.

I safely believe that Dynasty Warriors 8 is the best entry in the mainline series to have ever been conceived. All the upgrades to the combat and the new features are what were needed to keep the series going forward. It manages to smartly add new things without disrupting the core concept of the game, which is surely what people who like these games are after. For haters, this won’t do anything to change your perception of the franchise, but Tecmo Koei isn’t after you. What Tecmo Koei are doing is caring for their fans, and they have listened to what they want and delivered a fantastic Dynasty Warriors experience. Maybe other companies should follow suit, because is there anything else you can ask from a company that listens?

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