It could be argued that Dynasty Warriors has to perform one of the hardest balancing acts of any on-going gaming franchises today. Basically, each game has to keep the same fundamental gameplay mechanics in play while still shaking up the design just enough to make each new entry in the series feel “fresh.” At its core, Dynasty Warriors fulfils every little boy’s power fantasy of being undefeatable in combat; with the heart and soul of the series focused entirely around that idea. As a result, the franchise has mostly rung strongest with its own niche-fanbase, but with the newest entry in the saga, Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires, Koei Tecmo are attempting to add a little more depth to the puddle.
Essentially, Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires can be broken up into two parts: the button mashing combat and the Empire Mode. Empire Mode has you playing as one of the 83 characters from the epic “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” tale, as well as providing players with the option to create their own character. Although, just to clarify, the “Three Kingdoms” more so acts as a setting rather than the storyline itself. The story here is more made up of the choices you make while trying to unify China; with each decision being played out with enough glorious, cheesy dialogue that it would likely make the original Resident Evil proud.
Through Empire Mode, you’ll begin by serving one of the factions or striking out in your own faction. In my opinion, the previous entries in the “Empire” series had mostly left this concept under-developed, so with great joy that I can confirm the idea is more than just a card game of luck this time around. Between battles, you’re given control to manage your armies and lands. In fact, you could almost say that it takes queues from Game Of Thrones as you’ll be required to make deals and betray others in order to make a power grab to the top. Though, unlike the above, these scenes play out through cheesy melodrama – all that’s missing is having the characters stop to wink at the camera.
While playing, the choices you make take one in-game month to play out, with war meetings occurring at set times before each new skirmish. Basically, planning will be the key to your success in each battle. Empires has you playing out a balancing act, using your time to train troops, as well as trying to gain favours from other generals to improve your odds in the next battle. While this will make the battles easier, you’ll still not be in a position of power – this is where you’ll need to start cutting deals or romancing those who are in positions of power. I can’t emphasise the dread of turning up to a war meeting having just wasted all my time trying to get someone to agree to have a cup of coffee.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Dynasty Warriors title without all the hack and slash; which, unsurprisingly, is where this entry shares the same missteps as all the previous entries in the series. The fundamental combat of Dynasty Warriors has been left mostly unchanged for almost 18 years now, so this means the same problems have again been carried across into this instalment too. Never the less, the combat still consists of all those glorious, over the top, flashy attacks that you can do to dozen of mindless minions at once; with the occasional tougher general to fill in the fodder.
Naturally, the same painfully dumb AI, which may or may not be the same few line of codes used from the original game, remains totally intact. Pretty much, you should only expect any real challenges when crossing blades with one of the enemy generals. Minions will offer little to no resistance, which I cannot help but giggle as I plough through them. Generals, on the other hand, are capable of countering your moves and dishing out the same damage. Mixed in with blade clashes and Musou attacks, this series continues to scream out “I am a man!”
Basically, from what I’ve seen, the only major changes in this instalment are with the victory conditions. In the earlier entries, players were simply required to down the enemy leader to win a battle. This time round, however, the game also tasks you with systematically taking camps that act as roadblocks to the territory’s main camp. All the while, you must do this while ensuring your forces don’t die out. At its core, the button mashing mechanics have mostly remained intact, but these new objectives do make the battles feel more reactive. As you make the push on the invasion, you’ll be consistently hounded to save your allies from enemy counter invasions and sneak attacks.
While the strategy portion of Empires has clearly received some attention, the on-field combat seems to have been left behind; again, containing many of the known problems that are consistent throughout the series. For the heavy emphasis Empires 8 places on strategy, I couldn’t help but notice I had very little control of my troops when out on the field. Countless times, I’d find myself completely surrounded but still have my allies calling for my assistance. The option to be able to call another squad to deal with an issue would have been greatly welcomed. Control on the battlefield, while more expanded upon in Empires 8, is still very limited.
The issues don’t just stop at the battlefield, however, with the most disappointing of all being with the game’s presentation. Environmental textures and layouts look horribly outdated, even by Playstation 2 standards, yet characters look heavily detailed and varied. The hills on the battlefields and even the walls have sharp points with no smooth curves, making every battlefield look unnatural. Fortunately, this inconsistency doesn’t carry across into soundtrack, which has often stood tall as a crowning jewel of the Dynasty Warrior series. You could even say the soundtrack is a love letter to Dynasty games of old, with tracks returning from as far back as the original. Unsurprisingly, the voice acting is as shamelessly over the top as always, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires tries to keep a very niche fan-base happy while attempting to lure in fresh blood with the deeper strategy components found in its Empire Mode. Fans of the Dynasty series will get what they’ve always gotten: glorious, over the top battles and a cheesy story. Strategy fans, on the other hand, might find hours of entertainment with the almost endless amount of choices that are possible throughout a run on Empire Mode. At the end of the day, it’s hard to recommend this game to anyone who isn’t a fan of the core Dynasty Warriors experience. However, if you’re a fan of strategy games whose also curious about the series, it could be your best opportunity yet to try it out.