Round 8â€¦ Fight!
In the opening credits of Dynasty Warriors 8 there is a moment that perfectly encapsulates the series: Zhao Yun, the spear-wielding face of the game, is fighting on a ship when it explodes, sending people and horses flying everywhere. Mid-air, Zhao Yun changes direction, manages to catch a horse in the air, mount it (still in the air) turn it right side up and land at full gallop - charge through hundreds of soldiers. Itâ€™s preposterous, ridiculous, and a red flag for anyone expecting a serious game on Chinese History. Say it with me:
This. Is. Dynasty Warriors.
For the non-initiated, Dynasty Warriors is the Friday the 13th of gaming - a franchise of non stop hack and slash that no one can quite explain as having become such a long lasting franchise. It is, essentially, the same game made over and over againâ€¦ sometimes with attempts at strategy (DW Empires), sometimes with giant space fighting robots (DW Gundam) - but always with so much button mashing. A health warning for your thumb joints should be in place.
Loosely based on the Chinese Epic "Romance of the Three Kingdoms", you can play through several story arcs, as well as taking part in challenge modes and online missions. Do this by yourself or with a friend. A handy Gallery and Encyclopedia are in place to help you make sense of everything.
Story mode follows the adventures of the Kingdoms of Shu, Wu, Wei, and Jin, as well as the miscellaneous shenanigans of major, non-affiliated, characters such as Lu Bu - mightiest warrior in the land, and a bit of a douche. These adventures are exactly the same as they've always been, but new level designs (42 in all), new characters, and decent, if almost panto, voice acting stop things from becoming repetitive. But as always, the hard rock soundtracks are back - just incase you had any illusions about pretending to be an ancient warrior on horseback (or elephant.. or bear).
In fact the gameplay in DW8 is really quite a step up from DW7. Narrative events are now smoothly blended into the missions, players given the choice of selecting from 3 - 4 characters involved in the current storyline. These often begin in a base, allowing for dialogue options, as well as character changes and upgrades via a store.
The physics are a lot smoother in battles too, even if the weapons are becoming more ridiculous (seriously, Drill lances?!). Regardless, the combos really flow into each other, and the overall experience is more satisfying than in previous games. This is also the best looking game of the series, exceptâ€¦
The story structure between missions is appallingly substandard. Not only is there no voice acting, but the presentation is so blatantly cheap that it actually jars you out of the game. Sure, no one plays Dynasty Warriors for the intricate and original plot, but this is either a strange backwards step for the franchise, or a misplaced homage to the PS1.
One new feature though is Ambition mode, which requires you to build a base worthy of receiving the Emperor. How does one build this base? By going into battles constantly and recovering materials. Anyone who enjoyed old "monster trainer" games like Azure Dreams will find it fun, others might see it as pointless. It does work as an alternative way to level up characters - especially using an upgraded Blacksmith to create better weapons, and the merchant to procure more Mounts - but it's not essential for the game.
Looking over my review of Dynasty Warriors 7, I can't help but laugh at how similar my comments are. Here's the thing though - it's fun. Watching the massive character of Lu Bu, riding a bear, slaying warriors with a flute is one of the more fun gaming moments I've had in years. Not jaw-droppingly-awesome, or game-changingly-brilliant. Just fun. And thatâ€™s a Dynasty Warriors game in a nutshell. Big stupid fun.
If you've never liked this series, DW8 won't change your mind. But if you're a fan then write an angry email to Tecmo Koei. Because three months out from PS4 and Xbox One, they've dropped the best Dynasty Warriors yet.