Dynasty Warriors 8’s ambition is to break free of the stigma of its predecessors repetitive “hit square repeatedly and kill everything” mechanics and make everything fresh again, and for the most part it does this rather successfully. Boasting a completely new Story Mode, hypothetical situations, over 70 characters, new combat mechanics and completely redone stages, Dynasty Warriors 8 is a breath of fresh air for the series.
Based upon the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novel, Dynasty Warriors 8 is set in feudal China and follows the paths of the three kingdoms and heroes of Wei, Wu and Shu, as well as the Jin Dynasty and other characters who played prominent roles in the period. The Story Mode for Dynasty Warriors 8 has been revamped, you start by choosing a side, you are then told some back story on that kingdom and given a cut scene to get you up to speed on what battle will be happening next. Different from Dynasty Warriors 7, you now get to choose from up to four different officers to play as in each upcoming battle. Playing as each of these officers throughout Story Mode unlocks them for play in all other modes of the game.
A feature mentioned by Atsushi Miyauchi in an Aussie-Gamer interview, the ‘What If’ mode turns out to be a hypothetical storyline contained within Story Mode, rather than its own mode. This is O.K. though, as unlocking the hypothetical storylines in the game becomes rather rewarding, and is made easier to work out using the stage select option in Story Mode, where conditions for unlocking hypothetical battles can be found (after finishing the story itself, of course). Officers who died in certain battles all of a sudden find themselves in the mix of future battles, as well as revisits to past battles not contained within the Story Mode are there to find also. It’s a fun mode to play, especially for Dynasty Warriors veterans looking for a change up in the story.
There are over 70 different characters to be found in the game, and each character now has the ability to equip any weapon found in the game. Of course, each character has their own signature weapon that they hold as their own favourite, but the introduction of elements being attached to weapons brings in a new strategy not found in previous iterations. Heaven, Earth and Man form a kind of “rock, paper scissors” effect on weapons, where an enemy captain may have an Earth weapon that is strong against yours, forcing you to switch to another weapon to hopefully slay him better. While it brings a new level of strategy to the game, the ability to change between two weapons of different elements at will makes it unfair against AI opponents, as the AI is unable to change their weapon against you as well.
Other aspects of your characters includes the ability to level them up through battles, as well as meeting certain conditions in battle to find upgrades for certain abilities you can then apply to any character you wish. As an example, killing an enemy officer on horseback may build on an ability called “Equestrian”, which increases your character’s ability to ride on horseback when equipped. There are over 100 different abilities you can unlock, so finding the perfect ones to suit your gameplay style is very fun indeed.
A new gameplay element introduced to Dynasty Warriors 8 is “Rage”, where filling up a rage meter allows you to click on the right stick and become almost god-like for a limited time, attack and defense ramps up, and combining this with your Musou (special) attack when the time is right can bring your kill count and combo counts to the thousands very quickly. Another element introduced is called a “switch kill”, where an enemy is about to strike, switching your weapon at the right time allows your character to dodge and hit a heavy blow on your opponent. This gameplay element alone slows down the need for mashing buttons for the whole battle, while not being necessary for new comers to sit down and destroy entire armies at their will.
An all new mode to Dynasty Warriors 8, and an alternative to the original Story Mode, is Ambition Mode. The ultimate goal for this mode is to create a safe haven for peasants during the war. You fight many battles in order to build up resources, recruit officers, build facilities and increase the popularity of your village in order to gain the attention of the Emporer and gain his respect. You can choose to fight single battles and build your village slowly, or fight multiple battles in a row and risk everything you’ve earned for better gains.
Presentation is generally what you would expect from a Dynasty Warriors game, all officers are intricately detailed and all main officers are voiced wonderfully while secondary officers come with cheesy/bad voices. All Chinese names are pronounced much closer to the vein of how they would actually be announced in China (Cao Cao is pronounced “tsow tsow” rather than “cow cow” for instance). The PlayStation 3 struggles to render entire armies however, as most enemies will pop up when you approach within 50 metres of them, while many enemy officers will not pop up until you’ve actually ran past where they are supposed to be on the map, making judgement on their location hard at times. All is not lost though, as the game retains the awesome rockin’ soundtrack from previous games, and that is never a bad thing.
Koei have done a remarkable job of turning something old into something fresh again. The Story Mode with its hypothetical storylines, the Ambition Mode with its resource collecting and ally making obsessions to the new combat mechanics that can turn even the hardened purists into complete newbies makes this the Dynasty Warriors game to own. With its hardcore soundtrack, ease of play for beginners and co-op abilities, Koei will be hard pressed to top this game.