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Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires Review – PC

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I like Dynasty Warriors games, and the Empires games have always been my favorites. In honor of the first Empires installment to make it to Steam, a review just felt right. It sprinkles just enough hints of strategy and RPG into my psuedo-historical Chinese murder simulator hack-and-slash gameplay to really draw me into the game and keep me playing. However, this is the fifth Empires game in the series, and Dynasty Warriors is not known for breaking the mold with every new installment. Is it worth the buy? Let’s take a look in this Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires review.


 

GAMEPLAY

Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires isn’t breaking into some unknown new territory for the series, but the gameplay isn’t bad. Empires mode lets you choose one of DW8E‘s many historical characters or your own created character and take them into the fray. DW8E let’s you choose from a number of historical scenarios, a random scenario, or a custom scenario where the player sets every territory and faction. Once you’ve chosen your character and scenario, the gameplay will move to the map.

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Characters are either free officers/vagabonds, officers serving a ruler, or a ruler of an empire.  The options you have are dependent upon your standing. Free officers/vagabond units can move to different areas on the map, interact with any officer, and take quests from around the region that vary from killing stray wolves to assassinating a ruler of an empire. Officers have actions that vary depending on their standing in the country they serve, but they’re allowed to help gain resources for a ruler, defend the empire from attacks, and eventually rule a section of the empire as a prefect or have say on the entire empire as a strategist or military marshal.

Interacting with other officers is important, as your friendships can lead to someone joining you as a vagabond or accepting an invitation to serve your ruler. When you get close enough to another officer, you can offer to share an oath to become sworn siblings. In-game, this simply means this officer will never change to a different faction than the one you’re on; if you change rulers or declare a rebellion, your sworn sibling will always support you. Likewise, you can marry an officer of the opposite sex with the same benefit. Marriage does provide the nifty perk of a randomly generated child based on the parents, who ages in soap opera time to become playable after in-game time passes. Once you’ve cleared the scenario, you can save the child to your list of custom characters and edit them freely. While this game has more female characters than older entries in the series, there’s still a justified disparity in the sexes, so your male characters have limited options for companionship while your female characters have all of China’s men to choose from.

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Battles are pretty straightforward. Each side has a main camp, with supply lines to other bases noted on the map. You murder your way through the bases until you have a connected supply line to the enemy camp,  which brings out the commanding officer you need to kill for invasion missions. Smaller raids have no commanding officer, so you simply conquer the enemy’s main camp like any other base: murder the troops until none are left, as the number on the top of the above screenshot shows. 232 more bodies and I get that base. Defend missions are simple “survive for five minute” missions, and the quests have more unique goals.

You do have smaller stratagems that you can use during a fight to heal or raise your attack, which is a nice carryover from the seventh Empires installment. Additionally, you carry two different weapons that have affinities (Heaven, Earth, Man), which is used in a Paper-Rock-Scissors system to battle enemy officers: weapons with advantage do more damage and can unleash a large attack after a lot of damage is done, while disadvantaged weapons allow the enemy to perform these attacks on you while they barely feel your blows. Battling feels simple, as befitting a good murderfest, with your basic combos flowing nicely with your charge attacks and special attacks. Notifications during battles aren’t very helpful though, constantly displaying incorrect information like “A raid against your forces has been successful” after you’ve raided an enemy, and “One minute left!” when the clock hits five minutes (Of which, apparently the notification is correct). Whoever handled that area of the game needs to be fired for incompetence.

On the whole, I’m giving gameplay a 3 out of 5. It’s fun; it’s solid, but it doesn’t break the mold and it isn’t perfect.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND

There’s very little to touch on, here. The stages are very pretty, and the game has a seasons system in place so that you will see changes over time on the battlefield. With areas that have sunbeams through the trees on the battlefield, DW8E isn’t lacking there. However, while pretty, some character textures are dated. The playable cast from the core Dynasty Warriors games look wonderful, but generic officers and enemies will sometimes have terrible eye-bulges or large heads.The lack of easy screenshotting in the game means that I was unfortunately unable to get a great shot of when this occurs, but the large-eyed horror is most evident on generic strategist/minister-looking officers. And of course, the many, many, maaaaaany soliders you kill aren’t the best looking of folk.

Player-created officers have a wonderful assortment of equipment to choose from, but pieces of equipment that would make an outfit (like an armor crest or sash) did not get loving care. With all of the custom pieces, I can understand if they don’t hold up to very close inspection when you’ll rarely notice, but it is disappointing when you do. Custom characters also have head-shots of varying quality: the image that pops up in a battle with a custom character can appear passable or hideous, with only an empty silhouette to represent custom officers speaking during empire part of the game. It’s mostly little things with custom characters, but they do stand out. Texture filtering helps a great deal though.

The music is enjoyable, with familiar themes appearing and the option to fight to older tracks in-game. The game does only have Japanese voices though, with English subtitles. This is unfortunate, as the core games did have English VAs and it can slow you down reading a subtitle in combat as opposed to just listening. However, VA quality with DW games has always been hit-or-miss, so maybe we dodged a bullet. Fans enjoy noting some of the spectacular work from the third game.

Another 3 out of 5. Beautiful in parts, which makes the less polished sections stand out.

CONTROLS

Dynasty Warriors has always had a pretty simple control scheme, and it works. Basic attacks with one button that combo with a charge attack on the other button, your special attack (called a musou attack, for the curious), jumping, etc. Honestly, I wouldn’t even mention the controls here except that remapping the controls is a massive pain for a controller. All prompts on menus are given with keyboard shortcuts, which isn’t helpful at all. You have to basically experiment. To remap your controller, you have to find a button that isn’t being used, because attempting to remap to a button already assigned gives you an error instead of simply overwriting the control. Also, the game does not inform you that jump is the cancel button and musou is the confirm button on menus, so remapping those buttons will be a massive headache when you try to leave the options screen. It’s entirely more frustrating than it needs to be, especially in 2015, and will leave you swearing.

2 out of 5. A simple control scheme that is enjoyable, once you’ve dragged your genitals through broken glass to make it work.

REPLAYABILITY

Empires is a very replayable game, and that’s a big part of it’s charm. The game has a huge cast of playable characters (a gargantuan cast if you include the generic officers) for you to play with and try out, all looking to help conquer and unite China. The Edit mode in this game is worlds ahead of the others in the series, as you can also customize soldiers, warhorses, and even banners with an custom .jpg on your computer. Yes, I had an army with giant Dickbutt banners, and it made me happy to conquer China for the internet’s glory.

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The game also lets you create completely custom scenarios, which can be shared. You can assign rulers and how many territories they have, how strong a country is, vagabond units and free officers that reside in these areas, and then even give it a lovely title and description. Every time you play with a custom officer, their way of life changes over the course of gameplay, which will reflect how they act as computer characters. I’m not sure what High Spirited Commander means for one of my custom units, Lu Vi, but so far he’s spanked me once on the higher difficulties, so maybe it has something to do with that. Additionally, subsequent playthroughs allow you to use bonus points to boost your character, unlocking all the weapons you’d previously purchased, boosting your starting level and resources, and so on.

Unfortunately though, events to really add spice and flavor to each playthrough are lacking. While the historical scenarios have a historical fight thrown in, that’s really the most exciting thing that I’ve seen happen. Events from the previous games, like being crowned Emperor, declaring officers of your army as your five grand generals, and so forth, don’t seem to be part of the game anymore. Aside from your sworn sibling oaths and marriage, the only events I’ve seen have been my sovereign walking through a town and a very short speech given before the final invasion. The ending video is a sepia-toned replay of these small videos, each of which requires a loading screen to be replayed at you, with a final speech by your ruler. Compared to the endings of say, Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires,  or the often humorous endings that came with Dynasty Warriors 4 Empires, which had multiple possible cutscenes featuring your officers, this game feels really lacking. A  lot of game, but not much heart and soul from the previous games was added.

4 out of 5. It’s gonna take a long time to say you’ve done everything, but beating the game with a differently named generic bearded guy after all of the other characters isn’t really an accomplishment.


Overall? Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires is a solid, if unambitious title to introduce people to the Empires series through Steam. It has an impressive array of characters and replayability, but the game has nothing to help it make a claim for best entry in the Empires series. Poor menu optimization marks this as a lazy port to PC, graphic disparity between the generic and custom officers with the core cast is notable in places, and the lack of English voices may be a turn-off to some. The game is solid though, and features very rich customization that has come a long way from when it was first introduced. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s worth the current price tag.

David’s Overall Rating – Grab it on a Steam Sale, definitely. On a random Tuesday, not so much. 3 out of 5.

About David A. Reeves

David is a 25 year old graduate with a BA in English, and he's wondering how all of this adult stuff crept up on him. He has a large love of Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy, a lack of budget sense during Steam sales, and is involved in an abusive relationship with the MMO genre. Outside of gaming, David can be found reading books with swords and magic, suffering from writer's block on that story he said he'd write, enjoying a hookah or a beer with friends, and trying not to say anything inappropriate despite the overwhelming urge. He's an odd fellow.

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