Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires PS4 Review

Ever since the Empires spin-off for Dynasty Warriors were introduced back with Dynasty Warriors 4, the series has been following a stable pattern for each numbered title.  You get the main entry, in this case the great Dynasty Warriors 8. Next is the expansion called Xtreme Legends, normally a separate game that has some built in features for people with the main release (the PS4 received a wonderful port with them bundled together) and then finally the Empires iteration drops, signalling the final entry in that numbered release and one that features a drastically different campaign to the mainline entry. With Koei Tecmo and Omega Force on such a roll with their last few games (Samurai Warriors 4, Hyrule Warriors and Dynasty Warriors 8), surely this latest Empires release should keep the ball rolling?

Unlike what has come before in the eight line of Dynasty Warriors games, the Empires spin-off isn’t jam packed with a lot of modes. Instead, this title is all about playing through the Empire Mode, a feature which throws away the story campaigns of each of the Three Kingdoms factions and instead lets the player pick a starting year, such as beginning in everyone’s favourite Yellow Turban Rebellion of 184 AD, where the land was split into many dynasties, or a later period where the land was closer to unification, with less factions, but bigger armies claiming to be the right one for the job. Empire mode lets you go wild with your conquering ways, changing history into your own, as your selected Chinese warrior or created hero takes on the armies of Three Kingdoms to become the ruler of them all. I do have to admit that I’ll never be as famous as Lu Bu, because Dom Sheard just doesn’t have the same kind of ring to it and I could never put up a decent challenge.

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The concept of being able to twist history around your favourite hero has always been the highlight of the Empires games. Players can pick any of the existing characters that were in the last two Dynasty Warriors 8 games, plus one new playable character of Xun Yu, the strategist who had a role as the advisor to Cao Cao, who uses a staff that can place down small towers that chain together with blue light. After a specific combo those in that area will blow up in a shower of falling men. But, most importantly, the real fun comes from being able to create your own warrior to wreak havoc on the thousands of soldiers on the battlefield.

A bundle of customisation options are available to the player in the Edit mode. Creating a warrior offers such simple options as sex, name, height, weight, but then sliders and smaller options, such as facial marks, offer you control in crafting your ideal warrior. Armour, voice and move sets can be mixed and matched from other officers, or from the new equipment, allowing you to build a warrior that can be based on any move in the game, including musou and rage attacks. It’s not on par with some of the character building options in online RPGs, but there’s enough here to create some great warriors or to build versions of iconic characters.

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Army banners, horses and soldiers can be made as well, and all these can be joint together as a unit to bring full customisation to the game and into Empire Mode. For the full experience, the option to create a scenario exists, and if you don’t want to spend time doing that, then you can download other people’s scenarios (and characters) from the online servers. There are already some amusing scenarios, such as Lu Bu vs All on Chaos difficulty (you will not pursue), which can expand the life of the game past the initial offering.

Empires Mode is a mixture of the combat from Dynasty Warriors 8 and menus that cover the strategic parts when not in battle. There are a few roles that can become of the hero. If you begin as a free officer, then you are limited with options, as you can try increase your army or go on quests to gain cash, materials and a few supporters to join the ranks. Eventually you can merge into an army and take commands from one of the big wigs. But doing that is rather limiting, so unless you want to experience that type of game once, I really don’t see why else you would want to be a submissive officer when you can take control and rule your own army and stomp on everyone who thinks they can take over your land.

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Beginning as a ruler brings much more amusement, as all the options open up to you. The problem with the Empire Mode is that strategic implantation is all simple menus that alter numbers. Categories fill in the left side of the screen, such as Personnel, where you can try lure generals to your side by spending time with them. Military, which allows you to train units or hire more units for cash, politics, offering your army the chance to buy or sell materials, construct facilities, repair a region after an invasion or donate some resources to another region, and lastly, battle, the place to go when wanting to defend from an invasion or do some invading yourself.

As you gain momentum and have access to plenty of resources, building weapon shops can unlock higher quality weapons for your generals, items to equip or new stratagems (abilities) to use in battle. A neat feature is the ability to switch to a different character when going to battle, so you aren’t always left fighting as your leader. Every action takes a month to perform, with a war council happening every six months that updates everyone on the performance. Tasks can be performed for extra rewards and experience, which can be picked from a short list after each war council, giving the player six months to accomplish them. The prospect of ruling all of China is an exciting one, but the way it is done through these menus can be monotonous at times, with the spice coming from random events that happen, such as someone declaring their love to you, making new friends or stopping a general from rebelling against you and taking your hard earned empire from under your nose.

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Combat is ripped straight from the last two games, but the issue I had with the main invading battles is that it’s always the same. People might have feelings that Dynasty Warriors is about mashing buttons against enemies, but to them I’d say there’s more hidden within its depths than what you see on the surface. One thing that added flavour to battles was the story and objectives making each mission a different experience. In Empires, each invading mission is the same. Sure, you’re on a different map, and you can use stratagems to place defence towers, set strongholds on fire and heal team mates, but you always have to take over a control point that links to one that you own, so you can cut off the enemy’s supply route and slowly build your route up to their base and capture for the win. There are no additional objectives to change the flow, and you only need to go back on yourself if the enemy has sneakily managed to capture a point from the other side of the map. Because of this, fighting can become a drag at times. Quests offer these smaller objectives, like protecting a convoy or saving a person from a group of raging tigers, but these are tiny bits on a map that only last a few minutes. These should have been thrown into the other battles.

It doesn’t help that nearly a two year gap sits between Dynasty Warriors 8 and this release. In that time Omega Force has made some smart tweaks to the combat for the better in other games, such as the introduction of the hyper attack in Samurai Warriors 4, so coming back to this feels somewhat of a step back from those improvements. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with Dynasty Warriors 9, as the series producer, Akihiro Suzuki, has come out saying that the ninth instalment needs a revamp. Will they include the improvements from Samurai Warriors 4 or will they keep the combat unique to Dynasty Warriors 9 and come up with something new? Whatever the case, it’s good to know the producer is on the case to move it forward again.

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The lack of improvements is one of the reasons why I am not as stoked about this latest Warriors game, especially after seeing what good Omega Force has done with other games released since Dynasty Warriors 8. Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires feels eerily similar to Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires with all the characters from Dynasty Warriors 8, so if you played that game, then you can probably skip this unimaginative release. If you did skip 7: Empires , then you will find more to enjoy here, especially with the expanded Edit Mode. For me, I was hoping for another good step in the right direction for the series, instead, what we got was a freeze in evolution at a time where Omega Force was on the ball with a streak of great releases.

6 out of 10