Monday, March 16, 2015

Press Start: Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires Review

In gaming and reviewing be like fire.

Developers: Omega Force
Publishers: Tecmo Koei
Genre: Hack and Slash, Strategy
Platforms: Playstation 3 (digital download), Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC

Back in December 2014, I put Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires on my Most Anticipated Games of 2015 list. Just recently, I downloaded a digital copy, and played enough of it to get a good idea of what the game is like. I figured since I put it on that list, it warranted a game review. This review will work much like my Gamer’s Frontier, with categories on concept, graphics, sound, and gameplay. Let’s get started!

Story and Concept
Your war room. Where you plot world domination.

The Dynasty Warriors franchise is loosely based on the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms (which is loosely based on Chinese history). The games are retellings of the novels, which detail the Three Kingdoms period of China. The player takes control of one of many characters as you singlehandedly mow down entire armies alongside your comrades. DW8 Empires takes the characters of DW8 and replaces the usual story mode with Empire Mode, where the goal is world domination. Or rather, Chinese domination.

The character creation is amazing. I enjoyed creating my own army from scratch.

The absence of an overall story mode is actually a good thing, as it gives a whole lot more freedom to the player. You can play a normally benevolent character as a malicious jackass, or vice versa. You can be a tyrannical despot or a virtuous monarch. Its much like a create your own adventure game, where you can shape your own path alongside a cast of colorful characters. My only complaint is that the pre-set scenarios feel a bit restricted, but other than that, the concept is solid.

Graphics and Design
This scene doesn't look very good. Its awesome, but looks doesn't look good.

In an era with gorgeous games like The Order 1886, DW 8 Empires is pretty ugly by comparison. Its character models are fine, but its levels and backgrounds are very basic and unimpressive. This is understandable, as Musou games usually sacrifice graphical brilliance to maximize the number of troops on screen, and if having simple backgrounds is the price to pay, then I’m fine. However, one thing I can’t look past is how the frame rate drops consistently when the screen gets crowded. Its one thing to have a simple looking game, but its another when your console can’t run that simple looking game. I’ve only played the PS3 version, so I don’t know if its an issue across all platforms, but its still inexcusable regardless.

Sound and Music

A large part of the music of DW 8 Empires is lifted straight from Dynasty Warriors 8 and Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends. As per usual for DW games, it consists of contemporary rock with the occasion Chinese instrument thrown in. Despite how anachronistic the soundtrack is, its still a stellar line-up of killer tracks. Each one is a great instrumental, and gets your blood pumping like nothing else. However, I have to mention that this game has no English voice acting, and that every word of dialogue is spoken in Japanese. While I was never a fan of DW’s dubs, having no English dub is a hindrance, especially when the print you read is so tiny.

Zhou Tai proving that numbers don't matter.
DW 8 Empires features the same combat system of DW 8. It involves the player using both normal and charge attacks to decimate enemy armies with a huge variety of weapons and special Musou Attacks. It also features the return of Rage Attacks, where all your combat parameters are boosted, and the rock-paper-system of weapon supremacy. Empires throws in two new gameplay features: stratagems, special powers that can things from healing allies to setting up turrets, and bases, special places on the map that can augment your forces in a variety of ways.

A sample strategy session. These can take up a most of the game, believe it or not.

A good deal of the game takes place outside of battle. Here, you can manage your own kingdom by constructing new buildings, cementing alliances, improving friendship among your ranks, and recruiting new officers to your cause. If you don’t want to play the ruler, you can still play as an officer under a ruler and work your way up or play as an independent officer and go on your own journey. Players can even arrange political marriages to keep the peace.

Riding horses, kicking ass, and taking names. Just another day in the Musou franchise.

Its just as fun to mow down armies in this game, especially with the officers you yourself created. However, there a number of issues. For one, the combat feels restricted from past titles, as its much harder to fill up your Rage and Musou gages, which is what made the combat in Dynasty Warriors 8 so fun. Another is that stratagems, outside the large scale ones, don’t seem to do much to effect the battle. I went entire battles without using a single stratagem and I still crush the opponent. While battles are still mindless fun, it seems rather stripped down from previous installments.

"Who says a woman has to be week?" indeed...

Surprisingly, my favorite part of the game was managing my kingdom. I actually had fun giving my subordinates orders about how they should their own territories and expanding my empire through conquest and alliances. However my biggest complaint about the management is that its pretty shallow. It only seems to scratch the surface of how strategic this game could be. I felt that the strategy could have been a whole lot deeper: like you could redistrict your kingdom or build multiple armies or develop your domestic economy. Honestly, the strategy sessions feel like a stripped down version of Nobunaga’s Ambition, a series I actually like.

I’m honestly disappointed by this game. Yes, its fun to destroy entire armies with a simple combo, and yes, managing your kingdom is enjoyable, but the whole experience feels barebones. Its still enjoyable if you’re a Musou fan, but its not one of the better titles of the series.

6.5/10 - Decent

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