This is a review I’ve really struggled to write; Dynasty Warriors 8 is a title that I don’t quite understand and really don’t know how to judge. The series has been huge in regards to its widespread fan-base as well as sales, and these pre-established fans are the ones that will get the most of this latest release. For anyone else, it’s really quite difficult to recommend in any way. At all.
From what I can tell through some Wikipedia research (because Wikipedia is best-ipedia), each of these games are based on the same historical novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. To directly quote the best-ipedia, “It is arguably the most widely read historical novel in late imperial and modern China”, so that’s a bit of big deal. That every games’ characters and plot are derived from the same source is baffling to me – it would appear that DW8 (pronounced ”dweight”) tells the same story as each of its predecessors, so I’m encouraged to dismiss it as being more of the same-old. Especially since the gameplay doesn’t seem to have changed much throughout the entire series either.
Throughout Story mode you’ll follow a certain Kingdom along a lengthy campaign that, despite going hand-in-hand with a pseudo-historical storyline of ambition, friendship, betrayal and whatnot (also quite a lot of people dying), feels like a contrived string of vaguely interesting scenarios plagued with no thing of any mentionable amount of infectious fun. Then there’s Ambition mode that asks you to raise the popularity of a peasants’ safe haven so that the emperor comes by for tea, which is about as thrilling a goal as any. You do this by fighting battles, who could have guessed?
Each stage follows roughly the same formula – inexplicably spawn a horse, ride it into battle, ignoring hundreds of petty soldiers to target their leading officers, mash buttons until each of these officers falls down, then progress as instructed by friendly NPC’s until the head-honcho officer is defeated. Weapons and skills can be swapped out as much as you fancy, and there’s up to four characters per stage to choose from. The only factor of any significant difference I’ve found is the choice of character, and it can be quite surprising fun to try a new officer, with the great variety of fighting styles between choices. Regrettably, this variation is the only part of DW8 that really encourages me to keep playing – I have no desire to level up any officers (I’ve also no idea how the levelling system works) or select their weapons or skills for them. It’s difficult to measure the quality of items when they all achieve the goal of slaughtering men, hundreds at a time, and the motivation to do so remains to be seen.
The simple killing-an-unprecedented-number-of-dudes gameplay is made mundane by the dialogue, due in part to the terribly typical writing, as well as the equally expectedly over-the-top English dubbing. Upon defeating each officer (with a giant, sharp blade, it may be good to add) the player’s officer has a quick conversation with said guy who should be dead, often to the extent of “I must leave and rethink my strategy”, to which my character Cao Cao would reply “My ambition cannot be stopped.” Yeah. Good chat. I’ve just found via some more Googling that this line is used by Cao Cao in other Koei games as well, supporting the thought that this is more of the same-old. I mean, really? I.. I just can’t piece together these words.
There’s also something about ripping apart a man with two ridiculous-sized swords only to have him say “I guess I lost this one, catch ya later” that leaves a victor feeling utterly unsatisfied with the entire game. Throughout the Wei campaign, I fought perhaps the same dozen officers time and time again. I understand that it may been true in the basis novel that these generals fought in each of these battles, but I refuse to believe that they retreated from each conflict with flesh wounds caking their entire body. It’s a style used often in gaming and it’s something I will never understand or appreciate. At least I know myself.
There is obviously something about Dynasty Warriors 8 that is flying well above my head. Offering the most warped idea of a military history that I’ve ever seen, repetitive button-mashing reminiscent of a time long past, and the quality of dialogue and voice-acting more commonly reserved for only the most laughably terrible B movies, DW8 is something that knows its fan-base well enough to know what small changes (and admittedly a ridiculously huge amount of content) will work to keep them occupied and continue sales. Which is nice, I guess.
Reasons DW8 is getting any points at all, to be addressed in this paragraph. Through the drudgingly dry horsing around and dude-slashing can be caught some glimmer of fun, even if the derivative metal music makes it feel a little base. Though being a total rehash and being terribly implemented, it’s obvious that some effort has been put into conveying the almost-historical information, a difficult task to pull off in a hack-n-slash title. Most impressively, the game actually works; I never faced any game-breaking bugs and my Xbox never once clonked out.
No matter how much I willed it to.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Dynasty Warriors 8 by Mindscape.
Also, since the almighty Matt is a little pre-occupied at the moment, the header image here is a dismal mimicry of his usual format. Please excuse that.