In retrospect, it is somewhat amazing I have not played the games in this series before. I may have picked up a controller over at a buddy's house now and then as the title felt slightly familiar, but perhaps that is simply good design in that it was easily accessible to me right off of the bat. I did walk through the tutorial, which did a good job of teaching me the basics and then getting out of my way.
The setting of Dynasty Warriors has long been a favorite of mine. Among my earliest and still more cherished strategy title are Nobunaga's Ambition and Romance of the Three Kingdoms on the NES. Destiny of an Emperor was also set during this time period, and ranks among my more memorable NES RPG experiences. I actually read Three Kingdoms back in college largely as a result of these games and my desire to learn more about the time period.
Clearly Dynasty Warriors is a fantastical version of these events. Lu Bu may have been an amazing warrior (I particularly enjoyed the scene where two of his attendants struggled to hand him his weapon due to its weight, yet Lu Bu picked it up with one hand and no effort), but I am fairly confident he never killed 2,200 soldiers the way I did on my second map of his story campaign. The rich history here serves as more of a backdrop to the game's events, with references to political intrigue made, but allowing the game itself to play out in very action-heavy sequences.
Graphics - 7:
Dynasty Warriors 8 is not a bad looking game, but it feels like it is completely under-utilizing the hardware of the PlayStation 4. I have seen the game on PlayStation 3, and here the visuals really are not markedly better in any way. Plenty of enemies fill the screen, but they do have a tendency to pop in out of thin air. Thankfully the game moves very smooth, with no slowdown, but it would have been nice to see the PlayStation 4 taxed a little harder with more detailed textures and characters on the screen. The hardware has the power, it just is not made use of yet.
Sound & Music - 7:
To start, I really liked the music. It fit the time period and the action in a way that just felt pleasing during all of the combat. The sound effects have a tendency to get used and reused a lot. I suppose there are only a handful of ways to portray thirty people getting torn apart by a flashy super attack using my halberd, but I found myself appreciating the music a lot more then the effect design.
The voice acting is all over the board. Some of it is actually very well done, while others had a tendency to come across as a bit cheesy. Even how the voice acting is presented is somewhat erratic. Sometimes the voice overs are incredibly helpful, alerting you to problems or changes of tactics on the field of battle. As such, they provide an important sense of direction amidst a battlefield of flying bodies and shouting soldiers. The downside is again, repetition. During training exercises and battles alike, there is a tendency to hear your character say the same things over and over again. I would sometimes hear Lu Bu say the same thing more than a dozen times in a single fight.
I do like that those battle cries and statements are carried out via the speaker in the PlayStation 4 controller, I just wish they had been provided a bit more variety first.
Gameplay - 8:
Here is where things could get rough for some people. You are essentially trekking around a map destroying hundreds or thousands of soldiers as a scenario plays out around you like a sort of interactive story. There is some pretty heavy button mashing here, lots of retracing your steps and plenty of flashy special attacks that make up the majority of the game's action. The thing is - it works and it is fun. It is quite satisfying to ride into a huge group of enemies while on horseback, quickly dismounting and lunging into a series of rapid attacks while slipping from one weapon and fighting style to another. Finishing the experience off with an area clearing special attack or by headhunting the leader of the pack puts a nice finish on the skirmishes and kept me coming back for more.
I have heard the gameplay described as mindless, and while I understand where that kind of sentiment comes from - it is not entirely accurate. Certainly plowing through dozens of enemy soldiers at a time is not the most mentally taxing of exercises, but as the conditions change on the field of battle, you need to be able to adapt. Sometimes you are escorting someone, in other instances you are tasked with hunting down a specific individual or coming to the aid of one of your outnumbered allies and other times you find objectives that need to be conquered before you can continue. Examples that come to mind are an escort quest where you cannot continue until the archers perched above you are slain or a retreat that cannot be fully realized until the ambushers shoving boulders down toward you are dealt with.
Intangibles - 10:
I mentioned in the beginning that there was a ton of content here, and I was not exaggerating. With a multiple story modes, multiplayer, mission modes and more, there are plenty of enemy soldiers to be slain. There are some excellent RPG elements sprinkled in as well. You can gain experience for leveling up, unlocking new passive skills that can be upgraded, and a lot of potential loot drops for those who enjoy a little Diablo-like weapon gathering in their game.
And those weapons...
I was constantly experimenting with new combinations of weapons. I wound up liking some far better than others. I thought the arm cannon would be much cooler than it was, but I certainly enjoyed most of the polearms. Different characters specialize in different types of weapons, further encouraging you to try something new along the way.
Overall - 8:
You could probably play for two weeks and not get through everything Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition has to offer. With such regular releases in the series and my lack of experience with them, I am not a good judge to say whether or not these different iterations provide enough bang for their buck over previous releases. Coming to the series with fresh eyes however, I thoroughly enjoyed my time back with the Three Kingdoms. In fact, I was left with quite a longing to see Tecmo KOEI revisit that scenario and others in some of their brilliant tactical games of old on this new generation of systems.
Until that happens though, I intend to spend plenty of my time with Dynasty Warriors.
Review by Nick