If you’ve always dreamed of uniting Ancient China then Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires might be the game for you! DW8E is a strategy hack-and-slash set in Ancient China and loosely based on the Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. However if you’re expecting the game to have an intriguing in-depth political story then you may be slightly disappointed. The story is barely visible in this game, and it’s more about you creating your own story through your actions.
When you begin Empire mode you pick which scenario you want to start with. Each scenario starts in a different year, and kingdoms will rule different areas of territories. You could choose to start in an age with lots of small kingdoms all jostling to be bigger than their neighbours, or you could start with just a handful of large powerful kingdoms. You can select from over 80 unique characters and decide whether you want to start off as a free officer or maybe you’ll decide to start straight at the top as Ruler. Whatever you decide your overall mission remains the same; unite the land under a single rule. There are many paths to achieving this, and you are free to decide how to play. You could be a loyal retainer improving the kingdom by gaining finances and materials, or you could choose to betray your Ruler, stage a coup d’etat and take all of his lands It really is up to you.
Although there are a lot of historical characters to choose from the real fun is in creating your own warrior. I spent a good 15-20 minutes just going through all of the different options in the creation mode. There are many different tweaks you can make such as body shape, facial features, costumes, and favourite weapons. You can also create your own banner, customise soldiers and your horse.
As a created warrior you start off as a free officer, not assigned to any particular country. This gives you the freedom to move around different territories as you please. Actions take one month, and there is a wide range of things to fill your time. You could pillage, partner up with other officers or take on a quest. There are many different quests such as assassinations, ridding the land of pesky wolves or escorting caravans.
All of this can be quite entertaining, but you will eventually feel the hunger for power. To move up you could form a vagabond unit and eventually raise your own banner to form a new kingdom, or you could decide to join an existing kingdom.
If you decide to serve under an existing Ruler then you will usually start off as a Lieutenant. Every six months a War Council will be held, and you will be told by your Ruler which land he (or she) wants you to invade next. In between War Councils you are free to do what you want and different ranks are able to do different things. As Lieutenant you have no influence over what decisions the Ruler takes.
By successfully completing strategy and battle objectives you may eventually be noticed by the Ruler and given a promotion. By reaching the rank of Strategist or Marshal you’re able to influence your Ruler and can try to persuade him to focus on improving finances or suggest that you invade a different region. If you have a good relationship with him and are persuasive (or intimidating) enough then you will succeed in changing his mind. If you become a Ruler yourself then you can set the priorities of your kingdom at every War Council.
All of the strategy elements take place using menu screens, it’s only during quests or invasions that you will actually be able to freely move about. It would have been nice to have been able to walk about in your kingdom, speak to the common people and see how things change as you build different facilities or invade more lands.
You’ll probably spend a lot of time in either defensive or invasion battles. In these battles both sides have a number of bases and it’s up to you and your fellow officers to make sure that your own bases are defended while simultaneously attacking enemy bases. Each base has to be depleted of troops before you can take it over.
It’s quite fun to play as one warrior slashing your way through hundreds of ordinary soldiers. Enemy officers provide more of a challenge and getting surrounded by numerous officers can quickly spell disaster. This is where stratagems come in handy. Stratagems are powerful manoeuvres that can give you the edge in battle; you could increase your attack for 20 seconds, unleash a poisonous mist or even just summon an ally to your side. There are plenty of different stratagems to learn so it’s worth building academies to get access to new ones.
While the combat is quite fun, it doesn’t take long to realise that you are mostly just repeating the same actions over and over. The square button will get quite a pounding. You occasionally mix this up using a strong attack or a musou attack, but for the majority of the time you will just be hitting square over and over again. Touch screen controls are used to activate stratagems, but I found it quite clumsy to use. You swipe to open the stratagem cards and then tap on the one you want to use. More than once I accidently closed the menu instead of activating a stratagem, which was annoying when surrounded by foes.
The various maps soon start to feel repetitive and although each territory looks slightly different, none of them really stood out to give me a ‘wow’ moment. The graphics are a bit drab, but I suppose they do get the job done. There were moments when I thought the frame rate might start to stutter because of the amount of enemies on the screen, but it held up really well. It’s also a nice touch that you can select what music plays in battle or change what your residence looks like. Who doesn’t want to live in a fairy forest or a castle?
Sun Tzu once said “Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys”. The more you work on your relationships with fellow officers the more likely they are to follow your orders in battle, become sworn siblings or offer confessions of love. You can improve relations by taking officers into battle with you or throwing great banquets in their honour. If someone does fall in love with you then you have the option of marrying and having children. As in real life children are a blend of their parents. Probably not so similar to real life is the fact that it only takes a few years for them to grow up and become officers in your army. It is nice that they can fight alongside you as uniting the land probably should be a family affair.
As you play through the game you will gain various titles such as ‘Pirate Pillager’ for completing raid missions. Collecting certain titles will set your Way of Life. If you finish a game with a custom warrior you can save that WoL and in your next playthrough they can appear as an NPC and will act in accordance to their WoL. I think that this is a really interesting concept and definitely increases the games replayability.
I’m not going to lie I’m not a big history buff and my knowledge of Chinese history is pretty lacking. I imagine that there are some people who will get a big kick out of pitting certain historical figures against each other. I’ve probably missed out on lots of exciting moments because I didn’t realise that fighting against certain officers is the equivalent of putting Mike Tyson against Evander Holyfield. One touch I do like is that Koei has put an Encyclopedia into the game so even a history dropout like me can pick up some pretty interesting knowledge.
I think by playing this game I’ve actually learnt a lot about myself, like the fact that I would probably make a pretty lousy Ruler in real life. I definitely prefer being on my own, doing things like assassinations and raiding caravans instead of sorting out a kingdoms resources. Actually, now that I think about it, all the things I enjoyed doing were, shall we say, less than virtuous? In fact you could say that if I was actually in Ancient China I would probably be a bit of a bandit. I do however think that I look pretty damn cool on horseback with a massive sword.
Outside of its fanbase Dynasty Warriors games have a reputation of being somewhat monotonous and samey, and I don’t think DW8E has really done anything to break the mold. It’s fun in small doses but does become a bit of a grind. If you’re a fan of this genre then you probably already know if you’re going to like this. The game might be slightly overwhelming to newcomers due to the massive amounts of history and the game assuming some familiarity with the DW universe, but I do think it’s worth playing as there is plenty to do and it does have replay value.