Before you even sit down and play a Dynasty Warriors title, it wouldn’t be unfair to suggest that you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into for the most part. With its chaotic screen-filling battles and screeching J-Rock overtures, the Omega Force developed series has always stood out among its peers. Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires then is largely more of the same that we’ve seen from the franchise in the last ten years and while it may be past its sell by date in a number of ways, a thick layer of strategy and the evergreen engagement of its combat ensure a substantial allure all the same.
An offshoot of the main Dynasty Warriors series, the Empires games have always placed a larger emphasis on strategy and RPG style elements which underpin the arcade style scrapping that the franchise is known for.
The franchise’s signature large battles return with aplomb
All this strategy and grey matter tickling stuff is housed in the, you guessed it, Empires mode and players are able to get stuck straight into the thick of things from the off. Sadly, initial impressions of this section of the game aren’t so favourable. Presented with lists upon lists and menus upon menus, it can be difficult to navigate around them and remember what everything does after the memory of initial tutorials has dimmed. The ability to toggle tooltips, or an equivalent, would have been immensely useful here certainly. Once players get themselves comfortable with all that stuff, Empires really opens up and allows players a great deal of scope to plan tactics and politically manoeuvre when they’re not storming about on the battlefield.
Presented as a series of turn-based scenarios that unfold month by month over the course of fifty years, the goal in Empires mode is simple; unite all the provinces under one rule and crush your opponents. To do this, there are many tools at your disposal that can be employed to shape the course of events.
At the beginning of the game, your chosen officer will have little or no standing in the conflict and so swearing fealty to an existing ruler proves to be a wise move in the early going. From here, your ruler will hold a war council every few months to define objectives for the year ahead and by choosing a variety of activities to embrace, such as performing a set number of raids or invasions for example, your officer can gain merit which in turn will increase their standing within the army that they serve.
Raids and invasions on opposing provinces encompass the standard Dynasty Warriors hack and slash gameplay, while quests provide smaller, more goal directed objectives to accomplish that provide welcome respite from the extended button-mashing grind of the game’s much larger battles.
Becoming an effective servant of the realm and warlord in your right requires more than just going off on a bunch of foe smacking jaunts. From drafting soldiers and creating blacksmiths to upgrading your gear and starting relationships with key characters while striking up tactical alliances with neighbouring provinces, the variety of strategical options available is as impressive as it is bewildering.
Creating your own officers and other content provides a welcome respite from the carnage
Soon enough, your officer will be promoted to the rank of General where at which point you can debate invasion policy with the ruler, affecting which province will be attacked next and thus set the scene for your own eventual takeover and unification of the kingdoms.
While certainly satisfying for the most part, the main problem with Empires mode lies with the flow inherent to its turn-based mechanics. Primarily, when in the early going you find yourself stretched thin, gaining territory in one place only to end up losing it elsewhere, it can become frustratingly commonplace to retake the same territory in multiple instances and thus end up replaying the same map a good three or four times.
Oh and a word on saving your progress; you’re going to want to do that a fair bit manually as the game doesn’t have any sort of autosave facility, so proceed accordingly.
Switching over to the action portion of the package, long-time players of the Dynasty Warriors games will immediately find themselves familiar with the hack and slash gameplay that defines the battles of Empires. Controlling your officer from a third person perspective, you romp across the battlefield from base to base, hammering your foes into submission with ludicrously powerful attacks and abilities.
As has been the case for many years now, the feeling of power that Dynasty Warriors provides as you send scores of foes flying with just a single attack, remains undiminished even today and proves to be an effective hook for enrapturing attention far beyond what its constantly retreaded arcade combat remit might otherwise engender.
Luckily, for those who find all the tactical busywork of Empires mode a little too overbearing, a handy Free mode allows access to all quest, raid and various invasion types that have been unlocked from the main campaign. A great consideration for new and experienced players alike, being able to instantaneously indulge in Empire’s more plainer charms proves to be greatly welcome indeed and provides a nice change of pace from the turn-based shenanigans of the game’s modus operandi.
Empires brings a little more to the table than just cracking skulls
Further variance from Empire’s core appeal is found in the form of the Edit mode. Here, players can create anything from officers and soldiers to horses and banners in an effort to customise their own experience. While it all feels largely gimmicky, the presence of such customisation proves to be a welcome diversion all the same and adds additional longevity to what is already a substantial offering.
Where Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires doesn’t fare quite so well though, is in the aesthetics which seem rough around the edges at best and terribly outdated at worst. Visually, the game leaves much to be desired to say the least. With its last-gen console DNA on full display, Empires underwhelms players with geometrically simplistic characters, environments and low-detail textures as canned animations abound throughout while friendly and enemy troops alike pop in and out of existence with disturbing frequency. To say that Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires isn’t a looker, would be quite an understatement to say the least.
DYNASTY WARRIORS 8 EMPIRES VERDICT
At the end of the day, Empires mode is arguably where the crux of the experience lies and as such it really does add a lot of crucial depth to a series that is regarded in many circles as a largely one-trick pony. It’s just a shame that similar evolutions aren’t forthcoming in other areas of the game which, some nearly fifteen years on, are now starting to look really quite old in the tooth.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Swearing fealty to a ruler before marrying out to another province, betraying the original ruler and taking the entire kingdom for yourself.