Capsule Review: Dynasty Warriors 8

(A note on versions - as with other Dynasty Warriors games, the base game was followed by two semi-standalone expansions, Xtreme Legends and Empires. On some platforms the game was sold bundled with the first expansion as Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition. Despite the name, this version does not include the Empires content.)

A Musou game based on the setting, events, and cast of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The main story mode is split into campaigns that focus respectively on the Shu, Wu, Wei, and Jin factions, plus a handful of other scenarios grouped as Other. None of the factions are really “good guys” or “bad guys” - they just have conflicting goals. Each perspective is presented sympathetically, though everyone resorts to underhanded tactics at least once and though they all say they want to unite the land and end the age of chaos and fighting, they all do this by fighting more and creating more chaos.

Each faction’s campaign tells a highly-compressed version of their story, with each mission being a significant battle they participated in. It’s not wholly linear, however - missions often have optional or hidden objectives, some of which unlock side missions. Completing a specific set of objectives will unlock a “hypothetical” set of missions premised on the prevention of a significant loss and an uninterrupted path to a greater victory than they achieved in the original story.

Missions take place on large battlefields and often have several things happening at once. You are pitted against an enemy army - individual nameless soldiers are much weaker than you and can be mowed down by the dozen, but officers provide a greater challenge. You can muddle your way through ignoring the mission’s story and just race from officer to officer and kill all the enemies, though this won’t get you the best outcome or accomplish any side objectives and in some cases may cause you to fail. It can take a few playthroughs of a mission to really understand all the moving parts and figure out how to get the best outcome, though playing in co-op helps a lot as you can split up and tackle multiple goals simultaneously before uniting to gang up on the boss.

The story places a strong emphasis on strategy and encourages you to enact plans and set traps while preventing the enemy from doing the same. This is cool in theory, as the original story includes a lot of clever tactics, but much has been lost in adaptation and it ends up feeling arbitrary and frustrating. All the player can really do is move and attack, so the “strategy” is robbed of most of its depth and generally just involves going to places or attacking targets in non-intuitive orders. It doesn’t help that these objectives are rarely explained clearly and often task you with doing something that - due to how powerful you are - is less efficient than just attacking the enemy directly.

There are fully eighty-three playable characters, each with unique combos, special attacks, and signature weapon type (some of which get pretty silly - there’s nothing quite like mowing down enemy soldiers with a giant paintbrush). There’s a lot to learn, as the combos vary both in their button sequences and in their effects. You’ll also collect and upgrade weapons as you go, which to me was tedious inventory management that added little value. Each character can equip two weapons and switch between them freely - they get more combos from using their signature weapon type, but you can switch things up if you want. There is a rock-paper-scissors elemental affinity mechanic, so you’ll probably want to equip weapons of different elements so you can switch as needed to avoid being weak to enemy elements.

Overall, it’s fast-paced hectic fun with a lot of optional depth. You can play it as a button masher, or you can learn your combos and maximize your effectiveness. You can blaze through missions in an all-out assault, or learn their intricacies and enact devious (if sometimes inefficient) strategies. You can stick with your favorite characters or try them all. You can ignore the story, or get a condensed but solid intro to one of the greatest historical novels of all time. And it’s a fantastic setup for co-op.

I Stopped Playing When: Senpai-chan and I completed the main story in couch co-op. The remaining content was single-player only, so we moved on to other games.

Docprof's Rating:

Three Stars: Good. I liked the game enough to finish it (or just play it a bunch, for games that don't end). I recommend it to most genre fans.

You can get it or learn more here.