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    Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires, A bromance in the Three Kingdoms?

    Where do you even begin with a Dynasty Warriors ? Almost everyone knows its hack-n-slash formula by now, but newcomers to the series need to know what to expect, so forgive us for a paragraph while we recap the series’ well-established mechanics…

    Right, so Dynasty Warriors is a hack-n-slash game, and was actually one of the first games out there to use that kind of gameplay when it launched, over 20 titles ago (you get Xtreme Warriors and Empires spin-offs for each title, as well as cross-overs and ports). Choosing one of many warriors based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novels, you fight through historical campaigns from Chinese history usually on the side of Wei, Wu, Shu or in later games Jin. Each character has their own place in the universe, and playing through as each one yields new story elements, relationship backstories and depth. Really, though, all you’re doing is mashing Y and B and hoping for the best over 10+ levels.

    Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about what Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires gets wrong. Firstly, there’s no ‘campaign’ mode per se. There is a mode where you can jump into one of the mainstay skirmishes in the Dynasty Warriors mythos (The Yellow Turban Rebellion, The Battle Of Hefei, The Retreat At Guandu and so on) and swear fealty to a lord, working your way through China in a bid to take over the entire country… but each of these scenarios turns out exactly the same, altering only where your starting patch of land is. What kept us playing was the fairly deep strategy involved in attempting these hostile takeovers: in our first campaign, The Yellow Turban Rebellion, we started by swearing fealty to the ruler of Empire of He Jin, and curried favour by quashing the Yellow Turbans in the first half year (game time is measured in months, with each ‘move’ taking one month). As a reward, we were promoted to a Prefect of the Empire, and given land. Since we were playing as Xiahou Dun right hand solider of Cao Cao of the Wei kingdom we began recruiting officers from around the land that belonged to our sub-sect. Our land began to provide us with soldiers and building resources pretty quickly, and it was soon apparent we were the crux of the He Jin empire…
    “We’d annexed three empires, caused another two to begin in-fighting and our peasants loved us. It was time to betray He Jin”
    Fast-forward a year and we controlled our own province, with an army of 50,000 separate from our lord. We’d taken four more provinces (the entire north east of the country) and were constantly in conflict with what our lord was ordering us to do. We’d annexed three empires, caused another two to begin in-fighting thanks to the rumours we’d spread, and headhunted the best Wei generals from our enemies. Oh, and our peasants loved us. It was time to betray He Jin.

    The game divvies out gold, materials and men to you and your army on a monthly basis, and though a lot of the depth is hidden behind a stupidly designed UI system and has menus coming out of every conceivable button press, the depth to your strategies is pretty impressive. You get to feel like a real commander, and playing the sleeper agent game like we did is immensely satisfying.

    Yes, the game looks like it could have been released on the PS2, and yes, the mechanics are floaty and light and it controls like a cheap remote control airplane, but there’s something to be said of how simply fun the light tactics of the game are. Seeing the map broken up into all these colours and setting out on a campaign to unite them all under your rule is a big task, but once you take a portion of that land for yourself? Well, we got hooked.

    Granted, this reviewer is a  Dynasty Warriors apologist and will readily admit that the game isn’t for everyone, but the additional lite-tactics veneer makes up for a lack of depth elsewhere. There’s no English voiceover, for example, which is what a lot of returning players would expect, and it’s a noticeable hole in the Dynasty Warriors experience. The battles have also gotten looser, somehow, with officer clashes relegated to brief, underwhelming encounters and in-battle ‘orders’ doing nothing but confuse the already dizzy AI.

    So it’s more of the same, but it’s a bit different. The ‘Empires’ suffix performs as functionally as it has the last four times it’s been slapped on the franchise, but the game’s dwindling combat mechanics, lack of English voiceover and overall slip in production quality is indicative of the series finally starting to suffer budget cuts.

    We may have finally overthrown our lovely ruler (he was rather kind) and continued to stomp out any challengers to our rule, but our victory felt empty. It was too easy, we didn’t lose one battle and not one of our bits of land got invaded. We’re sad to say, but maybe it’s finally time Dynasty Warriors stopped coasting and began trying just a little bit harder.

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