"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" would apply beautifully to Tecmo-Koei's Dynasty Warriors 8, but developer Omega Force always has to improve something with each sequel. In the latest version of Tecmo-Koei's historical hack-and-slash marathon, there's a host of new features and play modes. In combination with a refreshed graphics engine and the usual addition of a few new characters, these updates make Dynasty Warriors 8 a fine game for the summer. It's a game full of action and content that can be played entirely at your own pace and choice of difficulty, which can range from easy walkover to genuinely hard. Provided you can get into Tecmo-Koei's groove, works beautifully as a battlefield brawler where progression is constant and your sense of increasing power grows with each stage.
Chop Me Maybe
The biggest change in Dynasty Warriors 8 is a new Officer Affinity system. This applies one of three "affinities" to every weapon, setting up a neat rock/paper/scissors mechanic. Bolting onto the weapon swapping of the previous title in the series, this sets up new tactical depths for battling enemy officers. An icon over each officer's head tells you your Affinity status. If you're at a disadvantage, you're encouraged to swap weapons. Provided your two weapons have different affinities, you will either be neutral or at an advantage - and it's having the advantage that offers the most fun. You'll do more damage and can trigger a powerful "storm rush" combo, which tends to make mincemeat of your opponent on all but the highest difficulty levels. While this upsets some die-hard series fans, it's a very welcome mix-up of the Dynasty Warriors fighting system and in heated battles with lots of officers carrying different affinities, makes for a more dynamic ruckus. Interlinking combos for swapping weapons add more spice, opening up new options for showing off and a special "switch counter" can be used if you're feeling brave and technical.
Mixing up storm rushes and switch counters with the traditional Musou special attacks is a joy, particularly if you're into fast stage clearances. There's lots of room to perfect your technique and, naturally, lots of characters to experiment with. Of course, combat still involves giant mobs of lowly soldiers and the more you carve away at these vast armies, the more you charge the Rampage gauge. Rampage is the return of a "hyper" mode from previous titles, and in Dynasty Warriors 8, it's very hyper indeed. When fully charged, it allows a spectacular special Musou attack which can completely devastate the enemy in an area, reaping plenty of bonus XP in the process. Dynasty Warriors 8 certainly hasn't come up short on the fireworks.
Press To Impress
Dynasty Warriors 8 contains the usual Story and Free modes associated with the series, which let you fight through Chinese history on the side of four families and one set of independents either as a linear story or by replaying individual stages you've already completed. However, Tecmo-Koei has introduced an entirely new mode called Ambition, where you must undertake a variety of missions to build up a castle that's impressive enough to attract a visit from the Emperor. Ambition mode is Dynasty Warriors meets Monster Hunter in a way - there are facilities to upgrade by collecting materials on the battlefield and every officer you defeat joins your side, bumping up your fame. The missions on offer range from short skirmishes (for harvesting materials) to large-scale battles (to recruit officers) and these instances can be chained to boost rewards and coax out special battles.
There's plenty of longevity in Ambition mode, especially given the upgrade paths for camp facilities. The Blacksmith initially allows you to buy and sell weapons, but successive upgrades open options to remix and then tactically upgrade weapons. Recruit enough officers and more facilities open up, including a merchant where you can buy horses and animal companions. It's a maturation of concepts from previous games that makes a perfect accompaniment to Story and Free modes.
Dynasty Warriors 8 is a fine title in the series. The new combat systems genuinely add a new-found depth to its frantic combat and may change the minds of players who think the series is dull or boring. Ambition mode is a fantastic addition, offering a long tail of gameplay that syncs beautifully with the standard modes. The series has always been under-appreciated for its emphasis on pure gameplay and although it's an acquired taste, the discipline of clearing each stage as efficiently as possible is always satisfying and always rewarding. There are, however, a few technical issues on Xbox 360: there's some terrible slowdown (although a patch is allegedly on its way). With split-screen or online co-op, it's a riot with friends and in solo, offers a huge amount of content to work through. Tecmo-Koei keeps progressing the Dynasty Warriors formula with each iteration and 8 is the best Dynasty Warriors so far.
- Combat better than ever, with more tactical depth
- Ambition mode offers huge amounts of content
- New Rampage special attacks are brilliantly satisfying
- Lots of running around
- Stage maps confusing at first
- Slowdown can be particularly awful