The arrival of Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires heralds more than just another iteration for Koei’s popular slash ‘em up franchise. It’s another chance for developer Omega Force to flex its muscles on new gaming hardware while honing the strategic elements Empires is known for. It also marks one last hurrah for Dynasty Warriors 8 before the studio inevitably moves on to its next numbered instalment.
Unlike the vanilla Warriors experience, Empires has always leaned more towards heavy customisation with players managing their very own kingdom. Though key narrative and historic elements have made the transition into Empires, don’t expect to find yourself re-treading the same Three Kingdoms storyline found in the mainline series. Instead, players are given the freedom to forge their own epic saga through creating alliances, devising schemes, and crushing their enemies.
When starting out in Empires, you are given a handful of campaigns to choose from, each one representing a major historic conflict. Whether playing the Yellow Turban Rebellion, the Battle of Guan Du, or your own custom scenario, you are given a choice of several roles from vagabond to ruler.
Ultimately, this role will dictate which actions are available to you while also having an impact your income, resource supply, and the number of troops rallied under your banner. A vagabond, for instance, is free to roam China as they wish, serving rulers and picking their own fights. Officers, on the other hand, are far more rooted, carrying out any orders handed down by their liege. Fighting battles and training will aid you in climbing the ranks, opening up more options such as the ability to tax peasants and brokering alliances with other kingdoms.
This is all done through a simple menu interface. Players will select an action and, once resolved, time will forward by a month. Although the amount of options available can be overwhelming at first, it’s a fairly quick and straightforward system.
The only downside is Empire’s actual game flow itself – a common problem for the spin-off series. You see, no matter where you start or what role you assume at the beginning of a campaign, your end goal will always be the same: to become ruler. Although playing as a vagabond or low-ranking officer sounds cool, there are no benefits in pursuing these play-styles whatsoever unless you simply like to roleplay.
For many fans this is Empire’s main draw – the ability to play through your own personal journey using any character you wish. Want to bring two unlikely allies together or spark a rivalry? You can do that. Being able to tailor your own in-game experience is complemented by Empire’s extensive customisation options. Aside from being able to create your own general, players can now design banners too, as well as warhorses, soldiers, units, and scenarios. Although many of the options and components have been handed down from previous games in the series, there’s still more than enough variety.
Empire and Edit modes aside, Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires is exactly what you’d expect from the series. Gameplay-wise it’s still centred around the same “one versus one thousand” concept that the entire franchise is built on. Using a mixture of regular, heavy and special moves, you’ll cleave your way through hordes of enemies, occasionally wiping out entire screen-fulls with your deadly musou attack. Added extras like EX and Rage attacks have also made the jump as well as the all-new Stratages.
These are tactical abilities that can be deployed on the battlefield, offering a range of different effects. Some will give your character temporary stat boosts, for instance, whereas others can erect instant towers or even produce thunder strikes and gas clouds. As clever as some of these are, they rarely have a noticeable impact on the flow of battle.
Omega Force has also attempted to break up the non-stop chain of pitched fights with smaller sized quests. Although definitely a change of pace they are a bit unnecessary and feel more like filler as opposed to a substantive diversion. They come in several different flavours, often tasking the player with killing small pockets of enemies, finding items, or attacking a single target while remaining unseen. These stealth missions are particularly unnecessary and simply aren’t compatible with the series’ existing gameplay model.
Visually, Dynasty Warrior 8 Empires looks great, especially on new platforms. The game’s huge roster of playable characters are well detailed and benefit from creative design work that walks the line between historic and fantasy. The only let-down here is the environments, some of which have been lifted and remixed from previous games as old as Dynasty Warriors 5. Although battlefields have become more dynamic over the past several years, Omega Force has yet to do something truly innovative with them. Another thing that may wind up overseas fans is the lack of English dubbing. Given that plenty of smaller games coming out of Japan have dual-audio it’s a shame to see Dynasty Warriors copping out.
In summary, Empires is yet another instalment in the Warriors franchise that provides hours upon hours of fun for those who enjoy its tried and tested formula. With that said, it fails to do anything that really pushes the series forward, borrowing heavily from previous games while adding a few extra bells and whistles. Although some will revel in the notion of building their own kingdom and conquering all of China, others will find Empire’s repetitive mission grinding and narrow scope hard to overlook.
Version tested: PS4