The Dynasty Warriors series has always been a favorite of mine. It’s a fairly old series, with eight entries, five expansions, and countless spinoffs. Critics in the western hemisphere pan it constantly for repetitive, shallow gameplay in one breath and deride it for constantly rehashing the same old formula with the other. Even as a long-time fan of the series, I can understand their concerns. But, if you take the games for what they are, a hack n’ slash experience mixing gameplay elements from classic mainstays such as Final Fight and Streets of Rage with modern technology that allows for massive battlefields and insurmountably large amounts of enemies on-screen simultaneously, you can garner many hours of enjoyment from a single entry.
The latest entry in the series, Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends Complete Edition (Hereafter referred to as DW8XL for the writer’s sanity), improves upon the revisions made to the formula in Dynasty Warriors 7. The new weapon swap system from that entry has been expanded to include a sort of ‘rock paper scissors’ system, where each weapon is assigned either Man, Heaven, or Earth. In this system, Man counters Heaven, Earth defeats Man, and Heaven stands above Earth. You still only have the capability to switch between two weapons though, so you won’t have a hard counter for every situation. This RPS system is executed in-game by the enemy officers; if your types are the same then you attack each other normally. If your type counters theirs, they get a blue icon over their head which, once depleted, allows you to perform a special Storm Rush attack which is a furious series of rapid attacks that blow the opposition away. Finally, if their type counters you, then they will have a red exclamation mark over their head, your attacks won’t knock them back, and they will be able to trigger a Storm Rush on you. In this situation, you should switch weapons, so now if you attempt to change weapons while being attacked your character will perform a Switch Counter, which is a slow but powerful counterattack. For some people, this is a favorable addition for the depth it provides, but it’s also completely ridiculous that a level 150 character fighting on easy won’t be able to flinch certain enemy officers without changing their weapon.
Expanding upon that, Koei has finally diversified the weapons to the point where each character has their own unique weapon again, and even more can be added with downloadable content. There are about 80 characters in the game, so there are also about 80 weapon types each with their own unique moves to use. Finally, although any character can use any weapon they also have one preferred weapon type. When they equip that weapon type, they can unlock the weapon’s full potential, adding two extra character-specific moves to that moveset. This does provide some much needed diversity, and the weapons themselves range from the mundane swords and spears all the way up to some oddities such as Deng Ai’s drill lance, Xiahou Ba’s Siege Spear, and Chen Gong’s Art of War scrolls.
The weapons are also further diversified through the elements system. This system was brought over from the Warriors Orochi spinoff, and allows you to customize your weapons by adding fire, lightning, or ice to your attacks, giving your weapon the ability to replenish your health or special bars with each swing, and much more. Then, there are six tiers of weapons per weapon type, as well as rare weapons in each tier that have stronger stats than the regular weapons in that tier. In fact, the fifth and sixth tier weapons are always unique and can only be unlocked through fulfilling special conditions on certain stages with each character on hard difficulty or higher. These weapons often have superb stats and elements as well as completely badass models, and as of the latest patch you can customize them with different elements.
The characters as well as most of the stages are based off a semi-fictional novel from China known as Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Each entry in this series actually reimagines that novel in new ways, so you may already be familiar with the characters and setting. However, in case you’re not, most of the characters are pooled into five categories. Wei characters are from the Wei kingdom, established by the ambitious and often-maligned Cao Cao. The men of Wei value raw talent over all else, and their roster reflects that. The kingdom of Wu is full of passionate warriors beset by tragedy, as two of their leaders die very early in the period. Shu is populated with the ‘good guys’, a benevolent faction led by Liu Bei. This faction often gets the most attention, and for good reason; the warrior Guan Yu is actually a god of war in China now. Jin is the fourth major faction; it’s actually the successor to Wei after Wei crumbles late in the period. Finally, there is an ‘Others’ faction where everyone not affiliated with a kingdom is placed; the mighty and godlike Lu Bu is here as well as series newcomers Chen Gong and Lu Lingqi.
The amount of content in the game is massive as well. At this point I should note that DW8XL is actually the original DW8 and its Xtreme Legends expansion bundled onto one disk for Playstation 4 owners. Out of the box you get story modes for all four kingdoms that have branching paths and massive battles to fight in. The expansion adds in a story mode for Lu Bu as well as one for the Others faction, plus it adds even more ‘what-if’ scenarios to each kingdom’s story mode. There is a Free Mode where you can play any story mode stage with any character, even playing on the enemy side for laughs. This mode was sorely missed from Dynasty Warriors 7, so I am very glad it’s back now. There’s also a Challenge Mode, which has five special challenges for players to overcome. Finally, there’s also what’s called Ambition Mode, where you build up a small battle camp filled with special facilities such as a blacksmith, merchant, and training hall by fighting in small randomly-generated skirmishes. You complete this mode by building a Tonquetai and welcoming the Emperor to your settlement. At least, that’s how you beat it in the vanilla Dynasty Warriors 8. The expansion adds in a new set of battles called Subjugation Battles where you conquer the various provinces of China.
Did I mention you can play almost the entire game with another player? Well, you can, either in local splitscreen modes or over an internet connection. It can really add to the experience when you have another player rampaging across the battlefield with you.
It’s not all gravy, though. The game does have some fairly severe framerate issues out of the box, and the depth of field is rather pervasive, turning the battlefield into a blurry mess. Fortunately, a patch was released which gives you the option to turn depth of field off. The framerate gets better, but never as silky smooth as the PC version, regrettably. The DLC plans for the game nickel and dime customers as well. There’s some good stuff in there like the aforementioned new weapon types and about eighteen new packs of stages, but the majority of it is costume packs and various reskins that have already been sold to us before from DW7 and Warriors Orochi 3. I swear this is probably my third time buying the old costumes from DW3, at this point why not just include them in the base game? The title of the package is a misnomer because of this as well, because while in the East the game is called Shin Sangokumusou 7 + Moushouden, here it’s called DW8XL Complete Edition, which for Western gamers implies that all DLC is included in the package.
DW8XLCE does provide a ton of value though already, and for anyone who enjoys hack and slash or beat’em up games, this is probably one of the best options on the market today. It’s not a perfect game by any means, and it’s not a huge multi-million dollar AAA hypefest, but what it sets out to do it does superbly. It’s also a game that’s uncompromising with its identity, with Koei constantly bringing these games out for fans in the West without altering any of the Japanese quirkiness and charm despite the sighs and grumblings of jaded critics. I wholeheartedly recommend this game for anyone who appreciates a little oldschool gameplay with their new titles.