For years, I’ve heard mixed reviews of the Dynasty Warriors games. In many ways, they have a bad rep. Yes, popular creators such as Jim Sterling and Jesse Cox have gone to bat for the series in the past, but many have criticised its combat and style. After the excellent Hyrule Warriors and the mediocre mess that Dynasty Warriors 9 is widely considered to be, can this rerelease of the well-loved DW8 win back favour amongst its fans?
The Dynasty Warriors series originated as a hack-and-slash spinoff from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms strategy series, itself loosely based on the novel of the same name and the records of the three kingdoms. Set as a loose historical depiction of the Chinese three kingdoms period, the hack and slash series always has the same basic story, but varies in terms of execution. Split into a number of distinct campaigns, one from the perspective of each major faction, Dynasty Warriors 8 presents a slew of unique missions in which you control a variety of unique and interesting characters, each proficient in a number of oft bizarre weapons. As the definitive package, this version contains practically all of the content from every version of Dynasty Warriors 8, including DLC.
The gameplay consists of fighting against thousands of combatants in a variety of different Chinese locations, in the pursuit of killing a specific enemy, capturing an area, moving to a point or a combination of or variant of the above. In each area you control a general, and usually have a choice of two or three for a mission, with some objectives changing dependant on your pick. As you are mowing down hordes of enemies and encouraging your basic troops, you fight alongside CPU controlled allies which will often require assistance, and will have to deal with CPU controlled enemy generals, each with their own move sets and weapon choices.
Briefly side-tracking, weapon choice is an important aspect in DW8. Every fighter has different weapon affinities, having varying skill with each class. Of course, everyone has a preferred weapon, whether it be a sword, knife, tarot cards or a bench, but your secondary weapon choice allows you to really vary your strategy as they can be switched on the fly in a flourishing attack. It’s useful to recognise how these switching attacks affect combat, as they can be used to both extend your combos and, in the right circumstances, deal devastating damage to enemy generals. In addition, every weapon has one of three alignments; Heaven, Earth or Man; which act in a rock-paper-scissors manner in battle. If your opponent is fighting with a weapon which is strong against yours, you will be prompted to switch to your secondary. You also can use flurry-style attacks on enemies wielding a weapon alignment weak to yours, which lends an interesting element of strategy to battle.
During battles you have a variety of moves to choose from. Your standard attacks come in the form of the Y (light attack) and X (heavy attack) buttons, which can be chained into interesting and flashy combos. Your Musou meter allows you to boost these with powerful attacks unique to each character, which are unlocked through levelling up. There is also a rage gauge, which fills gradually and allows a period of super-boosted fighting; recharging your Musou meter and giving the opportunity to unleash a sustained rage attack using it. These special moves are incredibly useful for clearing a path through enemies and lend a unique fantasy twist to many of the otherwise mundane characters. Whilst some may criticise the game as a mindless hack and slash, these additions amp up the complexity and give added depth to the combat. I wouldn’t compare it to the level of depth you would see in many fighting games, but for a game about smashing through huge waves of opponents it’s surprisingly difficult at higher difficulties. I would definitely argue it doesn’t deserve the negative reputation it has for the combat, as it always feels bulky and satisfying when the combos fit together and leave a trail of destruction in their wake.
There are a variety of modes on offer here, each with their own slightly different take on this formula. I’ve already mentioned the incredibly lengthy story mode, and each battle can be replayed in free mode with any character and similar mission objectives. Ambition mode is a kind of war simulation in which the player has the goal of uniting China, building a palace and capturing territories. I haven’t spent as much time on this mode purely due to the huge amount of content on offer, but it’s a promising addition which works as a fab distraction from the immense story content. Challenge mode returns to the series with a variety of interesting tasks for the player to attempt. They’re tricky, but incredibly rewarding.
The game has a unique graphical style, mixing classical historical design with the fantasy elements you would expect, and the musical and sound design is excellent. I love the beats which underpin the battles and drive you to the slaughter, especially when paired with the beautifully camp dialogue. I am, however, a little disappointed with the texture quality, and it seems that this port was created from the last-gen versions rather than the more recent ps4 and xbone rereleases. Regardless, in motion in handheld mode these quibbles are but a trifle, as it runs spectacularly smoothly in single player. In co-op I did experience some graphical and frame-rate downgrade, but they’ve still done well to pack what they have onto the Switch’s hardware.
Despite what they DID to Zhang He in the latest instalment of the franchise, this rerelease of DW8 proves just how fantastic the basic formula of DW is at its heart, and I genuinely hope KT takes this as their template for the next instalment rather than what followed.
In short, Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends Definitive Edition (so much for short…) is an excellent repackage of a great hack-and-slash experience which showcases the best of what Koei Tecmo has to offer. Whilst it isn’t the best looking game on Switch, looking vastly inferior compared to more recent Warriors titles, its jam packed with content and a must-have for fans of the Genre.