Saturday, 27 July 2013

Review: Dynasty Warriors 8 (PS3)

I have been a fan of the Dynasty Warriors franchise since the PS2 launched in Europe, in fact my first ever game purchase was Dynasty Warriors 2 and because of that I was hooked.  I never fully completed DW2 by maxing out every character but I ran through Musou mode with every one of them and it never got old.

Jump forward to today and we are looking at the last Dynasty Warriors game on PS3 before the jump to PS4 and XboxONE.  Dynasty Warriors 8 is much like Dynasty Warriors 5 on PS2 in that it takes the best parts of the previous titles and runs the game as a kind of best of compilation mixed with new content.  We have several new characters for each of the four factions, bringing the total number of playable characters to around 70.  Every character has a unique weapon and animations which is brilliant, a common complaint was that too many characters shared the same weapon and moveset's making them pointless to play as.  Dynasty Warriors 6 was infamous for this amongst other issues.

So the core of the game is story mode, no longer named musou mode for some reason.  Each faction has it's own set of battles to play and for the first time ever, the other faction has it's own set of story missions.  Finally you can play as Yuan Shao, Zhang Jiao, Dong Zhuo and more.  Of course the meat of this mode is to be found playing as Wei, Wu, Shu and Jin.  Every map has been redesigned for this instalment, meaning you won't be seeing any rehashed stages from previous games or just plain ports.  Every battle has a short piece of exposition to set the stage for the level and what characters will be available to play as for the upcoming brawl.

Koei have been a little creative here though by allowing you to alter history somewhat by keeping characters alive who would've died during a particular stage.  Keeping them alive means they will appear in a later stage or unlock an entirely different battle to play in a what if scenario designed specifically around that character.  If you can keep all of the what if characters alive then you can play a what if campaign.  An example would be keeping Guo Jia alive would mean you can choose the historical timeline or the what if timeline.  The objectives for keeping these characters alive is hidden on your first playthrough, it's only until after you finish the story mode for a faction does it tell you what you have to do, although sometimes the objectives are still pretty vague.  It at least means you can come back to story mode and unlock new battles, characters and cutscenes.

Probably the best part of Story mode is the return of 2 players coop.  It was strangely absent in Dynasty Warriors 7 but here it makes a return and is well integrated.  You can play it both online and offline so you don't have to worry about finding a friend to help you with those tricky battle objectives, or beating Lu Bu on Chaos difficulty.

Free mode also returns after a long absence.  Allowing you to return to your favourite levels, but being able to play any character or even from the opposing forces perspective was always pretty fun and the great thing here with DW 8 is that they have added new dialogue and events based on playing the different sides.  Again this mode can be played both online and offline so coop play is still a big factor here which it should be.

Character progression is altered again for this title as it brings back the levelling system from older titles.  Skills return now with the ability to unlock new skills by performing certain actions in game, or further level those skills to make them more effective.  Levelling skills or unlocking them could mean beating a general while using a power up x2 or defeating a foe while on horseback.  There are a lot of skills to unlock, many of which require you to max your level with every character, so grinding is essential and when there are 70 characters to play, that is a lot of grinding.  Really the game will live or die for you based on how long the levels hold your attention as grinding for experience, loot drops or rare weapons can become monotonous.  Still if you enjoy grinding for tiny rewards this has it in spades.

Weapons now drop like crazy and you will selling off a lot of copy weapons you pick up from downed officers.  With the right skill on even grunts will drop exp scrolls and plenty of buff items littering the floor with items after a brief skirmish or slaughter.  You do unlock weapons a lot quicker in this game compared to previous titles, it's just the large number of level 1 weapons you get, can clog the list somewhat forcing you to regularly sell them when the blacksmith is available.

Combat is largely unchanged with the way attack chains are handled now being assigned to level rather than weapon level.  So once you hit around level 15 you will chaining six attacks together with the alternate strong attacks.  The largest change is the addition of the weapon affinity system which gives every weapon one of three possible affinities.  Earth, Heaven and Man are the affinities and like rock, paper, scissors one is stronger against another and weaker again to the third.  Attacking a foe who uses a weapon you are weak to means they will be harder to kill, are not stunned by your attacks and can do serious damage to you.  Having a weapon of a stronger affinity means you pretty much slaughter them, usually finishing with a nifty looking storm rush attack which sucks in surrounding foes for some serious damage.  Every character also has 3 musou attacks now, one designed for crowd control, another for a specific target and the third in the air.  It's nice to see a more diverse range of ass kicking in the cast, especially for older characters such as Zhao Yun, who I imagine some users could play one handed he is so familiar these days.

Although I like the weapon affinity system it does mean some supposedly tough battles are incredibly easy.  Having a weapon of a stronger affinity means the likes of Lu Bu becomes a pushover as you stun lock him into oblivion, taking all of the tension and arguably skill out of these battles.  The game does still suffer from older issues such as character pop in during cooperative play, framerate drops during particularly large levels such as Chibi and fogging.  These issues don't necessarily drag the experience down but it would have been nice to see them mitigated some.  Maybe PS4 will finally see an end to fogging and character pop in although I doubt it.

The final mode on offer is the ambition mode.  Ambition is a mode that allows you to pick any character and begin building a small town from scratch.  You improve the town by bringing in money and resources gained from fighting battles.  One type of battle gives money, another gives resources and third more large scale battle awards you with new officers for your force.  As you improve the town you unlock new facilities and actions all with the end goal of enticing the emperor to visit your new town.  It's a simple mode that is meant to keep you playing a little longer and give you a more free and open experience with your characters.  It reminds me off Dynasty Warriors 7's conquest mode where battles are between random characters with no rhyme or rhythm, just there to give you something hit with a massive mace or two handed sword.  It's likely to be mode that takes a majority of your time after you have finished with story mode.

Outside of the different game modes there are encyclopedias to browse through with information on every battle, the timeline and literally thousands of officers to read up on.  Elsewhere you can review character costumes, animations, dialogue, wallpapers and music.  I would have liked to have been able to select any of the wallpapers as XMB backgrounds, but again it's nothing massively important.

Graphically Dynasty Warriors 8 is similar to Dynasty Warriors 7.  Characters are beautifully detailed and expressive, while the grunts and environment look decidedly less impressive.  Still the levels are visually diverse and each have a particular feel to them at least, featuring new weather effects, sounds and times of day.  The maps are generally well made and large but very little ever pops out as being visually striking as the game is mainly concerned with slicing up hundreds of men at once.  To this end the effects are generally good, although some effects can look a little rough such as Ling Tong's EX attack effect which looks like a graphic literally stuck to his feet instead of being on the floor.

The sound design is also very similar to DW 7.  Music is again the standard guitar wailing hyperactive J-Rock sound we have come to expect from this series while the voice talent have done a relatively good job with the script.  It's nice to hear the correct pronunciations of Chinese names now, although I imagine many of the cast had some real hurdles with some of the words.  At least we no longer here the mighty Wei leader referred to as cow cow anymore.  Combat effects are much the same again with the usual metallic clangs and bashes, mixed with thunderous special move effects.

Overall DW8 is probably the best outing on the PS3.  It's worth the money if you have skipped a few titles since DW5 or DW6 and certainly has the content to keep you playing.  In fact it's a good entry level title simply because it reintroduces so many good elements from previous games.  Now we just have to hope that DW9 on the PS4 will actually build on this success and not go back to square one like DW6 did.

SCORE: 8.0/10


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