Last year I officially became a fan of Omega Force’s Warrior series. I was lucky enough to review Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate and Samurai Warriors 4, win a copy of Dynasty Warriors 8 Extreme Legends and plug more than 200 hours into my copy Hyrule Warriors.
The hack-n-slash simplicity of those games was so cathartic, I now basically look forward to anything from that development team.
However, as much as I enjoy the Warriors games, Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires is a title I find both disappointing and extremely frustrating given that I had to force myself to play for 5 hours before starting to enjoy myself.
Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), XBox One
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Price: From $49.99 (Amazon),
Review Copy supplied by Mindscape Pacific Asia
Hack-n-Slash… with a twist!
Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires forgoes the relatively straightforward gameplay of Dynasty Warriors 8 both in the narrative and the gameplay to create a more customised and varied experience.
Rather than having players progress through a number of linear story modes using predetermined characters for every mission, Empires allows the player to choose from a number of pre-set scenarios based on different time periods with the goal of uniting China beneath one banner using whatever methods they see fit.
They even allow you to create your own custom scenario to dictate who and where your enemies will be when you start a new game.
Players are able to choose from the pool of established officers seen in Dynasty Warriors 8 or create their own uniquely crafted character and assume control of their lives.
The character creation is quite good in Empires since it not only allows you to customise your appearance with a surprising amount of freedom (although more clothing colour options would have been nice), but allows you to choose individual musou attacks, rage modes and EX attacks. This means you’re free to blend up to 5 different attack styles to create your own perfect avatar.
In Empire mode, each officer can start from a few different positions within (or outside) of a nation’s military. For example, a free officer can move anywhere on the map and even start a new nation from scratch, but will start with no resources and cannot influence a nations policies until they progress further.
An officer in an army can climb the ranks of the military, at first simply following orders to defend or invade countries but eventually gaining enough influence to rule small regions, then being as loyal or treacherous as you like.
Finally, you can start off as a territories leader and choose how best to run your nation, whether you concentrate on expanding your territory or improving the happiness of your citizens while fending off attacks and recruiting the best officers for your army.
While battle is important in the game, it is far from the only thing you will be doing. While battles range from taking part in quests to strengthen relationships or raid nearby enemy territories to weaken their hold on land, you will be spending just as much time building new facilities, donating or stealing funds from citizens or forming alliances with other nations to assist you in defensive battles.
You also must manage your relationships if you wish to get married or form sworn brotherhood bonds though I am not clear if this gives any noticeable benefits besides children joining your army later in the game.
All of these features sound very fun to me personally and I will admit that I eventually did take a lot of pleasure and satisfaction while I slowly conquered more land and improved the quality of life for my citizens. However the joy I found arrived 5 hours into the game because…
How do I even play this game!?
Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires is possibly the most poorly tutorialised game I have EVER played and is the direct reason this title is a major disappointment and will leave a bad taste in many people’s mouths. I mentioned in my Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate review that it fails to explain basic controls during the game but DW8 Empires somehow made it much worse.
All the features mentioned above, from choosing your officer, what each role entails, and what political manoeuvres you can perform per month are explained in only the most minimal detail possible. It fails to really explain what the responsibility of each military position is for instance, or what your various options will achieve. The game even fails to tell you what your goal is and simply assumes you’ll know to unite China.
The status menu is reasonably complicated too with a large number of symbols and numbers littering the screen to denote things such as your merits (only briefly explaining merits replace experience points to level up), the happy face denoting your virtue (still not entirely sure what virtue affects since many people still don’t trust me despite having maximum virtue), the happiness levels of each territory (I assume this means citizens will revolt when unhappy but again, not very clear) and much more.
Worst of all, your character can suffer from exhaustion that increases the more you battle (and possibly while doing other things) and it appears there is now way of telling how tired officers are. And given that being well rested can be the difference between doing heavy damage to the enemy and no damage at all (which is what occurred to me in one battle), this is unacceptable.
For the first few hours of play, I was constantly stressed since I didn’t know what information was relevant or not and resented the game for not properly explaining anything.
Better Know What You’re Doing
The battles also fail to account for anyone unfamiliar with Dynasty Warriors combat and simply assumes players already know how to control their officer. In fairness, this is probably accurate since all the controls are the same. Unfortunately, Empires also introduced the new element of stratagems to battles, so even a veteran player like me was completely lost.
Stratagems essentially work like magic spells, allowing your officer to heal allies, directly attack enemies with the elements or even set up surprise attacks using your fellow AI controlled officers to turn the tide of battle. This is a nice addition to the game since it adds extra strategy as you attempt to perform more complex manoeuvres or cancel out enemy attacks before they can cripple your army.
But for the first hour of play, I had no idea how to use them which meant battles were equally as frustrating as managing the world map.
Hide And Seek With The Instructions
And in a final baffling design decision, the creators of Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires hid the electronic manual in an obscure place. Rather than being on the PlayStation 4 dashboard like most other games, the manual can only be accessed from a specific battle preparation screen and pressing a the “option” button. This is so easily overlooked, I can’t fathom why they would put something this essential in such an unusual place.
Graphically, the game looks quite nice but since it recycles the models and maps from Dynasty Warrior 8, they are not as visually impressive as Samurai Warriors 4. There also seems to be a reduction in frame rates so players used to the smoother visuals offered by other Omega Force games will be left disappointed.
Fans should also note that since this game aims to be much more customisable than Dynasty Warriors 8, the story seen is not particularly strong. This is not necessarily a problem if you play games such as Civilisation 5 but anybody hoping to see a good story would be MUCH better served purchasing Dynasty Warriors 8 Complete Edition.
I personally enjoyed the fact that I could change the course of history, allowing my favourite military leaders to survive while executing the people I hated.
Final Verdict: 6/10
While Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires offers a decent level of enjoyment through a player orientated experience that can be customised to suit most tastes, Empires suffers from a terrible tutorial that fails to convey how to make the most of the experience.
Its visual presentation may also be dated for some gamers, especially due to frame rate issues. The lack of a true narrative may turn off some players but will be enjoyed by those who prefer to craft their own story
I can only recommend this title to Dynasty Warriors fans looking for a fresh way to experience the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but be warned that fan made FAQs and Let’s Play videos may be a necessity to enjoying the game.
Most customers would be better served playing just about any other Omega Force game, but especially Samurai Warriors 4 and Hyrule Warriors.