With each new installment of a successful video-game series, the developers likely ask themselves if they should continue to do the same things that have earned them a dedicated fanbase, only slightly better, or opt to risk losing the support of loyalists who find comfort in repetition by revising the established formula. Omega Force seems to have chosen a response that incorporates aspects of both approaches with Dynasty Warriors 8, easily the deepest Dynasty Warriors experience in quite some time, but still a brawler that’s plagued with a number of glaring issues that stop the game from attracting the interest of anyone who isn’t already wholeheartedly devoted to Koei’s long-running history-skewing beat ’em up.
Combat still consists primarily of frantic button-mashing tactics, but thankfully Dynasty Warriors 8 implements a few fresh ways of massacring multitudes of oncoming enemies designed to arouse the curiosity of the uninitiated. Switch Counter, in combination with Storm Rush, offers an effective parry/lock-on stratagem that adds some variation to the often tedious hack-and-slash mechanics that imbibers of Dynasty Warriors Haterade take pride in repeatedly lambasting. Rage Awakening takes the series’s signature Musou attacks to the highest stylistic level possible, providing your soldiers with a sort of hyperactive special maneuver that effectually bulldozes any and all pawn-ranked annoyances in the immediate vicinity. Weapon switching has been retained, and the affinity system is another highlight, thriving by way of a proven rock-paper-scissors altercation gambit, which requires players to occasionally think ahead in tight situations, rather than charging into the fray absent any kind of calculated plan of assault. Sadly, the game’s only visually exciting features are indeed its battle animations; character and environmental designs are generally flat and lifeless. Apparently Omega Force believes a staggering roster of over 70 blandly composed Chinese wartime officers is more important than finally making a Dynasty Warriors game that artfully depicts the chronicled Asian provinces it uses as its backdrop.
Story mode is initially entertaining but altogether unimaginative, with a mixture of scenarios that bounce between historically accurate and embarrassingly falsified. Free mode was one of the better inclusions in Dynasty Warriors 6, and it returns here, granting players the ability to slap together their own consolidations of stages and fighters from kingdoms Shu, Wei, Wu, and Jin. If there’s a glimmer of hope that future Dynasty Warriors titles might not walk the path of continual duplication, it’s Ambition mode, which adds an addictive RPG/castle-crafting element to the proceedings. Who would have thought that elevating your social status would be the most engrossing procedure involved in a Dynasty Warriors game? The rags-to-riches-style enterprise entails building a palace, dubbed the Tongquetai Tower, from little more than a modest item shop to a superstructure formidable enough to prompt a visit from Emperor Xian of Han. Fortifying your stronghold is accomplished by taking part in three types of conflict crusades: Skirmishes provide materials to enhance your fortress, Raids increase your notoriety, and Large-scale encounters result in the recruitment of able-bodied selectees to populate your soon-to-be-bustling citadel.
The biggest problem with Dynasty Warriors 8, and the series as a whole, is that it loses its value as quickly as Koei publishes another sequel. The artificial intelligence, graphics, co-op, and overall premise simply aren’t up to today’s high standards in the ever-evolving video-game medium. Though it’s difficult to imagine a set of circumstances where a Dynasty Warriors episode won’t have its fair share of unwavering admirers, the shelf life of each episode is growing increasingly truncated, and so too is the extent to which defending Omega Force’s handiwork can be legitimately substantiated.