It’s called the 'Complete Edition' because it combines the base Dynasty Warriors 8 game with the Xtreme Legends expansion, which is as complete as the game gets in the West until the Empires expansion makes an appearance later this year. You know, I've always assumed that the Dynasty Warriors series was firmly console only, but apparently they’ve been getting PC ports since the fourth game back in 2003. This definitely the first and only one I’ve ever seen on Steam though, along with its 7,000 pieces of DLC. So many irritatingly tempting costume packs... thankfully priced way above my impulse buy limit. I’ve never wanted to play dress-up with my video game characters so badly though.
Oh I should mention that this was a surprise gift from a friend who reads the site, so I can’t actually say anything bad about the game. Sorry about that. I’ve been a big fan of the series since the PlayStation 2 games though so I’m way past the point of unbiased criticism anyway.
(Click the images to view them at around... 1280x720 resolution.)
The Dynasty Warriors franchise is based on the famous Chinese historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which is a bit of a rubbish title really considering it's more of a dramatised account of the conflict between three factions over dominance of China at the end of the Han Dynasty. Anyone hoping that Liu Bei and Cao Cao are going to get over their row in the final act and run away to get married is going to be disappointed.
Story Mode gives me the choice of either playing through one of the three kingdoms, an extra faction called 'Jin', 'Other', or the asshole warlord Lu Bu on his own. There's a big golden 'New' next to his name so I suppose he was added in the Xtreme Legends expansion, along with some extra stages for the others. Screw that though, it's been ages since I've played one of these so I'm playing through the Tutorial stage to learn the basics.
I’m running this maxed out by the way, on a modern card with all graphics sliders on full. I wouldn't say it's the most ‘next gen’ looking game to hit PCs in 2014 so far, but all those extra polygons should be coming along soon enough.
A COUPLE MORE TUTORIAL HINTS LATER.
I have figured out something though at least: that club he’s holding… that’s a bow with an arrow for the handle. Seriously, if I press the second attack button it springs open and he fires off a shot. It’s not really a ‘100% authentic to historical record’ kind of game.
Final Fantasy VII fans on staff; either that or these giant buster swords actually existed for real at some point.
You just wait until I’ve finished with this combo mate and I’ll be with you in a second. 240 kills so far and this is just the first proper tutorial battle.
Things have gotten a lot more complicated than they were in the last Dynasty Warriors game I played, with Switch Counters, and Storm Rushes, and the Rage Gauge... but I think I almost get it, and that’s good enough for me to leave the tutorial mode and start the game proper.
WEI STORY: STAGE 1.
Speaking of Cao Cao, that's who I've decided to play as, or his faction anyway. Cao Cao was one of the heroes who successfully fought against the Yellow Turban Rebellion and earned himself a bit of fame in the process. Five years later, the warlord Dong Zhuo seized the Imperial capital and took the Emperor into custody, and Cao Cao has received a letter from the man himself asking if he can come over and sort it out.
That map on the right is the stage I’ll be playing on. If there's one thing these games have taught me, it's that every major conflict of the era took place inside a perfect square. Dynasty Warriors levels aren’t necessarily linear routes from start to finish; they’re battles with objectives to achieve and bases to capture, and you can see that this one has paths winding all over the place. I'm sure I'll get given some directions when we arrive at the gates though.
Alright, time to depose a Dong.
TWO SECONDS LATER.
But then, with a demonstration of incredible strength Cao Cao overpowers both of his captors, the rock soundtrack kicks in (youtube link), and…
So I guess the objectives in this battle will mostly be ‘run away’ and ‘keep running’. Much respect to the developers for making these cutscenes skippable though.
I actually wish I’d chosen to play as Cao Cao, now that I know that his death is a fail condition. I'll have to babysit the guy the whole way!
Lu Bu in these games.
I could probably head back and take him on, and it’s probably even possible to win… but it's not all that likely that I’ll be managing it at level 1 with no practice. Or at all. Instead I need to focus on chipping away at Li Meng's health so that this gate will open up. It's the guys with the names who determine what gates block my route and which side holds a base, so those are the guys I need to give my attention to.
We’re not entirely on our own in this fight, as those guys in the background are Cao Cao’s troops. I can tell them apart from Dong’s men by their lack of health bars and…uh. Well, it doesn't really matter as there's no friendly fire in this.
A FEW GATES LATER.
You’d think it’d be hard to keep track of such a huge number of enemies in 3D, but it hasn't been an issue so far. I'm mostly looking out for names, and an arrow appears to point me in the direction of an enemy officer if they stray off camera.
A SHORT WHILE LATER.
Also, I just noticed that I’m nearly out of health here! These things are absolutely wrecking me, and poor Xiahou Yuan over there doesn’t look so healthy either. Looks like I’m going to have get over to Chen Gong and mash (X) and (Y) faster than ever! Those are my two basic attack buttons, and my different combos are dialled in by hitting 'normal attack' a number of times, then hitting 'strong attack' once or twice to finish. For instance (X) (X) (Y) (Y) would smack them around a few different ways, then ‘unleash a fiery shockwave’ to finish it off.
Killing dudes gets me new weapons, temporary damage bonuses, XP… all kinds of stuff! If there’s some pots around here I can break them for healthy meat buns too. Not that I need any right at this moment, I just like breaking things.
And then I really need to get back over to Cao Cao, wherever he’s gone, because he’s very close to expiring here. I'm running out of map though so I must be really close to an exit now.
A SHORT JOG LATER.
Another history lesson appeared after the fight to explain that numerous warlords answered Cao Cao’s call, and together, they formed the Allied Forces... you know I still can’t get over how the game doesn’t have a narrator reading this out. They should've gone full documentary on this thing, and hired someone with some real gravitas to tell the story of the Three Kingdoms.
Our second battle shall be fought at Hulao gate (I don't believe they mentioned why), and I’ve been provided with different selection of warriors to choose from this time. Not those guys up there, those are warlords and faction leaders, no I mean two other guys that don't even have beards. Seems like I can’t just stick to a single hero for the whole campaign in this mode and keep levelling them up.
Oh hang on, I was wrong, it does eventually stop if I scroll down for long enough, but holy shit there are a lot of fighting styles here to choose from. I've found flying swords, an arm cannon, a rake, a bit of cloth… there are some amazing weapons in here. They have different affinities too, like Heaven, Earth and Man, which I think works as a kind of rock, paper, scissors system. If I find an enemy in the field using the affinity I'm weak to, I'd likely do better against them after hitting the weapon switch button and whipping out my secondary sword. Or I can wait until they unleash a Storm Rush on me, and then tap weapon switch to counter it.
That weapon switch button also tends to smack enemies into the air when I press it too, so it's quickly becoming one of my favourite buttons. Sorry 'call horse', you're a good button and I do like you, but I like 'switch weapon' just that little bit more.
A FEW BUTTON PRESSES LATER.
Well there’s a blacksmith here who I can trade weapons with, but I’m pretty happy with the thousand or so weapons I seem to already be carrying so I’ll cut this short and go speak to someone about starting the battle already.
FOUR MINUTES OF CARNAGE LATER.
Wait… I think I’ve just figured out now why I like this game so much. It’s like the TIE Fighter of hack and slash games, with the player racing to objectives and figuring out who to engage first and how to get there quickly while the screen’s filling up with badguys and the game’s yelling ‘mission critical
Speaking of officers under attack, I need to find my way up some stairs now to take care of some archers raining arrows down on my troops. Damn, that brings back memories of the archers in the PlayStation 2 games... taking shots at me from halfway into the fog and constantly interrupting my flow. They're far less irritating in this so far, and much rarer too.
I’m lucky I found my way to this cliff actually, as I only ended up here because I went the wrong the way after backtracking on a desperate search for pots containing pork buns. No regenerating health in this game, though I can occasionally find snacks dropped by enemies during a fight.
Hey I think blowing them up has opened up the gate!
youtube link). Which is also the game's theme music. And the theme for the entire series.
Fuck that though, I’m not afraid of some optional mid-boss. I may only be a low level, but I’ve gotten 501 kills on this stage alone, and right now I’m at full health with two Musou Attacks to call upon and nearly a full gauge of rage. Lu Bu’s gonna be sorry he pursued me.
20 SECONDS LATER.
Often when I lose a chunk of health in these games it's because I've gotten caught by a good hit that's knocked my hero to the ground or in the air, and every time I try to recover he's smacked right back again. Lu Bu doesn't need to bother with that.
Next time around I just ignored the lot of them, ran straight up to the final gate, and unleashed all of my rage gauge on Dong Zhou the second I was within stabbing range. The warlord was down in about 14 seconds, including the time the game spent spinning the camera around and showing my musou powers kick in.
I suppose we’ve got a few more battles left against this guy before our coalition can finally take the bastard down, finish the prologue, and then get on with the far more important business of fighting between ourselves.
It seems that Lu Bu just went and turned traitor to his boss (and adoptive father) and killed him off screen. What a kill-stealing double-dealing bastard. The thing is, this isn't even made up. Darth Vader was a real person who lived in ancient China, and he went by the name of Lu Bu.
Well okay it's all slightly exaggerated perhaps. Anyway, I'm done with Story Mode for now, but there's still those other modes to investigate.
If you played as each person for just 10 minutes each, you would get 14 hours of gameplay out of this game. So I won’t do that, but I’ll quickly take a look at what this Ambition Mode is about.
I, on the other hand, am barely powerful enough to get a garden shed put up, so I need to acquire extra resources and personnel by playing through battles. This mode lets me construct and upgrade facilities at my camp, assign supervisors, etc… but more importantly it also lets me choose my music in the next battle! It’s got tracks going all the way back to Dynasty Warriors 3 here, so I can stick 'Bringer of War' on all I want (youtube link).
Eventually though I got my head around the concept, and realised that I need to head straight to the goal without being too bothered about enemy mobile unit captains swooping in to retake my bases. All I need to care about at the boxes of materials lying around, and the dudes with names on their head who'll give me an extra 30 seconds on the clock if I kill them.
I eventually built a teahouse and put Cao Cao in charge of it, so that he'd stand outside as an NPC and give me snack-related advice, so I'm pretty much sold on Ambition Mode. Next up, Free Mode.
Unfortunately completing a stage in Free Mode doesn’t unlock the next one, so I can’t really progress in it. Plus it’s kind of disheartening to finished a stage with every other character telling me I’m the greatest warrior ever, and then get all D’s afterwards on the battle results screen because in reality I'm too slow, too crap and also too lazy to do the secondary objectives.
Oh also there's a Gallery and an Encyclopedia... but you can probably imagine what they're about already, so I'll shut up now.
Dynasty Warriors is one of the strangest franchise to me, because every game has the same basic gameplay, is set in the same places, stars the same main characters, and retells the same story. Well okay the first game in the series was actually a fighting game (that's why Dynasty Warriors 8 is called Shin Sangokumusou 7 in Japan), but every sequel after 2 has been a reboot. And yet people keep buying the things!
The core gameplay is how it has always been: repetitive and satisfying. You wade into a crowd, relying on muscle memory to tap out the correct series of button presses needed to send everyone airborne, and try to keep track of the dude with the name above his head, then he dies and you grab your prize before summoning your horse and riding off to the next crowd. It's not entirely brainless, especially when you turn the difficulty up and the enemy officers start putting up a fight, but separated on its own it'd basically be an 3D evolution of Golden Axe or Streets of Rage. But then the game adds in a few things to keep it interesting:
- The battlefield. Sure the game often gives you an indication of where you should be, but that doesn't stop you from using your initiative and doing your own thing. If you feel like it, you can ignore Cao Cao's desperate cries for assistance and go off to the other side of the map to take a base, or fight the boss single handedly. There's secret objectives to get, hypothetical story branches to follow, boxes of stuff everywhere... those that stray from the path may not go unrewarded.
- The ridiculous number of characters, weapons, skills and unlockables. It seems like such a simple game, but I've been playing it for hours and I've only got a few characters levelled into the teens, and I only just learned that some weapons inflict status effects. Maybe I can even level up my blacksmith and then use my vast stash of cash I've accumulated in Ambition Mode to customise a sword I picked up in Free Mode with new attributes to do better in Story Mode... I don't even know! Omega Force have been refining their formula over six sequels and countless spin-offs and expansions, and the end result is something surprisingly complex.
- Co-op. I haven't tried it yet on this sequel, but co-op mode has always been the secret sauce that makes Dynasty Warriors taste so good. Which is why it's pretty disappointing that co-op is LOCAL SPLIT-SCREEN ONLY on PC. Now I love split-screen, and I think it's awesome to see another PC game support it, but I've got friends around the world who want to kill Lu Bu just as much as I do, and yet I can't team up with them to help out! It's the game's biggest flaw in my opinion.
Oh also there's no profiles! You only get the one save, which kinda sucks if you're the kind of person who has friends or family. So yeah, it can have both my little rating badges, but I'm also disappointed. Still, maybe the next one will be better! And that's why people keep buying the sequels.