Thursday, January 15, 2015

Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires Review (Shin Sangoku Musou 7: Empires Review)


INTRODUCTION


In the world of video games, no company's zeal is as strong and evident as Omega Force and their Dynasty Warriors franchise, spawning eight major installments over sixteen years, and never ceasing to additionally release an expansion pack and a spinoff for each new numerical value.

The Empires games are standalone spinoffs of Dynasty Warriors that attempts to mesh together two very different game genres—the turned-based tactical strategic gameplay of KOEI's own Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and the fast paced hack and slash gameplay of Dynasty Warriors.

The results are not so much RoTK as it is Dynasty Warriors. At its heart, Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires remains mostly true to its title, but the sufficient strategy element helps elevate the gameplay away from the games' criticized repetitive nature and lack of brain power to play. With its marked improvements to the already excellent Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires, Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires may just be the very best Empires game yet.
 

GAME MODES


EMPIRE MODE: The meat and bulk of Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires lies within Empire Mode, a name that's not alien to players who experienced other installments in the Empires series. It's basically your entry into the game's turned-based tactical strategy segment, spawning many historical and fictional scenarios to choose from, and largely mimicking KOEI's Romance of the Three Kingdoms games, albeit much less in-depth and dramatic.

Scenario selector and map of China showing divided forces
Your primary goal in any scenario is to conquer and unite all of China under your ruling, or under your ruler's ruling. Tackling such a titanic task requires you to defeat all your opposing enemies in battle, stealing their territories, and executing important strategies that ensures your forces are always victorious. Not only that, but you may be burdened the task of maintaining your land, people and kingdom; including ensuring imperative facilities are built, keeping material possessions high, recruiting officers, training your troops and either be an angel to keep your people and fellows happy or be a devil to make them despise your existence. All through one action at a time. Yes, this is game mostly based upon choice, after all...

When you first pick a scenario, you have the selective choice of being a ruler, general, strategist, viceroy, vagrant and others in any territories available from the initial map. These positions can be exchanged for another during your playthrough, such as a vagrant can become a ruler and a general can become a strategist, dependent on the choices you make during play and your status. A ruler has the highest authority of any person and carries all duties of the kingdom, having enough power to demand an opposing kingdom to outright surrender. A strategist is allowed to invoke certain strategy actions, such as recommending generals to the force, carrying out invasion/defense battles and building of facilities. A general can only partially assist their kingdom such as aiding them in battles, partaking in raids and tackling requests. A vagrant wanders China in search for a specific goal, perhaps to build their own kingdom or join another's. Vagrants are not held in any kind of peril as they are safe from any kind of enemy attack; however, that does not mean you should forever be a vagrant!


"Allow me to serve you, my lord."
Romance and friendship plays an important role in Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires similarly to the previous installment, although it is quite a bit more amplified here. And before you shudder in fear of the thought, NO, this isn't one of those infamous Japanese date simulators and absolutely nothing like it.

Maintaining high levels of friendship with your forces and people (through discussions, aid and banquets) will keep them smiling and discourage them from revolting. Let's just say that if a revolt were to occur within your own forces, they will hastefully and forcefully attempt to overthrow you (and with your own stolen generals, as well). Certain characters such as Lu Bu, has a mighty tendency to revolt regardless of how friendly you are, so be aware that having the mightiest warrior in China on your side may not be such a brilliant idea.

Heterosexual marriages are offered much the same way as Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires; however, the game now allows you to have your own offspring, but regrettably only one. You and your spouse will have lovely, romantic conversations and events with each other until your child gets unleashed from the womb to the world. And you two become the happiest people in the planet, or do you?


"We're married and we're going to have a beautiful child, right?!!" - Lu Bu
"Um... not with those eyebrows." - Diao Chan
The problem with the game's offspring system is in its character generator—it just frankly generates fugly children no matter the mother and father. Sometimes children don't even look children, as some may have faces of a 70 year old man or woman. Some appear alienish with a head of a little boy or girl and a body of a grown adult. One thing is for certain however—Omega Force literally takes genes all too seriously, seriously... If the father has bushy eyebrows and small eyes, you can be damned guaranteed that child will have bushy eyebrows and small eyes too. If the mother wears red and certain clothes, do not be utterly shocked your child wears the same clothes in red. If the father wore blue and mother wears red, the child may come out with a clown looking wardrobe in terms of color consistency. In the world of China in Omega Force's eyes, I guess there are no such thing as good looking children...

Looks like Lizzie Velasquez may have some competition...
Thankfully, you can save your children from shameful disgrace by completely overhauling their face, body, clothes and voice after playthrough. Of course, you can always throw a mask over their face, that works eminently well too. Now I didn't realize ancient China had plastic surgery, but I can certainly assure you I don't wish to know how it's done, ever...

One of the most highly respectable changes to Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires is the elimination of the dreaded fluctuating fame system that plagued the otherwise excellent Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires. In its place is a more traditional leveling system which allows characters to level up to 99 and importantly maintain that level and its respective stats granted. The fame itself has now been pushed aside to simply display indication of how good or evil a person is, rather.

Characters each now have their own "Way of Life" appellation, which determines their learning stratagem, specific strategy actions, employment costs, virtue level and starting level. Characters you control start out as mere ordinary men/women, but can escalate themselves to have different Way of Lives, achievable by obtaining certain titles during playthrough. An interesting addition, however profoundly confusing from the get-go.

The store in the game no longer has its own area one can traverse in and graphically shop. It has been completely consolidated into strategy actions and this is a definite pro, as it saves the agony of having to constantly sit through loading screens in order to purchase something.


Purchasing items are now a breeze in Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires
Store purchasable weapons, items and stratagems are unlocked exclusively through construction of different types of facilities, unlike Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires. Each territory allows two facilities to be constructed, and the more facilities that you build, the higher level they become, equating to more rewards. Facilities can also encourage and automatically develop more resources such as gold and troops, which is a blessing if you're the kind of person who prefers to just sit on your bum and watch the valuables pour in without doing any work.

Weapons are unfortunately preset, and the game provides zero customization including any kind of tempering, which is very disappointing given how the original and Xtreme Legends has always provided such a necessity. Regardless, elements aren't completely disgusting on high ranked weapons, as most provide at least velocity so you aren't torturing yourself too much.

During invasions, in contrast to regular Dynasty Warriors games, Empires differentiates during battles with one primary goal to victory—enemy base capturing followed by eventual defeating of the leading enemy officer. As usual, the general idea is to create a chain of allied bases between your main base and that of the enemy's, allowing you to take down the enemy's leading officer in the end (who appears at some point in-between).


ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US!
When defending a territory, the objective remains the same with the variation in being that the battle can be won by simply allowing the timer to run out, while keeping your army bases in check. It's good to note that the timer has been reduced to a mere five minutes on defense battles instead of fifteen. Thus, defense battles aren't nearly as bothersome and annoying to deal with as in the past, especially when the enemy decides to be an ass and bombard you with invasions. Defense battles can furthermore be entirely avoided altogether during the strategy phase with the inclusion of being able to fix damaged territories after enemy invasion, albeit costing resources. You are allowed up to three disregarded enemy invasions (without fixes) to a territory before it ultimately crumbles and gets claimed.

A different type of optional battle, called raids, can be carried out by the player in any position. Raids allows you to launch an assault on a nearby enemy territory, with the goal being to damage it before the eventual invasion, granting you a positive handicap and allowing easier take down.

A new type of optional battle, called requests, are available that allows your character to accept and complete various battle requests given by officers within the vicinity of your territory. By completing requests, your character will earn assorted rewards including new weapons and items. Friendship levels with the giver are also raised as a reward.
These are small types of battles that only lasts for a few minutes with various objectives such as protecting an ally or defeating a number of enemy officers.
 
Overall, Empire Mode remains at large indifferent from Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires aside from the aforementioned changes. This is rather peculiar as there has always been a very stark difference jumping from one Empires game to another. Nevertheless, Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires without a doubt does offer the very best Empire Mode yet in the series.

FREE MODE:
Free Mode has been a staple feature for all major Dynasty Warriors games, but it seems to be more often than not passed behind in the Empires series. The last Dynasty Warriors Empires game to include such a mode existed minutely in Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires, which was nearly eight years ago.

As a supporter of freedom and personalization in games (who wouldn't be?), I highly believe in the existence of a free mode for every type of Dynasty Warriors games, be it Empires or not. In Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires, I could sorrowfully complain about not being able to simply jump in a battle from the get-go with all my equipment unlocked, set up my own armies, selecting a stage, all without having to paddle through the tedious strategy phases of a regular game. In Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires, the same complaint cannot be held valid.


Free Mode is a mode you wish never left the series in the first place
Although the 8th Empires' Free Mode is pretty robust with all the aforementioned features included, it does have some rather pesky limitations and annoyances which mars it down a bit.

For one, individual characters on both armies cannot be assigned their own levels separately. Both your army and the opponent army must be grouped into a specific level each, and that level will be applied to all characters. Because of this vexing limitation, tailoring very specific handicaps and balances is out of the question. For those who likes a little gamble, there's also a random level you can opt into, but that clearly isn't recommended if you're sane.

Secondly, the game fails to remember any kind of equipment setup from previous playthroughs in Free Mode, unlike Empire Mode. Whenever you start a new battle through Free Mode, don't be surprised to be constantly hassled of reequipping your character his or her weapons, items and stratagems again and again; even if you used that character a thousand times previously.

Third, there's very little incentive to play Free Mode other than earning bonus points, experimentation, practice and some quick fun off of Empire Mode. The game does not keep track nor carry over character levels through playthroughs, so you're not going to be able to utilize the mode to develop characters. Sadly, you cannot gain weapons, items or stratagems either, as even if you did, they wouldn't be available to you at the end of the battle, anyway.

By all means, Free Mode is a wondrous and necessary supplement to the game and I'm dead glad Omega Force blessed us with one this time around. However, it clearly isn't wholly ripe yet and can certainly be improved easily through patch updates.

CHARACTER CREATION: It's blatantly apparent at this point that Omega Force isn't debating to entirely rework their character creation system that's been essentially copy pasted in the past multitude of recent Warriors titles. It's no stranger here that the character creator in Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires feels and works virtually identical to the past installment, minus a few new parts such as hairstyles and clothing.


Cute, but I feel like this all too familiar before...
It isn't a new game if everything is exactly the same, nevertheless. Hence, several new features are introduced in the editor, including the ability to custom craft up your own flag, horse and even troops. Sadly, the vastly cool photo uploader is exclusively available for flags and isn't accessible at all for characters, unlike Samurai Warriors 4. So no, you can't draw a pretty face on your PC and slap it on as your character's portrait. Or an ugly face, if your character is ugly.

It's... like something straight off a HORROR film!
SCENARIO EDITOR: The Scenario Editor is a new and very welcomed feature in Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires that gives you the choice of almost completely constructing a scenario the way you desire it to be. I say "almost", as besides from freely planting officers wherever you please, assigning them positions and colorizing your kingdoms, there's actually little else possible. You can exclude certain officers from appearing entirely in your scenario, such as excluding playable characters from the main cast or custom characters. You can additionally name your scenario and share it online with other fellow players.

This is not your dream scenario creator, but it's close...
If you dig the "Gathering of Heroes" scenario but don't appreciate its epic randomness, then Scenario Editor will most definitely usher a smile on your face. Still, some more finer customization would be appreciated, such as being able to set the year your scenario starts in (it always starts at year 1).

GAMEPLAY AND CHARACTERS


With any customary Dynasty Warriors game, you have at your playable arsenal characters ranging in the amounts of up to nearly a hundred. In an Empires games, that number (in which you already thought was impossible), jumps up to several hundred, literally. That's because Empires games allows you to additionally play as all generics (those boring spear, great sword and throwing knives officers which all look identical to one another), as well as your own custom created characters. Don't be fooled into attempting to play as a generic officer nevertheless, as their genericness implies, their movesets are a lot more limited in comparison to every other character.


Xun Yu looking BOSS
A brand new Wei officer and strategist Xun Yu is now available as an uniquely playable character, sporting a very traditional looking strategist uniform and wielding a totally new Taigong Wang-esque scepter as his primary weapon of choice.

Several existing characters from the main playable cast are also issued replacement weapons that are derived from previous DLC weapons, revamped with their own specialized EX attacks and musous. These include Wang Yi (Emei Piercers), Guan Suo (Sabaton), Sun Quan (Flame Blade), Yue Ying (Bladebow), Xiaoqiao (Paired Fans), Lianshi (Deer Horn Knives), Meng Huo (Stone Pillar), and let's not forget my personal favorite: Jackie Chan a.k.a Liu Shan (Dragon Stool).


And not a single F was given that day...
The replacement weapons will be a hate-it-or-love-it deal with fans, but I have to honestly admit that several of these weapons do actually fit the characters better. One in most particular being Wang Yi's Emei Piercers, which attacks' embodies a purely badass assassin and suits her cold and cruel nature way more so than the trishulas. On another note, I'm also not having to think of The Little Mermaid anymore every time I'm using her weapons, so that's another plus.

The vast majority of these weapons also incorporates their own entirely unique and interesting gimmicks, such as the harsh timing loaded charges of the Bladebow, heavily separating them from the rest of weapons (most of which are bare-bones).

In actual battles, Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires adopts the Xerox gameplay and mechanics of Dynasty Warriors 8. Hence, aside from the addition of a few new weapons to slaughter with, you're not going to charge into battle and experience Dynasty Warriors 9. It wouldn't be called Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires then, would it?



Meanwhile, it isn't at all imperative to have played Dynasty Warriors as a prerequisite for playing Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires. The core gameplay of Dynasty Warriors is so easily accessible that a newcomer can quickly learn how to play through the game's battles in one sitting. The idea is exceptionally simple in a Dynasty Warriors battle—set up your equipment, ride into the battlefield and just slay thousands of enemies. Be careful though, as since this is a war battle simulator, you're going to have to watch out for your allies and ensure that important officers (like your commander) and your main base aren't stricken down by the enemy. Moreover, keep that morale bar up along with your troop counts, as that can often times decide how aggressive the enemy AI decides to pummel your army minions off screen.

New stratagems are plenty abundant in Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires, featuring new grand scale stratagems that consumes time to execute but emphatically affects the entire battlefield, including those that engulfs the enemies in raining arrows, lightning strikes and mini-typhoons. Catapults and attack/defense towers can also be strategically placed nearly anywhere on the map, giving you a much more refined control of their usage. Certain stratagems can also instantly alter the weather, granting increased effectiveness on the effects of other stratagems when used in conjunction. That's right, you can play mother nature herself now in Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires. How freaking cool is that? 


Stratagems lost its visual appeal but gains many more gameplay benefits
Most beneficially, stratagems are no longer fame exclusive (as the fame system has been thankfully abolished). Because of this, obtaining every stratagem in the game for usage in a battle is now possible, although you obviously won't be able to equip them all at once.

About the only downfall of Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires' stratagems is the total loss of its visual aesthetics when being executed. Sadly, you won't be receiving anymore of those epic close up shots of your characters prancing in front of a colorized electric field.
 
The game now allows you to upgrade your current bases prior to entering actual battle by utilizing resources you gained during playthrough. You can level up bases to help better protect them from downfall or transform them to other types of bases, such supply or defense bases. These aren't incredibly valuable however, as I have personally never bothered to upgrade or transform my bases and yet in every battle I was constantly on track of being victorious. You would literally have to be at a huge disadvantage and on the verge of losing at the get-go in order to resort to using this feature.

Overall, while the actual combat portion of Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires isn't any different from Dynasty Warriors 8, the amount of new weapons and added stratagems helps eliminate the dreaded feeling of playing the exact same game as before.


AI AND DIFFICULTY


Slap me on the head, throw a bucket of ice water on me and wake me up when Omega Force develops a Warriors games that implements a disparate form of AI than ones present in the past decade. Yep, there ain't no lying to anyone when I say the AI and overall difficulty of Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires remains very little different from past recent Dynasty Warriors games. To put it bluntly—mediocre AI, punishing damages.

The game is actually structured from Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends, and includes every little change introduced from that game, such as enemy officers switching affinity more often, affinity shield being more difficult to break, and tons and tons of various nerfs to all sorts of weapons.

For the difficulty lineup, the game has its usual affair of difficulties covering the whole spectrum from Novice all the way to Chaos. The Ultimate difficulty has been oddly removed, much to the same fashion as Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires. Fellow brave warriors should fear not though, as Chaos is more than ample enough challenging due to its very punishing enemy damage output. But like I indicated earlier, you shouldn't have to worry too much about the AI attempting to outsmart you on any difficulty.

I shall be the wise and say: never begin an Empire Mode scenario on a harder difficulty fresh out of the water, unless you are really inept and inclined on going on a suicide mission (seriously, those one hit K.O.s from normal difficulties are bad enough). That's why the game offers the ability to transfer all your weapons, items, stratagems and strategy actions that you've obtained during all your playthroughs to the next. These have to be purchased with bonus points you accumulate by playing the game, so unfortunately they aren't freebies. You also have the option of starting out at a specific level for your character and up to 50,000 starting materials, gold and troops. These are all great options that helps makes the game's difficulty and ease of play incredibly controllable.


GRAPHICS


What happens when you attempt to throw a hundred enemies on screen at once in a ginormous battlefield filled with scenery, have a playable character roam around it wherever he or she pleases, and add flashy effects and explosions everywhere? You get the graphics of Dynasty Warriors—which is somewhere in the very middle lines of photo-realism and Minecraft graphics. Truthfully, there are always limitations imposed on game developers considering the limits of gaming hardware. To say the game looks bad is an overstatement; however, to say the game looks good is an understatement. The game actually looks astonishingly pretty considering how much havoc wrecks the screen at any given time. The most jaw dropping graphics comes from the playable characters themselves, in which every little detail such as clothing texture can be discernible when up close.  

You  have to be lying to yourself if you don't think these graphics are pretty
You might expect low frame rates to be a devastating enemy to a game of this incredible nature, but it's hardly ever jerky enough to pass it off. The PS4 version of the game handles exceptionally well, with frame rates rarely ever dipping below 60fps regardless of what occurs on screen. The PS3 version occasionally has a few hiccup moments and isn't as buttery smooth as the PS4, but I dare challenge anyone to experience it and say it isn't completely playable in the end.

AUDIO AND MUSIC


Most would agree traditional Chinese music and rock music doesn't mix, and is the equivalent of meshing up Xbox fans with Playstation fans. But let's get real, what Omega Force has done with Dynasty Warriors music is simply remarkable and the epitome of genius. If every soldier and officer were all fighting to Dynasty Warriors soundtracks back in the Three Kingdoms era, their morale would skyrocket like a speeding rocket ship; China would then always be at a stalemate because nobody would ever best one another. That's how good the music is.

Regrettably, not a whole lot of new music are introduced in Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires, and those that are new are more crafted to be mellow and soft for the strategy phases and meaningful events in the game.


REPLAYABILITY


As far as games go, I find myself constantly going back to Warriors games again and again. There isn't a mysterious poison that keeps me affixed to them, but rather the sheer fact that Warriors games are designed to always have replayability in them. Not just in minute quantities, but in large, excessive amounts.

Empires is no exception. Although the replayability is a wee tarnished due to the game's inability to maintain developed character levels and stats, it's replayability is still untarnished in other areas, including access to a crazy sized playable cast and multiple scenarios to clear. Moreover, no scenario is ever exactly the same every time you play through them due to the game's random nature. Upon adding the strategy elements that only the Empires games highly encompass, it might not be a stretch to call the replayability of Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires "unlimited".


CONCLUSION


The Empires games may not be suitable for everybody. For those who prefer to just carelessly lay back on the couch, shut half of their brain off, shed off pounds of stress and slay thousands of enemy fodder continuously, the original Dynasty Warriors flavor may be the better game for them.

For those who desire a little more thought and personalization in a Dynasty Warriors game however, there is absolutely nothing that offers better than Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires. 

Even if one so wishes to just play Dynasty Warriors for what it really is, you still can't go wrong with the game's non-strategic Free Mode, or downloading the equivalent free to play version. 

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10  

 

Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires comes out February 24th for North America and 27th for Europe

3 comments:

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