Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires Review

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Title: Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download:  3.2 GB
NA Availability: 
Digital

EU Availability: Digital
PSTV Support: Yes

I wasn’t a very big fan of the Musou genre until lately.  Do you know what that is?  It’s the official name of the genre of strategic 3D beat-em-up actions games that Dynasty Warriors falls into.  There are other games that can fall into it as well, like Hyrule Warriors, Samurai Warriors, Warriors Orochi.  I really make it sound like they should have just called it the “Warriors” genre, right?  Well, if you’ve played any of those games, or perhaps Dragon Quest Heroes or Hyperdimension Neptunia U, you should know what I’m talking about.

With Dynasty Warriors, there’s been a trend as of late with different versions of the games.  You have a numbered Dynasty Warriors title.  Then you can have an Xtreme Legends version with extra content.  But, then there’s the Empires version that drops the main game’s story mode in favor of a much more strategic Empire and Conquest focus in the game.

The PlayStation Vita doesn’t have a whole lot at its disposal, as far as Dynasty Warriors is concerned.  It got Dynasty Warriors Next, built specifically for the Vita.  Then it got a port of Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends, which didn’t quite live up to expectations, having game-breaking technical problems.  So, now it’s time to test this once again, with the Vita’s very first “Empires” game.  Here is my review of the PS Vita version of Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires!

Story

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Since this is an “Empires” game, the story campaign from DW8 was dropped.  Instead, you have the Empires Mode, which does have a few story scenes at its disposal.  Essentially, you are a freelance officer in Ancient China with the goal of creating an Empire and unifying the entire country under a single flag, yours.  You being any of the playable characters available to the game.

What I should note is that the characters in this game aren’t completely works of fiction.  Every playable character here has the looks, name, and background of a real person from Chinese history.  If you go to a search engine and type in any of their names, you’ll find a lot of real history behind them.

The story is pretty light, but it does have its moments with diving into some character development with character interaction, marriage, and other factors.  But, overall, DW fans aren’t looking for a story when they play an Empires game.  They’re looking for strategy.

Gameplay

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Empires is a 3D action game with strategy and RPG elements thrown into the mix.  While many define this as a beat-em-up game, I think action fits the bill a little better.  When you’re in combat, you will be using weapons to fight off hordes of enemies while completing objectives.  All in all, it’s a 3D action game, just like the original game was on home consoles.

There are 4 main game modes for you to dive into from the Main Menu.  There is Empire Mode, Free Mode, Edit Mode, and Online Play.  Not quite as extensive, the game also gives you Gallery, Encyclopedia, and Options.  These are pretty straight-forward.  Gallery lets you see artwork and scenes.  Encyclopedia has more backstory about the characters involved, and Options has different settings, like display and sound settings.

Empire Mode is the most expansive game mode and the real reason for you to buy the game.  Empires is a strategy-based conquest simulation mode.  When you play this mode, each turn is a month of time and your end goal is to become a ruler and unify China.  You start at the lowest of the low.  A freelance officer with no home to call their own.  You work all the way up the ladder from peon to ruler of China.

This simulation is divided into several sections.  Each month you can take one action, and there are a lot of different ways you can use these turns.  You could go on quests or raid and invade other countries to get them under your territory.  Or, you can raise money, build shops in your owned regions, recruit new characters, donate to your people to increase their happiness towards you.  Apart from that, you can also spend time with your fellow officers, negotiate and forge alliances with other factions, hold banquets to help others get along with you, and the list just keeps going.  There are a ton of options at your disposal.

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Character interaction is something to note on.  Something special to the Empires version of Dynasty Warriors 8 is marriage and offspring.  As you spend time with officers, you can confess your love to them, or they can to you (of the opposite sex.  This is ancient China, so you shouldn’t expect to be able to do guy-guy or girl-girl marriages).  The benefit of this is that you can also have children with your wife/husband.  After you clear Empire Mode, you can play as the children in your next run, whom will adopt traits from both the mother and father.

During each turn, other factions also make actions.  So, while you’re busying yourself with building a school for your land, other countries are invading each other, forging alliances of their own, and a few other things.  This can kind of put a wrench in your plan of what to do.  If a country invades one of your territories, you are encouraged to go defend it so you won’t lose it or have it severely damaged, requiring repairs.

This brings to the strategy depth of this game mode.  Outside of the strategy of actual combat, you have to progress as you go through.  You need to be able to make new establishments like shops to be able to buy updated equipment.  You wouldn’t want to prance around battle with a sword with a strength of 7 when there’s one available with a strength of 13.  That’s why you need your people to be happy with you and to keep an eye on creating new establishments for new opportunities to buy upgraded weapons.

But, of course, money is the big thing you want to look for.  You gain money based on your territory, and that is used to purchase weapons, and do pretty much everything else.  You donate to your people, it costs money.  You want to hold a banquet for your allies?  It costs money.  Everything costs money and you want to use your own money whenever possible.  Some options let you take money from your people, but that will only lower their happiness with you and could incite a rebellion you’ll have to take care of.

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That last part I mentioned is the beauty of the variety of this mode.  Empire Mode lets you do this conquest in various time frames from Chinese History, and each time frame can have different events.  The first is during a rebellion, and in the middle of it, your own officers may decide to rebel for a region you’ve already conquered.  There really is a huge amount of depth here, and that’s a nice thing, especially since Empires Mode replaced Story Mode.

Combat is done in 3D environments and will be the bulk of your time.  These combat missions can go in many different ways.  You may have assassination missions, where you need to sneak past guards and kill an officer wandering by him or herself.  Or, you may need to hunt down some vicious tigers on the loose.  These missions are mostly dealt with in the Quest section to help improve an officer’s rating of you.

The biggest mission type is Invasion.  This has two different sides, an Invader and a Defender.  You each have a set number of bases under your control and a certain-hundred number of troops at your disposal.  The goal for the Invader is to take over bases until they reach the Defender’s Head Officer and Base and to kill them and take the base as their own.  It is the defender’s job to either take the head base of the Invader, or outlast the clock with defending themselves from the invasion.

This is the biggest mission type because this is what you have to do to invade other regions and take them as your own in Empire Mode.  This is also what you use when you get invaded and have to defend yourself.  There are some other modes, like Raiding an enemy encampment for supplies, but Invasion and Defense Missions are what you’ll be doing the most.

Outside of Empire Mode, there is Free Mode, which basically lets you set up your own missions for quick play.  But the real mode you want to look at is Edit Mode.  This is where you can create custom characters, banners, units of officers, Empire Mode Scenarios, and more.  Character Creation is similar to that of games like Freedom Wars and Ragnarok Odyssey, but it’s a bit more extensive.

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Aside from their physical appearance, there is a ton of equipment and weapons to choose from.  There are dozens of armor sets for pure looks, but weapons are where things get really deep.  Every weapon type has its own type of handling and attacks.  The big thing to note is that there are 91 different weapon types to choose from in the game.  That’s right.  This isn’t like Monster Hunter where you only have about a dozen.  There are almost one hundred different weapon types.  From one-handed swords and swallow swords to giant boomerangs and flying Talisman Cards (think Ace from Final Fantasy Type 0), there is an overwhelming amount of customization to be done.

To end the actual gameplay setting features, let’s talk about the Online Play.  You can go online and play against other plays in the main kinds of game modes: Invasion, Defense, and Raid.  You also are not limited to other PS Vita owners.  You can play with others, whether they’re on the Vita, PS3, or PS4 version of the game.  This can be set.  When you’re in Online Mode, you can set whether you want to only look for other Vita users, or if you’d like to search all PlayStation users.  You can also use Cross-Save throughout all three different versions.

Difficulty is something I’ve researched and I should mention.  Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires is not an easy game to beat, but it’s not as challenging as the last Empires game.  While this shouldn’t bother handheld fans, since the Vita didn’t get a version of DW7: Empires, it should be noted that die-hard fans of the series won’t find an overwhelming challenge here.  For the rest of you, though, you’ll still get a good challenge out of the game.  This isn’t something you can just mash buttons through.  You have to learn combos and know when to attack, when to dodge, when to call for reinforcements, etc.

Finally, I’ll mention repetition.  Many people don’t like the Dynasty Warriors games because they are repetitive.  It is true that many missions are similar to the last.  In the end, you’re fighting hordes of troops over and over again.  However, I think the strategy and difficult help it to not seem as repetitive.  But, if you’re worried, just download the Free Alliances demo of the game to see if that will bother you or not.

As far as length goes, a single play through Empire Mode consists of an average of two or three dozen missions, I’d say.  Since most missions (invasion) last a good 10 minutes or more, I’d clock a single play to be about 5 or 6 hours.  That’s if you’re not rushing to get through as soon as possible, and if you’re lucky and don’t have people constantly invading you towards the end of the game.

Controls

The controls for the game work well and not-so-well at the same time.  First, let’s talk about PlayStation TV Optimization!  When you play on the PSTV, all of the touch screen functions are redirected to the extra controller buttons, like calling your horse with L2 or pulling up the Strategems menu with R2.  There are even some features that use the L3 and R3 buttons.  Tecmo did an excellent job at optimizing the game for play on the micro-console.

Now, let’s talk about the other controls.  Moving around is done with the Left Analog Stick and moving the camera with the Right Analog Stick.  The D-Pad issues commands to your AI Team Members.  The X Button is used to jump and interact with objects, like your horse or ladders.  Square is used for light attacks and Triangle for Heavy Attacks.  Circle is used for Musou attacks when your gauge is filled.  Finally, the L trigger is used for blocking and strafing, and the R trigger can swap what weapon you’re using.

The touch screen handles everything else.  Pulling up and using Strategems, calling your horse, activating Rage Mode.  All of that is done with the touch screen.  That’s where we run into problems.  Empires’ touch controls aren’t what I would call well-optimized.  Calling your horse reacts well on the bottom-right of the screen.  However, opening and using Strategems is hit-and-miss.  I can tap the same area a dozen times before it will go into effect.  The game just isn’t very good at recognizing those touch commands.

Presentation

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The presentation is the biggest problem people had with the last Dynasty Warriors PS Vita game.  Visually, Empires doesn’t look bad, but it also doesn’t look great.  The world is colorful, but it’s very clear that there’s a lot of detail left out of the PS Vita release.  When you see rivers, they just look like painted blue colors.  They do show light, but they don’t react at all when you enter them.  I won’t call it the worst-looking Vita games, but it’s nowhere near the best.

Performance is the other thing.  Xtreme Legends had game-breaking frame issues in some area.  It had areas where the frame rate would drop below 10 fps and would make the game completely unplayable.  Empires is not completely free of frame drops.  They are there from time to time, normally in certain areas of stages.  While some of them do drop down pretty far, they never drop down to the point of making the game unplayable.  They become an annoyance, but nothing to completely ruin your experience.

The odd thing about the frame-rate is that the game tends to have more problems managing cutscenes than it does gameplay.  All cutscenes reflect your character and the costume/armor they’re wearing and the game doesn’t play this very smooth at all.  Most of the time, this is far worse than the frame drops in gameplay

The rest of the performance is really nice.  Load Times never exceed 5-6 seconds and the game has a stellar soundtrack.  One thing you may want to know is that the voice work is in Japanese with English subtitles.  I know many people wanted to switch to this when Xtreme Legends had an English Dub by default, so you don’t have to worry about that this time around.

Summary

Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires is the first handheld Empires game released in the West.  The game does have a few things to worry about, like glitchy touch controls, mild frame rate issues, and a visual presentation not quite up to the standard for the Vita.  Regardless, this is a wonderfully chaotic and strategic Warriors game that anyone interested is sure to enjoy. 

7/10

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