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April 2021

Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release Date: Nov. 24, 2015 (US), Nov. 25, 2015 (EU)

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PS Vita Review - 'Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires'

by Brian Dumlao on Dec. 17, 2015 @ 2:30 a.m. PST

The Dynasty Warriors Empires series returns replete with new features including deep customization of warriors, horses and armies, or even the creation of an original character in dynamic battlefields that evolve with environmental changes.

Ever since Koei Tecmo decided to stop making portable specific Musou experiences and just go for ports of existing games, the Vita has received some of the better Musou games in a while, especially the Samurai Warriors titles. The games have been technically sound since they work within the system's limitations, and they've also been released on the same date as their home console brethren. However, that's changed with Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires, which is out nine months after the home console versions and certainly isn't as robust as expected.

Like previous Dynasty Warriors games, this places you against the Romance of the Three Kingdoms era in ancient China. Players choose from a cast of over 70 fighters as they go through historical eras in a journey to unite and conquer the nation. Unlike the main series, where you plow through stages to reach the conclusion of an era, you'll employ some strategy to go along with the combat. Whether it's invading neighboring lands, defending your own territories from invasion, bolstering your resources, or making alliances, you'll engage in other activities to help your kingdom.

The characters you pick make a difference on the battlefield. In terms of combat, every fighter sports his or her own weapons and combos associated with those weapons. Selecting between fighters with primary weapons of dual blades, for example, yields two different fighting styles. You can acquire and use secondary weapons, so there's still some variety in combat. New to the series is Xun Yu, an officer in the Cao Wei Dynasty who uses a staff that lets him create areas of electrical force after specific combos. Though not historically accurate, it introduces a fighting style so different that it feels fresh. Unfortunately, he's the only new addition to the cast, so those hoping for a larger upgrade will be disappointed.

The other difference has to do with the rate at which you conquer China. In essence, there are three different ranks you can start with, and there are abilities associated with those ranks. Officers represent the lowest rank a character can have, and unsurprisingly, the majority of the characters are in the Free Officer class, which means they wander around until they find a ruler to take them in. From there, they take on odd jobs to build up their income, rank and troop count. They also earn various titles based on their actions, including trying to become sworn siblings with other officers and starting a family of their own. No matter what, you'll get called into fights to take over other territory based on the ruler's whims, and prolonged success can promote you to the prefect class, where you're put in charge of some of the ruler's land by maintaining its status and protecting it from invading forces. You also gain some benefits such as periodic gifts and the chance to invade other lands. You're still under the mercy of your ruler's whims in regards to invasion strategies, but you can interject at given opportunities with the hopes of modifying things to your liking. Rulers, on the other hand, have complete control over the ebb and flow of invasion tactics, but they must also worry about making alliances to protect themselves and get temporary boosts to put up a better fight against enemies. Like prefects, they have to maintain their governing lands and ensure that their officers are happy enough to not overthrow them.

No matter what class you play as, you'll always have a few different mission types. Side missions are all short enough that they can be finished quickly. You'll escort important figures from one spot on the battlefield to another or rid the land of bandits or wild animals. You'll also engage in a few stealth missions where you reach a specific enemy before being spotted, though it's so easy to avoid detection that they're rather unenjoyable. If you get invaded, you'll have defense missions where you protect your base from a takeover in the allotted time period.

Both Invasion and Raid missions make up a bulk of the battle scenarios, and the only difference between them is whether you obtain new territory by the end. In both mission types, you'll assemble an army of officers and soldiers to man your main and secondary bases in a battlefield while the enemy forces do the same. Your goal is to take over as many of the secondary bases as possible by eliminating all of the enemies occupying them. Do this enough times, and the main officer or ruler shows up at their main base, and killing him or her wins the battle.

The series is infamous for its combat, and that's on full display here, for good and ill. You maintain the role of the all-powerful fighter, wiping out hordes of enemies who don't bother to fight back. Enemies always come in large groups but almost always stay in their bases, venturing forth only when an officer decides to make a play for a base. Most of the time, the officers don't bother to attack, but every so often, they do so in a way that you can't interrupt their moves. For the most part, combat is easy enough that you can rely on one weapon and combo string to get the job done effectively.

The problem is that everything is highly dependent on the grind and repetition. Those who aren't playing as rulers often go after various side missions to pass the time while their leaders slowly overtake territories. Prefects have more power and activities than officers, but the increase is slight enough to be imperceptible to all but die-hard fans. You'll see the same environments several times over as a result, and the presence of a new stage fails to excite. Raids and invasions can be quickly beaten by repeating the same strategy, so they also become boring. Since the goal of every era is to conquer all of China, the only variation you can look forward to is the starting territory setup. Even though there are seven lengthy eras, they all blend into one another rather quickly. When playing as anyone other than a ruler, things become excruciatingly slow. Longtime players of the Empires spin-off will recognize that this is the same pattern in previous entries, but with both the Warriors Orochi series and the Samurai Warriors series making great strides to improve the formula, it is disappointing to see this one stubbornly stick to the basics.

Aside from the Free and Online modes that let you play any mission with whatever parameters you want, Empires also features an Edit mode. As before, you can create an officer to use in all of the game modes, and there are a very generous number of cosmetic options available to you from the outset. Fighting styles and special moves can also be adopted from other characters, letting you create a wildly varied and devastating fighter. Creation has expanded greatly with this iteration, as you can now create your own troops, banners and horses. You can even create custom scenarios to share online, making some of the battles a little more interesting.

Graphically, this is where the game falls apart. The character models are fine, but the textures are flat. The same goes for the environments, though at least there isn't any form of pop-in that appears for environmental elements. Upon viewing cut scenes, you'll notice that the system seems to struggle, and the frame rate gets pretty close to a slideshow instead of something more fluid. There are lots of particles present in the court scenes with the rulers, but people may not have minded if the particles were removed for a smoother experience. Frame rate drops don't occur often in the battlefield, but you also don't see amazing hordes of enemies, either. Instead, enemies are barely there, and they pop up out of thin air as you defeat a few foes. One could say that the technical deficiency of the Vita is to blame, but after seeing how Samurai Warriors 4 handles the issue on the same platform, it's fair to say that proper optimization likely wasn't done.

Compared to the sound of the other games in the spin-off series, the stuff here feels like a throwback. The rock heavy soundtrack returns, and while it feels wildly out of place considering the setting, it also feels comforting since this is what the series has used for a long time. The voices are good mostly because the decision has been made to only have a Japanese cast. The cheesiness of the English cast is gone, but that isn't something that will be missed. What hurts the game greatly is the muddiness of the audio. The music seems to be playing at lower fidelity, and all of the sound effects sound muffled, almost like they've been compressed too much. Like the graphics, this feels like a step backward when you compare it to other games on the platform.

Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires is in need of serious polish. The short missions are well suited for a portable console like the Vita. Though there aren't a lot of modes here, at least the base content is large enough that the game feels rather packed. The overall presentation is noticeably worse than previous games on this platform, and since those were more robust and fun to play, this entry doesn't feel like it warranted a delay. For fans of this entry on home consoles, the Vita iteration gives you the opportunity to take it on the go (if you don't mind starting over). Otherwise, seek out the other games on the Vita if you want something more enjoyable.

Score: 5.5/10

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