Before moving into the next Warriors generation, it is often customary for an Empires game to arrive. This time around it's Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires that arrives to round-out this numbered iteration and put its own stamp on proceedings. As such, it returns with its trademark strategy gameplay which is aimed at allowing players to conquer China in any way that they see fit, with all of history's famous generals taking part in a rather unique landscape.
Yes, Empire Mode is very much the primary focus in this version of Dynasty Warriors 8 and while there is a Free Mode where you can create your own battlefields, Empires is where the vast majority of your time will be spent.
There are six different scenarios to play through this time around, with five offering up historical settings and the sixth allowing for a completely random outlook. It means there is plenty of variety here, especially when selecting that sixth option as the landscape can look very different each time around. It helps to keep the experience fresh and you will even see some rather odd combinations appearing when it comes to various kingdoms and their associated rulers.
As you delve in, you will notice that there are various ways to play. First up, you can create your own warrior using a wide array of options, or you can choose to fight as one of the time periods more notable officers. From here, you can either take up the position of a ruler or officer within a Kingdom, or start as a free officer and create your own destiny from scratch.
Depending on the route you choose, your journey can be vastly different. And the actions you can perform each turn will also depend on your status. As a ruler, you get to dictate actions and direct your subordinates, but as a free officer you will need to perform quests to gain favour. When you're ruler, it can be quite easy to sweep across the board, wiping everyone out before you, but as someone lower down the order things can often turn out to be rather more interesting.
For this Empires game, the AI within your own kingdom are much more unpredictable. Officers will leave if they aren't happy with their ruler's direction and can even set up their own vagabond units to challenge specific regions for power. Should they choose, vagabonds can also raise their own banner and embark on their own quest for domination. Likewise, if you are unhappy with your ruler, you are also able to betray them or simply just leave. However, left to their own devices, enemy rulers aren't all that smart. They will manage their resources quite badly and pool vast amounts of resources without wanting to try and push forward.
Either way, as you progress through the campaign you will get the chance to build relationships with different officers whether you're the ruler or not. And their personality will affect how they react to your actions. It's through this that you will get to see some of the game's more unique actions, such as become sworn allies or even gaining a wife and having a child "“ something which is new this time around. However, many of the game's events are reserved for those who choose to go down the vagabond route, which is a shame.
Combat, as you would expect given the nature of this game, is similar to the previous two Dynasty Warriors 8 games. However, there have been a few switches when it comes to move sets. There are also more weapons and Musou attacks this time around, which is especially great when creating your own warrior. However, the battles themselves can often feel a little tame and one dimensional.
The focus is very much placed on connecting base chains in order to weaken the enemy's main camp. However, because of this the rest of the battlefield can feel rather barren. You will often encounter wide, open spaces that have nothing in them, with enemy troops flocking around different base types. It ruins the illusion a bit and is a little disappointing given that this console generation is in full flow. It's even more disappointing when you also encounter pretty bad frame rate issues on a semi-regular basis.
Strategems are also a big component of the Empires franchise, but this time around they are quite underwhelming. Quite a few present themselves as boosts to your own character, such as increasing speed or giving you some health, with not too many dedicated to actual strategy. Those that do, have some depth to them, with some able to visually change stages and have a greater impact depending on the weather, but they also have much longer preparation times, with a large sacrifice on active officers. These elements help to add a little bit of strategy back into the mix, but it's quite minimal really and you can often do just fine without using them. Also, on the subject of AI, the opposition aren't too bad but if you choose to go down the route of issuing individual orders to your officers (as opposed to using the four presets) they will often just ignore them.
None of this is meant to degrade what is offered in Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires. At its core, the experience is still there and there is plenty to enjoy for fans of the series. However, this instalment does feel a little rushed and doesn't add that much to the Empires formula. The ability to have children is a nice touch, but it's hardly ground breaking. The biggest changes come around the impact that vagabond units can have on proceedings.
|The ability to unify China.|
|Tearing it up with a vagabond unit.|
|Seeing the uncomfortable combinations created when having children.|
|Strategems feel a little lacklustre.|
|Not too many events this time around.|
|Frame rate issues.|