The Warriors series holds a special place in my heart; a series that scratches the right itch of repetitive, mindless hack-n-slash gameplay. Over the years, its core gameplay has seen its share of innovations, but the archetypal Light/Heavy combo strings largely remain intact. Dynasty Warriors 8 originally released in 2013 on the PS3 and Xbox 360, and provided players with a larger freedom of progression unlike previous installments, and the freedom to select a character at the start of a stage, rather than controlling a pre-defined character. The story was also completely rewritten, with each of the four factions’ stories containing both historical and hypothetical paths at critical moments in each story.
Xtreme Legends tends to serve as the “game of the year” or “definitive” edition of the preceding Dynasty Warriors title. The first Xtreme Legends for Dynasty Warriors 8 released in 2014 in the Americas, and included a host of changes made to the core game, including the addition of granting a second EX attack for every character, increasing the level cap to 150, and a revamped bodyguard system that allows players to bring up to three bodyguards for Ambition Mode. On top of that, Xtreme Legends had fan favourite Lu Bu as the “protagonist” of sorts in this port, as he and his entire faction star in their own lengthy scenario.
Towards the end of 2018, Koei Tecmo rereleased Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Definitive Edition for the Nintendo Switch. Now nearing the second year of the console’s lifecycle, we’ve seen a fair share of Musou or Warriors styled games, including a fantastic port of Hyrule Warriors and Fire Emblem Warriors. Both utilized the core Dynasty Warriors gameplay and engine, and attached them to two of Nintendo’s beloved IPs. I played both the original Dynasty Warriors 8 and its Xtreme Legends version when they released; coming back to it now feels like a step back in comparison to these other related titles available, and it’s tough to critique without immediately thinking of the other Warriors games Nintendo has.
The story for Xtreme Legends is a dramatic and highly stylized reimagining of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms epic, and allows players to take control of each of the main four factions: Wu, Wei, Shu and Jin. As an additional experience, Lu Bu and his faction have been given its own main storyline scenario in the overarching plot. This was also a conscious nod to the very first Xtreme Legends, Dynasty Warriors 3: Xtreme Legends, which was the first time we were shown his side of the story. His plotline is fairly long in comparison to the other factions, and I really appreciate being given a more fleshed out take on the Three Kingdoms story.
Each stage in any given faction have a limited character selection for how you’d like to play out each scenario, with four being the absolute maximum. This is a great change within the series, as previous iterations had pre-selected characters. Certain scenarios begin in a camp at the foot or start of each map to allow you to customize your loadout and talk with other generals in the camp or foot soldiers prior to beginning.
Each scenario has different objectives, and different styles of completion. Some have you escaping from locations, whereas others have you infiltrating or defending a certain point from an invasion. A clever addition to Dynasty Warriors 8 was the introduction of hypothetical conditions, which are acts you can complete that bring about a change in dialogue or can alter the course of later scenarios. For example, in the first Chapter of the Wei Story depicting the escape from Luoyang, you can actually defeat Lu Bu before reaching the escape point, to alter his dialogue against the player’s character in the next chapter. In the battle of Wan Castle, you can rescue Cao Ang and Cao Anmin as hypotheticals to have them appear in future battles, and unlock an alternative version of that chapter. This was a fantastic addition to spice things up as you play the game’s story, and a lot of fun to try and see how many hypotheticals you can find.
Dynasty Warriors’ core gameplay primarily consists of stringing light and heavy attacks together, to hit and group as many of the swarms of enemies as possible. Playable characters are allowed two primary weapons to alternate, with a choreographed attack to transition between weapons. Some have more synergies than others when paired together, and certain classes of weapons are better suited for characters, so it’s important to discover which pairing is right for your playstyle, and which weapons yield the greatest damage output for that character.
Dynasty Warriors 8 also introduced a new battle mechanic that relies on something called the “Three-Point-System” where each weapon is given an affinity of either Heaven, Earth or Man. Each affinity is strong against one and weak against the other, resembling a rock-paper-scissors system, however if a player faces an officer with a weaker affinity, you can enter a “Storm Rush” which is a multi-hitting attack as you repeatedly press an attack button. This is a useful mechanic to clear hordes, as surrounding enemies can be caught in the vortex of your barrage of attacks.
Over the course of my experience with Xtreme Legends, I’ve found that it’s pretty easy to stun generals by switching weapon, allowing you to easily defeat them. Especially with Lu Bu, who stuns enemies as he switches from his default Halberd to Long Sword, enemies will be stunned, allowing you to loop a simply light-light-heavy combo, swap weapons to stun them again, and repeat. It’s a cheap way of completing a mission but it’s hard not to want to abuse; with Hyrule Warriors, they had a skill tree that not only increased the number of light or heavy attacks you can do sequentially, but also vastly improved how many points in a combo where you can switch between light and heavy, allowing for different end results and abilities.
Warriors games are traditionally known for their large-scale maps where you get to strike down thousands of enemies on screen, and Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends is no exception. There’s a certain level of catharsis you get from clearing waves of enemies and moving onto the next portion of the map. It’s easy to be distracted amidst the hordes of enemies, so be careful when you are in more time sensitive parts of the scenario; it’s happened to me a couple of times where my carelessness in getting lost in the battle resulted in me missing my window to complete a task, resulting in a game over.
Having gone from Hyrule Warriors back to Dynasty Warriors 8, there’s something that feels off about the core gameplay. With Hyrule Warriors, you can seamlessly recover yourself if you’re knocked to the ground by pressing a well-timed button, whereas in Xtreme Legends, you cannot do this, and you’re left waiting in a hitstun – whereby your character is just unable to act as they’re downed. This has created short game states in scenarios where your character would get caught in a loop as they’d recover and get up, only to become knocked down again from a repeated onslaught of attacks. This isn’t commonplace, but it can be a nuisance, and is a shame that recovering from a knockdown isn’t included. What’s more, in Hyrule Warriors, you could sweep downed enemies to continue a combo chain, whereas in this, downed enemies also have a short window where you cannot interact with them until they regain their balance. I much preferred Hyrule Warrior’s combat system to this, and felt it was more finely tuned, however I can’t forget the fact that this is a port of a 2013 game, and Hyrule Warriors was far more recent by comparison. Still, I wish Koei Tecmo and Omega Force put a little more work into refining the controls, especially since this is a 5 year old title, being brought to a new platform and potentially a new audience who only have newer and frankly better games to compare.
Aside from the main Story Mode, Xtreme Legends also has Ambition Mode, which was a new addition with Dynasty Warriors 8, that has players creating a social base for peasants called the Tongquetai Tower so that Emperor Xian – the last emperor of the Han dynasty – could visit. You can raise the tower’s status by taking part in three kinds of battles: skirmishes reward players with materials to construct the tower, raids increase a tower’s fame and large-scale battles recruit new partners. Xtreme Legends has elevated this by adding a countdown timer where a player is given 7 minutes and is granted additional time per 100 enemies killed, whenever an officer is defeated, or completing stage objectives.
Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends Definitive Edition unfortunately has not aged particularly well. The maps are large, however they lack considerable detail, the player characters are decently modeled, but also don’t stand out, and the enemy NPCs are understandably low quality, so that the game can compensate for its large pockets of enemies per frame. There are also other corners cut to maintain the density of the character count, like reducing the draw distance, and having enemies pop-in as you turn the camera. Granted, other Warriors games, like Hyrule Warriors, are also guilty of this, and they are necessary corners to cut in order to preserve the framerate as best as they can, and maintain the chaotic nature of fighting entire armies on screen. However, Hyrule Warriors was able to emulate a feeling of large scale attacks, while having a greater variety in enemy designs and their character models were far better. Perhaps they weren’t nearly as dense as what the Dynasty Warriors game set out to do, but I’ll take quality and slight-quantity over just quantity.
It’s tough to justify the need to play Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Definitive Edition for the Switch when there are exemplary Warriors games that already exist on the platform. For fans of the series, like myself, this is probably an easy recommendation to satisfy the craving of wanting to play a Warriors game, particularly one that deals with the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The core gameplay, while dated and not without its issues, still feels like a classic Dynasty Warriors game, and can be a lot of fun to play – even more so with another person via splitscreen. There are a host of additional features outside the main Story to keep players engaged and contains a wealth of playable characters, each with their own unique playstyle. And for all intents and purposes, it truly is the definitive edition of the 2013 title. However, if you’re a newcomer and are torn between several of the Hack-n-Slash games out know for the Switch, I would probably recommend other titles before playing this.Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Definitive Edition was reviewed using a Switch Digital Copy provided by Koei Tecmo. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
|Lu Bu's story is fairly long, and a lot of fun to play through.|
|The Three Point System for weapons is an interesting addition to the series.|
|Classic, tried and true Dynasty Warriors experience, where slaying thousands of enemies in any given chapter is immensely satisfying.|
|Sadly, for a 2013 and 2014 title, this 2018 port shows the game's age.|
|Not being able to recover from being knocked down is unfortunate.|
|Not being able to interact with downed enemies also limits the combo potential you can do.|