Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires Review – Half Awake In A Fake Empire
As much as I love Dynasty Warriors, I have my limits.
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: February 24, 2015
Copy provided by publisher
As a longtime Dynasty Warriors fan, I’ve stuck up for the series against the usual complaints that surround it. Claims of only ever having to press a single button, or every single sequel being the exact same thing are strikingly false, and tend to come from people who really don’t bother giving the series a chance.
However, I can’t act as if Tecmo Koei doesn’t invite these criticisms at times, especially with releases like Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires, a sterile production that runs on autopilot, cuts corners at every opportunity, and still has the nerve to launch with a bunch of downloadable content, most of which Koei has tried to sell before in other installments.
Eager as it is to get as much mileage out of a single game as possible, Dynasty Warriors typically releases in three stages – we get the main game, which tends to provide dramatic overhauls to the series and is worth checking out, followed by the Xtreme Legends expansion that adds new characters and scenarios. The third wave, Empires, is more of a standalone title that reuses the assets of the core game while adding kingdom management and strategy features.
I tend to find the Empires games hit and miss, and with so little effort evidencing itself in this one, DW8‘s strategic spin-off is most definitely in the “miss” category.
First of all, while Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires made playing a variety of roles enjoyable, here there’s no point being anything other than a ruler. You can select to play a common officer and climb the ranks, but you’re so limited in what you can do that there’s very little fun to be had. You follow the ruler’s policy, you undertake some remedial “quest” battles (including a variety of absolutely terrible stealth missions – yes, they’re still trying to put stealth in Warriors games!), and occasionally take part in full-scale invasion battles when the ruler decides.
Being a vassal in previous Empires games had their own features and challenges, but here it’s a restrictive waste of time. You can’t acquire useful items or weapons because you can’t build facilities where you need them, you have little to no agency, and while there’s potential fun to be had in climbing the ranks and staging a coup against your leader, it’s quicker and easier to just start the game in power.
As a ruler, you get to do a lot more, but after years and years of Empires games, there’s very little to keep me on the hook anymore. You start out in control of a region of China, and from there you’re supposed to take over the land, building facilities in your territory, earning resources, building troop numbers, and invading rival kingdoms.
A series of simple menus are used to determine your actions each month of the year, and while there’s a lot of options, it’s all rather straightforward. You want to make people in your kingdom happy? Donate some gold with the “Donate” option. An allied officer has a low friendship rating? Choose “Interact” to raise it. Kingdom management is as easy as clicking on things to make numbers go up and down… because that’s really what it is.
In battle… you know what? Forget even explaining this.
I really can’t make myself explain any of it like it’s new. Truly, DW8: Empires has handed the series’ most vocal critics a win on this one – I can’t claim this isn’t the “same game” as all the others, because it’s not even trying to look different anymore. The same characters from Dynasty Warriors 8 have been copied and pasted to the same base-capturing gameplay of DW7: Empires.
Aside from a few new weapons, there’s very little to talk about. A single new character, Xun Yu, joins the Wei kingdom, fighting with a rod that lays sticks in the grounds, forming electric circuits that can be triggered with a button press. He’s an interesting character to play as, but the addition of just one hero only serves to highlight how stale the rest of the content is.
At the very least, Empires boasts a fairly decent Edit mode, allowing players to craft their own playable generals, as well as customized horses and even regular soldiers. If you want to be a pink demon commanding an army of Oompa Loompas, than DW8: Empires at least scratches that highly specialized itch. Even so, most of the customizations consist of limited pre-set parts, several of which have appeared in previous games already.
Like everything else, it’s just more of the same, and it’s only good for creating big-headed monsters to laugh at for a minute. Apparently it’s also great fun to share these online, judging by the fact that I encountered the “Crack Fiends” kingdom while playing online. Charming.
Despite originally confirming English voice acting, Empires has released with a Japanese-only vocal track without explanation. The motivation is obvious – Tecmo Koei has been steadily cutting corners in this regard for either financial and effort-related reasons, despite the fact that, given the Warriors series’ aforementioned reputation, the absolute last thing it needs is for the company to do things lazily or cheaply.
Nevertheless, that’s what happened here, and coupled with the rehashed soundtrack and blatantly last-generation visuals, the whole product (and this is one of those games where product is a fitting word) comes off rickety, archaic, and cut-rate – all sold for a premium price.
Quite how Koei then has the gall to charge more than $100 in downloadable content is beyond me, but there we go. Bundled on Steam, Empires‘ shameless range of costumes and soundtracks are selling for $118.87, and all of it is content that has no real business being packaged outside of the original purchase.
Tecmo Koei’s DLC practices have stunk for a while, but they’re especially galling in these expansions, where so little fresh material has wound up in the base experience. Once again, as someone who enjoys the series, it’s becoming heartbreaking to see all this happening – doing nothing but turning the years of often baseless criticisms into genuine examples of publisher cynicism.
Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires is everything a Dynasty Warriors hater thinks about the series made real. It’s a contemptuously assembled recycling project, and I’m sick of it.