Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires is a strange bird of a game, in that it appears to appeal to a very small subset of a subset of gamers. You’d have to be a fan of musou-style fighting games to be on board for the eighth installment of the venerable Dynasty Warriors franchise, and then you’d have to have enjoyed the main entry enough to be willing to play a menu-based tactical strategy game in order to get to the parts where you’re playing a musuo-style fighting game. It’s tailored to a certain audience, that’s true, but there is merit behind the madness, as Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires is the fourth expansion to change the game this way. While I enjoyed the main DW8 back on 360, I must admit it takes a bit of getting used to this Empires title.
Eschewing the regular story campaign, which follows groups of characters as they take part in the sweeping narratives of the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history, the main focus of the game is the ‘Empire’ mode. This allows you to build your own empire and story as you pick from a variety of heroes – playing as an officer as you work your way up through the ranks, more or less told where to go and when to fight, or leading from the front as the ruler of a faction (which is where the meat of the game can be found).
As a leader, you progress through months of the year, deciding on an action per month as you move through up to 50 years. All of this is controlled by a rather confusing array of menus. While there is a tutorial and an online manual to help you out with the specifics, for a newcomer to the Empires series like myself, it’s a challenge to get up to speed. You can essentially allocate resources in various ways, from diplomacy and forming alliances with friendly states, to building your army and invading as much of the map as possible, as you expand from your tiny corner of China.
There’s a lot of numbers thrown at you at the start, from costs to benefits and whether you’ll be making money at the expense of your subjects’ happiness. You can build shops, get new weapons, recruit officers, and if you get far enough along in a campaign, even marry. A new feature in this version of Empires is to even have a little tyke with your significant other, which will inherit your abilities for a subsequent playthrough. It’s a lot to take in, as you’ll be spending a lot of your time in this system, rather than slaughtering hundreds in the traditional musuo-fashion.
The over-the-top action gameplay of Dynasty Warriors isn’t completely missing – you’ll be thrown into conflicts when invading or defending territory, and these utilise the DW8 engine. These battles, though sparse, can last almost as long as your time spent in the strategic menus, as you can spend upwards of an hour trying to take-over the game map with what meager forces you’ve been able to rally. It’s still fun to carve up scores of soldiers with a single sweep, but you’ll have to work a lot harder in the Empire mode to become as OP as you want to be.
Though we’re now on a next-gen system, the presentation of Empires is still a little rough around the edges. While the game looks noticeably cleaner, and the framerate doesn’t dip quite as much as previous-gen consoles (although it does still tend to drop), there aren’t any new effects or touches that really make it stand out. That is, except for an amusing array of glitches. Sometimes, escort vehicles will propel themselves along with no driver, driven forward by an invisible engine. Other times, groups of enemies can appear out of nowhere. Voice acting is entirely in Japanese with English subtitles, which may be a blessing considering some of the series ‘fine moments’ that have been delivered in the past.
I can really honestly only recommend Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires to those who enjoyed the main series Dynasty Warriors 8, and even then, only if you’re prepared to sit down and play through a few rounds of a slow-paced tactical strategy game in order to get to the action gameplay. It’s an uphill battle if you’re not already on board with the Empires style of gameplay, but if you’re able to learn the system, the game does provide more depth than its parent entry. While it is fun to dress up your general in Edit mode, and slowly build your own dynasty in Empire mode, the name of the game is patience and planning, which potential purchases should take into account before immediately reaching for the new Dynasty Warriors title on store shelves.
Adds strategy to the DW8 formula | Carving through the masses is still fun
Impenetrable for newcomers | Not a huge leap over the last generation