The Dynasty Warriors series makes me feel as if I’m back at school, having to defend a slightly uncool band. Despite all of the other absurd things that exist in the world of videogames, Dynasty Warriors seems to draw more ire than most. It’s the same every year, they say. All you do is mash a button. The graphics are bobbins. To which I say: not quite true, only on easy mode and … well, okay, yes.
We’ll get to refuting those claims in a bit, but first let’s just marvel at the fact that Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends Complete Edition (XLCE) has even had a western PC release. Japanese publishers have been embracing the PC quite a bit of late, and it’s a trend I’m happy to encourage. A few years back I don’t think I could’ve imagined seeing titles like Killer is Dead, Deadly Premonition, Binary Domain or even Dark Souls in Steam’s store list, but here we are. Dynasty Warriors isn’t a complete stranger to this platform, but tends to only be localised for (and sold in) Asian regions.
Just like an annual sports series, it’s wise not overdose on Dynasty Warriors. Each installment does bring a few new things (characters, weapons, modes, combat systems, a quicker way to get on your horse,) but the main point will always be knocking 300 peasant soldiers in the air with a big halberd while high-treble guitar shredding wobbles your speakers. If you do that for 50-100 hours every single year, you’ll probably burn out. That, I think, is where the “it’s always the same!” complaint comes from.
If Dynasty Warriors 8 XLCE is your entry point into the series (and it absolutely can be, despite the high number involved,) that won’t be a problem. Likewise, if you’re in my position and just haven’t played one in several years this PC release is, with a couple of caveats, a pretty great excuse to return.
The port is … quite a strange one. There’s much to appreciate about it: effortless numbers of soldiers on screen, solid 60fps at 1080p (assuming you have the specs for it) and the convenience of having a western-localised Dynasty Warriors on PC. But it’s also quite sloppy in places.
Texture quality and graphical effects seem to be an odd mish-mash of PS3 and PS4 versions, with NPC textures looking especially embarrassing for a 2014 PC release. 16:9 is the only aspect ratio supported, so resolutions like 1650×1080 are simply not available as options. Online co-op (present in the console versions) and Japanese voice options are missing as well, which is disappointing for something labelled as a ‘Complete Edition.’
Worst of all, there was some kind of problem relating to multi-core processors which could cause infinitely looping loading screens on some machines. The game has recently received a patch which seems to fix this bug, but for the two weeks prior Dynasty Warriors 8 XLCE will have been quite a frustrating experience for an unfortunate few.
It’s one of those ports where if you hit all of the problems above, it’d seem like a disaster zone. If somebody with a 16:10 aspect monitor bought it with the intention of playing online co-op and then hit the loading screen bug, I’d imagine they’d swear off Dynasty Warriors PC ports for life. But somebody like me, who’s been enjoying smooth 60fps/1080p Dynasty Warriors 8 for the past fortnight, has a completely different perspective.
The only curiosity I ran into was the game’s weird insistence on either using keyboard prompts (even when a controller is plugged in) or oblique symbols like a picture of a sword to try to communicate button commands. Confusing stuff, until you’ve learned how to navigate weapon filtering menus without resorting to Tab and Page Up.
As already noted, ‘Complete’ is a bit of misleading term to use for this release. It means you’re getting Dynasty Warriors 8 and the Xtreme Legends add-on bundled together, not that every single piece of DLC is part of the set too.
That’s still an awful lot of stuff though. Story mode alone has six different perspectives from which to view the hyper-stylised version of Romance of the Three Kingdoms that Dynasty Warriors always portrays. Following exactly what’s supposed to be going on can be challenging when any given stage can be followed by a “five years later … oh and by the way that guy you were playing as is now dead,” but I guarantee that by the end you’ll at least have learned the names of the main players in Wei, Wu and Shu and figured out that Liu Bei is an untrustworthy punk chancer.
There’s something eternally heartening about the way in which Dynasty Warriors interprets its source text. Guys, did you read about this general who was reportedly great at naval battles? In that case let’s make his favourite weapon a boat. He can just club everybody to unconsciousness with a canoe. Perfect! Meeting adjourned.
In 8, every character has a preferred “Ex” weapon which has a couple of special combo moves and (this probably happened a while back, but it was new to me) the weapons each have one of three affinities: heaven, earth or man. This matters in battle because the trio have a rock-paper-scissors relationship, so switching between the pair of weapons you’re allowed to take to the field can give you an advantage over (or at least cancel out) a rival officer.
Timed counters, switch attacks, blocking and all manner of special Musou skills (regular Musou, aerial Musou, rage Musou, true Musou, chocolate Musou) all add a little depth to the general hack and slash of mowing down hapless soldiers. It’s not a tactical tour de force, but, on higher difficulties in particular, fights against fellow officers are some distance away from mashing one button.
If you grow weary of seeing every important Wu character get shot with an arrow or stabbed up by a ghost-magic warrior (seriously, their story line is kind of a downer,) you can switch to a set of hypothetical “what if” battles. As tends to be the case, it’s also possible to go back and unlock special events and branching encounters by replaying stages in a certain fashion.
One of the other welcome things about Dynasty Warriors 8 is how each mode interconnects with all the others. Levelling up of characters is universal, and any weapons discovered are shared between modes. It’s possible to duck in and out of Challenge mode in the hope of getting a weapon to help you out in the Story, or to just tackle something else entirely by getting involved in Ambition mode (which, once you’ve upgraded it enough, has the best Blacksmith around.)
Ambition is a lengthy, two-part affair that begins with your attempts to build up a small encampment into something worthy of attracting the fancy of the Emperor of China. This involves fighting repeated battles for supplies, allies and fame. A lot of repeated battles. It’s either a tremendous example of the endorphin-dispensing satisfaction of seeing numbers go up in videogames, or a bit of grind. Depending on your outlook. Part two switches to something akin to the Empires mode in Dynasty Warriors 7 Xtreme Legends, with territorial expansion and reclaiming all of the officers you worked hard to recruit the first time around. It’s pretty grind-y as well, but enjoyable in its own way.
Dynasty Warriors 8 XLCE brings just about everything you’d hope from the series (baring online co-op) to the PC. There’s the simple joy of executing ludicrous special attacks and seeing 500 soldiers getting mown down with a hand fan. The slight disappointment that Cao Cao is no longer pronounced “Cow Cow” in the English language version, but respect for his tidy facial hair. Absurd one-liners and catchphrases from a cast of characters who bear about as much resemblance to authentic Chinese history as the Disney fox version of Robin Hood does to life as a bandit in medieval feudal England. And guitar shredding. So much guitar shredding.
This PC port is certainly not the definitive version it could, and perhaps should, have been, but it’s acceptable; especially now that the loading screen bug appears to have been dealt with. My hope is that Tecmo Koei now see the potential in the western PC market and give their next release a quality jump akin to the one found between Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2. Dynasty Warriors 8 XLCE is already technically superior to From’s first PC effort, but there’s room for improvement and plenty of upcoming Warriors titles which could serve as further practice. Failing that, continued patch support for the current game to add some of the missing pieces wouldn’t go amiss.