"What's the deal with Dynasty Warriors?" is a question that's echoed every now and then across the gaming sphere. To say that it's a divisive property is an understatement – this is a franchise that's in possession of a rabidly loyal core fanbase, while each new instalment receives wildly varying review scores that range from the awful to the brilliant. Mainly boiling down to the argument that the series' gameplay – which sees you hacking and slashing your way through thousands of enemies on ancient Chinese battlefields – is incredibly repetitive, it's clear that your enjoyment will be limited by how much fun you can derive from the relatively simple combat. Despite what some say, though, Dynasty Warriors does try to improve upon the tried and tested formula with every entry, and Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition on the PlayStation 4 does its best to bring the genocidal madness to the next generation with a bang.
The seventh and eighth instalments proved to be a real return to form for the franchise after the disappointing initial PS3 title that was Dynasty Warriors 6. Fighting mechanics were overhauled and a weapon-based moveset system that focused on switching between two equipped armaments in order to keep combos going was introduced. Not only did this allow for some previously unheard of player customisation as you decided which weapons worked best together, but it also bolstered combat with some much needed depth. Dynasty Warriors 8 went deeper still by implementing rock-paper-scissors like elementals which meant that you could devastate opponents who were unlucky enough to be holding an implement that sported a weakness to your own.
With Complete Edition, one final ingredient is added to the formula as enemy officers are also able to make use of weapon switching, which in turn makes for some increasingly intense encounters. While it's still possible to mow down the opposition with ease on the lower tier difficulty settings, playing on normal or higher requires a bit more thought as you keep an eye on your foe's movements and react accordingly. One problem that the series has always faced is that duels with characters of historical importance have never quite held the gravity that they should. Annihilating whole hordes of soldiers only to get to their leader and similarly beat them to a pulp makes for an enjoyable sense of being horribly overpowered, but the lack of challenge diminishes the epic concept behind these gloriously huge battles. Thankfully, all of the changes that we've outlined above help to finally put a stop to what can often be a fun but unrewarding experience.
Of course, with an increased level cap and a whole host of powerful weapons, it won't be long before you're slaughtering anyone and anything that dares to stand in your way, and this is usually the point where you decide to crank up the game's difficulty. As previously mentioned, everything below normal is generally a walk in the park where, if you somehow get into a spot of trouble, unleashing a deadly musou attack will be more than enough to deal with your aggressors. Tackling hard, very hard, chaos, or the newly added ultimate setting requires a lot more skill, however. Knowing how best to use your favoured character's special attacks and being adept at utilising their equipped moveset is key to survival, as large enemy health bars mean that the best way to win is by keeping your foe in the air with well executed combos. There's a definite learning curve here, but building up your favourite warriors and then using them to demolish stronger and stronger opposition – who previously soaked up damage like it was nothing – leads to a very satisfying sense of empowerment.
Boasting 82 playable warriors and therefore 82 weapon types, there's bound to be at least a few fighters that you'll fall in love with, be it because of their elegant designs or their particularly effective techniques. Every officer has access to two ex attacks – which are only usable when they're equipped with their favourite bit of gear – along with three unique, destructive musou moves. The range of offensive abilities on offer gives you more freedom on the battlefield than ever, and the diversity certainly helps to ensure that wading through oceans of grunts feels fresh, if familiar.
That said, if you've never been a fan of the Warriors format then even this jump to PS4 probably won't sway you. But for fans, it represents the most refined and complete title in the franchise to date. In our recent review of the PlayStation Vita version of the game, we lauded the handheld title's ridiculous amount of content, which includes dozens of new hypothetical and historical stages that further flesh out the release's already gigantic story mode. On Sony's new system, the wealth of things to do perhaps doesn't seem quite as impressive as it does on a portable device, but it's still going to take hours upon hours to see it all to completion. What worries us, however, is the thought that the inevitable sequel will feel horribly bare-bones in comparison to this monster, which also makes us wonder just how long Tecmo Koei is willing to go on producing the franchise's somewhat controversial Xtreme Legends expansions.
Nevertheless, there's no denying that the title carries a massive amount of value for money, especially since it's being sold for slightly less than the standard price of retail PS4 games. With Sony's newest console still in its infancy, those who are curious about Omega Force's product may be persuaded to give this a go, and it's arguably the very best place to start not just because of its content, but because of its polished mechanics and systems.
Despite the inclusion of new characters, stages, weapons, music, and modes, the game's graphics will no doubt become its biggest talking point. Being a visually upgraded PS3 game, it certainly doesn't come close to the aesthetic quality that exclusive titles like inFAMOUS: Second Son command, but it's definitely the best that Dynasty Warriors has ever looked. The eighth instalment's moody lighting has been improved further, with sun rays bathing many battlefields in a warm glow, and the smaller details found on officer's clothing make their models look quite impressive at times. Meanwhile, the release employs a blur effect that augments distant environments with a hazy, ethereal look. It's a strange sight at first, but it provides the game with a much more atmospheric visual style. It also helps to obscure the rather poor texture work that you'll sometimes find on rocks and buildings – although, as always, you'll likely be too busy basking in the flashy effects that accompany your attacks to notice.
There's no question, however, that the most positive thing to come courtesy of the hardware's power is the title's solid technical performance. While there are still instances where the frame rate will drop ever so slightly during colossal brawls, they're far more forgivable because of just how many troops the game can render on screen at any one time. At its very best, the release absolutely packs scenarios with grunts, and here you'll be able to pick out soldiers that are fighting miles into the distance. When you're utterly surrounded by entire armies, it's hard not to stare in disbelief at how whole platoons swarm the area, almost to the point where you can barely make out your character, before you smash hundreds of them away with a single strike. At long last, it finally seems like Dynasty Warriors is able to fulfil its ambition of creating battlefields that look and feel alive with the help of the new hardware.
So if the PS4's Complete Edition is the pinnacle of the franchise, where does it still manage to go wrong? Recurring problems are usually on hand to prevent the series from attaining true greatness, and unfortunately, that continues to be the case here. Since the seventh title, developer Omega Force has tried to tell a more cinematic story based on the three kingdoms era, but the more it focuses on dramatic events, the more the narrative becomes disjointed from the actual gameplay. For example, you can obliterate thousands of troops with little effort during gameplay, but in cutscenes, main characters will usually be killed off by a mere arrow or a handful of adversaries. It's a relatively accurate depiction of the source material, but it completely fails to gel with the release's bombastic and over-the-top nature. Worse still is when you're forced to follow strict objectives during battle, such as coordinating ambushes or leading foes into traps, even though you're more than capable of winning through sheer brute strength alone. Until this disparity is patched up, it's always going to be difficult to really feel involved with the scenarios that unfold, and although the voice cast tend to do the best that they can, the series is never going to tell a truly engrossing tale when lines of dialogue are so awkwardly executed in order to sync with the character's cheesy animations.
Without question the biggest, best looking, and most refined Warriors title on the battlefield, Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition is an absolute must buy for fans, while newcomers will find themselves jumping into the action at the most opportune time. Although the franchise will have to grind its recurring issues into dust before its next outing, we have a feeling that you won't be seeing an entry that's this robust for a long, long time.