Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires is the first Empires spin-off game to make it West on the Vita, and it's actually a bit of a revelation. The Empires formula fits so well on Sony's handheld that we'd go as far as to recommend this version over its home console counterpart – even if the graphics have been toned down considerably in order to get it to run on the portable device. But before we get into that, we should mention that if you're looking for an in-depth review of Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires, we'd recommend giving our PlayStation 4 review a read, as it's essentially the same game.
With that out of the way, let's get back to talking about the title's visuals. Simply put, this is one heck of an ugly Vita release at times, with very low resolution textures and jaggy character models popping up on a constant basis. This is perhaps no surprise seeing as the PS4 edition isn't exactly a looker to begin with, but we'd go as far as to say that the Vita incarnation resembles a PlayStation 2 Warriors game when it's at its worst.
Of course, all of this is necessary so that the action can stay fluid. As always, Empires likes nothing more than to fill your entire screen with both enemy and allied soldiers, and for the most part, it manages to maintain a solid framerate, even when you're hacking through dozens of foes at lighting speed. Things do slow down when you unleash powerful musou attacks, however, which is disappointing, even if it's not enough to negatively impact gameplay.
Fortunately, the draw distance and pop-in isn't too bad. In the past, severe pop-in has often soured portable Warriors experiences since the titles rely on packing their battlefields with as much chaos as possible, and seeing your opponents snap into existence just feet away from your fighter doesn't really lend itself to such a vision. Again, this thankfully isn't the case here, as the release tends to load everything in at a very respectful distance.
Even with its limited graphical capabilities, it's still safe to say that Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires is an otherwise fantastic fit on Vita. Everything that you do in your campaign to conquer China, whether it's invading an enemy, building a facility, or recruiting new allies, takes up one month of the in-game calendar – and it's this structure that lends itself so well to portable play. You can jump into the fray for just a few minutes or spend long sessions developing your kingdom – it really is a match made in heaven.
Empires' devilishly addictive mix of role-playing game elements, resource management, kingdom building, and hack and slash gameplay is amplified on Sony's diminutive device. Because the title's made up of so many different parts, each component remains surprisingly fresh when you're playing in short bursts, and this is obviously something that occurs more naturally when it comes to portable gaming. What's more, if you happen to own both versions of the release, you can make use of cross-save functionality, allowing you to take your legacy with you on the go.
The Vita version also uses the touchscreen to good effect, giving you the option of activating stratagems with just a few taps. On PS4, the controls are a little cumbersome, requiring you to use a combination of the directional pad and R2, which is sometimes a tall order during heated combat. Here, you simply tap your stratagem cards, and they'll unfurl across the screen. Then, it's as easy as double tapping whichever card you want to use. It's just a small touch, but an appreciated one all the same.
Aside from its necessary graphical shortcomings, Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires is a sublime fit on the Vita. Its methodical structure is a perfect match for portable play, allowing you to jump in and make some progress no matter how much time you decide to dedicate to the cause. Conquering China piece by piece has never been quite so addictive.