Review: Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Definitive Edition (Switch)

Dynasty Warriors proper finally makes its Switch debut.

By Andy Hoover. Posted 01/16/2019 06:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Lots and lots of content; detailed character models and animations; nuanced combat mechanics and weapons systems; cheesy dialogue and music.
Poison Mushroom for...
Cheesy dialogue and music; still repetitive in the long run; graphics pop-in still a frustrating issue.

Not long ago, the Dynasty Warriors franchise was something of a joke, often ridiculed for its somewhat unique but highly repetitive one vs one thousand gameplay built around a highly dramatized and over-acted retelling of a chapter of Chinese history. Every few years, a new numbered entry would be released with tweaked gameplay and it would almost certainly be followed by one or two expansion-like releases as well as spin-offs based on everything from Japanese history to popular anime like Gundam or One Piece. However, things seem to have changed recently, likely thanks in no small part to Koei-Tecmo’s partnering with Nintendo to lend their unique gameplay concepts to classic Nintendo franchises in the form of Hyrule Warriors and Fire Emblem Warriors, both of which happen to be available for Switch. However, it is only now that we have received the first entry of the core franchise on Nintendo’s hybrid console in the form of Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Definitive Edition.

While the franchise might have moved on to a ninth major entry, DW8 finding its way to Switch is really the best outcome for those interested in the series as the latest game and its efforts to move to an open-world design were very poorly received. Yes, this means that Switch owners are getting a relatively old game originally released in 2013, but that’s not too much of a problem considering it is widely considered the franchise’s best entry and this particular version is the most comprehensive package available including content from later DLCs and expansions. Altogether, this means players will find a title with surprisingly nuanced gameplay and a massive amount of content that can easily push playtime over the one hundred hour mark for the dedicated.

All Dynasty Warriors games follow the story of The Romance of Three Kingdoms, a historical novel chronicling second and third century AD China, a period of civil war in which a number of competing factions (much more than three, actually) vied for control of the nation. Such a time is ideal for creating stories of brave warriors and incredible feats of strength and courage, and those happen to make great inspiration for action video games. Thus, each game presents players with access to dozens of historical soldiers across dozens of battles that actually occurred, albeit with some added dramatic and, on occasion, magical twists. The story is told through several different campaigns, with the bulk of content focused on four major factions: the kingdoms of Wei, Shu, Wu, and Jin. Additionally, a number of unaffiliated characters also get their own time in the spotlight with their own missions and even entire campaigns. Altogether, completing just the story content would undoubtedly take dozens of hours.

As this is the Definitive Edition, this release includes additional content from the game’s expansions, including Ambition Mode, which puts aside the semi-historical storytelling for a more personalized experience. In Ambition Mode, you choose a playable character and then set out to build-up a small village into a notable force worthy of the Emperor’s favor. This adds a town building/management element to the game that puts a little more emphasis on between mission activities as you think about how you want to progress. Some missions reward you with materials needed to build and upgrade your facilities and weapons, while others might allow you to recruit more soldiers to your forces, which of course might result in major, playable generals joining your army who you can play as or assign as in-mission bodyguards to directly assist you. The complexity of this mode isn’t about to give Animal Crossing a run for its money, but it’s certainly a nice addition in terms of sheer content as well as more variety.

Regardless of mode, the core gameplay will undoubtedly look familiar to anyone with any experience with the franchise. You charge into battle as one of 83 playable characters and proceed to tear through thousands of relatively mindless grunts alongside the occasional enemy officer who can put up something resembling a fight. While the franchise has often been criticized for mindless gameplay, that has never been entirely true and DW8 is probably the most convincing argument against those claims as your choice of officer and weapons has a major impact on how missions play out. There are dozens of weapons, and each officer can equip any two of them at a time, though each has their own preferences that heavily favor particular weapons, some of which are great for combo-ing single enemies while others are great at cleaving through groups at a time. Furthermore, each weapon can carry a number of unique perks as well as an element that plays into a rock-paper-scissors system that, at the very least, rewards you for carrying different elements and paying attention to what your foes are using.

Your combos are defined by mixing light and heavy attacks and your options expand and change as you level up your characters. While every weapon generally excels at one major focus, all usually at least have a variety of combos that give you options for a number of circumstances, such as engaging enemies at a slight distance or clearing whole crowds quickly. At lower difficulties, you can probably get away with just randomly pressing attack buttons much of the time, but as you turn up the challenge you’ll really need to choose your weapons and combos carefully as not every move will stagger enemy officers charging up for a big blow and small attacks from the hordes of grunts can eventually add up. Furthermore, you also have your powerful Musou attacks which are strong moves that drain from one of two gauges that build-up as you dish out and receive damage. The other meter is your Rage gauge which, when activated, gives you significant stat boosts and unlocks an even more powerful and longer lasting Musou attack. The game really benefits from strategic use of your various options and the higher difficulties absolutely require it.

While the core gameplay in each mission revolves around the tried and true combat, there are other objectives to focus on that add extra strategy to the game. Most missions boil down to defeating the enemy commander on the other side of large, relatively open battlefields, but you’ll make things easier in the end if you seize enemy outposts and take out other officers on the way. Also, you’ll often have to make sure your own general isn’t defeated, so balancing your offensive and defensive efforts is often very important. Escort missions also pop up from time to time, so you’ll need to make sure to stick even closer to your commanding officer as ambushes are quite common. Focusing on the objective is even more important in Ambition mode where missions are often limited to only 10 minutes, meaning you’ll have to be quite aggressive while still making sure anyone you need to protect isn’t left open to defeat. Of course, hopping into a mission with another player is pretty much always an option and can help make things a little easier.

Story and Ambition represent the heart of the game, but there are other things to do as well. Free mode lets you revisit previously completed stages with any character you want so it’s great for leveling up officers. Challenge mode introduces a number of small stages, each with a unique focus, such as defeating as many enemies as possible within a time limit or fighting officers in a one-on-one duel. These modes might be small distractions, but they help add even more content to what is already a massive game.

Presentation is a little bit more of mixed bag. The franchise has never been known for being gorgeous, but at least it always delivered some incredibly well-detailed and animated character models for its playable characters and DW8 is no different. A few of the characters are a little samey, but most of the massive roster have unique looks and animations that fit their character very well. The rest of the game doesn’t quite fare as well. Some environments look okay at a glance, but nothing looks all that great upon even a slightly closer inspection, especially the models for the various grunts who also have an unfortunate tendency of popping into existence before your eyes as draw distances have always been one of the series’ weak points. However, the old issues with slow down have been completely dealt with as this iteration runs 100 percent smoothly throughout; this is impressive considering the number of enemies often on screen at once, particularly with your character’s often elaborate and effects-filled attack animations.

The audio presentation has also long been a love it or hate it affair. Much of the soundtrack is guitar-driven metal with a distinctly Chinese flair, a style that more than a few people will probably find very cheesy, but I’m not one of those people. It’s a similar story for the voice acting as well. The American voice acting is, to put it lightly, delightfully over the top, which of course means it could prove annoying for some. There is the option of using the Japanese audio, but fast-paced action might make it a little difficult to read along with the subtitles describing your objectives. In short, the game can be ridiculous to listen to at times but I think it’s part of the fun.

In some ways, Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Definitive Edition continues to suffer from some of the same problems that have long plagued the franchise, but within the core series it’s almost certainly the best. Complaints of repetition will probably ring true for those who want to complete every activity the game has to offer, but on a mission to mission basis, the greater nuance added through the different gameplay modes, characters, and weapon systems has resulted in a significantly more rewarding and strategic game. Yes, the focus on fast-paced action on a large scale remains unchanged, but actually thinking ahead feels more important now than ever before in the franchise. Ultimately, this means that Dynasty Warriors has evolved beyond being just an interesting niche title and into an outright good action game with fun mechanics and a massive amount of content. So, if your interest has been piqued by Hyrule Warriors or Fire Emblem Warriors, this is easily the best time to jump into the other side of the crossover equation.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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