And that goes for Free Mode too, which just throws you right into battles with the warrior (of 82) of your choice. This mode felt substantially less exciting for a few reasons. First, there’s not much happening here other than “defeat enemy general X”. The Story Mode presents you with a ton of interesting objectives; unless the original games, which treated objectives as loose guidelines for the process of killing things, Dynasty Warriors 8 wants you to actively participate in the flow of battle. You’ll need to kill messengers, save allies, open gates, and run across the map to make sure you actually win the battles in the way they occurred in the book. Of course, the palette here (kill kill kill) is limited, but it generally makes the whole process much more exciting then slamming one button over and over again. I could say that’s it is weirdly implausible that Chinese guys have radio communication and radar to tell who’s in trouble, but that’s video games for you!
Think of Free Mode, then, as “hypothetical scenarios”, which also exist already in the Story Mode, so why these again? Frankly, if you just want to kill thousands of dudes at once, Free Mode will scratch that itch, but it literally only exist for the purpose of grinding experience. Experience points?! Yes, exactly. Dynasty Warriors often feels like the Japanese version of Diablo, as its “endgame” (if you want to call it that) involves a whole lot of grinding and experience gains so you can obtain every character’s final weapons. There’s not much to this process other than time investment, really, and that makes me sad. Each weapon has stats, sure, but they’re completely random for the most part, meaning more grinding for optimal stats. Dynasty Warriors doesn’t need this; the combat itself remains really satisfying for a myriad number of reasons!
First, Dynasty Warriors isn’t comparable to most character action games; that much becomes clear from the outset. It wants to place you in battles and make you achieve objectives, both of which require a light real-time decision element. As such, the combat isn’t so much the core of the game as it is the primary thing you do to get from point A to point B, and in that respect it works in a perfunctory manner. You use Normal attacks in sequence, and sometime throw Charge attacks at any point to end the combo and perform a new move. That’s about it! Of course, there’s a ton of variation in these combo strings, running the gamut from crowd-clearance to running attacks; you’ll find enough variety in the 82 weapon sets to keep you entertained looking for the optimal combos in each situation, surely.
For the most part, you’ll be killing generic grunts for the majority of your playtime, not just for the sheer pleasure of it (and let me tell you, it’s kinesthetically satisfying throughout), but also to gain experience. They fall easily, but figuring out how to kill as many as possible while taking note of the map means you’ll need to know the combat system a little more closely than you would otherwise. No longer does the game merely let you kill stuff without any kind of rigorous time-based objectives, so now there’s a point to learning your combos and doing them in the right situations.
The dual weapons system (added in Dynasty Warriors 7, from what I hear) helps to reduce the tedium even further. Basically, you can equip any two weapons with one character, and freely switch between them when desired. You can craft some pretty elaborate combos with these, as weapon switch allow you to keep popping enemies in the air for a long time. Do you get any reward for this? No! But it is incredibly fun nonetheless. The more important function for weapon switching comes in the Affinity system. Each weapon has an attribute – be it Heaven, Earth, or Man, relative to ancient Chinese cosmology – that renders it super effective against one of the other weapon types. The Three-Point System turns fighting again officers (previously a super boring case of juggling a dude a lot) into something vastly more interesting. Their weapons have an affinity too, and using the wrong weapon type (indicated by an exclamation mark) will let them shrug off your attacks and beat you senseless.
However, if you switch weapons as they are switching (indicated by their weapon glowing blue and a long wind-up, either a Charge attack or a Storm Rush), then you’ll perform the Switch Counter, which automatically launches the officer into the air to begin the pummeling with your newly switch weapon. Further, attacking an officer with an advantageous weapon puts a blue indicator with three parts over their head; hit them enough to break all three parts, and this will initiate a Storm Rush attack. By pressing the Normal attack button repeatedly when it initates, you can smack every opponents within several yards for at least 5 seconds or so; this does a ton of damage, so you’ll get used to using it quick. Xtreme Legends allows you to activate it manually, but honestly it’s much easier to just perform it automatically when an officer’s gauge depletes. You’ll need this when surrounded by multiple officers, and pressing two buttons at the same time to activate it is super clunky!
Musou attacks return as the “crowd-clearing” attack we all know and love, although there’s a lot more variation here. You can perform a default Musou attack simply through the button, but high level weapons also allow for a secondary Musou activated via holding the weapon switch button at the same time. Air Musou works the same way, also allowing for about four different Musou attack at the height of your prowess. Dynasty Warriors 8 just loves variety! In addition, the game also adds Rage mode, a strange addition that turns you into an unstoppable God of destruction for 30 seconds with an exclusive Musou attack to boot (which seems to last forever!). It’s nearly game-breaking, turning any multi-officer battle into something pretty trivial on Normal, but man is it fun!
All of these different mechanics prove useful in Story Mode’s many, many battles, and they present new obstacles in fulfilling objectives. It’s not just a matter of reaching a general; now you need to kill them in time, and that means using all of these tools in the most effective, efficient way possible. Frankly, it turns a generic hack/slash game into something far more satisfying. While the aesthetic appeal of juggling one hundred guys still remains inherenetly satisfying, the new depth of combat really makes the whole thing pop like moments of puncutation in a long fight. Fighting multiple officers is even more fun as you figure out how to control the crowd in the best way without getting hit by an officer’s Storm Rage or Musou attack, either of which can easily kill you.