Much of this brings essential, necessary improvements to the formula, but the execution drags it down through the mud. Firstly, figuring out what to do in a mission, even if you know the battle/event in question, feels sometimes like the most illogical adventure game puzzles ever devised. You may know the story, but the developers interpret it in a way which works for a video game, and that doesn’t always translate well to a player. For example, you might need to ride to a particular area (via the new horse call button, a godsend for giant maps like these), but the direct route might actually be blocked off. You’d be pressed to find that information on the map, though; it indicates neither locked/unlocked gates nor height or depth, making the process of finding a good route mostly trial and error. Sure, you could pay attention to the nearly one billion messages cropping up on the screen to tell you what’s happening where, but you absolutely WILL miss a message somewhere that may cause your success or failure. The only way to see said objective, and what the glowing green marker on the screen ACTUALLY MEANS, is to pause the game and scroll through the combat log. I’d call that poor design, but that sells it short: WHY IS THERE NO LIST OF OBJECTIVES ON THE ACTUAL SCREEN AT ANY TIME?
Frankly, the only way to decipher more complicated objectives requires you to stop playing or just remain totally confused as you lost a mission because you found yourself blocked at every gate without a Gatekeeper to open it. It doesn’t help that enemy unit movements look like giant red splotches on the map, which makes any objectives glowing on that map extra confusing without (again) pausing the game. So much stuff goes into any one conflict, and lacking proper information due to a rapidly shifting battlefield should be fun! But Dynasty Warriors goes out of its way to turn this process into a completely maddening process. The size of these battlefields, combined with bad information, turns many battles into a chore. Koei’s competitor game in this space, Sengoku Basara, fixed almost ALL of these problems via focused, taut map displays, so it makes no sense how Omega Force couldn’t fix this yet. The design remains too conservative to see vast improvement, but that’s the way of Japanese business success: keep it all the same.
And, in a way, that goes for the combat too. Since you perform every single move with the exact same combinations, there’s technically not much variety at all. Most of your weapon/character choices come down to aesthetic preference rather than a fundamental shift in the game’s inner workings. As a result, you end up sticking with the one or two movesets that make you the most effective. I, for one, just like trying all of them out, but anyone trying to play in the most optimal way will find themselves massively bored just from a pure mechanics perspective. The officer combat and figuring out what to do on X battlefield remain the challenge, not so much the rest.
Further, as noted earlier, the experience system hampers the whole game. By playing battles, you level up; officers drop weapons, of various ranks, that increase your attack power, combo strings, and supplement you with various attributes from elemental attacks to attack/defense bonuses. These weapons, unfortunately, turn out to become the heart of Dynasty Warriors 8; obtain a weapon of great power early on (entirely possible), and you might just coast through the rest of the game on Normal mode. The developers try to alleviate the random nature of the difficulty curve somewhat by giving characters Compatibility Rankings (which give them bonuses for using certain weapons rather than others), but it often doesn’t matter. You’ll pick up so many weapons just by playing the campaign that you’ll find yourself with nearly a thousand to choose or sell. Plus, if you really want to buy weapons of higher grades, just set the difficulty to Ultimate, get to the Blacksmith, buy the three/four star weapon of choice, save, and you’ve got yourself a high class weapon for cheap.
In Diablo, the loot metagame seems quite integrated into the rest; all rewards exist to supplement that game of maximization. Here in Dynasty Warriors, it’s really of matter of “how many stars does it have up to six” and “what characters can use this best”. That’s not a whole lot of decisions to make, considering how much time you need to dump into Dynasty Warriors 8 to see all it has to offer. Problem is, they’ve affixed an arbitrary JRPG-lite system onto a combat game for seemingly little reason, and those systems provide zero incentive to play more. Maybe you want to grind so you can play higher difficulty levels, and that’s fine; just don’t call “time spent” difficulty. Enemies on higher difficulties mostly kill you because they’re super powerful and because you can’t kill them fast enough, highlighting the problems Dynasty Warriors’ combat already has with the lack of lock-on (somehow, in the year 2014, a character action game has no lock-on) and a camera that gets stuck on walls. Some Musou attacks make seeing things literally impossible until it ends, and Rage Mode just exacerbates this with flashing colors everywhere. Minor errors and not seeing arrows, which is nearly impossible sometimes, will kill you immediately – stacking stats does not equal a great difficulty curve!
It doesn’t seem to matter, though, as Dynasty Warriors 8 wishes for grinding and little else. That’s not to mention the Ambition Mode introduced in Xtreme Legends. Think of it like a giant loot factory; the game sends you on tiny 10 minute missions to kill things, get loot, and recruit bodyguards/animals/whatever for use in other modes. More often than not, the maps are obvious palette swaps/randomly generated maps. They can’t really give you complicated objectives, so most of it boils down to “kill these dudes”, so you really need to love the combat. As discussed earlier, that anemic combat isn’t the focus, so Ambition Mode (and Free Mode, for that matter) turn very repetitive and boring very quickly. The historical Story battles hold your interest due to changing condition and variety; here, it’s just too simplistic to hold your attention.