Meet Flashy Pants, the character I created in Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires, who earned his name because of his spectacular and rather dashing pair of pantaloons.
Flash Pants in all his glory
Together, Flashy Pants and I have grown from a vagabond fighter-for-hire into a ruthless tyrant who rules all of China, suppressing the Yellow Turban Rebellion in the process. This is what makes Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires so engrossing. It lets you forge your own path through the Dynasty Warriors mythos, creating your own stories and legends. Do you want to serve under Liu Bei, fighting alongside him as he conquers China? Go for it. Feel like guiding Zhang Jiao as his Prefect, influencing his descisions before turning on him and taking his kingdom for yourself? That’s cool too. Maybe you just want to be a bane to everyone by assassinating officers all over the country. That’s possible. Our Review;

Flashy Pants was built-in Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires “Edit” mode. Packed with a respectable amount of customisation options, you can change the face, age, sex, weight, height, hair, clothing, chest size (yes, you can make boobs bigger and smaller) and almost everything else you can think of using a bunch of sliders. As you can see from Flashy Pants’ skin colour and chest chains, you can make some outlandish characters but there are plenty of serious options thrown into the mix too. The only real limitation when creating your character is the colours you can use on the clothing. You only get to choose one base colour and the game fills in the rest. Your dream of black trousers with green flames won’t come true in Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires. It’s not just your character you can create in the Edit mode either. You can create custom soldiers, banners, scenarios and even warhorses too.

After spending an hour perfecting the position of your character’s eyebrows, you can take them into the games main Empire Mode. Unlike Dynasty Warriors 8 or Xtreme, the core game has no set story line for you to follow. You can choose a conflict to take part in from a list that will be very familiar to fans of the series – The Yellow Turban Rebellion, The Alliance Against Dong Zhuo, Battle of Guandu, Battle of Chibi, Coup d’etat and custom scenarios. Each conflict has a different set up with the territories of China carved up amongst that scenarios particular leaders. You then get to choose who you want to play as – all of the Dynasty Warriors from Cao Cao to Zhang Fei are available but you can also start with your custom character like I did with Flashy Pants.

Once you have chosen your character, Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires really starts to branch out. You are immediately met by an overwhelming maze of menus, maps and options, most of which are self-explanatory (but there is a very helpful tutorial which explains some of the finer points). The options on these menus differ based on what type of character you picked. If you chose one of the leaders that rules over a territory, you can guide the fate of that land with your actions through politics or good old fashion battle, all the while trying to balance your Supplies, Money, Troops, Virtue (a measure of your good or evilness), officers and the happiness of your people. Rule your land with an iron fist, hitting your people with mass levies and you should prepare for an uprising. Fail to bring in enough cash and your officers will start to desert you.

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With Flashy Pants, I started as a vagabond, a fighter with no allegiances, no army of soldiers, no Scrooge McDuckian pile of gold to swim around in and no Leader to direct my actions. Starting as a vagabond is the most difficult but also the most interesting option in Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires. As a vagabond you can complete quests for officers around the country, taking on packs of angry tigers, assassinating competing officers or rescuing caravans from bandits, all of which reward you with money, troops or supplies. These quests do not have a great deal of variety, often taking place on the same map with the exact same set up but they are a welcome alternative from the clustered battlefields you normally find in a Dynasty Warriors game. After completing a few quests, building up relationships with some officers, Flashy Pants was invited to join Zhang Jiao and the Yellow Turbans. Dutifully accepting, our well dressed vagabond joined the leaders courts and we were immediately thrown into battle.

The battles in Empires 8 are much like those in any other Dynasty Warriors games. A pleasurable third-person button masher at heart, the aim of every battle is to hack your way though thousands of enemies, capture bases and defeat officers in order to fulfil each battles criteria. Unlike the standard Dynasty Warriors games, Empires has “Stratagems” which are special abilities which you can activate on the battlefield like erecting towers which rain down arrows onto any enemies that come close to them. An enhancement for Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires is the ability to activate grand-scale stratagems which require a number of your officers to temporarily retreat but offer a devastating pay off. Striking every enemy on the battlefield with lightning is a pleasing sight to behold.

However, the combat in Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires suffers from the same niggling issues as every other Dynasty Warriors game. On any difficulty less than Hard, every battle can be won by mashing the attack button, running to the next battle, bashing the attack button, rinse and repeat, not having to pay too much attention to what else is happening on the battlefield. There are very few officers that will put up much of a fight and make you sweat. Opposing soldiers appear out of thin air before your eyes. The AI in the game is hit and miss with your own soldiers running into walls, stopping and running into the same wall again. The new grand-scale stratagems also create their own issues. Going toe to toe with Cao Cao, reducing him to the last shred of health only to watch him vanish because his leader has activated a stratagem is frustrating.

While the combat can be quite shallow, the Empires mode is anything but. You can help build an empire or tear it apart, get married, have kids (although this does feel a little tacked on), recruit a team of highly skilled officers, forge alliances and invade then execute those that won’t join you. Each game of Empires mode will have a different outcome, lasting 50 game years or until one leader unites all of the territories and brings peace to the country.

If you don’t have time to delve into the intricacies of the Empire mode, you can set up a quick battle in the “Single” mode. Selecting between Invasion, Quest, Defence and Event battles (each of which have their own objectives), picking your own team of Dynasty Warriors and those that you are to face off against and the map of your choice from the 22 that are on offer, you can bounce straight into a battle of your own design.

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Visually, the game looks almost unchanged from Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends on the PS4. Obviously hampered by the fact that the game spans a console generation, the game looks sharp but lacks textures and looks washed out at times. There is also some incredible slow down when attacking towers with particular weapons (most notable when using the throwing knives), grinding the game down to a few frames per second.

Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires offers something that the core games are sorely missing – customisation and the possibility to make your own way through the Dynasty Warriors world. The Yellow Turban rebellion doesn’t have to be doomed to failure. Lu Bu doesn’t have to see his castle flooded. You can change the events of history and mould them however you see fit. The Empire mode has enough depth and variety to please the fans of the series and is accessible enough for newcomers alike, offering a wealth of replay value. Unfortunately the game suffers the same pit falls as most other Dynasty Warriors games, often reducing combat down to a thumb-achingly repetitive and occasionally boring slog.

Developers: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo

Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires is set to release on the PS3, PS4 (Version reviewed), Xbox One and PC On the 24th of February in America and on the 27th in the EU.

Note: There are online aspects of Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires which we were unable to test prior to release as we were unable to find another player.

Full Disclosure: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review copy of the game by the publishers.