Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends.
This was one of the small number of games I purchased during the Steam Summer Sale (remember that? It seems so long ago now), and of them probably the most expensive of the bunch, as even discounted it came in at about the hefty price you would expect from a relatively large studio's triple-A game.
A large part of why I bought it was that it came highly recommended by games reviewer Jim Sterling, not necessarily for its storyline (although we'll, er, we'll talk about its storyline, which is certainly not bad but does occasionally lapse into the disquieting), but for the sheer fun of the gameplay, and it definitely didn't disappoint in that regard.
Set in the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history, Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends asks the question 'What if this prolonged and often brutal civil war was primarily fought by superpowered juggernauts of death single-handedly carving their way through the battlefield?' and then it just kind of runs with that. A hack and slash game with some RPG and strategy elements, the game's main gameplay feature is that you're absurdly powerful and skilled, making the disposable armies thrown at you akin to ants who you can send flying with a single swing of your weapon of choice.
Which is a hell of a power trip, and enjoyable as all get out. I did a review of Hyrule Warriors earlier this year, and that covers a lot of the points I would have covered here: The gameplay, while not especially deep, is incredibly fun, and an excellent way to blow off steam, and the wide variety of characters makes it even more fun.
|It is sometimes difficult not to chortle gleefully as you murder people by the dozen.|
Dynasty Warriors 8, though, has much more variety than Hyrule Warriors, boasting a playable roster of dozens of characters, the ability to equip two weapons and switch between them on the fly, and dozens of weapons to choose from - meaning that, between a character and two weapons, you have an incalculable number of combinations. I haven't had the opportunity to try out even a quarter of the playable characters yet (and while they are all very distinct and different, I very much doubt I'll ever be able to keep track of who they are - in that respect, Dynasty Warriors 8 seems somewhat like a game for the fans), or even half the weapons, despite the fact that I've had the game for literally months.
(My personal favourite weapons, of those I've tried, are the piercing sword and wingblades, both of which are very fast weapons. Since power never really seems to be a problem in Dynasty Warriors games, I am firmly of the opinion that fast weapons with wide and/or long reaches are where it's at.)
Dynasty Warriors 8 also has (I almost wrote 'adds' there, but Dynasty Warriors 8 is the earlier game of the two) a smidgeon of extra gameplay depth over its Zelda-oid spin-off by giving you EX Modes, where your character will temporarily enter a super mode. Timing these EX Modes right will often give you a big boost in battle and can turn the tide to your advantage.
The game gives you access to pretty much every character and every weapon right off the bat, so you can immediately dive into playing quick games, if you want to. But, if you're so inclined, there is a story mode to play, and much like Hyrule Warriors, while it won't be winning any awards any time soon, it is very far from terrible.
The story throws you into four different characters' journey through the battles of the War of the Three Kingdoms, giving you control over them and their allies for about a dozen battles each. However, by meeting special conditions within a battle, you can split their stories off onto alternate pathways - 'hypothetical routes' to go along with the 'historical route' (insofar as any game which gives you the ability to devastate armies with the swing of a gigantic paintbrush can be historical). In these hypothetical routes, characters who are otherwise fated to perish can survive, battles that your faction lost in history can be won, and tactical advantages can be gained - but characters who survived in history may end up dying.
Which is a really interesting little feature for a game based somewhat on history, and I like it: It adds replayability value and it gives an extra, optional challenge to what is otherwise markedly not a challenging game.
The story does occasionally dip into the disquieting, such as when you're tasked with brutalising a workers' rebellion, and as you stand victorious upon a field littered with the corpses of barely armed farmers, your character proudly and happily re-affirms how he will do whatever it takes to keep his most honourable vow of protecting his noble house. I mean, I have no idea whether that was meant to be sinister or not, but it was.
|My god, look at those feathers/long pieces of cloth.|
Perhaps my only gripe is that the game has no multiplayer mode (or at least no online multiplayer). I've said before that I don't begrudge games that intend themselves as wholly single player or multiplayer experiences from eschewing the other gameplay type - I think that's just good development sense, preserving time and resources that would otherwise be spent on something the game doesn't really need. But Dynasty Warriors would be perfect for multiplayer, and it baffles me that after eight plus games with a single-player formula that has by and large not changed over time, they haven't thought about maybe adding one in.
Still, Dynasty Warriors 8 is a very strong, solid game that I do recommend buying on Steam if you want something ridiculous and fun to blow off some steam with. That having been said, if you're not already a fan of the franchise, I would suggest waiting until there's a sale on - not because the game is sub-par in any fashion, but because it is in many ways not a very deep game, so much as it is a game you load up sporadically when you just want to hit things with a big, sharp stick.