The Dynasty Warriors series is one of gaming's most misunderstood franchises. It's adored in Japan, where its combination of hack-and-slash action and Eastern history proves a compellingly cathartic release for hard-working salarymen. At the end of a tough day, there's no series quite like Dynasty Warriors to take your frustrations out on. In what other game can you take apart 1000 enemies within a few minutes? In the west, meanwhile, it enjoys cult success among fans that vigorously defend it against accusations that it's nothing more than a simplistic, repetitive button-masher. To a degree that's true – assuming you only play the game for a few levels on Easy mode. But such criticisms ignore the tactical depth of the higher difficulties, where split-second decisions can significantly alter the course of battle.
Save a character in trouble and he'll fight alongside you. But leave him struggling while you protect a carriage and he might abandon the battlefield. Convince a powerful warrior to join you and his very presence can lower enemy morale, but if doing so means you let a messenger inform a rival captain of your presence, they'll have a stronger garrison by the time you arrive. On top of all that, there's a wide range of combat options open to players who dig deeper into the game's systems, buying and upgrading new weapons and using seals and titles to buff their character's abilities. It's not nearly as shallow as it first seems.
All that said, Dynasty Warriors' vast and complex narrative and intricate web of character relationships can make the franchise feel impenetrable to the casual player. For all that its mechanics are easy to learn, its plot can prove hard to follow – not least because the player can periodically pick sides, never mind the twists and turns that mean you often end up fighting an opponent that was an ally two levels before.
Even so, the new way the game is structured perhaps makes it easier to forgive Koei for not releasing this as DLC in the west (it's more understandable in Japan, where downloadable content is still a relatively unpopular method of distribution). Rather than the restrictive story mode of DW7, where your character choice was predetermined, the new Legend mode allows you to change officer at any time. As you complete stages, the dilapidated castle town that is your hub gradually comes to life, filling with villagers and key assistants, from a strategist whose war manuals boost your character's stats to a seal-crafting blacksmith and eventually a merchant who can be sent to trade with other provinces for treasure and new weapons. It's a pleasing sign of the progress you're making, even if your interactions are fairly limited there.
The already heaving roster boasts three new characters from the Wei dynasty. Guo Jia is probably the pick of the bunch, a young man with an orb and sceptre that offers a powerful EX attack and two of the best Musou moves in the game: one temporarily sucks all enemies (and allies) into a large sphere of energy, almost like a floating Katamari, and the effect is quite comical. The other, activated when you jump, is like playing airborne billiards with your foes as a large orb ricochets at speed across the battlefield. Guo is particularly deadly when equipped with claws or twin swords, and his optimistic demeanour makes him a very likeable addition.