"The Empire, long divided, must unite: long united, must divide." The story of the Three Kingdoms has always fascinated me. Certainly there is the appeal in reading stories of heroes and the great battles they partake in, but my love of the novel goes beyond just that. It is all of the stories in between, the minor skirmishes, the characters and the virtues they represent: it creates an entirely rich epic. I have the Dynasty Warriors franchise to thank for making Three Kingdoms one of my favorite novels. Just as I read these books again and again, I have to pick up the latest Dynasty Warriors games to see Omega Force's latest take on the story.
Make money, acquire weapons, become a god of war.
The Xtreme Legends series is considered an expansion of their respective main games. Aside from additional content such as new characters or levels, these entries commonly feature new modes and challenges in order for players to further strengthen their hero of choice. Also, one can expect to see more of a focus on all of the secondary characters in the Dynasty Warriors saga. This edition is no different, as it features many scenarios where history is altered and characters like Liu Shan, Xing Cai, and even (shudder) Bao Sanniang get some time in the spotlight.
All of this and more will take place over the course of the Legends mode. At the beginning, you will find yourself in a rundown village, and as you complete missions the city grows in size and this attracts a number of different civilians. Don't expect to create your own empire though; basically, you work to attain the help of people such as traders and smiths. Make money, acquire weapons, become a god of war. That's really all there is to this mode. The missions themselves include the unique scenarios mentioned earlier as well as classic stages taken straight out of prior Dynasty Warriors entries. It comes out to just over forty missions, not nearly as many as in the original game but still quite a lot.
The other mode is barely worthy of mention. Challenge mode is a collection of four stages that have specific goals, and the best players can achieve glory on the leaderboards. Whether you're tasked with defeating so many soldiers in a few minutes or trying to reach the end in the shortest amount of time, you'll find yourself mildly amused for however long it takes to acquire the trophies.
Rounding out the new content are two new characters and one making his triumphant return. Guo Jia was a tactician for Cao Cao and is best known for the strategies he employed in the battles against Yuan Shao. Wang Yi seeks vengeance for the family she lost to Ma Chao. She's a bit of a wild one as she loves the slaughter. Pang De is the returning hero and aside from being a very capable warrior is also known for his last battle at Wan Castle, loyal and honorable to the bitter end. Six new weapons have also been included and they're all quite good. Personally, I favor the Dragon Spear and the Crescent Blade - the spear is all style while the blade feels overpowered. It's a combination I tend to stick with no matter which character I use.
As with previous games, Dynasty Warriors 7: Xtreme Legends includes multiple levels of difficulty for every stage. Easier settings are a better fit for fresh characters, while settings such as Chaos and Nightmare should only be chosen by those who are well-equipped and have very high stats. In practice, however, a lot can depend on your character's ranking. Exclusive to Legends mode is the ability to acquire titles through completing certain objectives. One of them allows the player to recover health whenever he deals damage. Since this is a Dynasty Warriors game it's rare to see an attack that doesn't connect with several enemy soldiers at once.
What this means is that even on the hardest settings all you really have to look out for is getting caught in an enemy officer's ultra-powerful Musou attack. As long as you're doing damage and keeping pace it won't matter how many arrows get stuck in your forehead or how many swords make their way to your backside. Even the nightmare difficulty is only notable because the enemy officers have quite a bit more health and receive double defense buffs constantly, which will test your patience instead of your skills. Even then you'll still want to take on the hardest settings because they award the best weapons. Persistence should always be rewarded, I think.
Online cooperative play is still available, and while the syncing hasn't improved, better search options have been implemented. Now you won't have to worry about accidentally joining somebody else's nightmare-setting level. There was an incident where a new player with a fresh character attempted to get a free ride to a nice weapon on my game, but he was quickly wiped out. Don't expect to run into a situation like this more than once. Players can also team up offline, always a good feature.
The most important thing to keep in mind, though, is that Xtreme Legends is an expansion, and if you want to get the most out of it you have to own the original edition of Dynasty Warriors 7. If you have both games, you can unlock Remix Mode, which among other things allows players to use the new characters and weapons in the original game. Also, this expands the cooperative play options so that players can join each other's campaign mode, a feature that was sorely lacking in the original game. On its own Xtreme Legends will last quite awhile, but honestly I wouldn't bother with it unless you own the original game.
I have to wonder, why didn't Koei-Tecmo offer Dynasty Warriors 7: Xtreme Legends as downloadable-content? Samurai Warriors 2 received its expansion through the Xbox Live, service but the same couldn't be done for Dynasty Warriors 7. So, instead, this is a retail-only release for the PlayStation 3, meaning, I imagine, a disappointment for Xbox 360 owners. While I appreciate the new characters, weapons, and stages, this edition is still lacking when it comes to challenge and all it takes is a pair of competent players to tear through everything with little to no trouble. All things considered, though, I have to say that it isn't a bad expansion - it is a bit overpriced, maybe, but not bad. It has more of what I like about the franchise and if need be I can always find ways to keep the game interesting through different weapon combinations and characters. If you really enjoyed Dynasty Warriors 7 there's enough reason to consider giving Xtreme Legends a look.