Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires
Release Date: 3/28/06
I was never really a huge fan of the Dynasty Warriors series. I mean, it’s a perfectly fine franchise and all, but there’s just entirely TOO MUCH of it. I’ve played a few DW titles (including the PS1 fighting game, ugh), Samurai Warriors, and Devil Kings, Capcom’s take on the DW concept (only more amusing, I thought). But I saw DW5E was coming out for the 360, and as the Empires subcategory was supposed to be a new development for the franchise, I figured I’d give it a shot. Besides, I reasoned, it’s been a long time since I smeared someone’s army across the countryside, and I’m jonesing a little.
For those who’ve somehow managed to miss the DW franchise, hi, welcome to Earth! I hope you like it here.
Seriously, DW is based in the realm of feudal China, back during The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (which just happens to be another Koei title, based on the same damn concept), when everyone was at war with everyone else. Basically, the stories told here are all about one basic concept: a bunch of different warlords want to unite China under one banner: their own. Chaos and war ensues. While ROTTK games are strategy based, DW titles were the opposite; they featured running a general into an enemy camp and massacring EVERYONE YOU SEE, ad nauseum. According to the hype, however, DW5E promised to combine BOTH concepts into one easy to play game, which struck me as interesting, if nothing else. So, let’s take a look and see if Koei managed to make something worthwhile out of all this, or if it’s just another rehash of the same old shit.
Same general story as always here, so if you’re familiar with the series, you know what’s going on. In case you’re not, here’s the deal: you pick a general and go through their campaign, basically with the intention of taking over all of China. Depending on the time period, certain people will be considered enemies of the Empire (Dong Zhuo, the Yellow Turbans, whatever), but otherwise, everyone has their own motivations and desires to achieve dominance. Characters and motivations are generally well-written, and certain characters have relationships with certain other characters, which the game tends to try and address when possible. On the whole, the writing isn’t superb, but Koei makes the attempt to get their facts accurate as best they can, and by and large seems to do a good job. The storylines are convincing without being ham-fisted, and while the writing isn’t award-winning, it is pretty solid and entertaining. It gets the job done, and that’s about all I can hope for, all things considered.
Story Rating: 5/10
Um… well, the graphics aren’t fundamentally broken, to be fair, but… they look like high-res PS2 graphics. The draw-in distance is pretty solid, and large amounts of enemies appear on-screen at one time, but one can’t help but notice that the game looks primitive in comparison to, say, practically everything on the system at this point. The frame rate is consistently solid, and I only rarely noticed any slowdown, so the game RUNS very well on the 360… but then again, it SHOULD, considering that it’s basically a direct port from the other consoles. DW5E isn’t going to tax your system to the absolute limits, and frankly, it looks pretty mediocre, but it runs great, and isn’t hideous, so unless you’re a tech fiend, you should be able to deal with the last-gen visuals.
Graphics Rating: 6/10
The music is a combination of themes of the orient, techno, and rock, and surprisingly, it comes together pretty well. It’s not offensive, and overall, you’ll find it to be fitting, whether raising your forces on the map screen to prepare for war, or charging into battle itself. Plus, once again, custom soundtracks are in full effect here, so hey, if you don’t like what’s playing, play some of your own tunes.
Sound effects are also of good quality, and the sounds of steel on steel and smacking the crap out of the enemy are quite acceptable. Nothing here is out of the ordinary, and the audio all comes together well enough that you should find it appropriate to set the tone. The voice acting tends to be pretty good, especially for the named generals (Lu Bu, for instance, sounds like a smug, self-assured dick, which is how he’s SUPPOSED to sound, so congrats), though your generic generals have generic, repetitive voices. None of the voice actors are cringe worthy, thankfully, but some of the voice clips repeat A LOT, so you’ll be hearing things like “In battle, one’s head is not just for filling a helmet” ENTIRELY too often. That’s not game-breaking, thankfully, but it can get pretty annoying after a while. Overall, though, everything sounds good, if not great, and you probably won’t find yourself turning the sound off while you play.
Sound Rating: 7/10
There are two gameplay elements to DW5E: empire management and the waging of war. Empire management is a fairly simple affair: you’re given a map of China, which is divided into various provinces, each of which can be occupied. Territories will either be occupied by a specific army (and will show a specific color), or they will be gray, which means they have no specific leader. When you start your turn, you’ll be able to perform various actions to better your position, including engaging in territorial trade, upgrading your weapons, increasing your troop count, training and recruiting generals, and using diplomacy to keep your people happy. You will have a certain amount of possible activities you may perform each turn, which increases as you rise in territorial power, and you’ll also have to spend gold to do the things you desire to do. You’re also allowed to station generals at this point, which costs nothing. You may also forfeit your turns if you’ve nothing to do otherwise, which skips you to the combat phase. Once in the combat phase, you may either attempt to resolve a conflict against you, if any exist, or you may choose to invade an opposing territory. You can also skip your turn if you wish. Assuming you DO choose to invade a territory, you can invade any territory you can reach by the established roadways; if there’s not a road from where you are to where you want to go, you can’t invade it. It seems kind of silly that your troops can’t simply march over open land, road or no, but it does provide for some interesting strategies regarding choke points, so I can deal with it.
Once you get to the point where you’re about to invade, you choose which generals to send into the fray, equip your lead general with whatever items and weapons you desire, and then lead the charge into battle. You can’t equip or directly control any of your generals but your leader, unfortunately, though you can change your leader from battle to battle if you choose, so you’re not limited to playing as the same character for hours. I’d still like to be able to equip each general prior to battle, but it’s not a game-breaking exclusion. You can also use various battle tactics prior to engaging in combat, depending on what you’ve researched, so you might incite revolt amongst the opposing troops, summon wizards, bandits or beastmasters to join your cause, equip your archers with specialty arrows, or whatever else you choose to research. These advantages can help to turn the tide of battle in your favor, but they’re not a guarantee of victory; victory will only come through being able to destroy the enemy. That’s where you come in.
Your chosen leader for the battle is controlled from a third person perspective, and you run him or her around the battlefield, murdering anyone and anything that’s not your ally. Your sticks control movement and camera view, and you’ll probably end up fiddling with the camera view more than you’d like, as the camera doesn’t lock behind you, which can cause issues when in battle with other generals occasionally. You have two different strikes available to you (one normal, faster strike, and one harder, slower strike), from which you can build all sorts of combos, depending on your equipped weapon; different weapons have different combos assigned, and upgraded weapons feature longer, more powerful combos as they are upgraded. You also have a jump and a front block, and what’s called “mosou” available to you; basically, mosou is a special autocombo that does large damage to anything around you, which is good for generals and large groups of enemies. You don’t have any side or rear blocking, however, so you need to be more careful than in games where “block” equals “block in any direction”. And, last but not least, you have the option to pull out your bow and arrow and take shots at enemies from a first person view (which you really don’t need to use all that much). All of your characters universally control the same, but depending on their equipped weaponry, they may play dramatically different from one another, which helps to keep things interesting.
And you’ll need to keep things interesting, because once you’ve played a battle for the first time, that’s really about it. Every battle plays like every other battle, and while there might be some mild strategy involved, there’s not much variety to the gameplay. In theory, you have to move from base to base, slaughtering the guards in the base to claim it as your own before moving on, all while defending your own bases. You can direct your allied generals by pressing directions on the D-Pad, which directs them to, among other things, full-out assault the enemy, defend every base you control, and direct their troops as they see fit (usually, they try to attack). Ultimately, however, battles simply come down to charging through the enemy, slaying everyone in your path, and repeating until you win or die. There’s little variation to the battles over the course of multiple gameplay sessions, and while this is pretty fun, after about an hour it shows that it’s pretty limited.
What it all comes down to is this: if you’re coming into the series fresh and new, or from a hiatus, THIS is easily the version to get. If you’re a die-hard fan of the series, this is certainly for you. But if you’re looking for variable gameplay elements, a wide range of options, or you’re just tired of the DW mechanics, you’re not going to find what you want here. DW5E is a solid action game with some decent strategy elements, but it’s ultimately pretty shallow once you scratch the surface. Nothing here is incredibly broken, but nothing is great, either, so unless you’re a new player or a fan, you’ve seen most of what’s on display here. It’s still solid, but it’s only mildly fresh and not really all that different from anything else you’ve played before of this type. The strategy elements freshen up the product somewhat, and they’re well-implemented, but the core gameplay is really the combat, and that’s still the same game you’ve been playing for years.
Control/Gameplay Rating: 6/10
There are several story-based missions you can take on, and you can even organize your own conflict if such amuses you. Being able to create your own generals is also pretty cool, even if it is mildly limited, and it should hold your attention for the long haul. Retaining your leveled generals and their experience levels from campaign to campaign is also pretty neat, and taking your custom general into a campaign to run roughshod over the enemy is amusing, no doubt. Some additional multiplayer options would have been nice, and an online play option would have definitely been pretty cool (wiping out armies of people halfway across the country sounds fun in theory, anyway). Basically, the only reason to come back and play DW5E again and again is if you like the basic gameplay, and while the gameplay IS pretty fun, it’s a touch limited and doesn’t lend well to massive, long-term play. It’s a fun experience while it lasts, but you probably won’t find yourself wanting to jump back into it after you’ve unlocked everything.
Replayability Rating: 5/10
Simple to master controls combined with five adjustable difficulty levels equals a well-balanced experience. You should easily pick up the gameplay with no difficulty, and mastering the game concepts is easy to understand. The strategy portions are also easy to get into and well designed, so there’s no real confusion involved. Plus, if you don’t know what to you, you can simply check what your generals think, thus taking the challenge down a notch (though you needn’t do so if you don’t want to). And really, it’s nowhere near as complex and confusing as ROTTK, so those with no head for strategy should have no problems with the concept. Regardless of your skill level, DW5E offers you a good, solid challenge from start to finish if you want it, and it doesn’t get much better than that.
Balance Rating: 9/10
DW5E is, for all intents and purposes, ROTTK mixed with DW, so the originality involved in mixing two franchises into one is something around nil. The actual execution is pretty original, however, which saves some face. The game feels like a smaller version of Risk, with real-time combat instead of dice-rolling, which is something that hasn’t been done too often. It’s not the most original game out there, but there’s plenty here that feels unique, even if most of it is ultimately based on other DW concepts. In short, you’ve seen everything DW5E has done before, but most likely not all in one game, which is what makes this interesting.
Originality Rating: 4/10
Hey, commanding my forces into battle as myself still hasn’t gotten old yet, though I haven’t spent nearly as much time with the DW franchise as you might have. The gameplay is pretty basic, and overall it’s easy to play, but there’s a little more strategy involved in it than in previous titles, which might keep you coming back. The combination of turn-based army management (minimal though it is) and real-time mass destruction is surprisingly fun, and you’ll find yourself wanting to invade one more province before you stop, which pretty much says it all. Those who are worn on the franchise might not want to fiddle around with the same gameplay elements again, regardless of the changes, but those who aren’t tired of it in the least will want to keep coming back for more.
Addictiveness Rating: 8/10
9. APPEAL FACTOR
Well… the game is simple to play, so even the most unskilled gamer should be able to manage with little to no difficulty. And SOMEONE’S buying the eight million other DW and DW-esque titles on the market, so there’s definitely an appeal to these games. The 360 version doesn’t push the power of the console even a small bit, as far as I can tell, so there’s no real reason to buy this version over any other, sadly. Of course, if you own a 360, it’s nice to know you can pick this up for less than most other titles on the system, which is definitely a selling point. Overall, it’s a solid, if unspectacular, addition to your 360 library, and it’s basic enough, but solid enough, to appeal to anyone looking for something to play.
Appeal Rating: 7/10
The combat elements are incredibly basic, the graphics are last-gen, and there are an insanely large amount of games on the market that do a lot of what DW5E does, DW games included. So why bother, right? Well, here’s the thing: the strategy elements make this a more enjoyable experience than any of the other similar games out there. Raising your army, boosting the morale of your people, developing strategic advantages, wooing rival generals into your service, it’s surprisingly interesting. The game offers you ENOUGH strategy to be interesting, but not so much that it overshadows the combat, and that’s good. To be perfectly honest, Koei should stick with the Empires formula from here on; instead of making, say, DW6, DW6 Xtreme Legends, and DW6E, they should just work on fine-tuning and re-tooling the Empires concept, which would also keep them from saturating the market with eight billion of the same damn game over and over again.
And while they’re at it, I’d like to see a Samurai Warriors Empires too. Largely because I like Hanzo more than Lu Bu, but whichever. Regardless, the concept is sound, and hey, after renting it, I decided I liked it enough to buy it outright, so that should sum my opinion up quite nicely.
Miscellaneous Rating: 8/10
Overall Score: 6.5/10
Final Score: 6.5 (FAIR).
Short Attention Span Summary
Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires is a solid, if unspectacular, addition to the franchise. It’s more interesting than the normal DW games, and the strategy elements, while a touch basic, make the game far better than it would be otherwise. It’s still nothing new and exciting, overall, but if you’re a fan, or you’ve not spent much time with the series, you should definitely check this out. However, if you’re wearing on the DW franchise, this might not be enough of a modified title to hold your interest.