‘Once again into the breach!’ This theme can be repeated no less than eighteen times since 2000 and the release of Dynasty Warriors 2 as a launch title for the PS2. There have been eighteen releases in the Dynasty Warriors series across multiple platforms, as well as updates and add-ons. There is a constant debate within the community of players on whether the game is still viable, or if KOEI should set it aside and try something new. Well, in most respects, Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires doesn’t do anything new, but it actually has a lot of surprises up its sleeve. Let’s take a look inside Ancient China, and see if this game has the foresight and staying power to conquer it.

Stylized Chinese armor, and political maps laid out alongside more traditional hand drawn art really define this game’s graphics. The first screen you will see a lot of is a strategic regional map of China, done in a stylized political layout rather than a geographic one. It is very simple and colored, depending on th owner of the area. The menus for the strategic mode are laid out over and around this view, allowing you to make the choices for the part of the country you control. It is all very well done, and moves quickly. In this phase there is little to no load time, and the framerate is steady.

While in the strategic mode, you make use of various policies to govern your kingdom. These policies are accented with stylized brush art to make each one unique. After a short period of time, I only needed to look at the General it was going to apply to to discern what it was.

When you are in a battle, the graphics are largely unchanged from the previous games. It seems to be optimized just a little bit more, and handles objects in the distance much better. There are still slowdowns and troops popping in during the two player mode, and it will still bog down during some of the special attacks. Not so much as the previous titles, but the graphical engine behind the battle mode is largely unchanged from Samurai Warriors and Dynasty Warriors 5.

Containing 123 tracks of music, some new and some from previous incarnations in the series, there is a fair bit of music to be heard in this game. I still found myself turning off the sound or turning it down while I was on the strategic map screen. The music there dooesn’t change frequently, so after playing for two hours without a battle in between (or even if there is an interspersing battle) I was honestly tired of the two or three songs I heard.

In battle music continues to be the same Ancient Chinese Hard Rock that has been used throughout the series. As usual, it continues to fit the action of the game and lends the game a much more frantic pace than the Strategic mode.

Voices throughout the game remain strong, and are very similar to the ones used in Dynasty Warriors 5, but I quickly grew tired of them as well. If I hear the word Base one more time from them, I think I’ll just defect to Cao-Cao, or go be a despot under Dong Zhuo, because they use that word in just about every thing they say.

Again, there are no real surprises in the control department, as Empires uses the same control scheme that has been in place since the series began, with only a few changes. The directional pad is used to issue orders to the other commanders on your side. I’ll discuss the details in the next section, but it works well for this game. Previously the d-pad was completely unused aside from navigating the menus in the game, but now they’ve put it to use for issuing commands such as ‘Attack’, ‘Defend’, ‘Come to me!’, and ‘Do your own thing’. It is a perfect use, and fits nicely into the default control scheme.

Dynasty Warriors has always been about the large scale tactical battle. The idea is that thousands of men are coming together under various leaders to fight for control of Ancient China. The downside to this is that aside from the fun in the individual battles, the story mode was basically a series of fights with little intervention from the player on which way they went. You either won or lost the fight, and if you lost then you got to play that one over again.

To contrast, KOEI has produced another series of games (that predate the Dynasty Warriors games) under the Romance of the Three Kingdoms name. ROTK is about assuming a personality in the Three Kingdoms era and becooming a part of the story through turn-based actions. ROTK is a wonderful series, but it was very slow and could be confusing to people who haven’t played it before. The game is all about navigating through menus, making choices during the course of the year about how to build your army, develop the land, and deciding your political course.

Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires takes the best parts of both games and puts them together in one package. Using a simplified version of the menus from ROTK and the battle mode from the Dynasty Warriors series, you can now actually lead on and off the battlefield. No longer are you just a strong warrior, you can use your on battlefield orders to tell the other commanders where to attack and defend. Off the battlefield you make the decision to recruit new officers, raise troops, and build defenses to protect the land.

The off battlefield choices are done through Policies that various generals give you. At the start of your first game, you only have a few choices available to you, as well as a limited number of Orders to give in a turn (typically one). You can consult your officers and/or delegate control of your remaining orders to them. If you consult the officer, you actually get a better use of your orders, as they will each execute two Policies. If you have not previously seen a Policy that they have issued, it is added to your list of available Policies. The downside to consulting the officers is that you have four officers to pick from and they have each chosen two policies. You are stuck with those choices until the next turn. If you don’t like their choices, you can issue one Policy per Order yourself, such as Recruit (raise troops), Commerce (raise money), Upgrade Weapon (Makes stronger weapons available), and many more. As you unlock more Policies, they will become available in future games from the start.

After that mouthful, I hope you are still with me. What all that basically means is that you get to order around a number of regions in Ancient China and your goal is to conquer it. The game has several scenarios, starting with the classic ‘Yellow Turban Rebellion’. The difference in the scenarios is not the map per se, but the ownership of the various regions and the officers that are available. All the scenarios I have encountered so far involve a specific situation in a time period, but then continue until you have united China under one flag or are defeated.

The major value of this game is its replayability. One of the two scenarios available at the start is ‘A Gathering of Heroes’. This is the dream team mode of the game, as it lets you create your own initial kingdom and then randomizes the rest of the regions. You can use the Create-A-Warrior system to make your own officers for use in any of the scenarios. You can also choose to use the updated stats from previous games, or have the game start everyone at Rank 16 (lowest rank). There is a lot of possiblity with this system.

Also, the two player split screen mode is still present in the game, but it has a catch. The second player can only play a general that you have brought to the battle. If you are the sole general, then it is not available in that fight. Aside from the standard pop-up and slowdown issues that this has, it is a great co-op mode and has been in the previous games.

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