PS2 REVIEW: DYNASTY WARRIORS 5: EMPIRES

You say "Expansion", I say "Explosive", let's call the whole thing great! by Mike Chasselwaite

March 30, 2006 - Dynasty Warriors is back with a pack. An expansion pack of sorts. Empires makes the series bigger and better than ever with new scenarios, large scale battles, new policies and plenty of strategy to keep your mind fully engaged.

It's amazing how the developers of the Dynasty Warriors series continue to surprise me with new gameplay additions that manage to keep each game in the series fresh. There's no doubt that the series should have ground to a halt after the second version since it was impossible to predict that this hack-and-slash gameplay would have such longevity.

Keeping things from becoming repetitive is the biggest challenge the developers face. This button mashing style of gameplay can get very tiresome very quickly. But thanks to new policies and diplomatic strategies the game offers more variety than just simple hack-and-slash. Not to say that the sword wielding aspects of the game are a drag. It wouldn't be Dynasty Warriors without the real time combat. Thanks to the deeper addition of strategy, the turn-based moves allow you to really take stock of your situation and make plans accordingly.

There are 25 regions in the country to conquer and more than 70 government polices that you can adopt. Once you take over a region you can assign a policy to exploit the resources and manpower in that area in such a way that it will benefit your empire in its efforts to expand its territories and protect the ones it controls.

The battles in Empires are truly epic. You are not just focused on one small unit, you are commanding entire armies in both historical and fictional battles that take place during the time period of the Three Kingdoms in ancient China. You can issue orders to your generals, individually or collectively. You can have them attack, defend or retreat. The AI does a really good job of executing your orders while not doing anything stupid like walking into an area where they will be overwhelmed with enemy troops.

It's really convenient the ways the controls are laid out. All of the main actions are mapped to the right side of the controller and all of the important strategic decisions can be accessed on the right side, most notably with the D-pad. The map is accessed by the right trigger and you can view the entire battlefield at once or focus on individual units where you can press the left trigger and gleam information about their health and other stats. Commands to your generals are issued with the D-pad, or if you prefer you can let them make their own decisions - and actually trust them. The AI is that good.

Some battles and territories can be won through diplomatic or non-violent methods. One simple way is to attempt to bribe the opposing army's generals with gold. Nothing in the game is more important than gold. It's the lifeblood of the Empire. You will receive gold from your subjects in the form of a tax. The more territory you control the more gold you will receive. Meetings are held four times a year where you consult with your generals to determine how to best spend the gold. These meetings are your "turns" in the game. You can purchase special units for your army such as sorcerers or bandits, or you can send generals to mingle with the public to garner support. You can also try to make deals with the leaders of other territories to side with you in battle or at least support you through other means. If they don't want to cooperate, then it's time to go to war.

The combat is just as fun as ever. The controls are easy enough to pick-up-and-play. You kill dozens of warriors as you make your way up the enemy ranks to capturing strongholds and take on guard captains and ultimately more elite forces until you finally capture the leader. It can still be a little tedious but now there seems to be so much more purpose since the capturing of these territories is more tangible than ever. The strategy element plays a large role in how situations develop. You could leave holes in your defense which could cause another faction to successfully invade your territory, or you could find their weak spot and attack it relentlessly, making sure all your potential weak spots are heavily fortified. To witness the combined efforts of your combat and strategy actually changing the face of the country is a very satisfying experience.

Like all Dynasty Warrior games, this one is a looker. It's not all that much better on the Xbox 360 which makes me wonder why this games wasn't just released on the Xbox. Some of the backgrounds can be a little sparse but the ancient architecture is very realistically detailed. The character models are very well done. They animate smoothly and display different personalities through their actions, outfits and dialog. It's interesting to see how many different looking characters are visible during the battles. All of these characters fighting, and no detectable slowdown. Impressive.

The sound effects are exactly what you would expect, except the voiceovers are actually getting better. But only slightly. The music is the same old cheese metal with oriental overtones. It's ancient East meets sappy West. The swishing sounds of the blades is dynamic. You can almost feel it when you hit bone.

The replay value is modest, but let's be honest, after 15 hours of hacking and slashing, it's time to break out a bowling game. Fortunately the strategy element mixes up the gameplay which results in a great hybrid for those that want more the just a taste of the Three Kingdom era.

Features:

  • 4 scenarios to unlock, with 6 scenarios in all.
  • 2-Player Co-op in ''Empire'' and ''Free'' modes.
  • Meet with your war council and choose policies which affect Government, Product Development, Diplomacy and Battle Tactics. 25 new policies for a total of 75 in all.
  • Issue direct orders to each officer or general commands to officers on the field. Take the offensive, defend your ground, or have all officers rally to you for an ambush.
  • Choose the officers for your attack force, entice captured soldiers into joining your service or expel them from your kingdom.
  • Change game dynamics by limiting the number of your officers during play, adjusting time limits, and selecting battle conditions.
  • Discover the history of the Dynasty Warriors with the Encyclopedia, unlock new items, strengthen your weapons, and much more.

By Mike Chasselwaite
CCC Freelance Writer

Rating out of 5
Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires (PS2)
4.5
Graphics
Excellent representation of ancient China. I can almost taste the dust.
5.0
Control
Hacking and slashing has never been more fun. Combined with the strategy elements, Dynasty Warriors has never been more sophisticated.
4.2
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voiceovers are getting better but the cheese-metal Oriental pop has got to go.
3.1
Play Value
Regardless of the strategic element, there's only so much hack-and-slash that one can do in a week.
4.5
Overall Rating - Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
 
System: PS2, X360
Dev: Omega Force
Pub: Koei
Release: Mar 2006
Players: 1 - 2
Review by Mike

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best