Many gamers know Dynasty Warriors, a famously static series that never seems to change all that much from installment to installment, and developer Omega Force, along with publisher Koei, even come out with the same expansion games with every numbered title. So why, when the series is on its seventh major installment, is one of these expansion titles worthy of an Obscuri-Feature when it came out in 2006 for the fifth DW game? Easy answer: Dynasty Warriors 5 is the best the series has ever been (see Post Script for justification on this), and Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires is where the obscurity comes in.
Empires is worth the play to both long time DW fans and people who are not familiar with the series at all. The reasons you DW rookies should take a look at Empires are plentiful, but primarily because of how easy the game to just pick up and play. Especially if you like hack and slash action, pop the game in, and within 10 minutes you’ll be deeply invested into carving out your empire from the ancient warring states of second and third century China.
The crucial word for the game is options. From the very beginning you can choose to play with warlords controlling territories based on historical positions, or to throw tradition to the wind and randomize starting position for all generals and minor officers. From there, the officers you control give you choices every turn (a turn consists of an administrative/ strategic phase followed by a battle phase) on how to spend any resources you’ve collected- recruit more officers, produce/improve combat equipment, restore troop numbers lost in previous battles, take care of your common folk, invest in special battle tactics like fire attacks, or forge an alliance with a neighboring warlord. Then begins the battle phase, where choice is again the name of the game. You can invade a bordering territory, defend your own territory if attacked, help an ally invade or defend, or skip battle all together if your army just needs a rest. This strategy element is unique to Empires in the DW universe, and it adds a lot to the game that series fans will enjoy.
In battle, many of the dynamics are, of course, much the same as you could expect in most DW games. Thousands of easy to kill common soldiers led by a few generals who take a little more work to dispatch, especially since, in Empires, opposing generals can return to battle multiple times after defeat before they can be captured. Still a lot of calculated button mashing the square and triangle button (forgive my PlayStation bias) to pull off combos and all the other standard fixings of DW combat, except the flow of battle is more based of the control of bases spread out around the battlefield that shift allegiances after being conquered, instead of being destroyed as in the basic DW 5. There is one unique feature in Empires, however. After pausing the battle to bring up the menu, players can select their allied generals and give them specific objectives, attack a certain base or general, defend a base, or move to the aid of a particular ally. In addition to issuing commands to individual allies, you can also issue orders to your army as a whole to launch an all-out offensive, fall back to concentrate on defense, etc. This is my favorite feature of the game, it eliminates one of the most annoying features of other DW games, in having to watch your allied generals go off on some fool’s quest or sit and spin back at home base all day.
The Empires experience is as unique an experience as the DW universe has to offer, and allows free use of all your favorite characters all together in support of a new force trying to build an empire worthy of unifying China: yours. The original DW 5 offers the tradition and story of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms that sucks players in, but Empires simply offers more unadulterated fun.
Good slaying gamers!
Now I suppose I need to justify my considerable audacity on claiming the fifth game of seven is the best when the biggest change from game to game are updated graphics (kind of like Madden, but many will claim Madden 2005 is the best). DW 5 remains the king in my book for a couple reasons: characters and tradition. DW 5 has the most available playable characters in any game except 7 (just one reason DW 6 was a travesty), and is the last game of the classic Dynasty Warriors mold: uncomplicated control scheme, familiar battles (along with a few new ones) on upgraded maps, intriguing plotlines from China’s history, and characters that grow alongside their iconic weapons.
While the fifth installment of this mold left many fans understandably clamoring for a change in the formula, DW 5 perfected said formula; there was just no more room to grow with it. So while the creators delivered change with DW 6, it came with too much of loss of the tradition that makes the series so endearing (especially by taking away the familiar primary weapons from characters- who wants to play as Dian Wei without his giant axe, and why for the love of all that is holy does Lu Bu have a shuriken, that’s not even Chinese, harumph) without enough improvement to make up for it. While DW 7 is much better, DW 5 has now become the de facto king of nostalgia for series fans, and Empires comes along with it.