Developer: Omega Force
Release Date: March 28, 2006
Another day, another dollar, another Dynasty Warriors game. (Ahem.) But seriously, folks, by now you've grown tired of walking in to your Friendly Neighborhood Videogame Store and seeing yet another Dynasty Warriors game to buy, and you're wondering how to deal with it. WorthPlaying is here to help.
Rule Number One: Don't buy the first version of any Dynasty Warriors game. No matter what the biggest forum crows say, there was never a logical reason to pick up Dynasty Warriors 5 on release. None. Not a one.
Rule Number Two: Don't buy the first version of any Dynasty Warriors game! This cannot be stressed enough! The release schedule will seem much less daunting if you slide any first versions, as well as those negligible Xtreme Legends packages, right under the carpet and don't look at them. Don't even think about them. The same goes for Samurai Warriors, even the upcoming Weasel Warriors, Bat Warriors, and Teamsters Warriors games that Koei has planned. The keyword is Empires, and if it doesn't say that, don't bother, unless for some arbitrary reason, Koei decides to skip out on releasing a proper "complete" game.
Do you promise to heed this advice? Good. Now you will understand and enjoy this review much more.
Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires does what every Empires did before it: a Risk-esque strategy system taking place between battles. Otherwise, this is Xtreme Legends slightly freshened up with some fancy multiplayer action. What I'm getting at is, if you made the mistake of buying one or both of the first two DW5 titles, you have very little reason to move on, but don't get me wrong – this is the best package in the series.
The steady rise from DW2 to DW5: Empires has moved in an extremely linear fashion, not unlike a fighting game franchise: Many small tweaks fix problems relevant to the hardcore players, while a miniscule few bigger changes attempt to justify full-price purchases for "the rest of us." Unlike every DW game before it, DW5 added a few more of those big things, which made it the most hyped title in the series since the third iteration. All Empires does is tack on the aforementioned strategy mode on top of that established, solid gameplay, pushing it slightly further in the direction of Koei's other long-running historical series, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Of course, DW5 strays much further from its historical source material, especially in allowing players to readily stray from history, along with entirely fictional military actions. Also, taking a page out of Xtreme Legends, completely custom characters – the most versatile yet – appear at random during Empire Mode games. Not exactly charming for history buffs, but I cracked a smile upon seeing my girlfriend's creation, Booty Xiu, run me through with magical fan-blade blasts during the Yellow Turban scenario.
DW4's Empire Mode was different in that there was a single scenario; DW5:E starts with two and has successive unlockables. As for the gameplay itself, aside from being visually spiced up with a slick polygonal interface, each officer can be directed to react very specifically in peaceful matters, and there are multiple alliance types, so direct conflict by far is not the only way to get things done, although it is not entirely unavoidable (but this wouldn't be a DW game if it worked out that way, right?).
The battles themselves are … well, they are Dynasty Warriors, through and through. Sure, the d-pad triggers four simple troop commands, but the action is almost entirely reliant on the player's actions. To even things out a bit, a second player can join in on any Empire Mode game at any time, and the majority of the battles are multiplayer-compatible, although a few support missions don't allow for more than one general, which means your buddy is going to have to sit on his hands for a good 20 minutes.
While most players will still go through Empire Mode solo, my personal preference is to never play the game without someone at my side. I couldn't imagine playing DW alone after this experience, to be honest. Conferring with a friend on political decisions, as well as barking out over-boiled strategies to one another, is so charming that it nearly erases the eight-foot draw distance (to the point that enemies will ruin strategies by literally popping up behind you) and the fact that the blocky graphics and chunky animations have barely been fixed since DW2.
Oh, and the butt rock soundtrack gets a little old, not in the Daytona USA way, but the … well, the DW way. If you do happen to be a fan of this type of stuff, this version contains the entire DW5 soundtrack as well as a "best of" from previous titles. Not to sound like your cranky old man, but all this stuff sounds the same to me, and I haven't heard much hype, so I'm not sure if this is really a selling point for anybody.
To jump to a slightly different note: It feels as though I haven't blinked when writing this review, because a new DW game hasn't appeared, unless you count the Xbox 360 version of DW5:E. But I have blinked, and it looks as though there will be at least a small amount of time – instead of nearly non-existent, as with every release before – before the next Empires game arrives.
If you haven't played DW before, or if you're a fan but you've found it overwhelming, this is the sweet spot. There is no better time to get involved with this interesting – if over-exposed – series than right now. While many reviews have panned this game for being more of the same (which it largely is), that voice comes from angry journalists who have played each DW5 iteration and aren't interested in seeing any more of this series until a massive change occurs. However, if you follow the advice at the beginning of this review, you can enjoy these games in their best forms, not just seeing them as the sum of a slowly expanding set of parts. Let's just hope they deal with the draw distance issues by the release of DW6:E.