I've played a number of Dynasty Warriors titles up to this point, but this marks my first time with one of the Empire spin-offs. They're typically released a little while after the main game, like this title, but I didn't realize how different they are from the main series. A lot of elements that remain the same, but I actually like the gameplay in Empires far more than I like the regular series stuff. This title, Dynasty Warriors 6: Empires on the PS3, is a surprising amount of fun, with a ton of content to boot. If you've enjoyed the series up to this point, I'd imagine that it'll be an automatic buy for you, since there are no real technical issues to speak of, but if you're new to the series, like I am, I'll try and explain why I enjoyed it so much.
While the main series has always been a hack-and-slash adventure set against a Romance of the Three Kingdoms backdrop, Empires uses a bit of strategy combined with that typical gameplay to alter the way the game works. Dynasty Warriors 6: Empires is no different, with a fleshed-out Empire mode that allows you to pick up the role of a ruler, ronin, or officer and carry out their story in an effort to subjugate the land under a single ruler. Depending on the role you take, you'll have a few different tasks to perform and options available, and there are a huge number of characters from which to choose. Every character starts off with a specific rank or title, but as you advance through the story, event options will pop up, and they'll sometimes allow you to step down from a role or switch allegiances. You'll even get offers or threats from other sides, asking you to assassinate your current commander or jump ship to their side. Depending on how much of the map the other side has dominion over, it might not be a bad idea to switch.
While the story is certainly confusing to newcomers, especially if you have no frame of reference for the names and places, there's definitely a lot to check out, and the voice-over work isn't too bad. There are certain instances that stand out as cringe-inducing, but for the most part, I'm surprised that a cast as large as Dynasty Warriors is able to pull off the voice acting that it does. Visually, the game looks pretty nice on an HD set; there's some pop-in and other technical issues that occasionally occur, but the battlegrounds are pretty expansive, and there is definitely an impressive amount of characters on-screen. Considering how much action there is, it's nice to see that the game isn't plagued by a lot of slowdown; it wasn't entirely absent, but I didn't notice it enough for it to be annoying.
Empires sports a pretty hefty soundtrack too, with some original music tossed into a mix of over 100 tracks that span the entire Dynasty Warrior catalogue. At load screens, you can even change up the music by going into an in-game set list, which is a pretty cool feature to have. A lot of the music is awfully generic, and while a few tracks stand out, some are far too repetitive and annoying, like the majority of the menu music you'll encounter.
The action gameplay is as familiar as ever, but this version tosses out the Renbu system that was just introduced in Dynasty Warriors 6. You'll still have your basic attacks, combos, block, jump, etc. There's also the Musou gauge, and you'll have different abilities that you can purchase to outfit your warrior and your weapons. Your warrior's abilities are activated by holding down L2 and pressing the corresponding button that's constantly displayed on your HUD, while the weapon abilities are innate and always active. There are a number of abilities to buy, but you only have four slots available, so you'll need to pick and choose which ones you'd like to use prior to a mission. There's always a preparation screen that allows you to change out your options prior to a fight, so you'll never get stuck in a less-than-ideal situation with your abilities. The level-up system is still present like it's always been, so you'll constantly gain experience from kills and power up while in battle, but nothing new is going on there.
If you choose to be an officer in the Empire mode, you're going to be playing the most straightforward part of the game. Every few months, a council will be held by your ruler, who'll dictate the direction your country is going to be headed for that season. Occasionally, it'll be a military-focused group, so you'll get see some bonuses to your attacks, while other times it'll focus on diplomacy or the economy. There are different benefits to all the types you'll encounter, but they don't seem to make a major impact on the battlefield. You'll also be issued one assignment every cycle, so if you polish that off early, you'll be able to take on mercenary tasks, which will net you some extra money, experience and gems on the side. Every time you take an action, like going into battle or partaking in an available event, you'll use up a point or two from the actions available for that cycle. Once they've been exhausted, you'll move on to the next month. Basically, there's a schedule to keep track of in Empires, and you'll want to make sure you can pack in as many events as possible before exhausting it.
If you're going to go with Ruler mode, you'll be a little more hands-on with certain events. When the councils are held, you'll be able to shuffle between cards that depict certain officers and rules that'll be put into play. You'll also get to choose invasions, which automatically occur in the two other modes. You'll need to be careful to not exhaust your troops, and you'll need to rest them up to be on guard from surprise attacks by neighboring groups. It's a pretty funky mode compared to the other two, but it's definitely interesting, especially if you find the series' core action gameplay to be stale.
Mercenary mode plays out in a similar fashion to Empire mode, but you have no particular allegiance and can align yourself with the nation of your choice. Sometimes you'll get offers, and other times you'll be offering yourself up, but it's the more lone wolf option. It's not too hard to switch between the Empire and Mercenary modes, as one of the early event options in the former is the ability to step down. The Mercenary mode doesn't have any noticeable differences, so it's entirely up to your story-based choice.
Finally, there's a pretty extensive create-a-character mode in Empires, and as you take on side-quests, you'll start to unlock a lot of clothing options. The game boasts over 100 different designs to unlock, and there's promise of DLC content for this and the soundtrack. I toyed around with it a bit, and you can come up with some interesting options, but with so many actual characters to check out, it's more of a novelty than anything else. There are so many different tales and story modes within Empires that it will take you dozens of hours to see it all, and I can't see myself spending that time with a generic user-created character.
I came away with my first Empire experience feeling pretty impressed. I've been enjoying the Dynasty Warriors series lately, after spending years dismissing it as a recycled franchise. The combat is a bit stale, and there are certainly repetitive elements, but to dismiss it entirely as being the same every year is completely unfair. Dynasty Warriors 6: Empires proves that by giving you some interesting options in the campaign that you won't find the main series, and at a discounted price point that makes it a pretty good deal. There's so much content here that fans will be set for a while, but if you're a newcomer, this is also a pretty solid starting point. You're getting the combat and battlefield strategy of the regular titles, combined with some of the more strategy-like elements of the Empire series. If you're even remotely interested in the series, I'd recommend that you pick up this title.Score: 8.0/10
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