Game: Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Available on: Playstation 3
Dynasty Warriors. Samurai Warriors. Gundam. Orochi. Bladestorm. Fist of the North Star. Xtreme Legends. Empires. For a series so often critically divisive it’s frightening both how popular Dynasty Warriors is and how much of it actually exists. Every off-shoot comes with its own foibles and quirks, and yet for their multitude it’s hard for a disconcerting onlooker to pick up on the changes beyond aesthetics.
Empires promises something more strategic. The series’ trademark mass slaughter is interspersed with moments of decision making and resource management, alongside a little diplomacy, with game progress dictated by the Risk-like assimilation of territories.
STORY: Aficionados of the mainline Dynasty Warriors games will know exactly where the plot is based. Taking rough cues from the old Chinese text, ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’, Dynasty Warriors tells the tale with an eye for the eccentric. Where Empires differs from the main series is that, aside from the opening framework, just how you achieve victory and unite the world is entirely your own choice.
The game gives you five plot-focused scenarios to get through, as well as a custom mode that lets you play world domineer with your own unique setup. The stories here include The Yellow Turban Rebellion of 184AD, The Alliance Against Dong Zhou in 190AD, the Battle of Guandu in 200AD, the Battle of Chibi in 208AD and Coup d’etat in 249AD.
GRAPHICS: Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires looks fine. Like the Taylor Swift of the gaming world its looks induce wrinkly-nosed shrugs of indifference – your oculars shan’t be offended, but neither will they be wowed. The simple fact that the game can looks alright while pushing its hundreds of men – men on horses, men carrying flags, men getting thrown through the air, men running and men dying – all while only taking a minor hit to its framerate, is commendable and absolutely fine.
SOUND: One of the biggest issues I’ve had with the Dynasty Warriors franchise is the painfully forgettable power rawk that has plagued its battles for far too long. The music in the interim sections is alright, but the constant, unrelenting amateur-level guitar harassment and aggressive drum-pounding form an acoustically-monotonous wallpaper around repetitive enemy squeals and hit sounds. Dynasty Warriors is an audible dead-end in serious need of fresh inspiration.
GAMEPLAY: The strategic promises of Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires are encouraging. Starting the game you’ll dive straight into the Empire mode – as aside from creating your own commander to play with, that’s all you can really do – but you won’t be thrust straight into battle. Instead you’ll be playing a role, from either ruler, sub-ordinate or a personal vigilante unit.
Who you are depends how much say you have over your in-game actions. The emperor has final say over what your faction and its commanders should be doing, while a vigilante fights for themselves meaning they can align and break away from factions as and when they choose.
Progress takes a turn-based guise and anything you choose to do will move the calender forward by a month, so it’s up to you how you play. Invest money into local businesses to improve your income, spend your food resources on training your troops, or attack a neighbouring region in an attempt to weaken their forces – every turn brings change in the make-up of the realm and advances your current tale of domination.
Unfortunately, this side of the game is never as intricate as you’ll will it to be. Calling it “diet” would be a disgrace to the overused identification. Sure it’s fun assimilating spaces and spreading your colour across the realm, and the spice of well-considered territory-taking is certainly there, but what you choose to buy into largely boils down to a fancy veneer on stat-bar improvement. Your eyes are focused on unlocking strategems you can use in the game’s battles rather than some grand, Civilisation-like scheme for cultural domination.
And there are many, many, many, many battles. Let’s face it, it would hardly be a game worthy of the Dynasty Warriors name if it didn’t contain bits where you hack through hundreds of helpless copy/pasted cadavers-to-be so you can acquire bases, join the dots and take the enemy’s main stronghold. Stratagems are 7 Empires new ‘thing’, one-shot powers you can use in battle for a variety of effects. From summoning a troupe of elite guards, raining pointy death on an elected part of the map or bolstering the defences on an important base, stratagems play a crucial part in affecting the flow of battle.
What’s more, the persistent nature of commanders within your ongoing campaign makes their well rendered mugs something you need to protect. Should a commander fall in battle they can expire, taking their hundreds of faithful servants with them in some sort of grotesque mass seppuku. Fact is, the mix of fragile friends and strategems actually make your battleground decisions and movements ever so slightly more meaningful, even if the actual man-stabbing of Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires displays the same style of sheep-dog herding brutality as always.
LONGEVITY: Thanks to the different methods of approaching the game, from all-powerful ruler to individual mercenary, the game has quite a lot of basic appeal and, considering how long a single campaign can last, there are hours upon hours here at just a basic level.
Throw in the different stratagems that promote different angles to play, alongside a mountain of usable weapons (that admittedly play similarly to one another – unlikely to be a problem if you enjoy the game) and you’ve got a title that can last quite a while. There is also two-player online play, but it’s clunky and rather hard to find a game. Two players offline is also supported, thankfully.
VERDICT: It’s still not the Dynasty Warriors for everyone – the core fighting does nothing new and those more concerned with how you obliterate foes are likely enjoying DmC: Devil may Cry and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance right now – but the extra elements of concern in the battles and territorial domination framework give it something more that might just endear Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires to those who want to understand the appeal but often fail to see how the series has persisted this far.
That something is to be taken with ten ships’ worth of salt, however. As I said, if the Dynasty Warriors template causes you cold sweats and inexplicable rashes then this game still won’t do enough to sway you. You still need a certain degree of acceptance and understanding that the combat in this game is numbingly repetitive by nature; Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires simply does a better job of inviting your brain to take part.