Xbox 360 Review: Dynasty Warriors 5 - Empires

It's utterly amazing that a series based on ancient Chinese history with brutally repetitive fighting has made it to its fifth sequel, let alone multiple spin-offs like Empires. It rejects every theory we have on repetition and how much the human body can take. There's a reason for its success, and it comes back to that it's never boring to take out 50 enemies with a single press of a button.

Empires wants to change that a bit though. Koei has chosen to insert some of its even longer running Genghis Khan franchise into this edition, and it helps decrease the feeling that your IQ is dropping when you step onto the battlefield. There's far more here than an anemic fighting engine.

The problem is that there's too much here. There is no help, no tutorial, and the manual misses almost everything. Unless you're a graduate med student whose favorite book begins with Websters, have crafted three nuclear generators in your backyard, and can beat out the worlds fastest computer in trigonometry equations, you'll have no idea what you're doing here.

The strategy, for the most part at least, plays out like a card game. The Empires in the title refer to the game's main mode, a surprisingly customizable border battle between various emperors trying to conquer each other's land. These multiple scenarios feel similar because they are, reusing maps, landmasses, characters, and cinematics.

Before heading into enemy territory or defending your own, you'll need to dig into a slightly convoluted menu system to find new lieutenants, help your people, develop items, ask for surrender, or another one of a few hundred moves. New strategy options become available depending on your evil/heroic demeanor, or by repeatedly using certain tactics.

On the battlefield, you can carry some strategy with you, like poisoning the enemy to lower their numbers. You're also in full command of allied troops. Commanding them to take over key bases on the map is simple, and when in danger, they'll respond if you ask them to aid.

As usual, you'll be doing most of the damage to enemies, as troops litter the battlefield in tow behind their commanders. To call the troops mindless would be an insult to mindless people, but the generals can be relentless in their assault. If you're unlucky enough to charge into a situation with multiple high-ranking enemies, you rarely have a chance.

Combat itself hasn't changed at all. You still have two basic attacks that can be strung together into a variety of damaging combos. The charged Mosuo attacks can clear a screen in an instant, arrows deal pain from a distance, and blows dealt from a horse or elephant can wipe out an entire armada. The rush is still perfectly preserved and more so now since the new hardware doesn't need to draw in characters to maintain a frame rate. That's about the only graphical upgrade, but it does enhance the intensity and size of the conflicts.

Unforgivable is the multi-player, which allows for nothing over Xbox Live. All of it is handled locally via split screen, and you only realize how much you miss online play when you play something like this. It's still fun. It's missing something that's now a standard, and given the near total lack of 360 extras, it's even more apparent.

This is one that definitely earns the "for fans only" mark. Even then, the current generation offers the same experience, minus a tweak in graphics that's barely discernable. The $40 price tag is tempting, but only if you have some idea of what you need to do to win and have some experience with the series.

(*** out of *****)

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