Everyone has his or her own guilty pleasure. For the longest time, my guilty pleasure was Dynasty Warriors – a series that relived feudal Chinese history a thousand dead bodies at a time. With the pleasure, there's also the guilt of playing a series that hasn't switched button-mashing tactics since its PS2 days. Dynasty Warriors 6: Empires tries to change all of that by adding an extra dash of strategy into the typical action mix.
- More strategy than before
- Create-An-Officer Mode
- Nothing substantially new
- Characters lose context in open world
- Shallow strategy
- Repetitive fighting in small areas
Everyone has his or her own guilty pleasure. Put it in, undo the Internet connection, and keep the volume as low as you can stand it so your nosey neighbors won’t get a whiff of what’s coming across the screen. For the longest time, my guilty pleasure was Dynasty Warriors – a series that relived feudal Chinese history a thousand dead bodies at a time. With the pleasure, there’s also the guilt of playing a series that hasn’t switched button-mashing tactics since its PS2 days. Dynasty Warriors 6: Empires tries to change all of that by adding an extra dash of strategy into the typical action mix.
A Foot War in Asia
While not the first title in the series to add a bit of thinking to the pounding of your attack button, Empires takes a different approach to the game by starting you at the bottom – as a mercenary for hire. Instead of picking storylines or battles to follow, players pick out timelines and who controls which sections of the map. From there, you get to pick your boss. Anyone familiar with the storyline can already see problems arise with mortal enemies working for each other. Everyone else will probably pick the highest bidder and start the game as usual.
Playing as an officer allows you to level your character up with assorted side missions. These tasks range from killing X troops in Y minutes, protecting wandering characters, or saving villagers from something like a flame tiger or wolves. The latter example comes up the most, since you can keep the same setup and exchange pirates for thieves or tigers on any of the given boards. The one glint of hope in each of these scenarios is the random companions or merchants you often stumble across who will often give you aid if you can lend them a hand. On the one hand, these side missions allow for a little money, leveling, and the prospect of better things before tackling a real confrontation. On the other hand, they’re pretty boring. Pick your poison wisely.
You’ll need to upgrade your weapon and even yourself if you want to make it though these battles. Trainers, stables, stores, and guys who can tinker with your sword are scattered throughout the lands. You’re not always going to have a full set unless you’ve taken over a few spots. Smiths with the right gems and a high price can add new abilities to your equipment such as reach and elemental attacks. Additional abilities such as rockslides or making every hit give you money back can also be added to your blade but activated manually during battle. Trainers can up your stats, make you faster (sometimes way too fast), or give you a little more musou.
The problem here is that characters come out as generic as white rice. A little girl will climb the same leveling system as a behemoth carrying a ball and chain. Separate goals, separate items, or at least separate leveling systems would have been a nice touch to give classes of characters some resemblance of personality. As it is now, the officer you build today will probably resemble the officer you build tomorrow.
My Life as a King
Sooner or later, no matter how much you may like the guy, you’ll need to overthrow the king. Once you are the ruler of all you survey, the game takes an oddly downward turn. Gone are the side missions. Instead, you begin your death march across the vast continent taking out anyone that gets in your way. There are uneasy truces to be made, but they only last for so long and eventually require you to break them in order to win the game. The map is less of a body of information used to plan out your next strategically placed attack and more of a glorified menu.
One of the additions you get as king is the use of your officer’s cards. Each character, even the characters you design, comes with a card that can be used each day. These cards have a variety of affects from increasing your attack while invading other lands to replenishing lost troops. While helpful, these cards won’t sway a losing battle to your side or cost you a victory for using the wrong card. Like most of the elements of strategy put forth by Empires, the idea looks good on paper, but doesn’t go far enough to add anything new to an aging series.
Hack N’ Hack
For the most part, this review has focused primarily on the newer elements of Dynasty Warriors 6: Empires. These new elements, however, have added little to the gameplay element. Once you hit terra firma, you’ll be thrown back into the traditional button mashing mayhem that is Dynasty Warriors. A few tweaks have been thrown into the game, for better of for worse. Still keeping mindful of your frontline, the focus of conquering the land shifts to taking over smaller buildings before taking out the leader. These buildings require you to reduce its mysteriously reappearing population to zero before you can call it yours. Taking out each of these areas diminishes the opposing team’s forces while strengthening your own. With armies now camped in buildings, there’s less action out on the field or a fluid frontline to worry about. Battles primarily take place in a small area with respawning men, a poor system to move towards once the next-gen system allowed for larger fields of attack.
Speaking of the field of battle, areas stretch out far enough that you’ll often need a horse to reach one end of the other before dying of exhaustion or boredom. It’s just too bad, as mentioned above, that Empires doesn’t take advantage of the whole space. Trees, brush, and other little touches really add to the aesthetics of the area, but tend to pop-up when you are fifty feet away from them. The one thing that some of the maps do well is to take advantage of the new swimming and ladder climbing mechanics by adding more water ways and… well… ladders.
Beyond Empire mode, there’s not that much to do. The Create-An-Officer mode lets you create nearly a hundred different characters for you to take into Empire mode. Most of these custom officers are little more than reskinned versions of existing characters. For those of you out there who want to actually do a little light reading, there’s an encyclopedia that goes through all the characters, places, and major battles. Fans of the series will be able to unlock additional artwork and enjoy music from previous games. Beating the game will also award you points to unlock items for when you play through the game… again.
A Dynasty Continues…
It’s not just putting out the same game – Dynasty Warriors 6: Empires is a slight step back for the series. Beyond the dated graphics and brain-dead AI, the over-the-top characters have been pushed aside for this open world strategy that doesn’t push the tired gameplay far enough. Fans of the series will be better off playing through last year’s version and saving their money for the next. If anything, we need more characters fighting with coconut trees and fewer menu choices.