Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires
Part board game, part bored game. We see how Dynasty Warriors fares in the next generation.
Xbox 360, PS2
Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires is a good example of what not to do when porting a game to a next-generation platform. There are a few things I like about the game, but there are just as many things that hurt the experience. And if you've already played the PlayStation 2 version, you may as well stop reading now, because this is essentially the same thing again.
What distinguishes Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires from its non-Empires-suffixed brethren is the addition of a new mode that allows you to tinker much more behind the scenes of the ancient Chinese war you wage. Empire mode gives you a piece of land in a Balkanized ancient China and asks you to reunite the country through your mighty (and sometimes benevolent) hand.
This is no mean feat. If you're as manual-averse as me you'll want to get stuck into the game immediately, but you'll be sent whimpering back when you realize there's no tutorial mode and you're stabbing in the dark. But do that for a while and the Risk-like territorial acquisition becomes clearer, and after that you're left with the standard Dynasty Warriors gameplay tucked inside a somewhat clunky strategic and political framework.
If you find the behind-the-scenes to-and-fro too much, you'll still be able to extract worth out of Free mode, where you simply play through individual battles without having to worry about the larger implications of your actions. There's some transfer of upgrades between the modes too, so you're not wasting your time by not tackling the main mode immediately.
It's frustrating that Koei has done so little to gussy up the game. Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires is out on PlayStation 2 too, and there are times when you'd be forgiven for forgetting which version you're playing. This is one of the lazier ports to appear on the Xbox 360 so far. I hope it's not something Koei becomes comfortable with, because there's still a lot of potential here.
For instance, the co-operative play allows you and a friend to hack through the main modes, but there's no online counterpart to this to be found. And surely it's not asking too much to have some variation in the battlefield dialogue. Its lack of variety is only exacerbated by its poor delivery. It's these little things that seem such a slap in the face - a blatant move to simply check off another platform on the game's homepage.
Despite the monotony of the button-mashing gameplay, I still find the series fun to play. There's a visceral thrill that comes with seeing 20 enemies surround you only to be flung into the air when you perform one of the game's many special attacks. It seems a pity that such an elaborate experience is draped over a history we (well, I) know so little about. Playing Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires, I couldn't help but wish that the series would get a major kick in the pants. This half-attempt to throw it into the next generation is not it.