Unless you’ve been living in some kind of halfway house, devoid of the electronic gems that stud our otherwise entertainment-vapid lives, you should have at least heard of the Dynasty Warriors series. Ancient China was torn, the lands were fragmented and weak and the time had come to unite the realm under a single banner, one empire to rule all of the land, one empire to conquer the rest to bad power metal. With this your quest begins.
Once you nominate your character and starting faction, it’s time to get into the enemy base and kill their mans. In a turn-based system, your force invades neighbouring territories while defending your own against the attacks of would-be conquerors’. Spending “policies”, special abilities costing action points and gold, you can expand your army, build your defences, create and upgrade items, forge alliances, and perform other mindless maintenance tasks. This has been improved vastly since the first Empires, introducing many more orders that can be obtained and used than the last release. Keeping your forces armed is the key to success in Empires, a trait that is a breath of fresh air to Dynasty Warriors in my opinion. A weak army will struggle to succeed in combat, even when led by a max level Lu Bu with a +20 Tiger Amulet and True Way of Musou. This moves the franchise away slightly from the “one man army” concept it once held, and while this hasn’t drawn away from the beat ‘em up combat, it ensures that players spend a bit of time in the strategy map planning their movements carefully, biding their time until their forces are sufficient.
Presented in a series of campaigns, each starting a fresh map of China and allowing you to begin as you please, employing storyline battles that you can join or ignore. The problem with this is that the forces in which these storylines centralise are often wiped out early in the game, and one doesn’t hear head or tail of the plot again. However, the characters from successful games carry over to the next, forcing you to meet with the demons of your past, should you choose to start again as a different faction, making each game progressively harder than the last. While the strategic section of Empires is refreshing, it’s limited. Bases are still captured by slashing down the Guard Captains within, who for some reason left all their doors open and didn’t move until you were standing in the middle of their base with a giant spear. For those who love the Dynasty Warriors franchise, they’ll find something to tide them over in Empires until the next major title is released, but for those who found the older games tedious, and were praying for a new scope to the three kingdoms, you’ll find this game somewhat lacking.