Chinese history lessons return with Dynasty Warriors 6: Empires, once again the tactical change of pace returns to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. There have been many installments in the series from KOEI and this is their third venture on the current generation consoles.
Dynasty Warriors is purely focused on hack and slash gameplay and for many years the games have seen much attention and revulsion at the same time. Most of this can be put down to the apparent lack of changes made between each game. Has Dynasty Warriors 6: Empires done enough to change the minds of the average gamer and prove itself to be more than a title that's just for fans?
For those not familiar with the Dynasty Warriors franchise, the game focuses on massive scale conflicts, placing the player in the control of a single officer each with their own unique attack styles and weapons. From this point onwards it's mostly a case of being worth a 1,000 men on the battlefield. Cutting and destroying a path towards the enemy's main camp to defeat their leader and thus end the battle. Various bases and outposts, along with other officers attempting to do the same to your army at the same time, make this more complicated. However, it essentially all boils down to who can kill the most faster.
There have been some new additions and changes to this title. Many of them are relatively small, but there has been a major change. Free Mode, a mode which enabled players to play any battle of their choosing to power up their characters, has been completely removed. It has essentially been removed so that the Empire Mode can be more focused, but it unfortunately means characters can no longer be levelled up outside of the campaign. It also removes the "pick up and play" element to the game.
Empire Mode is essentially the same formula used previously. The land is split up into various territories and taking over all of them unifies China, bringing an end to chaos. There are some differences this time round, the first being that a player can take up three different roles: Vagrant, Officer, or Ruler. Vagrant is rather worthless as essentially all this allows is mercenary work until the player decides to join a force or overthrow a ruler. Officer allows players to continue mercenary missions, but every 3 months the player's ruler will give them a specific mission where the rewards are more substantial should the player succeed. The real heart of the game resides in being a Ruler. This allows the use of cards given to the player, which can affect the outcome of upcoming battles greatly.
Some of the objectives from the missions undertaken are quite varied and not just a case of simply "defeat the enemy commander", as seen in previous installments. However, none of them are really that much different either. There have been some more specific changes made, such as the ability to defect in a battle to the other side, and various events that can allow officers to become more willing to protect the player on the battlefield. There is even the option to marry, although most of the time the benefits from such events are negligible.There were a few other minor changes to the overall gameplay, some for the better, others for the worse. Anyone who has played the original games will know that on certain maps navigating the terrain can take far too much time. Now it's possible to jump continuously up hills, which saves a lot of unnecessary travel time. The Renbu system is also back, but it has been tweaked more to the previous games. Renbu basically meant that upon hitting a certain weapon level it opened more attack strings. In Dynasty Warriors 6, even when maxed out, it still had to increase on the battlefield. Now, simply maximizing a weapon will give the full combos all the time. As well as the ability to imbue weapons with Skills and Effects of your choosing, it's very possible to become overpowered quite quickly. This does however take some of the fun out of the game.
Co-op is also available again and this is one of the main reasons to own any Dynasty Warriors game. It's extremely addictive to decimate entire forces with a friend at your side. However, this time it's only possible for 2nd player to join when the player has friendly allies at his disposal. This also means that unless they are playing on the unclassified campaign battle they cannot pick who the 2nd player will be playing as. This feels somewhat more awkward and is a bit of a shame.
There is also no character development whatsoever this time as completing a campaign does nothing to the overall character's advancement. Only upon completing a campaign is the player awarded Clear Points and these allow the player to start a new campaign from the previous save. From here, they have the option to spend points on keeping the weapons from the previous save and starting with some more gold and items. However, this really isn't enough compared to previous titles continuity.
There are also several mini achievements to unlock and these award bonus points, which allow the player to unlock artwork, voice overs and outfits. During campaigns various custom clothing parts will be rewarded as well. This does however, highlight perhaps the only area in which this version of Dynasty Warriors is superior to previous versions. The custom characters section is far more in-depth than ever before and they've really gone out of their way to make them as unique as possible. Playing through with a personalised character is very rewarding and much more satisfying, but it's a shame there's no real accomplishment after.
Essentially the changes made to the game are far too few, and those that have been added are somewhat disappointing. Some improvements just aren't improvements at all and while more care may have been taken into making Empire Mode much more intricate, they really forgot one key element - the story or rather lack there of.
It's safe to say that while the game remains fun for all, some of the soul from the previous games seems to have left. For those who weren't a fan of the series, it would be advised to leave this one be as Dynasty Warriors 6 far outweighs the experience in Empires. Fans might want to return once again into the fray, if only for the custom characters. It's just a shame they can't quite seem to get the formula quite right at the same time.