March 7, 2013
Unlike Dynasty Warriors 7: Extreme Legends, which released a while ago now, Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires is a standalone experience that caps off Dynasty Warriors 7. And it's completely warranted - the Empires additions to Dynasty Warriors have always offered very different experiences outside of the core gameplay.
If you've never played an Empires version of Dynasty Warriors before, you will notice that most of the options are rather different. Instead of following the story of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms with a rather keen eye, it offers a substantial amount of poetic licence. This is all done through the "Empire" Mode, whereby after selecting difficulty and any extras you may have acquired, you're able to pick different starting scenarios. These range from the classic "Yellow Turban Rebellion", a scenario that looks at Sima Yi and one where it's basically a custom free-for-all.
Before selecting a scenario to dive into, you're able to see what state China is in at the beginning. This is what makes Empires an interesting concept, as your objective is to conquer the entire map, and unite China under one banner. If you choose an earlier scenario, there are lots of smaller territories under different rulers, but the later you go, the fewer banners there are.
The reason this is all important, is because outside of the core Dynasty Warriors gameplay, there's a whole strategy element. This makes the character you pick at the start quite crucial. You can either choose to start as a warrior with no affiliation, or even play as the ruler of an Empire. This will vastly change how things play out. If you're the ruler, you dictate the policies of your Empire, but if you're a lower-ranker officer, you will often be told what to do. This gives you the scope to work your way up though, and you can even choose to form a rebellion against your leader.
During each turn, you can only perform one action, but there are multiple options here. You can invest in politics, military, personnel, engage in a battle or visit a local town (doesn't end your turn). These will alter different elements, but via a fame system, will help to shape the type of person you're going to become. For example, if you choose to institute a new tax regime, you will gain provisions and gold, but you will also gain +100 "evil" fame.
The fame concept is a nice, and how it ties in with the stratagems works well, however, it seems very shallow. There are six different types of fame, but some are considerably easier to level up than others. Being able to perform one action per turn makes doesn't help at all, and it actually makes things quite cumbersome. You will often find that if you aren't going on the offensive in the battlefield, opponents will constantly be trying to invade your territory. This means that performing another action, like attempting to recruit an officer or conducting some troop training, feels like a wasted opportunity as you will have to defend said territory. It can feel like an endless cycle sometimes, one where there isn't much advancement on your end.
Other elements, like the town, feel quite pointless. This has been carried over from the previous game, but there doesn't seem to be any real point other than attempting to inject some personality. The amount of time it takes to load the town, only for you to find that you can't quite afford that weapon you were looking for, is frustrating.
When it comes onto the gameplay, very little has changed to the core structure since the original Dynasty Warriors 7 back in 2010. There are of course some minor tweaks with regards to how things are presented, but that's about it.
The biggest changes to the gameplay come with the introduction of the ability to respawn, and strategems. As previously mentioned, these are tied to your fame and can either affect you, allied units or the terrain. The more fame you have, the better strategem you will be able to use, but they are all restricted to the type of fame you're gaining. For example, if you gain lots of Brave fame, you will get abilities that primarily affect your performance in battle. This might either be "Resolution Defense", which makes you unable to die for 30 seconds or "Peerless", which gives you significantly improved stats for 60 seconds. If you look at the Evil fame type however, things are quite different. One stratagem sprays poison mist around you, damaging allies and foes alike, while another turns your own bases into death traps.
The use of stratagem on the easier difficulties won't affect much, but on the harder difficulties they can make the world of difference. Sometimes you will have to make tough decisions, but they really can turn the tide in battle.
Respawning may also not seem like a big deal, but long-time Dynasty Warriors players would tell you a different story. It has often been infuriating to suffer an unfortunate death, which is of course followed by the game over screen. Now, as long as you die in an area controlled by you and you have enough troops remaining, you will be able to respawn, just as the AI have been able to do for years.
As with the core gameplay, not much has changed in the way of presentation. Many of the characters still have similar model renders, albeit with some new weaponry, and a lot of the levels will be familiar to people who have played the two previous Dynasty Warriors 7 games. Familiarity isn't always a bad thing though, and it's nice to be able to select pretty much every piece of music from the Dynasty Warriors archives before heading into battle.
Perhaps the biggest draw to Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires is the ability for online co-op, and also the "Extra Mode", which allows people to download other people's create-a-character. If characters are registered as a team, they might even appear as a faction in Empire Mode.
Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires is a decent way to round out this current cycle of Dynasty Warriors games. While the core gameplay hasn't changed much from Dynasty Warriors 7, the introduction of strategems and the respawn system make it a bit more tactical this time around. Of course, Empires has always been about turn-based strategy to complement the chaotic brawling action and this doesn't change here. It could have perhaps done with a little bit more depth though.