You may be wondering how the typical Dynasty Warriors action meshes with Empires' strategy elements, and the answer is: pretty well, actually. In fact, one might be inclined to think this is how the series should have been designed from the very beginning. The tactical display and political relationships give you a nice top-level context for your conquest. In other words, it's nice to see all your hard work on the battlefield represented by a map that actually shows which parts of the land you control. Make no mistake, the combat can still get plenty repetitive after you've killed your thousandth unnamed enemy, but the strategy parts help to give you the feeling that you're working toward something as you hew your foes.
There's some minor peripheral content in Empires, but the empire mode is definitely the main component of the game. A rudimentary two-player mode lets you compete against a friend in split-screen to see who can knock the most enemies off a bridge, survive the longest against a horde of opponents, and so on--pretty basic stuff, and not extremely entertaining. The edit mode returns, which lets you create and customize your own officer, and this time it has a greater degree of customizability. You'll have access to multiple body types per gender as well as different costume elements and so forth. Finally, an archives viewer lets you take a look at character models, art, and other such things as you unlock them.
The presentation of Empires has barely changed at all since it was last seen as Dynasty Warriors 4 or Xtreme Legends (or indeed, as any of the previous games). You're still fighting amidst roughly 20 to 30 characters at one time, all of whom are reasonably detailed given how many of them there are running around. On the upside, there are a number of new backgrounds included in the game, such as swampy areas, deserts, small coastal towns, and so on. These backgrounds feature some nice effects, such as a setting sun that gives the horizon a brilliant orange glow while you lock swords with your enemies. The frame rate is totally smooth throughout, which has become par for the series.
Empires looks and sounds almost identical to the previous games, which means its presentation is pretty solid.
In a blind listening test, you'd be hard pressed to differentiate any of these games from each other, and Empires is no exception. The English dialogue is just as cheesy and B-movie-like as ever, while the included Japanese dialogue option sounds melodramatic in the style of most anime. The same kind of hard-rocking soundtrack is here, driven by power chords and wailing guitar solos, and you'll either love it or hate it depending on your preference (we certainly banged our heads a few times). Empires is more or less aurally identical to past games in the series, which makes it not too rough on the ears.
Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires isn't exactly a complete overhaul for the series, since the graphics, sound, and hack-and-slash gameplay remain almost identical to the regular Dynasty Warriors 4. But the empires mode essentially gives you a more complete overall experience by adding a degree of complexity that was missing in the older games. Add in the fact that Empires debuts at a fairly budget-minded price of $30, and you've got a Dynasty Warriors that has some value for existing fans and newcomers alike.