Believe it or not, Koei has finally found a way to breathe some life into the tired Dynasty Warriors series with Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires, yet another in the long line of popular, ancient China-set hack-and-slash action games. But while the previous DW4 offshoot, Xtreme Legends, merely tossed some minor content and gameplay additions into the mix, Empires actually brings some much-needed depth to the aging Dynasty Warriors formula with a new strategy-oriented game mode. The result is a pretty good game that might actually appeal to people outside the series' established audience.
Like chocolate's famed union with peanut butter, strategy combines with Dynasty Warriors to produce an appealing whole.
Naturally, the story of Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires is exactly the same as that of every game in the series. Empires is set shortly after the fall of ancient China's Han dynasty, when warring states vied for control of the nation through political maneuvering and military might. And as in every Dynasty Warriors game, you'll take control of a lone combatant who will rise to power by, well, single-handedly fighting through hundreds and hundreds of enemy soldiers. There are dozens of playable characters in the game, just like in the regular Dynasty Warriors 4, and you'll even be able to import character data from that game or Xtreme Legends if you happen to have an especially powerful character kicking around on your memory card.
This all sounds just like every other Dynasty Warriors game, so what makes Empires different? In short, the empire mode is the meat of this game. You first choose a character and territory, and then you're presented with a basic tactical map of China that shows the borders of each state and the leader in control of it. The goal of the empire mode, of course, is to unify China by successively taking control of each new territory as you move out from your starting area and begin to expand your power and influence.
In addition to your main character, you'll have a number of generals and lieutenants at your command, and this is where a large part of the strategy comes in. These officers will also serve as your policymakers during the strategy portion of the game, so during a new turn, each officer will offer up his or her ideas about how your state should proceed. You'll receive suggestions for everything from levying a tax on your peasants to bolstering the ranks of your forces to even establishing temporary alliances with other nearby warlords. The policies you choose affect all of the stats, such as wealth, troops, item production, and so on, that you'll later need to rely on when you attempt to conquer a neighboring territory. You'll only be able to pick one officer's policies per turn, so you'll have to choose wisely to make sure you take the best course of action to further your goal of conquest.
So what happens when you choose to invade a territory or participate in an assault alongside an ally? That's when you hit the battlefield running, and everything starts to look a lot more like the Dynasty Warriors you know and love. In fact, these battles play out identically to those in the other games in the series, so you'll run from place to place, decimating the enemy hordes and attempting to kill the officers that drive them. The siege engines that appeared in Dynasty Warriors 4 are still here to make your life more difficult. The one new addition is that of strongholds, which belong to either side at the outset and can be captured by the rival force to bolster its own morale. Often, taking the enemy's main stronghold is the win condition for a given battle; other times you'll simply have to defeat the opposing force's ruler.