The Dynasty Warriors train continues unabated in Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires. As was the case with the progression from original game release to final update of Dynasty Warriors 4, the fifth iteration of Koei's unstoppable hack-and-slash action franchise set in ancient China started with a warmed-over version of its predecessor in Dynasty Warriors 5, moved on to a menial content upgrade in Dynasty Warriors 5: Xtreme Legends, and somehow manages to bring it all home with the arrival of Empires, an expansion that turns the endless hacking and slashing on its head with strategy elements that are actually kind of fun, even with all the button-mashing you'll still be doing as battles are fought. It doesn't contain quite the same level of content as Dynasty Warriors 5 did on its own, but it's still the best version of the game there is on the PlayStation 2. As for Xbox 360 owners, this will be your first chance to try the series on the platform, for better or for worse.
Yes, you once again have to mash buttons and cut hundreds upon hundreds of dimwitted soldiers to death...
Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires follows the same trials and tribulations of the same caricatures of real-life historical Chinese warriors as the other versions of every other Dynasty Warriors game has. The primary difference in Empires is that it replaces the individual story modes of the original game's many, many characters with the empire mode. The empire mode is an interesting hybrid between the "kill lots of dudes" beat-'em-up gameplay the series has employed for years, and a strategy element that gives those many, many battles some honest-to-god context. There are six distinct scenarios available in the empire mode, and you can choose to play as any of the available warlords that currently occupy territory on the map of China that is the primary menu in the empire mode. In some cases, you also have the option of using a created warlord (via the game's edit mode) to occupy a currently vacant territory. From here, it's all about conquering new territory, as well as defending your own.
Doing so is a multistep process that consists mostly of maintaining resources and upgrading via orders. The primary resource you use in the mode is gold. You earn gold through taxing your people, which is actually an automatic process. The more territory you hold, the more gold you get, and so on. However, it's what you use the gold on that's especially interesting. Every year in the game is broken up into four turns (one for each season), and on each turn, you begin by consulting your generals and giving orders based on their suggestions. These orders can range from supplementing a specific general or lieutenant's troop counts to going into a territory and listening to the words of the people, thus raising their support for you. Most of these orders have tangible effects on how the game plays out--especially the tactics, which are also earned via the suggestions of your generals. Tactics are special abilities you can use while on the battlefield, like a raze effect that scorches all the enemy territory, and specific sorcerer and bandit units that will follow you as you fight.
Another thing you'll have to be mindful of is where you place your officers. You can have up to three generals and three lieutenants in each territory you control, and it's key that you have at least a few officers with decent troop counts in any area that borders an opposing warlord's territory (who will even sometimes assist you in battle). You can circumvent this issue somewhat by forming alliances with other warlords, but once that alliance is up, you're basically fair game. You gain more officers by engaging in battles and hiring captured officers. They don't always want to defect to your side, but often they will, which helps build up your army nicely.