Imagine if you will for a moment, that KOEI and Omega Force took two of their greatest franchises, Dynasty Warriors and Romance of the Three Kingdoms and attempted to cram all that ancient Chinese history goodness into one game. Now imagine that they took out most of the hyper-annoying micro-management from RoTK and the sometimes insanely difficult location missions from DW and scrambled what was left into an Unreal 2004 onslaught version of the combination. Did I lose you yet? No? Good.
DW4: Empires is the latest in a long list of ever increasingly popular third-person hack n’ slash games based on the Three Kingdoms period of ancient China. With a very simplistic combo system and straightforward mission objectives, fans of the series will enjoy it, but notice a lack of hunting and gathering for super weapons and hidden objects.
You start off either by choosing an existing general from the Shu, Wu, Wei or independent states, then selecting either a historical campaign or a random campaign. The historical campaign is set up that the warring states act essentially how their real-life counterparts act until a certain point. That certain point tends to be whenever you decide to attack your neighbor and that throws the whole historical thing out the window. The random campaign is just that. Where you start is random, what the other generals and prefects do is random and your starting items/generals/troops are random. Random is the more difficult of the two choices and purists will want to run through the historical campaigns a few times with each of the Kingdoms.
Game play wise, it functions almost exactly like DW4 did. Some of the combos for the 30+ characters have changed, but they are slight changes at best. You can go through practically the entire game mashing your square button and no one would be the wiser. What’s different about this game though, is the choices each round you can make for your kingdom. Examples include: recruiting new generals or officers from the surrounding areas, creation of new items, raising taxes and cutting of your enemies’ supplies. The true game play enhancement of DW4 Empires is that each map is divided into bases. Essentially these areas on the map are guarded by enemy troops and you have to take them over so that the opposing general can’t respawn reinforcements. Strategically the game allows you to cut off the front of base of the enemy, then swoop around to the back and halt his retreat. Unfortunately this style of play has a downside –especially when defending your home territories. At that point you take the strongest member of your group, put him on a horse and charge you way to the enemy encampment to strike down the warlord there; effectively winning the map and defending your territory. It’s cheesy, but effective.
Graphically the game doesn’t stand up well against similar titles like DW4 or Samurai Warriors. There are a few areas in the game (indoor missions mostly) that have clipping problems. Also there is a big problem with slowdown. Not all the time, but often enough it has gotten me killed. Having 30+ enemies on your screen at one time is going to slow things down. Also the backgrounds lack any color and the animations just aren’t as crisp as they could be.
Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires has an appropriate soundtrack. That’s really all there is to say about it. It isn’t good, it isn’t bad, it’s just there. You barely notice it at all. However, the voice-overs are well done when not repetitive. After a few times through though you’ll probably want to shut the sound off and play your own music.
This game is repetitive there is no doubt about that. The only people who will play through the game more than once are the people, myself included, who like to collect things (I know you’re out there, don’t deny it). With an ending editor and about 150 or so model pictures to collect, the game has some replay value, but not much. Fans of the series as a whole will enjoy it until Dynasty Warriors V comes out, but the casual gamer will be turned off by the fact that it is essentially the same game over and over again.