Contrary to the major theme of this blog, I am actually not familiar with every incarnation of the Warriors series. The Empires games in particular started showing up when I started to lose interest in the series for awhile. Also, since the Empires games usually came out very close to the next installment of the regular game, it was just inconvenient to do most of the time. However, with Tecmo Koei regulating Warriors Orochi for PS3 and then Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires to download only, I felt the need to try and support them as much as possible.
First and foremost, despite the name, Empires isn’t really an extension of the Dynasty Warriors 7 games in the same way as Xtreme Legends was. Instead, it is it’s own, stand alone game, which just happens to borrow most of it’s assets from those titles. Certain characters, like Da Qiao and Xiahou Ba have new weapons and movesets, but overall, Xu Shu is the only unique character model added to the cast.
However, one of the most interesting aspects of the game, and the biggest attraction to it really, is the officer edit mode. This mode allows you to create your own character and allow them to borrow the weapon, EX, and Musou fighting styles of other officers. If you don’t like certain aspects of one or the other, you can mix and match to create pretty powerful combinations. For instance, mixing Guo Haui’s arm cannon charge 5 cancelling into Zhang Jiao’s fire rain Musou is particularly potent.
The wardrobe you start with is fairly limiting, so a little creativity and dose of imagination goes a long way in creating your own favorite game characters, or even your own original creations. The clothing options, with only rare exceptions, are designed so that even wacky and crazy characters still look like they belong in the time period. This may be off putting for someone looking forward to making very specific characters, such as King Koopa or the Smurfs. If you’re willing to work with the system, however, the possibilities are great.
While games like Mass Effect or Tera clearly still have it beat in the customization department, Empires still holds it’s ground. In terms of facial customization, it still provides a number of tweaks and changes you can make to the few standard faces available to help make them your own. You can change character builds too, adjusting height, weight, as well as arm and leg length. You’re also given a number voices to choose from (all still in their original Japanese), which can be pitch adjust to your specification. I could spend hours just creating characters in any game, and with the number of options here, it’s difficult to pull me away.
These creations can then be used as your primary character in Empire mode, or can be registered to replace particular officers within the game. I’d rather not recruit Yuan Shu, but I’ll gladly recruit Mario. There is also the ability to share your creations with friends and random strangers on PSN — although I haven’t had much time with this option yet.
However, it could be argued that this is all window dressing to the actual game itself — Empire Mode. Empire mode is effectively an empire building strategy game that uses the Dynasty Warriors 7 engine as it’s combat system. If you ever played one of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms games, this will all seem very familiar.
In Empire mode, you choose either an existing character from the series, or one of your edit mode creations in their efforts to see the land united. You then choose a scenario that dictates the era of China you start in, as well as how certain forces start out. For instance, the Yellow Turban Rebellion Era starts off with the most small factions vying for power, while the Coup D’etat starts with only the 4 main kingdoms being available. You can choose to be your own ruler, or join an existing faction. The later option is usually easier to manage, with rulers giving you missions to complete within a particular time frame. Being a ruler gives you many more options, as well as responsibilities.
Your goal is to defend your land, while defeating all who oppose you. You do this through careful manipulation of other empires, seeking support of the proper officials, training troops, improving weaponry, recruiting officers, improving relations with opposing forces and allied officers alike, and occasionally engaging in skirmishes and invading enemy territory. This all sounds like a whole lot to keep track of, but the game gives some short explanations as you’re introduced to these elements, and particularly early scenarios such as the Yellow Turban era give you plenty of leeway to experiment with the options available to you.
When it finally does come down to the battlefield, many of these factors start to come into play. Combat is taken straight out of Dynasty Warriors 7, with notable exceptions. If you are in an invading or defending battle, you have access to Strategems by pressing the L2 button. Using a stratagem will change the battlefield in your favor in some way. For instance, you can set fire to an enemy base, create a catapult in an allied base, or grant you immunity to knock-back from damage for a period of time. Many of these, however, are best used under certain conditions. For instance, “Gust” will intensify fire attacks and improve the range of catapults. Therefore, knowing when to use your strategems is just as important.
If you are a ruler or strategist, you can also give orders to officers from the pause menu, giving you access to far more strategies for progressing through the stage. You can tell Xu Huang to retreat to your own base to draw enemies away from their territory, or send Wang Yi to reinforce Zhuge Liang who is struggling against Deng Ai and Ding Fent. These tools make what could be considered mundane gameplay incredibly cerebral and exciting.
For fans of the regular series, however, there are some monkey wrenches that make it tough to start out on. For starters, you start out with first level weaponry and stats for your characters, making them very weak at the start. They can be improved by improving your kingdom’s weaponry and purchasing new weapons and items in Town. Power ups are only dropped off officers, and there are no health restoring power-ups. Also, officers will re-spawn after a period of time after their defeat. This means that just because you defeated Lu Bu early in the stage, doesn’t mean he’s out of your hair. These are all things that make the game far more strategic, but also much more difficult to the average gamer. It’s also worth noting that for a $50 release, the game unfortunately has only the Empires, edit, extras, and encyclopedia available.
However, for those who always wanted more out of the Dynasty Warriors franchise, I’m pleased to say that Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires will fulfill that and then some. With the best Warriors system to date, in combination with strong strategy elements, it’s a game that is difficult to put down once you learn the reigns. If you don’t particularly care for the Dynasty Warriors games, this likely won’t change your mind. If you never played the series, or never tried the Empires games, this is not one to pass up. This is a title that even IGN has given a good review, so you know there’s something there. If the download only has you bummed, you can also import the EU release as the Playstation 3 is region-free. Whatever method you choose, it will definitely be worth the effort.
This game was played for a least 10 hours (I lost count) on the North American download release. I do not own anything mentioned in this article. Also, kudos to jepoyamp on the EU version recommendation.