I loved Dynasty Warriors 4, but the one major complaint I had was that the "strategy" aspect of it was underplayed. Along comes Empires, a spinoff that promises to finally scratch that itch with a Risk-like spin on the formula. Does it? No. I'm not gonna make you read an entire review just to find that out, I know you'll just skip to the last paragraph anyway. So no, it really doesn't add enough strategy to the mix to make things satisfying.

The game is completely standalone; none of the content of DW4's campaign mode (or the various challenge modes) is found here. The meat of the game here is Empire mode, the aforementioned mode very slightly reminiscent of Risk, except that you wail on the Square and Triangle buttons to make the mans kill each other. When starting out, you can choose to play Historical Mode (everyone starts with their positions and forces just prior to the Yellow Turban uprising) or Fantasy Mode (you can choose where everyone starts or randomize it.) The game is divided into turns. Basically, in each turn you can either attack a territory adjacent to you, or sit the turn out to recover troops and hoard up some gold. If one of your territories is attacked, you have the option of sending people to defend it or just letting the enemy overrun it (unless it's your main territory, then you're forced to defend.) And then if you're allied with another character, they might request you send help if they get attacked. The goal is to be the last power left standing before 100 turns is up.

I don't mean to paint the game as bad, or even mediocre really. The same brawl-a-thon engine that made DW4 so much fun is still intact and un-messed-with. And the character creation mode in this one is markedly superior to that of DW4, with a lot more model types and options to customize them. The issue is simply that there's still very little in the way of strategy. You can choose which of your generals and lieutenants to bring into a battle (and even which one to directly control), but you can't set their starting positions, or give them orders mid-battle. The computer can call in reinforcements from surrounding provinces they hold, but you can't. The computer allies can request your help, but you can't request theirs, so there's no point to alliances except for getting a particular leader off your back for a few turns while you focus on invading someone else. Adding special units or conditions to a battlefield in your favor comes down to a matter of sheerly random luck (your generals make randomized propositions before every turn, of which you get to either pick two or ignore them all.)

It boils down to very little challenge at all. Pick province, bowl enemies over, take over province. Maybe wait to refresh some troops up, or get interrupted by an aid request or a province defense, but win those handily too. Just keep repeating this until you get to the one lone challenge - the final province of the last warlord left standing against you, which is only a challenge because it gets ridiculous amounts of high-level troops and cheap-as-fuck generals dumped into it.

The only other extras to the game are a limited multiplayer mode that's separate from Empire (it's more of a single-map thing ... you can't actually play Empire mode with multiple human players, a tragic oversight), and a rather large art gallery that's unlocked as you laboriously work every general through Empire mode.

In the end the game feels more like something that either should have been an extra mode in DW4, or integrated more into the campaign somehow, rather than a stand-alone retail title. They did charge a *bit* less than usual at retail when it was new, but 40 bucks was still a lot to ask for this. At 5 or less for a good used copy it's a much more solid investment, but there's still a disappointing lack of meat on these bones.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video