Sunday, 10 March 2013

Review: Dynasty Warriors 7 empires (PS3)

It has been a little while since any new reviews have popped up here at critical rocket but today that changes as we have the latest instalment of the long running dynasty warriors series.

I have been a fan since Dynasty Warriors 2 on the PS2, it was my first game in fact and ever since then I have had a sort of loyalty to the developer ever since despite some of the series pretty lacklustre entries such as Dynasty Warriors 6 which was a shameful reboot of the series on PS3.

Xiahou Ba brings new and frankly mental weapons to empires
Dynasty warriors 7 managed to make up for those shortcomings with plenty of characters new and old with some slick graphics and cool effects.  Extreme legends gave us 3 more characters to play with along with extra story missions and new weapons.  Finally we have the better part of Dynasty Warriors, the empires spinoff game.

Empires basically allows players to be the ruler of their respective nation during any of the games warring states periods, be it the yellow turban rebellion, battle at Chi Bi or the final conflict between Jin and Wu that unified China for a short time.  The difference here is that you can pick to play as any character in any nation and alter history while conquering China yourself.  Want to have Yuan Shao win the battle at Guan Du?  You can here.

As such there is little story as the game assumes you already know the main plot points to each scenario anyway.  The most story you get is from brief cutscenes and the odd special battle which may be for instance the yellow turban rebellion.  These special battles play like those from the main games and use the maps from said battle.  Outside of these battles you are pretty much free to pick and choose your attacks.

There is more emphasis now on how you play compared to previous games.  Now you have the choice of playing as the ruler of a nation giving you free reign over what you do when you want.  A subordinate which can rise through the ranks becoming more influential as your AI ruler makes decisions as to who you attack and what you will do each season.  Finally there is the free officer option which has you playing as a mercenary of sorts.  Free officers can move anywhere on the map and take part in any battles currently raging in that territory for money and resources.  As a free you officer you can choose which side to fight for and even if you want to join them afterwards as a subordinate.  This sort of puts me in mind of Mount & Blades more open style of play as you gather troops for your mercenary army and eventually raise your own banner, becoming a new nation of your own.

Subordinates can also rebel against their ruler causing a coup d'√Čtat and becoming the new ruler of your nation.  All of these actions can be taken during the strategy phase of play which has seen a huge overhaul from previous empires games.
Stratagems always have a dynamic glare with a brief video

For a start all officers now have a fame attribute which can be one of six types - brave, wise, evil, orderly, affluent and kind.  Each has a effect on your character unlocking new actions in the strategy phase such as "joint exercises".  These have more effects for subordinates as they allow new ways to to improve your standing within your rulers court.

Resources have become a new factor to consider as every action taken now requires a certain number of said type.  So improving weapons may cost money and food, while recruiting free officers in your territory will require money and information.  You can acquire more of these resources by fighting battles or making deals with local villages or corrupt officials.

Each action taken counts as a single month in game so you cannot train and take part in a battle in the same turn.  The AI is more active in this game though as they regularly attack each other to keep things flowing, while you plan your strategy.

The meat of the game is combat though as you fight relatively short battles to conquer territory.  Each map is made up of several bases that form a supply chain.  Capturing a base in the middle of these supply chains reduces the strength of bases cut off from supply making them easier to capture.  Enemy officers will counter-attack when possible and generally try to overwhelm you with numbers when it can, otherwise it will attack bases sequentially.

One of the more impressive new features is the stratagem system which act as special powers of sorts during battles or certain strategic sections of play.  Stratagems used during battle can be things such as arrow volleys, fire attacks or even upgrading a base to a catapult or arbalest type for better attack/defence.  There are many others besides and these need to be unlocked through increasing fame.  The AI use these regularly and can become a real challenge when multiple are used against you, possibly ending the battle if you're not careful.

War councils are regular and are used to decide your objectives
The morale system also returns here as the ebb and flow of battle will improve or reduce morale.  Enemy officers can continue to respawn until the morale drops below a certain point.  Each respawn also means that units maximum troop numbers drop, eventually forcing them to flee the battle.  Officers can be captured if they have low troop numbers and are in friendly territory during battle.

Post battle you can attempt to recruit captured officers, release them for a fame increase or execute them for evil fame points.  Generally though most officers will decline the chance to join the winning side while executing only reduces your potential future forces as you expand.

Aside from this the game plays very much like a dynasty warriors title as there have been no new combat elements added to the controls or character movesets.  This title is a first for the series in that it adds a new character for the Shu empire, Xu Shu.  He wields a sort of rapier weapon with a hook and has one of the more flashy movesets of recent character additions.  Other characters have had a rebalance or weapon shift such as Huang Gai who now uses a boat as weapon, while Xiahou Ba has been given a massive pneumatic drill like weapon that takes the series into new bizarro territory.

Edit mode returns here as you can create your own avatar of war with customisable gear for both male and female characters.  There are a lot of options available for players and a relatively flexible set of options for face and body morphing so your creation can look unique on the battlefield.  These created characters can invade other peoples games and become officers in different factions.  You do have the option to prevent the game adding these characters if you want.  Personally I find the mode to add very little to the game since your characters can only use existing characters movesets and weapons so it's just like playing a skin swap of say Zhao Yun if you pick his dragon spear.  Would it have really hurt Koei to add a few unique weapons for custom characters?  Being able to choose your musou attacks is also nice, but again your character switches weapon when doing them which looks odd and again only reinforces the feeling that you aren't really playing a new character you just created, just a clone with a different skin.

There are other issues.  The local co-op play is severely hampered by some of the elements of play.  Playing as a free officer is something that is only fun on your own until you recruit another officer and then only certain battles allow another player to join.  This really hampers the whole co-op element of the game and it seems that Koei seemed more focused on the online aspect rather than the local side.

Xu Shu is one of the better additions to DW in a while.
Another issue relating to cooperative play is the framerate which takes a massive hit when multiple foes are on both screens at once.  The game literally becomes a slow motion combat game as you move through treacle and attack in hyper slow motion until enough enemies are killed.  Another minor gripe is the AI's trigger happy insistence on using the stratagem "Lockdown" which in game closes all friendly bases on the frontlines (if they have doors).  They do this even when you are in said bases and you get trapped for around 30 seconds which can be a little annoying when there is nothing to do except twiddle your thumbs.

Graphically empires isn't holding up too well compared to other late PS3 games.  The environment textures are still relatively low res and bland while the characters remain extremely well detailed.  Musou attack effects and stratagem effects look nice if not a little jagged.  If you are a fan of the series then you will probably overlook these imperfections.

Audio in game has seen the removal of English voice overs only having the Japanese soundtrack.  Normally I am a fan of these options but for Dynasty warriors the cheesy voices always worked for me considering the games camp anime tone.

Overall Dynasty Warriors empires is my favourite of the series and the best of the DW7 games released.  It has the most replayability and the random factors with each scenario keep things interesting for a while.

SCORE: 7.2/10 - If they could have been more accommodating for local co-op and given your created characters more of a unique feel the score would have been 8 or more, but as it is the game is good, just let down by these issues for me.  It's still good just expect to have more fun either online or on your own.


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