While it may have witnessed a much-needed return to form over these past few years, the Warriors franchise continues to suffer from inherent issues, its well-worn formula edging closer and closer toward stagnation. Although the series’ mainline instalments remain immensely gratifying and strangely therapeutic, pitting players against wave after wave of mindless soldiers, they have always lacked finesse and diversity – two qualities which happen to form the backbone of its often-overlooked “Empires” spin-offs.
With only one game mode, Omega Force’s latest, and final, expansion to Dynasty Warriors 7 peels back many of the series’ staples in favour of something much more tactically-refined. Here players can select from a shortlist of familiar campaigns set within the Three Kingdoms timeline, including The Yellow Turban Rebellion and Battle of Chi Bi. Doing so will generate a map split into twenty six individual territories, each belonging to one of Imperial China’s many warring factions.
Though your objective remains the same, Empires offers three different paths that lead to China’s eventual unification. Firstly, players can try their hand at being a Free Officer. With no predetermined allegiances, they are free to roam the land in search of companions and mercenary contracts, amassing fame and riches along the way.
Alternatively you can pledge your services to a faction, where your battle prowess and strategical might are rewarded as the campaign continually progresses. If you’re not particularly keen on authority then there’s a third option – establish your own kingdom as a Ruler, deciding which policies to employ and which battles to fight.
Campaigns can last anywhere between a few hours and several days and are staged in turns. Each turn allows players to perform one of numerous actions from recruiting officers and invading territories to negotiating with other kingdoms and developing your own.
The availability of these options depends largely on the archetype of your chosen character, highlighting one of Empires’ newest and most innovative touches. There are six “Fame” categories in total which can be levelled up either through battles or by pursuing certain actions. Training with allied officers, for instance, raises your “Brave” Fame type, whereas taxing the people who occupy your kingdom will soon cement your “Evil” reputation. As you gain Fame points, additional actions will start to open up, as well as Stratagems, another one of the game’s warmly-welcomed nuances.
Having made their debut in Dynasty Warriors Next for the Vita, Stratagems have been largely redefined in this latest instalment. Represented as playing cards, they instantly conjure up tactical ploys and schemes both on and off the battlefield.
Whilst ploughing through scores of enemies and capturing bases, players can toggle between a pre-selected pools of Stratagems and use them at will. Once again, these are themed around the game’s six Fame types. For example, Wise Stratagems create isolated scenarios such as floods and rockslides, with Affluent Stratagems allowing players to convert bases into arsenals, treasure stockades or even catapults. Though not all are particularly effective, they definitely add some much needed variety and tactical flare to otherwise rudimental battles.
As expected, the core combat and its orbiting mechanics have been copied and transferred directly into Empires. Combining light and heavy strikes, players pummel and slash their way through enemy bases whilst unleashing the occasional super-charged “Musou” attack. Stratagems, weapon-switching, and the ability to directly command allied generals help to alleviate some of the series’ more monotonous tropes though, ultimately, there’s slim chance of avoiding that lingering sense of tedium. However, as fans know all too well, that’s the way it has been since the year 2000 and, even with an eight numbered instalment on the horizon, it doesn’t seem likely to change.
Aside from fleshing out Empire Mode, Omega Force has also revisited its character creation tools, making noticeable improvements. In truth, many of the assets on show such as weapon skins and armour options have been recycled from Dynasty Warriors 6 Empires. However, this apparent rehashing of content is redeemed by improve facial customisation, as well as a handful of new weapons. Once created, players can upload and share their officers online as well as map them to pre-existing NPCs in Empire Mode. This latter feature in particular will immediately connect with existing fans, effectively allowing them to reconstruct entire in-game factions.
- Empire Mode offers hours of strategic gameplay.
- Fame system creates diversity, re-playability.
- Edit Mode is more comprehensive, allows for online sharing.
- Stratagems help the flow of combat.
- Over sixty unique characters to befriend or eliminate.
- The same core mechanics we’ve wrestled with since 2000.
- Limited technical improvements over Dynasty Warriors 7.
Although they may not override the series’ fundamental shortcomings, Empires’ tactical nuances and approach to player agency make it the most refined spin-off to date. With over sixty individual officers to experiment with and a strong, customisable central game mode, Empires is a resounding improvement on the somewhat disappointing Dynasty Warriors 7 Xtreme Legends. However, whether or not it will be remembered as a series milestone depends on how greatly its strategic core influences future mainline titles.