While still a repetitive mess, Dynasty Warriors 4 gets some much-needed depth thanks to its Empires subtitle.
dorkclub wrote this review on .
New to the game is the titular Empires mode, which adds an additional layer of strategy to the standard Dynasty Warriors formula. You begin the game by selecting one of over forty playable characters. Should you dislike the entirety of this massive roster, you can instead opt to create custom characters from scratch, customizing their appearance, weapon, and fighting style. From here, you get to work reuniting China under your rule, choosing a starting location within the fractured nation. Like a Romance of the Three Kingdoms title, the strategy portion of the game is turn-based. Rather than directly act upon your empire, you instead pick from randomly selected proposals offered up by your generals at the beginning of every turn. These range from opening trade with neighboring provinces and forging alliances to hiring temporary combat units and recruiting wandering lieutenants. Every action costs gold, which you earn based on the size of your empire; you're more than welcome to impose additional taxes on your citizens, but just be prepared for any consequences. While this strategy element isn't particularly deep, and is an insignificant nothing compared to the tremendous (and often overwhelming) depth found in a Romance of the Three Kingdoms game, it's a welcome addition just the same. In fact, without this additional layer of empire building, there wouldn't be much to the game at all.
As the title suggests, Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires falls more on the Dynasty Warriors end of the spectrum. Once per turn you can choose to invade a neighboring province, taking three of your generals and three of your lieutenants, along with their armies, with you into combat. These levels are virtually identical to those found in Dynasty Warriors 4 and other Dynasty Warrior titles, as you once again repetitively button mash your way through entire armies of soldiers. Enemies and allies alike are completely brain-dead, with no real AI to speak of, as groups of soldiers spend most of the battle standing face-to-face with one another and only rarely swing their weapons. As such, it falls to you to single-handedly take out the opposing forces, but thankfully, their near-vegetable status makes this exceedingly easy. The only real challenge comes from opposing generals, but even they succumb to the same single-button combos eventually. Sadly, the game's camera offers up more challenge than any of its enemies, and on the rare occasions when you do take a beating, it's the camera's insistency to narrowly focus on you rather than the action that's to blame.
There isn't much more to the combat than repeating the same four-move combo ad nauseum. Despite some light strategic elements, combat is still very repetitive and very shallow. Your goal as you plow through the zombie armies of Chinese soldiers is to capture bases and eventually capture your enemy's stronghold or defeat their leader. Though you have no direct control over their actions, coordinating with your lieutenants and generals as they run about the battlefield makes this go much more smoothly, as they tend to gang up on enemy commanders with extreme prejudice. Still, you can just as easily ignore your allies' cries for help and bypass both armies entirely to capture the final stronghold or quickly defeat the enemy leader by yourself. Sure, it's a much riskier tactic, but it'll also cut the time you spend in battle to a tiny fraction of what it would take otherwise.
After a battle ends, you have the option to hire any defeated commanders. Those you set loose, however, join the free market and are likely to get picked up by another industrious warlord. Following a successful invasion, the annexed territory is appended to your own. Control all of China and you win the game. Unfortunately, as you grow larger, you become more and more susceptible to attack as your borders extend to touch more opposing clans. Because you can only participate in a single battle in a turn, being forced to defend a territory from invasion prevents you from expanding your empire. It's not uncommon to spend several turns in a row defending the same province from attack later in the game. The game is repetitive enough without having to fight the same armies on the same map three times in a row.
Graphically, Dynasty Warriors does little that impresses. While the textures are surprisingly crisp and detailed, character models themselves sport few polygons. Additionally, the draw distance is extremely short and, when coupled with the game's limited scope of the action thanks to the too-tight camera, it's not uncommon to watch enemies appear out of the ether just a few feet in front of you. The substandard visuals are to be expected, of course, given the vast number of characters moving around on screen at any given time. But despite the low visual fidelity, the game suffers from crippling slowdown during the heaviest combat and occasionally it gets so bad that the GUI itself flickers on and off the screen. The maps also tend to blend together, differing little in geometry or visual design. It quickly becomes difficult to tell one mountainous, jungled fortress from the next.
Empires also features Dynasty Warriors' standard so-bad-its-good voice acting. A handful of distinctly American voice actors voice all of the game's characters and blatantly mispronounce the Chinese names of characters and locations. The game's ridiculous, over-the-top rock soundtrack heavy with electric guitar seems strangely out of place, but provides a uniquely old school, video gamey appeal. There's something particularly entertaining about bashing a few hundred skulls while an electric guitar wails loudly in the background, even if it differs little from the gameplay the game was offering a few hours ago. Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires seems to revel in its ridiculousness, strangely matching Chinese history with 80s rock and distinctly non-Chinese voice actors.
Despite the sheer repetition of the combat, the poor graphics, and the questionable audio selections, however, Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires is still an addicting game. While the combat itself isn't inherently interesting, the overarching strategy elements add just enough depth to keep the game from failing. Just as you've grown bored of mindlessly slaughtering another few hundred mentally disabled soldiers, you're kicked back to the world map and the next turn begins. Before you know it, you're selecting proposals and preparing for another invasion. You're always just one more turn from saving your game and finding a more productive way to spend your time, but that last turn always seems to move further and further out of your reach. Though it may not be a great game, or even a good one, Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires is an addictive game that'll leave you satisfied, if slightly numbed after hours of button mashing.