Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires Preview

We go hands-on with the latest Dynasty Warriors title and its new, tactical path.

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Koei's Dynasty Warriors series--with its love affair with ancient Chinese warfare and those nigh-ungodly powerful heroes who blitzkrieg their way into history--has seen many incarnations over the years. Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires, the latest successor to the name, doesn't mess with the magic of the series' massive action battles, but this time around you'll have more to concern yourself with than simply taking to the battlefield and slicing your opposition to ribbons. The game is built around an all-new tactical system in its empire mode that's hung upon not only conquest but upon political alliances and strategic commitment of your forces as well as able management of resources. While the combat is still the meat and potatoes of the game, the new tactical element provides some interesting options. Check out some brand-new footage of the game on our media page and read on for further details.

Climb atop your trusty steed and smite your enemies in Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires. Click stream for a larger view.

The game's main mode, empire mode, lets you take an officer and a segment of the Chinese empire and attempt to secure all the diverse regions under your one banner. You can choose either historical mode, which will assign certain officers to their historically relevant areas, or fictional mode, in which you are free to choose any region and any general that you'd like. You'll be presented with a map of China that shows your own position as well as those of numerous other factions vying for supremacy in the empire. All characters will start out with a single home region, and you can choose to attempt to conquer adjoining lands by force, or you can start to put some strategy into play by cycling through your available officers and choosing to act on their proposals.

Officers propose two options for your consideration, and different officers will offer up different ideas on how to proceed. Some proposals allow you to ally with another warrior and his lands for a number of turns, effectively instituting a temporary peace treaty. If your ally is attacked, you can rally to his defense; such battles give you the opportunity to rack up kills to level up your officers without risking losing your own lands if you fail. Some proposals let you attempt to bribe enemy officers to defect to your forces--at the cost of a certain amount of gold or a special item. Your shard of the empire will generate a certain amount of revenue based on its size, and there are proposals that let you put the lean on your peasants to raise some extra tax money if you need it. Most commonly, your officers will suggest healing up your fighting forces--which do not otherwise replenish their health between battles--so you'll remember to rest them if you're wise.

Hacking and slashing isn't the only route to victory, but it's still the flashiest.
Hacking and slashing isn't the only route to victory, but it's still the flashiest.

It's not just your own officers who'll have suggestions or offers to make; sometimes your foes will approach you directly about an alliance or about trade. Different regions can produce different items that you'll be able to use going into battle, and if you've got a desirable bit of swag, other regions will offer to swap items with you. It's a little strange to have a serious-faced warrior offering to trade you a luck-raising sash for your lovely horned helmet, but often you'll be offered refined items of higher level, and you can leapfrog your way to more refined equipment through trades like this. In addition, items can make fine bribes for desired recruits, so you might be able to hold onto that helmet and get that Mongol you always wanted.

While all your wheeling and dealing outside of the battlefield can net you warriors, items, money, and handy alliances, there's still really no substitute for talking to your foes using the edge of your weapon. The fighting in Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires is the same tried-and-true action fans have come to expect from the series, with all the massed units, friendly and enemy officers, and controls. You'll guide your officer around the battlefield and execute simple combo slashes, blocks, and musou (or special) attacks to take out egregiously large swaths of your foes. A new feature in battle this time around is strongholds, which essentially are vital nodes on the battle map that are occupied by friendly or enemy forces (color-coded in blue or red, respectively). If you manage to overwhelm an enemy stronghold, your forces will take it as your own, and this raises your troops' morale. Conversely, of course, if you lose one of your own strongholds, it puts you at a disadvantage.

You'll have a number of proposals to choose from, and you'll want to weigh the advantages of each.
You'll have a number of proposals to choose from, and you'll want to weigh the advantages of each.

Sometimes, in the process of drubbing your foes, you will take some of their officers captive during a battle. If you do so, you'll have the opportunity after the fight is through to offer them a place in your army. And while you'd think a captive wouldn't have much bargaining power, that's not the case--if you want his services, you'll need to pony up some cash. If you can't afford to recruit your captives, you'll simply release them into the wild to beat them down another day.

As far as officers go, all the Dynasty Warrior 4 officers reappear in Empires along with some additional members as well. You can also fashion your own character using the game's character edit mode, which sports a greater number of character models to choose from this time around (3 models per gender, as opposed to a single model) and a greater number of voices (again, 3 per gender). And if you want to challenge a friend, you'll have that option in the game's versus mode, which features four different two-player games with their own victory conditions.

The game has some nice visuals, particularly as far as the major officers go; they're detailed in dress and move fluidly and well. Battlefields are still primarily simple landscapes with the odd scattered building, giving the massive armies plenty of room to mill about and look dangerous. We did experience a bit of slowdown when executing our high-impact musou moves in very large swarms of enemy combatants. Aurally, Empires falls right in line with other games in the Dynasty Warriors series, from the heavy rock soundtrack to the almost campy English dialogue coming from the characters. The sound effects are simple, but ample in the meaty thwack department, particularly when slicing your special attacks through a throng of enemy soldiers.

The great Chinese empire, shattered into fragments. Gotta catch 'em all!
The great Chinese empire, shattered into fragments. Gotta catch 'em all!

Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires' brand of action and tactical gameplay provide something worthwhile for seasoned Dynasty Warrior fans to keep their eyes on. The game is due to be released on the PlayStation 2 later this year, so keep your eyes peeled for more coverage before then.

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