The idea of budget gaming has always had a mass market appeal. From the first introduction of Greatest Hits titles on the PSOne to the even more recent “Best Of” Platinum Hits for the current Xbox. Dynasty Warriors is one of the first so called budget priced titles for the next-generation and believe me it shows. For those of you familiar with the series you will find nothing new here except the ability to play in a higher resolution and use custom soundtracks, everything else here is straight out of your PS2. All of this can be yours for the low low budget price of $39.99; yeah not really a budget now is it?
For those who are not familiar with the franchise let’s get a quick rundown of the basics. Empires is more of a spin-off of the DW series with a subtle, and I stress the word subtle, amount of strategy thrown in for good measure. You can recruit generals and take over different areas of the region, but aside from a few cheap menu screens the game is still your run of the mill button masher it has been since 1996. In between the monotonous fighting you can take time to perform various maintenance moves and even decide to invade another area, which in turn gives you access to new generals and even battlegrounds to defend. The basic goal is conquer the entire land mass within 25 years or 100 turns, whichever comes first.
Aside from the relatively small amount of strategy this is still the same game you have been force fed for the past ten years, granted the fan base is ridiculously large, and apparently not to keen on advancing the franchise outside of its one-button schematic of game play. The computer AI still hasn’t graduated the class of “stand around aimlessly while you pummel me with a hammer” mentality that has plagued all of the other titles in the past. With that said any fan of previous titles will find plenty to enjoy, of course you can easily find it elsewhere and certainly a ton cheaper on any of the other 1,354 versions floating around budget bins near you.
This translates to “shoddy port”.
Controlling your protagonist is still clunky to say the least. Thankfully the fighting system in the game is shallower than a kiddie pool with fourteen holes in the side. Basically you simply wail on the X button until you get bored, throw in a Y and B on occasion and you can make it through 90% of the game, which is not a bad thing considering the fact that the blocking system is completely broken and if it was required to win the game would be overly frustrating as well as repetitive. In all seriousness though you know a game is lacking in AI when you can literally stand around a group of fifty enemies for ten seconds and they never once throw a strike at you, simply revolting.
Besides the main Empire mode you can also edit officers for use in various game modes, which really sounds a lot cooler than it actually is. It basically consists of a few options to make the character unique which in the end proves a bit pointless to most players. The free mode is a nice diversion because it offers up a pseudo strategy style game; sadly it is only a tad deeper than the fighting system which makes it even less involving than even the $0.99 budget PC strategy titles.
However the biggest insult in this “Xbox 360” title is the extremely lackluster visuals and audio. I mean I do not expect gold for every single title, but this is simply a PS2 game presented in a higher resolution. The character models are still the same ones you have seen for the past ten years and the audio and voice overs are a complete joke. You get the same thrashing metal looped over and over for your agony and the dialogue and voice acting is so bad, at one point I thought they switched it with a porn track, yes it is really cheesy and unintelligible.
What this boils down to in the end is that DW5E is simply a sloppy rushed port that is trying to cash in on the popularity of the franchise for the next-generation. Hopefully KOEI will take the time to give the franchise its due credit by the time the next iteration rolls around, but for now we are forced to settle for a PS2 title in 360 boxart. Don’t be fooled by the cover, this game is light years away from even being considered “next-gen”.