Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires
Developer: Omega Force
A PS3 digital copy of the game was supplied to us
Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires is the newest game in the Dynasty Warriors series. The game promises to bring both intense beat-em-up action and important strategic decisions to the player. As someone who has never played the series before, I was both impressed and disappointed by DW7 Empires.
The main point of the Empires games, as I understand it, is to bring more depth to the basic DW formula. DW7 Empires takes the original DW7 and adds a strategic element to it. Essentially, instead of just slashing your way through armies, you get to play a bit of strategy in between as well. What DW7E does particulary well, is that it not only lets you play as different characters but these characters have specified positions within the game. You don’t just play as a ruler, you can be a subordinate or even a free officer. This by itself is already pretty fun. Sure you can play as a ruler, conquer the land, even rewrite history but what about rising up the ranks? DW7E lets you go from a common officer to an emperor and let me tell you, nothing is quite as satisfying in DW7E as making your own custom character, starting out as a common officer with no allegiance, and eventually uniting the land as the emperor. The different positions aren’t just for show either, a ruler has much more options in the strategy department than the common officer. The higher your position, the more options you have, although each position has unique options. For example, a Marshall can rebel against his kingdom, while a ruler obviously cannot.
So as I’ve said you can make your own character. Sadly though the customization options are quite lacking. You have a handful of options to edit your character’s body, face, clothes, hair, all the usual things, but it lacks the depth of such games as Saint’s Row, where the customization is amazing. Now sure, one might go easy on it because not every game can have Saint’s Row’s level of detail when it comes to customization. However, considering the quality of the graphics (which I’d say is about at the level of Saint’s Row 2) I find it disappointing that there’s so little to customize. A couple of options for each category is pretty boring when you have games that let you completely shape your character’s face and body. To put it simply, unlike in the Saint’s Row games, you won’t be to go as far as recreating someone like, say, Chuck Norris or famous video game characters like Lara Croft.
As far as the gameplay goes it is standard Dynasty Warriors beat-em-up battles mixed with strategizing. The combat is simple and at first addictive. There are plenty of weapons to choose from but ultimately all are very easy to use, and as such, your weapon of choice comes down to preference. The game’s ultimate goal is to take over all territories. Each territory has its own unique battlefield, however because of this you’ll usually end up fighting on the same territories over and over again. If you have a territory that everyone tries to take away from you, you’ll spend most of your time fighting on that battlefield, and that can become tiresome very quickly. However apart from battles, you’ll also spend a lot of time navigating menus and strategizing/giving orders. You are given turns to decide what to do and events happen between turns. So it’s a fairly simple setup, you spend a turn recruiting an officer for example, and then you are given a report of what other kingdoms have done in their turn. The DW-style battles happen when you decide to attack/defend a territory. Each turn is a month in the game. Also unique to Empires are strategems, a new function that can be used in battle to cause strategic action. Essentially, with strategems you can lock up your strongholds, call reinforcements, cause rockslides, in short, do things that give you an edge in battles.
The odd thing about the strategy elements is that they somehow manage to be both too simplistic to offer anything worthwhile, and too complex to utilize to its fullest potential.
In a game that offers two distinct elements, strategy and direct combat, the two elements should be equally useable and useful. However in DW7E, strategy can be completely disregarded in favour of just invading every territory with brute force. Considering that the game’s goal is to conquer every territory – and the only way to end the game is to conquer every territory – the entire strategy element can fall apart by asking just one question: Why waste my time strategizing, drawing out game time and increasing the number of battles I have to fight, when I can just go and take over everything from the get go? The battles are easy and the strategy elements don’t add anything important to the battles. I went through the game twice, without using a single strategem in battle. Sure, you can use them, maybe even have them come in handy on harder difficulties, but I had absolutely no trouble taking on armies single handedly without them. This wouldn’t be a problem if the game offered worthwhile benefits for strategizing but it doesn’t. So it isn’t a game where you can go and take on the enemy yourself or you can find more strategic ways to take over, but instead you can go and take on the enemy yourself, or mess around with strategic elements until you realize how much faster everything would go if you wouldn’t waste time strengthening your troops, who are cannon fodder anyway. This creates an imbalance where strategizing just feels like a waste of time when you look at the ultimate goal of the game. Imagine if you were playing Metal Gear Solid and had the option to tranquilize enemies but the game would only progress if you killed them. Would make non-lethal takedowns pretty pointless, wouldn’t it?
Something else that also shows how the strategy elements were not thought through completely is how every action takes the same amount of time. Whether you’re invading, investing, or even just interacting with a single officer, you use up a month. This might be because of game balance, but it drags the game out longer than it should. Not to mention there’s no way to logically justify why you can only dismiss one officer each month, but give promotions to as many as you need. Not to mention how can dismissing one officer take up a whole month.
Another thing that is bothersome about the strategy elements is that you need to meet certain requirements for certain options to appear, but the game doesn’t inform you of the requirements. Your character has different stats, called Fame. Fame is basically your character’s personality, the trait he is famous for. You can be Brave, Wise, Kind, Evil, Orderly or Affluent, and this will affect certain things. It can alter your character’s attitude in cutscenes for example, but these are so rare and short that it barely matters. Fans of history might enjoy seeing a historical figure acting out of character but people unfamiliar with them won’t care. The big change that Fame makes, is that Fame types give you different strategems and options. For example, a Kind character will be able to use strategems to call for volunteer reinforcements, while an Orderly character will be able to lock up stronghold doors. Each Fame has levels, (Fame basically functions as a numerical stat, like HP or defense) and each level grants a new strategem. There are also options outside of battle that only become available when a certain Fame type meets a set requirement. At LV6 Affluent Fame, you can use the imperial seal to become emperor for example.
As you can see, your Fame makes a considerable difference in what options you have, the only problem is that there’s no way to know the requirements for these options. How am I supposed to figure out that LV6 Affluent Fame is needed to be emperor? Or that I can’t rebel without a high enough Brave Fame? The problem isn’t so much that you need a certain level to do certain things, it’s logical that you need to be evil enough to do something evil. The problem is that you don’t even know if these options exist or not until you reach that level. It would be much better, more intuitive and would help players decide which Fame stats to work on if we could actually see all the options from the start and their requirements. The way it is now, there’s no way to know what kind of options there are, and it’s extremely annoying to find out that you could have done something after the fact. So there actually is an option to take over a territory without invading it by force, you just need a certain stat to be high enough? Thanks for not even hinting at it!
Not to mention increasing your Fame stats is often repetitive. Most of the time, you just end up spending months to increase a single stat, do this for a couple years and you’ll eventually max out the stat your focusing on. Once again comes the problem however, that this feels like a waste of time in a game where you can just conquer everything with brute force. Sure it’s good for role playing if you decide that you’re going to play a benevolent ruler who is loved by the people, an evil overlord, or whatever you want, but there is so little variety and the battles are so repetitive that after a while, you are more likely to be fed up by wasting time with these things.
To explain a bit better why the game can get tiresome quickly, I’m going to give you a specific example from my second playthrough. At this point I’m already somewhat bored of the combat, mostly because I’ve fought on the same battlefields multiple times and none of them have enough variety to really make them memorable or set them apart from each other, and the generic, unmemorable metal music isn’t helping. After conquering all territories, except for one, I decide to spend time improving my Affluent Fame to LV6 and become emperor. So I end up using my turns to increase it bit by bit. Meanwhile, despite ruling all of the land except this one tiny kingdom, they keep attacking me. I can go the diplomatic route and make an alliance, but it doesn’t work, so unless I use up further turns to improve my relationship with its ruler, I’m not getting an alliance. The game also doesn’t give me an option to send soldiers there and let them handle it without me. Either I go there and fight personally (along with whoever I bring along) or I lose the territory in three turns. So despite the kingdom being outmatched by mine and having no hope of winning, it keeps attacking me. You’d think you’d be free to develop your stats, but no, as I’m spending a dozen turns pressing X over and over again, every third turn I’m forced to fight a one-sided battle in my favor on the exact same battlefield again and again or lose that territory.
To put it simply, for every turn you spend not fighting, you end up having to fight even more. Sure, if there are many kingdoms around the game is more balanced and you are less likely to be attacked since there are other targets for your enemies, but once again, it just drags the game out. There are no special features in any of the battlefields except for the terrain, and after a while, the combat stops being addictive and becomes incredibly boring. Like I said, I eventually found myself avoiding strategy and just fighting with brute force, just so I wouldn’t have to fight on the same battlefield a dozen times over and get the game over with faster.
I also felt that the developers didn’t put enough effort into the little details. DW7E’s graphics are unimpressive. Due to the sheer number of enemies, it doesn’t bother me: I’d rather have okay graphics and good framerate than technical issues. But how is it, that in 2013, we have a game that only uses in-engine graphics and yet your special attacks always use the same weapon model? Each weapon class has five weapons, each increasing in strength, but the animation doesn’t reflect it. Despite it being in-engine, the weapon is preset. Is it a big deal? Well, admitedly, no. But it is still jarring to see my character, who uses the strongest Short Pike, suddenly change to the third strongest one during the special attack’s animation. It’s the type of problem that even PS2 games could get around and now DW7E can’t? Another disappointing thing is how you can’t read historical info on the officers in the main game, only in the Encyclopedia menu. So let’s say I have a dozen officers and I decide to get to know some of them a bit better. How do I choose which one? You can see their base stats and Fame type, but nothing else, not even their face. It would be so much better if I could look at the person’s appearance and background right then and there to help me decide which character should be my character’s spouse or sworn brother. Not that it matters a lot – once again, it’s disappointing to see that the characters have so little personality. I will give the developers praise in that the various cutscenes change in the dialogue depending on the characters in it, but this doesn’t carry over in anything else. If you have a scene, it will change depending on who’s in it. Not by much, but each character will say something a bit different. Liu Bei will come off as kind in a pre-battle scene, while Cao Cao will be eager for battle. But when you choose the interact option during strategic phases, they show no personality whatsoever. Every single character will mutter the same generic responses, regardless of position or personality. If nothing else, it would have been easy to program six different responses for each Fame type, and instead of everyone saying „I agree” or „Hmm, interesting” they could say things based on their fame type. Once again a minor detail, but it would make for a much more immersive game if the characters I enlist in my army would have something to make me care for them apart from whether or not they look cool.
I noticed no difference between the campaigns. I was fighting the same battles, on the same battlefields, with the same approach in both of them. There’s not enough to keep the player interested, or to give any incentive to continue playing. Since it tries to be historically accurate there are different enemies in each one, and the kingdoms are different in size, but what difference does it make when everything is interchangeable? There’s no story to it at all, nothing to hold your interest or look forward to. The game has five campaigns and I was bored with it after two. Regardless of how you look at it, whether you think I missed the point of the game or played it „wrong” so to speak, that’s not a good thing. With some more effort and polish, the game could have been great, and I hope the next installment fixes these problems because it has potential, and the 5-8 hours I spent on my first campaign were genuinely enjoyable.
The Final Word
Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires is sadly not nearly as good as it could be. It shows signs of brilliance, and has an idea that if executed well could make for a great game. However it fails to deliver and is ultimately a disappointment that won’t hold your attention for long enough to justify playing it, unless you have a very high tolerance for tedium. Fans of the series should give it a try.
- MonsterVine Rating: 3 out of 5 – Average