The release of Dynasty Warriors 5
for the Xbox shows little has changed in KOEI's long running series. In fact, this is the 10th Warriors game on consoles if you include the Samurai Warriors
titles. You'll find while some new features and alternations have been implemented, the game's core remains largely the same. You'll still spend most of your time mashing the combo button non-stop during the lengthy battle sequences, so if you've played any of the games in the series this will definitely feel familiar.
The Xbox version is almost identical to the PS2's with a few notable exceptions that will likely please the more hardcore fans. First and foremost is the inclusion of the original Japanese voices. These can be enabled through the main options menu, and thankfully the English subtitles can be left on so you can actually understand what they're saying. Turning this on is definitely an improvement from the massively over-cheesed English voices. The Xbox version also supports Dolby 5.1 sound, which is great for those intent on hearing exactly where the hundreds of soldiers they're knocking around are landing.
With an over-the-top reimagining of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms era in China, developer Omega Force has become quite adept at cranking out the titles where one fighter can make a tremendous difference. There are 48 characters to choose from this time, six of which are new to the series, and each one has a specific storyline in the Dynasty Warriors universe. Each story has a set of missions where the time between beginning and completing the requirements involves taking out several hundred soldiers, captains, and officers along the way.
While there are some new changes that add variety to the formula, DW5 can't help but feel like over-familiar territory. After fighting through countless hordes in previous titles, doing so again with some small differences is an experience of diminishing returns. With action that is all too similar to what's been so heavily trodden before with dozens, if not hundreds, of hours of gameplay, DW5 is a title that's not quite enough for those who enjoyed one or two earlier titles and wanted more. Instead this is best recommended for those who absolutely love it, almost pathologically (like Steven Ng) or those who are completely new to the experience.
Having said all that, the new additions here help to make this the most refined game in the series. Omega Force has had a lot of practice in making Dynasty Warriors games and this is their latest fullest incarnation of it. The most striking difference is that the game has been optimized even further to make the graphics more satisfying. The fog of war has been pushed back much, much further. The effect of enemy soldiers magically appearing has been drastically reduced and is now exclusive to the two-player experience.
More than just being able to see more of the people in the nearby area, players can now see more of the game as a whole. The framerate holds up at a consistent rate for the large majority of the game. Slowdown that has brought previous titles to a crawl has not appeared here. The visuals have become smoother all around and makes you wish that this had been how it was done all along. The Xbox version looks very, very simliar to the PS2, though the framerate is a little more consistent and the load times are reduced.
On the gameplay side there have been a couple of other large changes. The bodyguard units from the previous games have been changed to singular bodyguards. This helps keep the framerate moving along nicely and makes the game easier to understand in the middle of a large fight. It makes the game even better that the bodyguards are smarter and more effective in the fights.
While in battle, it often happened that I would be fighting with an officer and then my bodyguard would rush in from the side when my combo was finishing up. At other times my bodyguard would be doing his own combo on an officer and then I could run up and start doing an attack of my own. Rather than having a swarm of bodyguards do some light attacks, the single person guard has been much more useful and fun to fight with.
Later on in the game it's possible to get a non-human guard as well. It's possible to get a tiger to fight by one's side. Of course, that means that the enemy can have tigers with them as well. Since fighting animals is a no-no, the tigers can't be attacked directly. Only by defeating their master will they be taken out of the game itself.
With just one guard the ability to do a double Musou attack is now here in the single-player game. Where this was previously an exclusively two-player option for when both players have filled their Musou gauge and tapped the circle button at the same time it's now available in NPC form. When both player and bodyguard are amped up and close enough lightning will appear between the characters. Activating the Musou, a special attack, at this time makes both characters deliver vengeance on any and all enemies within range. It's a cool effect and one that makes you want to stick tight to your guard.
One of the other changes is that the stronghold system form Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires now makes an appearance here. These strongholds are buildings in the game that provide certain advantages for the army that has them. These can't be changed hands, but by conquering them it's possible to take their aid away from the enemy and help to boost morale for one's own army. While the morale shift is a bit of a help, it's the taking away of supply bases or spawn points that really helps to change the tide of the war.
When playing DW5 it's still possible to either fight the war on several different fronts and take out a thousand enemies in a mission or go straight to the end. It's not recommended by the game to go straight to the last boss and take him out, but it's doable. The only real requirement for fighting more is that the only way to advance the characters is to rack up the kills and find more items.
Getting new weapons requires finding them. They can appear after an officer falls, but are more likely to be scattered about the maps in various crates. With the maps being on average 30% larger this time around, this means that plenty of exploration is in order. While it's cool to discover new items or swords or other weapons it can get pretty tedious scouring the landscape for one more box that may have the ultimate weapon.
To make the weapon hunt even more interesting there is now a weight classification as well. There are the light weapons which strike fast, but don't do a ton of damage. On the other side there are the heavy weapons which send the soldiers spinning through the air, but take longer to strike with and leave the warrior more open to attacks from the enemies.
While there are soldiers to be taken out by the hundreds they still do more than just fill the screen as slowly moving targets. There are still the soldiers that just stand around doing not much of anything, but more often than not they will attack and they will do it in groups. So when going after the officers it's good to keep in mind that the other scrubs can still take a few extra swipes and make the battle much deadlier.
Putting in tons of soldiers and officers and huge environments with hidden items spread throughout, DW5 is by no means a game for those with a short amount of free time. This is a game for the completists who want to completely build up the different characters as well as the bodyguards, find all of the items and weapons, and don't mind slogging through hundreds of thousands of people to get there. In other words, this is a long haul.
Even though there are these additions to the game, the large part of the trek is the constant slicing and setting up combos in the large crowds of soldiers. There's really no way of getting around the constant battle in this game and if that isn't what you're looking for, go elsewhere. The extra options in DW5 are all about fighting even more groups and with some bizarre qualifications. The new Bridge Melee is a challenge to see how many soldiers a hero can knock off a bridge without falling off himself or dying. The Sudden Death mode is all about killing as many without being hit a single time.
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