As mentioned before, Dynasty Warriors is the series that got me into video games so I apologize on behalf of it. Sure, Grand Theft Auto is what made me actually enjoy video games but Dynasty Warriors is what opened the door to the bottomless pit. Specifically, Dynasty Warriors 4 but I’m not going into that today since I feel like I’d be repeating myself. As much as I love said fourth iteration of Dynasty Warriors, Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires is my favorite game in the “Compilation of Dynasty Warriors 4”, which also includes the main game and Xtreme Legends.
“Screw you, Final Fantasy VII. Compilation of FF7? More like Complication of FF7! Hahaha wasteland!”
Lemme tell you how I even got this game in the first place. I saw it was for sale in the Philippines but I didn’t have the money for it. A year later, when Christmas time came about at fifth grade, I asked for Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires for the Secret Santa wishlist thing we had in class. Sure enough, my best friend at the time got me that game as a gift. Nine years later, I bought a used copy of the game for 50 cents on Amazon. Well, 3.95 for shipping. So that’s still less than 5 dollars for a game that I still absolutely love.
So, let’s talk about Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires, the first iteration of the surprisingly fun Empires spin-off. You pick a character to have as a ruler and you get two random dudes to start you off in your simple task of conquering China. You start off with three characters at first because in the original game, there were three characters unlocked in each kingdom when you first start the game so it's a nice callback.
In Empire Mode, there are two different scenarios - Historical and Fictional. Historical takes place in the Yellow Turban Rebellion and nowhere else. Fictional takes place in a random time period with a mishmash of kingdoms and officers. A little lacking in terms of choice but it’s still a start since this is the first iteration of the Empires spin-off.
Before a battle, you are given two random proposals from your officers. These include taking a break from battle if you don’t have any money, recruiting 500 to 2000 soldiers into your army, and developing weapons. So basically you’re a ruler who can’t think for himself and always have to delegate to one dude every time, instead of compromising. If you don’t pick someone’s proposals after a few months, they’d even ask if they’re not good enough like an insecure girlfriend.
As you command and conquer more areas, you get to capture enemy officers that you can recruit. You can recruit other playable characters but amusingly enough, you can also recruit and play as NPCs who use one of four different models. Sure, they all have movesets from Dynasty Warriors 3 but it is a change of pace to play as one of the 300 generic NPCs and beat an officer with a fully designed outfit and specific moveset. It’s like the shoe’s on the other foot now and you’re participating in a competent boss fight.
Personally, the most sentimental thing you can do is to start your final battle by choosing the first three officers you’ve started with before unifying all of China as a symbol of friendship and accomplishment among the original trio of officers. I’m a sucker for slightly sentimental moments like that, even if I have to generate them myself. It’s like the commander saying “We started this journey together, we’re ending this together. Onward! For the last time, my friends!”
The versus mode is absolutely fun here though since it’s not just a one-on-one fistfight between two people so that’s a huge saving grace. You don’t necessarily have to play against someone else as you have the option to fight an AI-controlled opponent. There are four different stages in Versus Mode and they’re unique twists on the Dynasty Warriors hack and slash formula but only two modes stand out in terms of how fun they are.
“Endurance” is the most intense stage out of these because you and your opponent are in the middle of a poison swamp while waves of enemies charge at you. The better you do, the stronger they get. “Melee” takes place on top of a platform and you both are given the task of throwing dudes off, including the other player. The person with the most KOs after the given time wins. It’s as fun as it sounds stupid.
On that note, is the game as a whole still fun? Yes but it’s not as fun compared to the newer iterations in the Empires line. As a Dynasty Warriors fan, I’m really reaching on hours and hours of nostalgia for this game. Turning off that mindset, it’s hard to recommend when 7 and 8 are way better Empires games in terms of variety of stratagems and policies you can play on the field. (Anything about Dynasty Warriors 6? What’s that? Never happened.)
The main criticism I have of Empire mode, the main game mode in an Empires game, is that everything is restrictive. When starting a new scenario, you don’t get to choose your allies. You’re given two allies to start with and they may not be the ones you want to start with. They may not even be unique characters, instead getting the generic NPC that you fight 60 times in the game so in most cutscenes, you wouldn't even know who you're watching since there are 4 different dudes with the same model in your empire. You can’t choose who you want to start with other than the ruler and the only way to get specific allies you want is by picking your ruler again and again until you get a duo of underlings you want.
Your kingdom is restricted to 20 officers and lieutenants while the opposing kingdoms are free to have as many officers as they can, depending on how many regions they occupy. Each enemy region can hold six officers so if this enemy kingdom occupies six regions, that’s 36 different officers you have to deal with, not counting alliances and reinforcements.
You can’t choose a strategist unless one of your officers suggest you a smart person they want to promote as strategist because again, you have no form of personal decision making. And personally, I don’t even remember ever fulfilling the “Become Grand General” objective, which I’m sure is possible somehow and I’ve never bothered to unlock it.
There really isn’t much of strategy in this. It is a Dynasty Warriors game after all where it always tries to give you the illusion of strategy when in reality, it’s just telling you to do everything yourself if things go awry. You don’t have control over your allies and their orders so you’re stuck on relying on them for most of the battle. Sometimes your allies do mess up and even retreat constantly because they mess up and keep falling for enemy taunts.It just makes me infuriated like CM Punk and makes me want to talk to these geniuses. “You can’t tell me you didn’t do that on purpose because you’ve done it so many times. You either tell me you’re dumb as hell and you suck or you did it on purpose!” to which these NPCs would probably reply, “I’m dumb as hell. I’m sorry.”
As restrictive as Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires is, it’s 5: Empires that starts the improvement of the spin-off series because of how lenient it got and the game finally gives you the power of choice. But strangely, I still gravitate to 4 more than I should as nostalgia still keeps reeling me back in. So to summarize, the game is fun but realistically speaking, it’s a hack and slash game trying to be a strategy game which makes strategy a moot point since you’ll just be relying on brute strength instead of tactics and ambushes the game implies to have. It’s still a fun game for people who started playing the series 14 years ago. But for newcomers, it would just be a restrictive piece of history that’s built upon in later games.