As a Chinese-American (more appropriately, an ABC or American-Born Chinese), I could only think of one thing when I pressed the start button at the title screen of Dynasty Warriors 6 Empires and heard the elongated, over-the-mountains, dragon-roaring sound of a gong. According to San Francisco-born Korean comedian Margaret Cho, whenever Asian-Americans hear the sound of a gong… we know we’re ****ed. And given that this is Dynasty Warriors, a franchise whose success is built in the shape of “The Great Wall of Milking China Generation After Generation”, are we supposed to be surprised?
[image1]Okay, so that’s a little harsh… maybe. By about eight installments ago now, the title has become synonymous with its gameplay, in the same way that a new Dragon Quest is just another Dragon Quest, a new Madden is just another Madden, and a new Smackdown vs. Raw is just another Smackdown vs. Raw.
Glorified Ancient China hack’n’slash combat based on The Romance of the Three Kingdoms? Check. Sun Quan, Liu Bei, Cao Cao, and another forty-oddsome characters? Check. The fearsome, mighty, “Is there no one left to challenge me?” warrior with an Akuma-complex Lu Bu? Check. The incredibly campy, mispronounced, repetitive voice acting? Check. A cheesy metal-riff soundtrack that seems to be mixed by a drunk panda inspired by bad “bear” porn? Check.
But of course, this is the Empires spin-off of the Dynasty Warriors series, so there are at least several notable changes. Though the core combat - rushing onto the battlefield and slaughtering every enemy with a red health bar above their heads - remains unaffected, it is bound within a strategy-based framework that tasks you with the unification of China by conquering all 24 regions, piece by piece.
At the beginning, however, you won’t have the stats, equipment, or troops to even think about conquest, whether you choose to be an existing officer during the pseudo-historical Three Kingdoms era or a customizable character of your choosing (more on that later). So you will have to think about the actions you wish to take – about one action every month – to gather experience and a healthy-sized war chest, including gold, officers, gems, and weapons. Sweeping the entire list of mercenary missions ensures that your character will be ready to either serve under a ruler as an officer or take on the rulers themselves in your own campaign of complete domination. Additionally, if you decide to become a ruler, you can use special abilities of officers as cards, ala Magic: The Gathering, which cost a certain number of renewable resources to activate.
[image2]Meanwhile, you can trade your gems and gold for better warhorses, standard training to improve your and your officers’ stats and skills, and weapons with imbued properties, temporary abilities, and added strength. Halfway through the campaign, your character will likely be at least level 30, with enough upgrades like Recover, Phantom Hand, and True Musuo, to slaughter more than 1000 poor souls per battle with ease. Getting some of the upgrades, however, takes a lot of luck, as all of them require a certain number of unique items, which you may or may not obtain after hours and hours of massacring virtual soldiers (damn Pure Diamonds!).
By and large, the majority of your time will be consumed by the common Dynasty Warrior affair: Tromp out of your base, find the nearest enemy base in the sea of bland landscapes, meet any vagrant enemies with some spear-headed diplomacy, capture the base by defeating the lieutenants, guard captains, and officers, and continue repeating this until you reach the main camp and annihilate the leader. It’s a simple but addicting formula that fans have embraced and which critics like myself are irritated with, if only because the series has so much potential. But something always goes wrong.
The new touted feature this year is a customizable character creation mode, which is rather basic and almost five years too late, though it still falls into “better late than never” category. Options include those for the face, the body size, the costume, and the voice, with none of them available in a decent variety. On the other hand, no matter what combination of options you choose, the model will look like they belong in the Dynasty Warriors universe. Being able to choose their “card” and special ability is a nice touch as well.
Where all of this goes to waste is the absence of online multiplayer and a general lack of multiplayer altogether. The only multiplayer mode that exists is a two-player co-op that has the second player play as an officer already recruited by the first player, meaning that not only does the first player need to have an officer in the first place, but the second player can’t import their character. (Oh, and if one person dies, the game is over.) This might not be a problem if the game was an RPG that is primarily a single-player experience, like Mass Effect or Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10, but here, where multiplayer is as prevalent as the single-player, the customizable character mode is roped around the neck.
[image3]Another source of nuisance is the obnoxious broken-record voice-acting. Between the “Hehs” from your character, the “Uhs” from your enemies, and the profoundly annoying fact that every officer has only one fixed line of dialogue for every specific situation. Here’s a normal 20-second sample of the game played by my roommate using his created character, a petite female dressed in a kunoichi ninja costume, wielding sharp claws, and who loves to exclaim “I’ve been waiting for this” every time she uses an ability:
“Heh! Uh! Uh! I’m been waiting for this! Heh! I’ve been waiting for this! Uh! Uh! Uh! Uh! Fight me for glory! Heh! I’m been waiting for this! Uh! Uh! Heh! Uh! Uh! Uh! Enemy officer defeated. Uh! Uh! Heh! Uh! Uh! Uh! Uh! Uh! I’ve been waiting for this!”
When I asked my visiting dad what he thought about Dynasty Warriors 6 Empires, after watching me play it for an hour at home, he cocked his head to the side and said to me and my friends, “Eez not wreal!” (I’m not kidding.) Maybe that’s not much of a comment coming from a person who watches kung fu movies where women can soar into air and use their sleeves to repel arrows, but even he could detect that something was off. If Koei combined the multiplayer ideas from Strikeforce, the RPG elements of Empires, and an uncomplicated online component, the Dynasty Warriors series would easily reach the next tier of grades. But until then, it remains a sub-par romp through what we’ve already seen many, many times before.