Yes, for all the tea in China.
The relationship between reviewers and the Dynasty Warriors franchise can be generally summarized by the game's spawn points. Every year or so, yet another Dynasty Warriors title comes out of the gate full of optimism and vigor... until its struck down in one hit by the harsh, barbed words of critics. This cycle has repeated itself, seemingly without end, but that now changes and the guilty pleasure of this Dynasty Warriors fan can finally feel less guilty. I'm actually going to give Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires a high score.
If any Dynasty Warrior title would be capable of such a feat, it would be the Empires offshoot, which overlays strategic elements and custom created characters over what is, truth be told, a repetitive combat system with spam-tastic combos. It's still about capturing bases, defeating enemy officers, and calling on a horse to travel swiftly across the map, all to the discordant soundtrack of electric guitar riffs. In this installment players can switch between two weapons and captured bases can create stronger areas of influence, but it doesn't dramatically alter the usual flow of combat. And by now, every fan of the series knows the dramatic retelling of The Three Kingdoms period forwards and backwards, and knows how to exploit the best crowd-clearing attacks, so these two elements repeated here yet again aren't terribly interesting.
Instead, it's the grand decisions beyond the battlefield that will captivate players; winning the battle doesn't mean winning the war. Unsurprisingly, the object of Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires is to conquer every territory of China and unite the lands under one banner, as either a leader of a rogue vagabond troop or an officer serving under a ruler. Every month gives players the ability to utilize resources to perform one action, whether it's strengthening troops, hiring new officers, forming alliances with a bordering territory, building weaponry, or forging new friendships that lead to sworn brotherhoods or marriage. This is just a few of the non-combat options available outside skirmishes and invasions, which comprise the bulk of the gameplay.
Along the way to territorial domination, players can develop their regular stats through the purchase of items and high-quality weapons along with six leadership attributes which contribute to which ending is shown at the end of a campaign. Where an Orderly leader will have better regiments and a Kind ruler will have a happier citizenry, an Evil dictator sacrifices the population for incredible power.
How players level these six leadership attributes determines the type of strategems available, a new feature that dynamically changes situations in the player's favor. While some strategems allow an officer to change the mind of a leader during war councils, which occur every January and June, most are cast during the midst of battle for a wide range of effects; for example, creating landslides to block supply lines (Wise), summoning a cavalry unit (Orderly), forming a catapult base (Affluence), healing units (Kind), spreading poisonous mist (Evil), or becoming temporarily immune to damage (Brave). These strategems, which take the form of cards, can only be used once in a battle, which reinforces the idea that the player must be both a warrior and a strategist—a point that other Dynasty Warriors titles lack.
Extending player customization and replayability further is an improved character creation system and bonus points. Not only are there more parts to choose from and additional costumes to purchase using bonus points, but custom characters can also assign weapons, voices, and varying musou attacks freely. On top of that, they can replace officers in campaigns and be uploaded to and downloaded from online servers. The depth of facial modeling has been enhanced too, allowing for more precision in shaping jawlines, noses, and eyes.
Bonus points earned through a campaign can also be used to unlock minor cheats, like having all weapons or items from the very start, for any future replays. Though the multiplayer modes, both local and online, tend to be either disjointed or difficult to setup, they still are somewhat enjoyable and don't detract too much from the core single-player campaign.
Tecmo Koei and Omega Force have finally hit their stride with Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires and hopefully won't tamper with the solid strategic elements they've crafted here by the next inevitable installment. While it's surprising to learn that this title is only available through download and only has Japanese voice work, that's completely tolerable if the developers continue to put out quality titles in the franchise like this. If they can address the archaic combat system and multiplayer modes, the Dynasty Warriors franchise might earn the full rebirth it's been waiting for.