Version tested: PlayStation 2
As the 'Dynasty Warriors' series has marched inexorably on, the raw numbers quotable for its various metrics (missions, characters, objects, etc.) have grown steadily with each release too. With this latest release, you will be forgiven for losing count or exaggerating the expanses. With this game it's hard to avoid that. Dynasty Warriors 5 is the, oooh, let's say the 39th 'Warrior' game in total that KOEI has committed to consoles - if you include the Samurai/Misc. Warriors games that fill the gaps between dynasties. There are 48 playable characters in this game, six entirely new, most borrowed from earlier incarnations.
Each character has 20+ missions available, through his own unique storyline, and each mission will involve hacking and performing deadly Son-et-Lumière spectacles for maybe hundreds of thousands of minions with a bizarre tendency to stand there and wait to die at your hands. A quick calculation shows that anybody who has played their way through all the games in this series could easily have hacked to death more than 12 billion people, or more than twice the population of the Earth.
For fans of this series of orgiastic frenzies of limb-hacking and metal-edged death, the good news is that the orgy goes on. And, sure, it's been altered a tadge to make you feel briefly that this a new game, and therefore is worth handing over another £35, but when you get down to it and put metal against guts, you realise it's not really a new game at all. It really is all alarmingly the same as before.
More Dallas than Dynasty
DW5 doesn't strive to be a realistic portrayal of Great Dynasty-era China in any meaningful way. It's absurd in many respects, both from the inappropriate and entirely over-the-top music used throughout, to the ridiculous overacting of the budding Shakespearean actors that Enunciate Every Line like Olivier's Othello or some such. The thought occurs that since you're not expected to believe that that's how people spoke in Three Kingdoms China, maybe some internationalisation team had decided that the voices given are a realistic portrayal of how Brits speak.
The all-too-limited changes that have been made in this iteration feel as if they come primarily as a result of the iterative process, rather than any great driving force for renewal; yet many of the game dynamics feel refined and polished, even if it's still lacking a certain graphical prowess.
The enemy draw-distance problems that marred the earlier games have been mitigated against substantially, and rarely appear in the main game at all. Whereas previously one would just be able to see minions nearby, you will now be able to see further and without the frame rate taking a dive, a marked improvement over the previous Dynasty Warriors. Note, however, that the draw distance problems are still in evidence in multiplayer modes.
Out of style
Stylistically, the game has changed little. The models aren't phenomenally detailed, the textures are a little washed out, the fog effects average. Yet, none of this necessarily matters since too much of the game is far too dark. On a relatively average living room television, the game managed to render itself unplayable during the hours of daylight due to glare.
At a time when the current generation is drawing to a close, these end-of-lifers should be squeezing their parent consoles for every last drop of rendering juice. This game, however, doesn't really do that, and, despite improvements to frame rate and draw distance, doesn't really push its own envelope. In the final assessment it all looks decidedly current generation. Its graphics don't significantly extend what has gone before, and what remains is something that is inoffensive, but no more than that.
The enemy's AI throughout is hit and miss. Among the quadrillion soldiers placed there to be taken out by an amoral sword-wielding psycho, many do nothing more than just act as screen-filler, which is decidedly the wrong thing to do when confronted by a psycho. Too many soldiers just stand around doing seemingly nothing at all, and it can come as a relief when they do decide to attack and surround you. Killing the tigers is fun too. What is it with game designers and their love of encouraging the destruction of endangered species?
Back to the grind
Because of the numerical vastness of the legions that you'll want to brutally murder in cold blood, this is a game that could suck up much time and interfere significantly with your working day. With the masses of different playable characters, soldiers, weapons and other goodies available, you need to have the time and the inclination to do it justice, for if you don't, the endless enemies falling on your accoutrements of death will begin to wear you down after a while.
There have been few changes made to the game formula compared to earlier incarnations to add some spice to the hack/slash recipe, so Dynasty Warriors 5 just won't stop feeling like well-trodden ground. Having hacked your way through billions of enemies in the previous incarnations, do you really want to do it all again with only minor cosmetic differences?
As a game series, the law of diminishing returns definitely comes into play; the death and destruction on display is almost identical to the countless of hours of death and destruction that has gone before. For those that have played previous games in the series and mildly enjoyed them, Dynasty Warriors 5 delivers virtually nothing new for your money and on that basis is very difficult to recommend.
The game remains the same
Delivering any sort of satisfying score is almost impossible on a game like this, because you'll be approaching it from so many different angles. If you're the type who loved the previous incarnations with an almost carnal bent, you'll be screaming out for more of the same, and the fifth Dynasty Warriors delivers industrial quantities of he stuff: for them it's worth an eight. Arguably, though it's most suited to the hackandslash fans who are coming to it with a fresh pair of eyes, and if we were being charitable then, yes, the game is a vast and expansive prospect. But we're not known for our charitable remarks.
The bottom line is that there are so many more exciting games in this genre to recommend: God of War, Devil May Cry 3, the Onimusha series, the forthcoming Genji (and even Ninja Gaiden if we extend the argument to Xbox), and the 396 budget-priced Dynasty Warrior games doing the rounds. KOEI really needs to go back to the drawing board with its cash-cow series, and not simply regurgitate the same game. It might get away with this tactic back at home, but for us, Dynasty Warriors 5 is the dictionary definition of the average hackandslasher. It's a brand well and truly stuck in a rut of its own making and deserves no more than average marks.
5 / 10