Anyone who's so far avoided contact with the Dynasty Warriors games could be forgiven for thinking they've missed the boat, imagining that by now there must be so much back-story to catch up on that it'll be like trying to get into Lost halfway through the second series. But while the plot might initially seem impenetrable, the gameplay has always been pure arcade stuff, and familiarity with previous games in the franchise is really not necessary.
First, a history lesson: Dynasty Warriors 5 Xtreme Legends is not to be confused with Dynasty Warriors 5 (released in the summer of 2005), and is in fact an expansion disc for it (a fact that's reflected in the price) but also functions as a standalone game in its own right. As with all the games in this long-running action strategy series, this latest is based on Romance Of The Three Kingdoms, an epic, 600-year-old piece of Chinese fiction that draws upon historical fact to weave a complex story of warring factions entwined with more personal sub-plots.
Cutting to the core of the game, the gist here is the same as ever: huge battles fought at close range with swords, pikes, bows and all manner of close-combat melee weapons. These battles are pretty much as they've always been; on one hand they're very impressive in terms of scale, with loads of warriors knocking the crap out of each other on screen at the same time (and fast and smooth with it), but on the other the input demanded from the player is disappointingly limited. The sheer number of enemies swarming around your character may demand some degree of simplification in terms of moves, but it's disappointing that most of the actual hand-to-hand combat comes down to little more than positioning your hero among a throng of bad guys and letting rip with a frenzied assault on the controller's buttons. There's a bit more to it than that, but not much.