Some things are to be expected; there won't be any milk in the fridge on Sunday morning - or if there is it'll have gone off. Other things are predictable; go to the pub without a coat and by last orders it'll be pissing down outside. Then there are certainties; every few months, the Koei sausage machine will crimp off another game featuring massed battles fought by ancient oriental warriors - each new release completely indistinguishable from the last to the casual bystander. And what's this? Displaying a regularity rivalled only by the chairman of the Prune Marketing Board's bowel movements, it's Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires.
Tempting as it was to present this review simply as a series a spot-the-difference screengrabs cherry-picked from random previous instalments and the latest edition, that wouldn't do. No, because while many gamers would rather click on one of those "Shoot the duck and win a prize!" banners than follow a link to a review of a new Dynasty Warriors game, the series does have quite an army of fans. And seeing as you did click on that review link, there's a good chance that includes you.
As the hardcore will know, Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires is actually the sequel to Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires, rather than a spin-off from either DW5 or DW5: Xtreme Legends. The Empires games have a greater emphasis on the tactical gameplay elements, and the idea here is to take control of all China, one territory at a time.
So what's different this time? As we've come to expect, very little. It's more a case of what's new. For instance, there are now 25 new 'battle policies', bringing the total number of these strategic choices to 75. DW4: Empires had one fictional and one historical scenario to choose from, but now there are also four unlockable fictional scenarios. More numbers? OK, if you insist. There are 48 playable characters, and 20,000 possible combinations in the create-a-character section, although that's a rather creative use of statistics - don't expect to craft a character in your own image unless you happen to look like one of the cast of Monkey.
But enough of the numbers for now - what of the actual games? Well, it's Dynasty Warriors, innit? You begin by picking a starting point on the territory map, then embark on your quest to take over every region within 100 turns. To take a region you need to go into battle (and win), and from here on it's like déjà vu all over again. The franchise's Big Thing has always been the large number of enemies on screen at once. That would be OK, except that there are only about five polygons left over to build the environments from. To mask the fact that there's nothing to see, it doesn't show you what's not there by shrouding everything in the thickest fog since the great London pea-souper of 1952.
If a sandwich analogy was to be used to describe how the battles and the strategic stages fit together, you might expect the fighting to be described as the 'meat', with the strategy parts portrayed as the 'bread'. But that's where you'd be wrong, because that would suggest the fighting is the good bit, when really the action sequences are as bland as a loaf of white-sliced. In fact, if such an analogy were to be employed, DW5: Empires could be described as a bread sandwich. Mmm! Tasty.
Even though there are various combos to be pulled off during the bust-ups, it really does just come down to frantic stabbing of the buttons to keep your warrior flailing and thrusting his way through the assembled bad boys - same as it ever was. The tactical phases have a bit more to offer, as you make decisions as to which territories to conquer, and how and where to station your growing troops and resources.
If you've played a Dynasty Warriors game before, you'll already know whether this is your cup of green tea. If you haven't, the good news is that it's a bit cheaper than a full-price game at £29.99, making it a slightly more alluring prospect than it would otherwise be. Meanwhile, Dynasty Warriors obsessives can be sure they're getting something as comfortingly familiar as the delicate aroma of their own dribble-infused pillow.
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