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Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires

A lot of bang for your buck but it's not exactly the next-gen Dynasty we were hoping for

In the words of the great Cao Cao: "Better I betray the world, than let the world betray me!" I guess what the Chinese warlord was getting at is that shit is going to happen anyway, so make the first move while you still have the chance.

Now that Tetsuya Mizuguchi's forthcoming hack-and-slasher Ninety-Nine Nights has been delayed, it's probably the perfect time for rival franchise Dynasty Warriors to raise arms. In fact, it's probably the reason why we're getting DW5 Empires, a straightforward multi-format port rather than a true next-gen sequel.

While it might be decisive or even cunning, it's not exactly impressive. The game's 46 playable characters do benefit from improved textures, but they're chunky and angular at the best of times. High def is supposed to make Xbox 360 games look better, but here it really shows up how low-res the environmental graphics are. It's a bit of a tragedy when you've got all the graphical power you need to create a believable world, but you're caught in a last-gen quagmire.

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No matter how fun the brainless beating up of fake people can be, graphics this poor are always going to hurt the experience. If, however, you're still a closet fan of the series, it's probably best to draw the curtains and enjoy DW5 Empires in total privacy. And be prepared for a long stay, because there's a truckload of gameplay to be had.

Empires puts a new spin on the franchise by putting strategic bits in between the mashing-up-warriors bits. There's a map of China divided into 25 regions, each occupied by a rival force. A surprising amount of manoeuvring and planning is required to invade them all and unify the nation.

One of the things you can do, for example, is form alliances with kingdoms on your borders - especially if your land is poorly defended. This will not only keep these kingdoms off your backs for a few turns, but they'll also help you fend off other invaders. It's quite a lot like the old Amiga game, Megalomania. Careful management of your time between battles is essential. Will you decide to improve your territories' industry and weapon craft to create new items, or will you prefer to scour the land for brave new officers and strategists to recruit?

Strategists are particularly useful because they open up new political avenues. The more you 'own', the bigger the list of options you'll have in between battles. Choosing to be a benevolent ruler and give money to the peasants (pah!) will automatically raise your
territories' defences. On the other hand, taxing them until they have to sell their families will earn you plenty of wonga for the war chest.

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Not known for their love of diplomacy, Officers are there simply to kick ass and take names (not easy in China). You have to try and spread them out evenly across your land to keep an eye on it. The last thing you want is to be defending against the entire Kingdom of Wu using just one man. You'll be wiped out in seconds.

There are 46 controllable officers to either recruit or capture. Each has a different weapon and unique 'Mousou' attack, which can be upgraded by building EXP. You'll probably end up using just one or two of them for the most part, because powering them all up in battle would take forever.

Fortunately, one of the actions you might consider between battles is to spend money on training. This means that you no longer have to play with all your characters to make them strong. It's a great way of maintaining balance across the board. That's not to say you'll have unlimited opportunities to train, recruit, develop or forge alliances. You only have a set number of strategic moves per turn in between battles. As your authority grows, you'll be able to make more, and the number of options really opens up.

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