The "empire" side of Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires is actually pretty cool. Before even entering one of the trademark series battles - you know, where you plow through a sea of enemy soldiers for 20 minutes at a time - you actually have to do a bit of strategizing. Empires requires you to take over every area of the map, building your empire and erasing other warlords from the pages of history altogether.
To do so, you'll have to upgrade your weapons, allocate funds to different types of research, and create alliances with other warlords. Of course, said alliances should only last as long as it takes for you to gather the forces necessary to defeat them. Far from keeping you safe, though, the alliances you strike may also draw you into battles you otherwise wouldn't have fought. It's all about diplomacy mixed with take-no-prisoners politics.
On the downside, when you finally get out onto the battlefield, the same problems that have plagued every other Dynasty Warriors title are still there. Cool as it is to charge into a crowd and unleash a swirling combo of bladed hell that sends thirty normal men flying like bowling pins on fire, you have to do too much by yourself, and you have to do it over and over and over again. You spend your time wandering around the battlefield, slicing through rank-and-file enemy foot soldiers by the hundreds while your own army pretty much stands around doing nothing. Allied officers will actually join the fight, but their lackeys are about as useful as yours. If they're not being directly attacked, they're standing still. And yes, your enemies and allies still pop up from out of nowhere much of the time. There's so much going on in the massive battlefields that there's really no way around this problem.
One problem the developers could and should have fixed ages ago is the practically useless camera. You can't control it, and because it lags behind you so frequently, you're often stuck unable to see what's in front of you, or using the real-time map in the top corner of your screen to get your bearings. It's quite irritating.
The biggest problem, though, is that the action is as repetitive as ever. Despite a few special attacks and the ability to issue basic orders to allied officers, Empires' battles still come down to running around and jamming on the attack button for 20 minutes at a time.
The core gameplay isn't necessarily bad - what could be bad about carving your way through entire armies with nothing but your own two hands and some sort of bone-crunching or flesh-rending weapon? But not even building an empire can keep Dynasty Warriors 5 from feeling archaic and shallow. We've been doing this same thing for something like ten games in a row now. Granted, it's never looked as good as it does here on 360 (though this could probably pass for a very pretty Xbox game) and even though multiplay is limited to two-player, split screen co-op (wtf? no online?), this is still the best Dynasty Warriors out there. It's just too bad that there's not much reason to buy it if you have even a single earlier entry in the series.