Dynasty Warriors 5 is the last “classic” Dynasty Warriors game before the series got revamped for the HD era. This is the point where I became fatigued with the series because the idea of once again playing the same historical battles, with the same characters, and the same mechanics was growing tiresome. Nevertheless, this is still a good sequel whose best updates to Koei’s usual formula are subtler than expected.
This fifth entry presents yet more fantastical tales of soldiers fighting to unite China in the bloody Three Kingdoms period. Drawing inspiration from the 14th century novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, players wage war in epic hack and slash battles featuring hundreds of troops on expansive 3D battlefields, with doses of strategy and character-building thrown in to compliment the action-packed formula.
Playability is significantly improved this time by a refined combat system allowing warriors to freely move in all directions during a combo. This superb change makes fighting more fluid whilst reducing the chance of players taking unavoidable hits or overshooting their target midswing. While a few attack strings are harder to aim, the game feels much smoother in motion, to the point where playing an older Dynasty Warriors title after this one will be difficult to get used to.
Dynasty Warriors 5 also has snappier campaigns with a character-driven focus. Each one is supported by video interludes, improved voice acting, and unique endings for each of the 48 playable characters. These campaigns convey character arcs over stages featuring special moments of their own. Like the bodyguard Dian Wei defending a castle gate by himself, Diao Chan rescuing Lu Bu from Gongsun Zan’s elite cavalry, and a raging Zhou Yun rescuing his lord’s baby mid-skirmish.
The retuned equipment system has its own pros and cons. Collecting unique weapons makes a welcome return, but their new weight system is poorly considered because heavier weapons feel significantly less useful (this was updated in later releases). There is some good simplification of character stats and the way stage difficulties are selected, but the missing creation mode from Dynasty Warriors 4 was disappointing, especially when you consider how much better the character models look in this fifth entry.
Dynasty Warriors 5 indeed benefits from a significant graphical upgrade. The aforementioned character models are smartly rendered, and the levels themselves have reworked maps featuring higher draw distances. The Xbox port runs better than the PlayStation 2 version, which would make it the superior option were it not for Koei‘s frustrating choice to make the Dynasty Warriors 5: Xtreme Legends expansion exclusive to Sony’s console.
Dynasty Warriors 5 is easier than its predecessors. Enemy officers telegraph their strongest attacks now, and they aren’t as aggressive in combat either. After collecting a few strong items in one campaign, experienced players can clear a fresh character’s story in one run on Hard difficulty. Additionally, the quest to earn a character’s ultimate weapon can be attempted at any time, meaning some new warriors can start a campaign with theirs already unlocked. Collecting these weapons is even more attractive because they now award a Musou Token for every 100 KOs achieved during a stage.
Musou Tokens are consumable power-ups which activate a brief state called Musou Rage. This turns your character into a juggernaut for ten seconds, as they shrug off damage and tear through enemy officers with an unlimited special bar and pulverising attacks. Musou Tokens are an excellent bit of game design. They’re potent and extremely fun to use, not to mention uncommon enough to be truly valued. You can see how Dynasty Warriors 5 was prioritising cinematic flair over raw challenge here — a trend that would continue into future sequels.
Elsewhere, Omega Force introduces their base mechanic from Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires to give battlefield strategising more texture. The music is arguably better, and the 2-player cooperative mode remains brilliant as always. A challenge mode contains mini games of varying worth, and there’s loads of extra content and characters to unlock to maintain the game’s trademark longevity.
Dynasty Warriors 5 is a superb sequel in retrospect, even if much of what makes it good is hard to appreciate at first glance. For someone buying a full price release in 2005 — especially one that felt like an incremental upgrade at times — it’s obvious why my enthusiasm for the series faltered at this entry, at least until the misguided Dynasty Warriors 6 killed it off completely a couple of years later.
So while it may not be the perfect evolution of the franchise’s classic period, this fifth entry remains a very fun game, and is a perfect starting point for anyone discovering Koei’s famous franchise for the first time.