+++ Unique, vaguely historical (!) storyline for each character
++ Guan Yu's Escape, Fan Castle, Xia Pi, Bai Di Castle, and He Fei Castle are all great stages
++ Moderately Difficult
+ Slight improvement to weapon system
+ Decent New characters
+ Chaos mode is in DW5 by default
-- Same old gameplay
-- Vast majority of the characters remain unchanged
- Base system, though a good idea, is poorly implemented and makes many of the stages feel too similar
- "Heavy" weapons are completely useless (and some unique weapons are heavy)
There's not a ton to say about Dynasty Warriors 5 except to say its the first DW I owned personally and may be the last depending on whether DW8 is improved or not. I once made a vow to buy every third Koei game per series (except Kessen which is quite varied between games) but I'm unsure if I'll be able to keep it, though I have actually bought a Koei game for the PS3 already. I've played about 150 hours or so combined between the three DW games and I've "completed" (Acquired ultimate weapon) 30-35 characters, maxing out about 20 of those.
Unlike the previous 3 games this one gives each character a fairly unique storyline, so while many of the other games always start with the Yellow Turban Rebellion before moving on to Hu Lao Gate and the rest of the story many of the characters follow completely different paths which follow their actual paths in RoTK. This makes playing through numerous characters a bit more entertaining than it would be otherwise, though ultimately the game is still a bit dull regardless.
Chaos mode is present in the main game and is next to impossible (at least the later stages) without Lu Bu or some item to acquire meat buns every 50 kills or what have you, as absolutely nothing drops healing items in Chaos. It is an interesting enough challenge but having no real way to defeat it makes it questionable at best (I suppose you could just bumrush the commander and hope you don't die horribly along the way). I believe DW4 had easily accessible mid-level saves as well but the amount of saves you get is reduced according to the difficulty.
Overall this is just the same old game with some minor differences and a particularly fun grinding map, Guan Yu's Escape, which feels completely different from the rest of the game. Some of the completely new maps such as Fan Castle fit the new "Base" system quite well and make the game more entertaining, but you're still ultimately powering through tedious/trivial levels to get to those few interesting ones toward the end of whichever campaign you're following.
Final Score: 7/10
Dynasty Warriors 5 Xtreme Legends
++ New Destiny mode could possibly be fun with enough time devoted to it
+ Xtreme mode is slightly improved
+ Scroll system helps to improve non 4th weapons
-- Nowhere near as many Legend scenarios to play
-- Still just a cheap corporate gimmick
- Only thing this adds to the main game is "Novice" mode which makes everything trivial no matter what
This game is almost exactly the same as DW4: XL, so apologies if I'm exceptionally brief in describing it. Novice mode is pointless, Xtreme and Legend modes are bearable for a few hours but ultimately still boring without adding much to the actual game. Destiny mode puts you as a nameless grunt and you gradually get to unlock your 3rd and 4th attacks and gradually become the officer you're serving under whom you could already play as if you really wanted to in the first place thus defeating the purpose of the entire experience. It's an interesting setup and might have worked if the whole game was based around it and designed better (like say SW's design for creating a new officer), but it's not and it kind of sucks.
Final Score: 4.5/10
Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires
++ Theoretically infinite replay value
++ Moderately difficult
-- Has no storyline to speak of
-- Kind of a huge pain in the ass on anything but easy or novice difficulties
- Takes forever to unlock later scenarios
- Voice acting is less impressive than the initial DW5 voices
This game has the dubious status of being the last PS2 game I ever bought at Gamestop. At some point I realized that Gamestop was a douchetastic enterprise and didn't deserve to ever be purchased from and stopped shopping there and instead buy most everything online. However, that was a long time ago and we are recalling games from the somewhat distant past. This game is basically an extremely oversimplified version of RoTK placed in a DW world and it possesses all the stuff that DW5 does such as bases and the various characters. If I had bought this as a standalone without every touching DW5 I may have enjoyed it (and it was after all only 30 bucks) but I did not and I believe I got Final Fantasy XII and Valkyrie Profile 2 around the same time which were two of my best purchases ever for the PS2 so this game fell into relative disrepair.
In order to prepare for these reviews I played empires for a while and quickly discovered how annoying the novelty of playing as any random officer as opposed to an actual character is on anything but easy difficulty, though I later realized I did have an old save on one of my old memory cards but had little or no motivation to mess around with it. This game does let you customize your own scenario with your own lords and the capacity to randomly execute people and other such silliness (along with riveting diplomatic intrigue), but simply isn't that interesting if you've played any other Dynasty Warriors in the past, RoTK is a better simulator of the book and DW is a better vaguely strategic slaughterhouse game.
Final Score: 6/10