I still hate the archers
Dynasty Warriors 3 used to be my personal addiction. I sampled the fighting styles of every last historical warrior, completed the story mode a dozen times over at multiple difficulties, gathered every hidden item and most of the coveted fourth weapons. Dynasty Warriors 4? I played it for about an hour. It took me that long to discover it was essentially the same game I had already beaten into the ground, only with a poorly-conceived weapon experience system. So DW5 became an automatic pass for me, and I think it was a bad idea in retrospect, because then maybe I wouldn't be addicted to DW5:XL.
Creating your own warrior in DW4 was a throwaway mode that just didn't have enough options to make anything worthwhile. Now in DW5:XL you can develop someone who fits seamlessly into these threads of historical fiction, with numerous clothing options (most needing to be unlocked) and the fighting styles of the forty eight regulars to chose from, though I wish they had included a few color options for the various hair styles. A blond afro would have been the height of Chinese fashion. Characters so created can test their mettle in Extreme Mode, or Legends Mode once the mission has been completed at least once, but their real purpose is Destiny Mode.
Destiny Mode begins with you as just another foot soldier that's been taken under the wing of the general of your choice, as part of one of the three major factions vying for control of ancient China. If you're going to survive, you're going to need to make use of the skill system, where allocating points to unlock certain abilities can give you everything from the basic horse riding skill to being able to heal allies in battle. Doing well in missions will earn you more points to play with, and even weapons or free skills from your patron if they're particularly impressed. You can also perform challenges within a mission, like slaughtering a hundred foes in under ten minutes, for more points.
You can also impress your enemies, and after defeating a powerful general you might receive a note suggesting you defect to their side. Accept, and you'll earn the wrath of your former allies when you meet again on the battlefield...that is unless you chose to only pretend to swear a new allegiance, and lure these trusting forces into a trap devised by your original sponsor. With the ability to sample a range of fighting styles, use more tactical options like planning ambushes and setting fires, saving your character to be used in other modes once you've raised their stats through the roof, and changing your outfit to suit every occasion, the only problem with Destiny Mode is that it's over with all too quickly. Any semi-skilled player can blow through it in a matter of a few hours, and with only three storylines, which often repeats the same missions from slightly different perspectives, there isn't a lot of replay incentive.
Starting over from scratch after dying is more fun than it sounds
By contrast, Extreme Mode doesn't end until you make it end, even if that means leaving you dead on the dusty ground. It's a survival mode where your character isn't healed between missions and meat buns are as rare as a water park in the desert. Instead, you need to buy healing items at shops, along with various items to improve your character, which only increase in price the more you depend on them. The missions themselves are thrown together at random, so despite the relatively short map list, you never seem to run into exactly the same situation twice. It's not every day you're being chased by four hostile officers, Lu Bu, and an elephant...and that's probably a good thing. Though it's still something that can be survived if you collect enough iron to build up your weapon's stats in whatever way you choose, raising and eventually evolving into more powerful forms. You can also take to the field with up to three allies, but you'll need to defeat them or buy them off before they'll be willing to join.
All of this makes one of the most challenging, engaging experiences in the entire Dynasty Warriors series...at least until you hit mission 15. Then difficulty spikes like a bad set of heels, so now your allies start dropping like flies, and large chunks are chewed away from your life bar by basic strikes. The game suddenly becomes less a matter of skill, and more of spamming your character's most powerful attacks over and over, like Lu Bu's standing charge attack that's 99% invulnerable, when one lucky combo is enough to put you on the edge of death. If you manage to survive to mission 25 you'll be introduced to the ice archers, who can freeze you with a single hit, leaving you wide open for a frustrating death. At least you keep 10% of your accumulated iron if you quit (only 5% if you die) to let you start off with a kick ass weapon for your next play through.