Samurai Warriors 4: Empires, the latest entry in the long established “Warriors” franchise by Koei Tecmo, takes us down a familiar road. For those who have never played Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, or any of the other titles in the franchise, they are well known for over the top hack-and-slash action. This newest entry does not disappoint in this regard, giving you waves of enemies to mow down with a variety of different fighters. It operates under a simple premise: choose your clan, and embark on a series of battles with the ultimate goal of rallying your foes under your flag.
The battle system is relatively straightforward, and is basically the same as any other entry in the franchise before it. You assume command of one of the officers in your army, which you have the ability to choose before the battle. Upon starting the battle, you work your way from point to point, clearing enemy bases and taking over enemy territory. Throughout this process you find yourself swarmed by thousands of enemies, and essentially command a one-man wrecking crew. By eliminating enemy bases and cutting down on rival soldiers, you decrease morale in adjacent areas. Progressing too far and taking over a base that is still surrounded by enemy camps provides a stat boost, making battles just a bit more difficult. Your ultimate goal is to make it to the enemy’s main camp and capture it, thus claiming victory for your clan and laying claim on the area.
In between battles is the “Politics” phase. You start with a set amount of officers in your camp, with each having stats for Leadership, Wisdom, and Politics. You can set these officers in three different areas: Military, Resources, and Development. By placing the right people in the right places, you can increase a number of stats for your army, whether it be resources yielded, gold earned, loyalty, or otherwise. Upon completing missions, you can unlock additional officers with different stats, for a max of eight at a time. Different stats can provide different strategies; for example, having additional resources to allocate to your army can increase the length of time you have to complete a mission. While the political portions are by no means game changing, they do provide a welcome break from the repetition of the combat.
While the fighting isn’t handled poorly, multiple iterations of the Warriors games means the battles get stale rather quickly. I found that even with the ability to change the controlled character, the pacing of the battles mixed with the necessity to take on hordes of enemies at once meant that the characters still felt overwhelmingly similar to each other. Flashy special moves aside, the officers under your control lacked anything truly defining. Additionally, cut-scenes that occurred when certain characters met on the battlefield seemed underwhelming to me, as more of an afterthought rather than an actual progression of story. One additional frustration of note relating to the characters is the option to not use female officers. As far as I can tell, there is no additional benefit or penalty to removing the female officers, and felt like a completely unnecessary slap in the face to female players.
Graphically, the game is on par with any other current gen incarnation. The characters themselves are vibrant and detailed, but I found going through the game that the stages felt extremely repetitive. The backdrop of these wide-scale battles felt incredibly underwhelming in comparison, and really could have used a bit of a face lift. While the visuals aren’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination, a graphical update would do a world of good for a franchise that sees as many new releases as this one does.
What the game does exceptionally well, however, is give an excuse for repeat playthroughs. After choosing one of the two campaigns, you choose the clan you wish to play as. Each clan has it’s own motivation and ambitions, with completion of the campaign depending on realizing those ambitions. After clearing the campaign, there are still plenty of clans to go through the game as, giving you numerous reasons to come back to it. While the combat can get repetitive after a while, this can break up some of the monotony for fans who want to get their money’s worth out of the game.
At the end of the day, Samurai Warriors 4: Empires was not a bad experience. I did enjoy it, and I applaud the developers for trying some new things with the franchise. However, with the frequency of releases it did not do as much as it should have to differentiate itself from it’s predecessors, and thus was a bit underwhelming. It was fun, just as the entries before it were fun. However, unless you are a die-hard fan, or new to the games, there is very little reason to not skip over this version.