The Warriors series of games has a long and rich history spanning nearly 2 decades during which we’ve seen a few different iterations. Some of these include crossovers will well known series like Gundam and The Legend of Zelda, but there’s also two staples outside of the core games – one is Xtreme Legends and the other is Empires. While the core Warriors games focus on real battles that have happened throughout history in a linear fashion, Empires lets you decide the course of action by picking where and when to attack.
If you haven’t played a Samurai Warriors game before then there isn’t really anything to compare it too. There’re hundreds of officers that you can choose to play as and, in recent titles, also a “create an officer” mode which lets you do some basic character customisation to put yourself in the midst of these ancient battles. You take to the battlefield among hundreds of soldiers to try and control enough of the enemy bases to make their leader spawn – at which point you take them out. Omega Force (the developers behind the Warriors series) have had plenty of time to perfect the formula over the years, adding more officers, more weapons (with different move sets), and a wide range of different special attacks. While Samurai Warriors 4: Empires seems to take a lot of strengths from previous games in the series, it seems Omega Force has also stripped back a lot of content resulting in the most basic gameplay the Warriors series has seen.
Samurai Warriors 4: Empires is split into two main modes. The first is conquest mode, which is based on historic battles using accurate time periods and the right clans. You pick the clan you wish to play as based on who you like the most, or which clans ambition aligns with your own then set about making your clans ambition a reality. This game mode technically ends when you achieve your clans ambition, but you do get the chance to continue on and conquer all of Japan. You start with 3 scenarios available but more scenarios opening up as you complete each clan’s ambition. Each scenario basically places period appropriate clans in the right regions. If this doesn’t suit your style then you can enter Genesis mode – which lets you place each clan wherever you want and choose your ambition from a preset list. Whichever mode you choose the game plays out pretty much the same way.
When you first start out you are presented with the castle screen – a new feature to the Samurai Warriors: Empires series. On this screen you can pick directives from your chosen magistrates, check vital information and check your castles stats. The Daimyo’s (the leader of the clan) position stays the same during the entire length of the campaign, but you can assign officers to magistrate positions. These magistrates determine a few things. First off, each officer gives your army a statistical boost in some way – for example: increasing loyalty or your armies supply gain rates. Every turn you are able to employ a magistrate directive which encompasses two actions. Each magistrate brings different actions to the table and you can increase your directives by increasing your fame. If you’re not happy with your choice of magistrates then, don’t stress, you get a chance to change your magistrates every year. Aside from choosing your directives your castle screen provides you a chance to visit the shops to buy more supplies, or visit the smith to upgrade your weapons. You are also able to do some basic customisation to your castle. You can change your banner which gives you some form of small bonus, or you can change the colour of your wallpaper, which does nothing but changes the colour of your castles wallpaper.
After you’ve made your choices at your castle you are presented with the map of Japan – divided into sections with each clan’s control clearly marked. At this point you are given a few choices. If another clan is attacking, you have the chance to defend your territory – in which you only have to survive a battle timer. If you’re not under attack and you have the supplies you can choose to attack another clan – either because it’s part of your ambition or you just want to expand your territory on your personal quest for global domination. If you have no supplies, or simply don’t feel like it, you can choose to just wait it out and let the other clans make their moves. I found that, most of the time, I only had enough supplies to attack one territory per year so most of my time was spent waiting it out and hoping another clan wouldn’t attack me.
When you do finally decide to attack a clan you have a few choices to make before you start battle. You can transfer officers and their troops from adjacent territories to join you in battle. You then get to choose any battle tactics and formations that you have unlocked with your directives. Formations give you armies small bonuses and if your formation counters the enemy’s formation your army receives a boost. The opposite is true as well however so you have to pay attention – especially as the enemy can deploy formations mid battle. The last thing you can do is pick where you want your officers to start on the battlefield. While the game does automatically place officers for you you are free to override it if you’re unhappy with the automation assignment. While I didn’t find it makes a massive difference to how battle plays out, sometimes it’s nice to have choice.
Battles, however, are where the game kind of falls over. Each weapon has a different move set and special abilities which don’t take a long time to master. There’re still massive battles, in which you find yourself cutting down hundreds of enemy troops while making your way through enemy bases en route to the main camp which signifies mission end. Every battle plays out this way which makes the action segments (which you are most likely looking forward to the most) fairly stale and repetitive. The only break you get is when two of your officers develop a bond and a bonus objective pops up mid battle. These bonus missions have you switching to one of these characters and eliminating a certain number of enemy officers before the time runs out. While it’s a nice break from the mundane battles it’s not enough to make the core of the game interesting.
There seems to be a bit more of a focus on relationships in Samurai Warriors 4: Empires. You can strengthen the bonds of your own officers by having officers with the right dispositions fight alongside each other. Your Daimyo can build relationships with their strategist the longer they work together and you can even build nemesis relationships by fighting against the same officers in battle. As relationships deepen you unlock different cutscenes which act as small stories within themselves. While this is an interesting feature I found myself ultimately just skipping the cutscenes as they quickly became repetitive.
While I’ve been a fan of the Warriors series for a while now I feel like Samurai Warriors 4: Empires is a stripped down version of past games in the series. I feel like the repetitive nature of Samurai Warriors 4: Empires is blaringly obvious. With the lack of diversity in the actual battle action and the limited options in the castle mode, Samurai Warriors 4: Empires isn’t the return to the series I was looking for. If you love the series then this title will be right up your alley. If you’re looking for something refreshing and different, you may want to wait until the next iteration in the series.