Samurai Warriors 4: Empires is the latest entry to the vast library of Warrior’s games that Tecmo Koei are famous for. Anyone who has played one of their games before knows what kind of game you’re in for, you’ll play as one hero fighting hundreds of enemies in order to win the battle for your army. The Empires spin off series expands upon this basic gameplay by adding a more strategic meta game whereby you must raise the army you take into battle and fight to conquer Japan.
Samurai Warriors takes this concept and does it immeasurable justice. The game is almost equal parts strategy and action, it’s by no means a challenging game and you are always able to make up for mistakes. The main game mode is ‘Conquest’ mode, where you tackle a pre-built scenario with a set objective for the army you pick. The premise is simple but offers a nice strategic sandbox for you to play in, with objectives ranging from wiping out a clan to uniting a region of the map. Even when you achieve this objective you’re given the chance to play on with the objective of uniting all Japan.
What is truly enjoyable is the freedom the game affords you to play in a style you like, the game isn’t too punishing so you are free to make decisions without having to worry too much about whether it will ruin your entire play through. The game supports being an all conquering Genghis Khan as much as it does a more reserved strategic Sun Tzu.
With the game set up you are thrown into appointing your officials who will guide the building of your empire with proposals each turn. Choosing which proposals to employ will make up the bulk of your game time and will be the greatest influence in the way your empire develops. There are plenty of different proposals that can be employed each turn, with more becoming available as you progress through the game. The variety of options here is pleasing as it really allows you to approach problems in the way you want to, like investing in your commerce field and building up your resources for the future or start buying executable tactics and building up your troop strength for an invasion.
After each round of proposals you’ll be shown the map and any other battles going on – including any faction trying to invade your kingdom. It is at this stage you can launch an invasion of your own. When you launch an invasion you have to choose which of your generals to take with you, the more you take the more gold it will cost and the more supplies you need to take to give you time in battle. Early on these choices can be tough as you balance your various resources but quickly you’ll find you have enough gold to always take a full repertoire of generals with more than enough supplies to last the battle. After this you are thrown into the battle preparation screen where more choices need to be made. Here you can alter the placement of your officers on the battlefield, though I often felt this was unnecessary. You can also select a formation for your army; which gives a temporary buff in either attack, defence or speed and up to two executable tactics which can be used during battle to help out yourself or hinder the enemy.
Once you have set up your army it’s time for the action. Every battle flows more or less the same, you can win the battle by taking bases to reach the enemy’s main camp and then defeating the opposing commander. Each battle has a timer and, as an invader, if it runs out then you lose the battle so there is always a sense of urgency to each battle to keep moving. When you are defending however the timer is your friend, you simply have to survive until time runs out so you’ll often find your army holing up and just bearing the brunt of the enemy.
Unfortunately the action side to this game also bears most of the game’s problems. Combat is the same as other Warriors games, which is safe if a little lacking. While it appears every effort has been made to try and give the combat more depth with special moves, the ability to interrupt enemy combos and so on it unfortunately all feels too shallow still and 90% of conflicts will involve hitting that square button repeatedly and the other 10% are your special musou attacks. There are various combos you can pull off with each character but again there is never any need to pull them off other than looking pretty damn cool. With plenty of different characters (seriously it’s insane how many there are) there are loads of different move sets to try out and find your favourites for clearing out the hordes.
The other problems in combat are more niggles than game breaking. The screen space is cluttered pretty much all the time which, considering how well screen space is used elsewhere in the game, means that battles can come as a shock to the system. Text updates continually stream across the bottom of the screen letting you know what is going on, the problem with these messages is that they disappear quickly and you’re often preoccupied with assessing the map for information or focusing on the action you’re actually a part of. Most of the text is usually unessential but small updates like tactics being used or reinforcements arriving can change how to approach a battle but are easily lost in the busy screen.
Speaking of things being lost in the middle of battle, there are times where there can be lots of enemies on screen at any one time. To the credit of the game engine, frame rates very rarely drop to a noticeable degree. However the game manages this by not always rendering characters that are meant to be present on screen. These characters are invisible and invulnerable to the action going on and as character counts drop on-screen, new waves of enemies and generals will suddenly appear from nowhere. In general this does not pose too much of a problem until an enemy general you are trying to kill goes into this disappearing state and you just cant do anything about it. It’s frustrating but hasn’t been game breaking in my play through of the game.
The other main game mode present is called ‘Genesis Mode’, this mode allows the player to customise the scenarios found in Conquest mode and then play through them as normal. You can customise initial army setups and each clan’s objective. The game still functions the same as normal but the option to customise and create your own scenario will appeal to players wanting to enact their own fantasy wars. There is also an edit mode for creating your own officers which can then appear in either Conquest or Genesis mode. There are plenty of options available in edit mode and you can create a great variety of officers of differing shapes and sizes and the more creative player could lose hours here alone.
Overall the game offers a nice blend of action and strategy even if compromises are made in both departments to make the combination work. This game isn’t going to challenge your planning skills as much as a Civilization game will but makes up for it with fun action gameplay. For anyone with an interest in Warriors games I can easily recommend this game, for those turned off by other Warriors games maybe this game still isn’t for you unless the strategy element has you intrigued.