Samurai Warriors has often had to play second fiddle to the vastly popular Dynasty Warriors franchise, but it has been growing in popularity since its first iteration in 2004. With Samurai Warriors 4 it has now been given prime time coverage on next-generation consoles and by featuring some significant gameplay changes, there is a clear indication that it's ready to step out of the shadows and take a more prominent role in the Warriors universe.
Due to the degree of separation witnessed during the Sengoku period, there are numerous campaigns to choose from when picking Story Mode. Only a few are available at the beginning of the game, but upon completion, other campaigns will unlock. There is also a more complete campaign offered at the end, which highlights the unification of Japan.
Initially, Story Mode seems quite short, as many of the campaigns only feature a few missions. However, there is quite deceptive for a number of reasons. First off, a few of the campaigns, such as the Oda or indeed the Story of Unification, which feature much more depth and the missions themselves have also been re-worked compared to other, more standard Warriors titles.
Objectives have always been there in missions, but they can come across as rather basic. Often you will start in one corner of the map and work towards the opposite corner, where you are required to kill a general. Samurai Warriors 4 changes this considerably by offering objectives that are much more dynamic and it makes you feel much more integrated with the battle. These objectives will often be tied into the narrative and involve you to perform actions beyond simply "slaying officers". For example, you may be asked to only kill officers from a certain family to try and throw the opposition army off or lure officers into traps. Should you also fail these objectives, the missions themselves can change.
If there is one criticism of this more dynamic system, it's that you can end up progressing too quickly. There are often blockers in place to ensure that progress is staged, but sometimes bonus objectives might not even appear if you finish others too quickly and you might even get instances where you were supposed to kill or not kill certain officers in certain ways, but they have already been slain before the objective even comes up. It's a small niggle in the grand scheme of things, but it does break the flow sometimes when you are having to tell yourself to slow down in case you mess things up.
Delivery of the story also deserves some praise, as outside of the general overview of the military campaigns there are more personal segments which help to inject some personality. Here you will see interactions between small groups of characters where they talk about issues that are praying on their minds in relation to a wide range of topics. It's also worth noting that cutscenes are also a lot more dynamic, choosing to focus on more intimate emotional exchanges, rather than grandiose exertions on the battle field.
There have been significant refinements to the gameplay which might not seem as ground-breaking when looking at face value, but do change the experience in a big way. Normal attacks can still be chained into Charge attacks, but the big difference is the addition of the Hyper attack. This string of moves acts as an alternative to the Normal attack and is designed to help players clear out waves of smaller enemies quickly without slowing down their progress. Whereas before Triangle on its own would see character perform their first Charge move, it will now start of a Hyper chain that can contain a long chain and can also be linked with a singular Charge move.
To tie into this further, each character has a specific proficiency and this has a direct impact on their move sets. It means that characters do not have identical move trees and they can vary quite considerably. For example, a character who is more focussed toward Hyper attacks will learn them more quickly and will be able to move around more quickly while a character who is more focussed towards Power will gain lengthy Charge attack combos. It helps to inject a lot more personality into the individual characters and is a welcome addition to the series.
Also new for Samurai Warriors 4 is the "Mighty Strike". This acts as a finishing move which can be performed when opponents have low health and was also seen in Warriors: Legends of Troy. Morale is also much more integral to gameplay, with Standard Bearers and Officers having a much more direct impact on proceedings. Enemies can be near impossible to beat if you're in areas with high morale, but if you beat an officer or kill a standard bearer, morale will be shot and troops this will visibly show on smaller troops. They will either start cowering or just run straight for the exit.
The increased attention to detail with the cutscene has already been mentioned, but there is also a new graphical style that uses a much brighter colour pallet. Everything is now very warm and soft and it helps to make the battles seem much more vibrant. Audio is also impressive, with some strong tunes and dialogue (which is in Japanese only).
Issues do arise from the online component and it's a shame that Omega Force still haven't managed to come up with a consistent system for online play. While not quite as convoluted as Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate, Samurai Warriors 4's online element struggles and there are even random glitches present which stop players initiating if they select certain levels.
Chronicle mode, the other major mode aside from Story, also feels quite dated. It does offer a chance to have a bit more interaction with famous officers from the period and this is appreciated, but its presentation and execution feel very stagnant.
It could be argued that from a gameplay perspective, Samurai Warriors 4 is one of the great Warriors games ever produced. The addition of Hyper attacks changes the experience in a big way and character proficiencies also help to make individuals seem much more individual. Progress has also been made with the delivery of the story, although the Chronicle mode could do with some sprucing up to make it more appealing.
|Hyper attacks are a game changer.|
|It's nice to see some elements being integrated from Legends of Troy.|
|Presentation is slick.|
|Chronicle mode feels dated.|
|Online component needs some work.|
|Special moves could use some more depth/balancing.|