Samurai Warriors is going through something of a renaissance at the moment as a sub-brand within the Warriors franchise and it's all thanks to Samurai Warriors 4. It shifted the spotlight in a significant way, offering enhanced gameplay compared to other Warriors titles and a different perspective on how campaigns could play out. This increased interest saw the release of Samurai Warriors 4-II, a pseudo sequel that built upon the original and offered new storylines. Samurai Warriors 4: Empires uses this pseudo sequel as a base, and arrives as the third Samurai Warriors Empires title, but given that the last addition did not release outside of Japan, does Samurai Warriors 4: Empires do enough to keep the spotlight fixed on this franchise?
There are two main modes within Samurai Warriors 4: Empires, Conquest and Genesis, but at their core, they are very similar. Conquest mode allows you to play through an existing scenario, such as the Battle of Nagashino or the Incident at Honnoji, whereas Genesis allows you create your own from scratch.
No matter which you select, one of the more interesting elements is that depending on the clan you choose to play as, your objectives will be quite varied. For example, if you choose to play Battle of Nagashino, the Oda Clan's objective is to unite the land. The Takeda Clan, on the other hand, just want to unite Chubu and the Utsunomiya and Satake Clans simply want to defeat the Hojo Clan. It means that depending on which clan you choose, the scenarios can change in difficulty and depth based on the ambition of the clans.
So good, so far.
Upon the start of a campaign, this positive feeling continues. Each officer within the clan has certain stats and you much choose which area of the kingdom they should oversee. It means that compared to the Dynasty Warriors Empire series, there is an element of strategy placed around who does what. Certain officers suit certain areas better than others, and they will also come with unique policies that they can action. Later on, when you have to make decisions about hiring, release of executing, this will also factor in. Certain officers will just have no value due to their poor stats as you progress further, but they could still hinder you in the long run should they join another clan.
During the politics phase, you get to use your officer's proposed policies, but the amount you can action depends on your fame level. At the start, you can only use one policy per turn, but this does expand to where you can utilise them all or just do your own. Interesting at first, this part of the game just ends up getting quite tedious if you continue playing through a lengthier campaign. Having to constantly recycle which officers sit where in order to get new policies and better results due to morale is cumbersome and after a short while there's just nothing new to do.
This same feeling emanates through the relationship system. At first, it seems rather refreshing, but after not too long it just feels stale and underwhelming. The idea is that depending on who you pick for battles (and what they do in them) and whose policies you use will impact relationships between characters. If these build, you can then switch between these characters in battle. The issue is that these relationships are very easy to build up at the start of a campaign, but again, as the campaign proceeds it becomes more difficult for one simple reason. Given that these relationships exist, using characters with relationships in battles makes them easier to win as not only can you switch, but these officers will also have better troop numbers due to their continued usage, therefore allowing them to accrue more EXP. Officers can only have a finite amount of relationships too, so if you want to start building new ones, it becomes a bit counter-intuitive. You have to make an active decision to start using officers that will decrease your chances of victory and that doesn't seem all that logical.
These two elements help to summarise the successes of Samurai Warriors 4: Empires, but also the flaws. There are some great little nuances in there, such as troop strength having a significant impact on the difficulty of a battle, the usage of formations and stratagems and how weather and resources are impacted by the seasons. They are just tarnished a little by the bread and butter of what the game presents. Many of the systems are great in principle and they work for a shorter campaign, but once you start trying to do something like unite the land, the glossy sheen starts to wear off.
Despite this, the combat itself feels like what all Empires games should look to try and achieve. The maps are well crafted and how the bases connect presents a positive challenge. You have to think about how you want to proceed and which formations/ stratagems you want to use when and where. If you aren't careful, you can very easily lose a battle because you weren't paying attention "“ you can't just focus on yourself and hope to win.
This is what the Empires iterations have been crying out for, a logical challenge on the battlefield that matches the conquest aspect outside of it. Whereas in previous games dominating on the battlefield wasn't all that difficult, you can now conceivably lose battles because you had too few troops, or the time limit ran out before you could defeat the commander. Likewise, you might just be so focus on what you're doing, that you neglect the fact that the enemy is making a beeline straight to take your home camp.
Samurai Warriors 4: Empires brings some fresh ideas to the table, but many of them only show their strength when playing through a shorter campaign. In the long-run, some of these ideas show their frailty, but that doesn't mean that the overall experience is soured. There is still plenty to enjoy though, and it's pleasing to see that the actual combat side to this experience offers some strategic challenge, as opposed to just difficulty of worrying about what you're doing. It's therefore a worthwhile addition to the Samurai Warriors catalogue, but there is still much to improve upon.
|Combat feels much more tactical now.|
|Elements are good in the short-term.|
|Lots of variation when choosing how to complete a campaign.|
|Feels like there is a lack of variety.|
|Some of the new elements, such as relationships lack any long-term depth.|
|Uniting the land can get a little tedious.|