Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Vita
Release Date: March 15, 2016
ESRB: T for Teen
Koei Tecmo“s long-standing Warriors franchise shows no signs of slowing down. With multiple releases per year across different franchises (Arslan: The Warriors of Legend released last month, and Hyrule Warriors Legends will reach the west soon), there are a lot to choose from. But in the long history of releases, the Empires spin-offs have always stood out, and Samurai Warriors 4: Empires is no exception.
For the uninitiated, Empires titles are offshoots of entries in the Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors series that add a heavy strategy element to the beat“em up action that the Warriors titles are known for. That in mind, there“s no true story mode in SW4E. The primary objective is kept simple; to take your chosen faction and lead them to the conquest of Warring States-era Japan.
The game offers two basic modes of play, though at their core, they“re essentially the same. In Conquest Mode, you select a premade scenario that determines the clans in play and the territories they control at the start; the scenarios on offer are loosely based on how Japan was divided between warring factions at specific periods in history. The other game mode, Genesis Mode, allows you to create your own custom scenarios by using the Conquest Mode scenarios as a base. Entire clans can be customized, from their Daimyo, or clan head, to the individual officers serving under him or her. The player can also edit the clans“ ultimate scenario objectives, otherwise called ambitions.
Regardless of the mode selected, the structure of the game is the same. Time in passes in turns, with each turn representing a season of the year, and individual turns are divided into two phases; Politics and Battle. The Politics Phase plays out like a simplified version of Koei Tecmo“s own Nobunaga“s Ambition strategy games. During this phase, the player can devote a set number of actions to cultivating resources and acquiring battle strategies, developing relationships between personnel, and taking political and strategic actions such as trading with allies or sabotaging defenses. The options given are generally simple to understand, but offer enough complexity that choices made have very visible ramifications in the Battle Phase.
The Battle Phase, where combat takes place, plays out in standard Warriors hack-and-slash format, but with strategic twists. Battles themselves take two forms; invasion battles, where you invade an enemy“s territory in an attempt to claim it, and defensive battles where you fight off an enemy invasion. When on offense, the goal of the battle is always to take the enemy“s main camp or defeat their commanding officer, while defensive battles are won by either taking the enemy“s main camp or holding off the enemy until time expires. Battles are all relatively short; the longest they can be is fifteen minutes, and when on offense, you can adjust the length of a battle by choosing how many supplies to devote to it during battle preparations.
As an additional layer of strategy, the player can set battle formations and choose from a variety of strategies to employ, with one strategy persisting throughout the battle and up to two others equipped to employ at the player“s call. Formations, meanwhile, fall into three basic categories (offense, defense, and speed), and share a rock-paper-scissors relationship. They also wear off over time, and the player can swap to new formations over the course of battle to either gain the advantage over or negate the enemy formation.
When in battle, the flow is similar to that seen in other Warriors games. Control over bases is divided between you and the enemy, and as you claim bases, the defenses of other enemy bases will weaken, making them easier to capture. Capture enough bases, and you“ll be in a good position to take on the enemy“s main camp, but the enemy is also attempting the same against you. The actual combat uses the same battle system seen in Samurai Warriors 4 and 4-II, and it“s possible to play as any character in your army, whether they be one of the famous officers of the Samurai Warriors roster, a custom character created in the game“s character editor, or even one of the many standard officers that share common appearance templates and voices.
Once the Battle Phase is over, the game moves on to the next season, at which point the player can begin making preparations for the next battle. This cycle makes up the meat of SW4E, with the scenario reaching its conclusion when you achieve your clan“s ambition, whether it“s claiming the capital for yourself, uniting a wider region of Japan under your clan“s banner, or destroying a rival clan outright. And once that ambition is achieved, the credits roll, and then you“re given the option to continue playing until all of Japan is yours.
Outside of this, there“s little here to hold the player“s attention, but that shouldn“t come as a surprise given that SW4E is meant as a companion to SW4 and 4-II and recycles the vast majority of its visual and audio assets from these entries. As a stand-alone game, it“s light in its breadth of content, but its deeper strategic nature could still hold appeal for both series veterans and fans more interested in the Empires style of gameplay than a standard Warriors title.
+ Great mix of turn-based strategy and action game elements
+ Numerous customization options are offered when setting up a new campaign
+ Save import feature allows the player to easily transfer custom characters created in Samurai Warriors 4 and 4-II into Empires, and cosmetic DLC released for the previous games is also compatible
+ Amusing event scenes between officers help keep the pace of the game lively
- Some players may be turned away by the lack of an English voice audio option.
- Some officer event scenes tend to repeat a lot, but can be skipped.
Overall Score: 8 (out of 10)
As a stand-alone game, it“s light in its breadth of content, but its deeper strategic nature could still hold appeal for both series veterans and fans more interested in the Empires style of gameplay than a standard Warriors title.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher.