Having not played a Musou game since Dynasty Warriors 5, when I was given the chance to review it, I snapped it up. As soon as I jumped in, it felt just like the games I once knew and loved, but that might be the problem.
There’s a lot for fans of the series to enjoy in this game. You get your waves of enemies, your overpowered protagonists, your awesome soundtrack, but with this being an Empires offshoot, you also get a lot of added strategic elements. This is my first foray into the army management side of this franchise, and honestly felt that these additions left the game feeling at odds with itself. You can easily spend more time discussing policies with your magistrates and deciding battle formations than actually fighting, and it just seems a little redundant to spend 25 minutes preparing for less than 9 minutes of combat where I essentially just smashed the □ button, occasionally pressing others to pull off fancy specials. Plus I don’t know whether it was down to my inexperience, but I never really felt like my choices had a great deal of impact on how many times I had to press □.
So, yes, much like the previous games, it ultimately does boil down to knocking down floods of NPCs with your basic attack, not unlike any other Musou game. The fun of this series is feeling incredibly powerful as you cut through these pawns like a katana through butter, and it certainly is enjoyable, but repetitive, very repetitive. My first few fights I was transported back to 2005, playing the PS2 with friends, laughing maniacally as we sent bunches of flimsy bodies flying through the air. And for a time it was good. But nostalgia can only carry the game so far. 11 years, 2 generations and to be honest I can’t even tell how many games later, nothing about this feels fresh. With almost every other genre having evolved in recent years, it’s a shame that nothing about this game seems new. Call of Duty 2 and GTA San Andreas were two games I was playing the same year as DH5 and their latest entries are leaps and bounds away from their predecessors, even while maintaining the same mechanics, but I can’t see the same innovation here (no doubt I will get some flack for citing CoD for an argument on innovation, a series often lambasted for its yearly repetition, but it is still a series that has evolved over the last decade, it seem Warriors isn’t).
Now there may well be more to the Empires side of the game than I am giving credit for, in fact, I’m almost certain there is, but I’ll be damned if I can talk you through it. There seems to be a loooot of depth, too much for me personally, but those who are into it will appreciate all the possible tweaks and tactics to be played with. More and more options become available as you play through, and each comes with a handy little explanation, but I still found myself overwhelmed. All of this faffing is to help you best achieve your chosen objective from the start of your campaign. This was an aspect I did like; Conquest Mode is an awesome idea, picking your clans ambitions and trying to play them out. But all your battles will ultimately unfold in the same way, with little variation. Capture the bases, eliminate the enemy commander. After that I just press X a load of times to get through all the political gumpf then charge the next battlefield.
From a visual perspective, the game is fine. It manages to hold a solid 60 FPS even when the screen fills up, but the graphics don’t really scream current gen. I didn’t get a chance to go hands-on with the PS3 version but I can’t imagine it looks wildly different. I also have a slight complaint with the camera control. I was constantly frustrated by the fact that the y-axis automatically recenters. Its chosen stopping point is too low to see ahead by any real distance and once you are swarmed with enemies your vision is heavily compromised, and while the game doesn’t require pinpoint accuracy, it certainly makes things tougher. The game does sound great though. I’ve always loved the Warriors soundtracks, and this game features the same great mix of traditional Asian tunes with contemporary rock music or pounding electro numbers. It really ramps up the atmosphere for the bloodshed.
It may seem that I’m being quite negative overall, but don’t misunderstand. I did enjoy it. There is a certain satisfaction that can only be achieved from taking out 30 men at once, but it can start to feel empty over time. Contrast that to any game in the Arkham series, a popular series where you also take on swathes of enemies (albeit nowhere near as many!). In those titles, it’s almost as if I can feel every punch right up until the end. SW4E just doesn’t feel as visceral. Another thing that irked me, although in a much different fashion, is one of the game’s options. You have the ability to turn off female characters in the game; I could probably guess why it’s there, all the characters are based on real historical figures, and I can’t imagine there were a great deal of prominent females in that time period, but nothing else about this game is realistic. In this day and age, and given the many controversies of recent years, this option is out of place, regardless of intent.
Samurai Warriors 4 Empires is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s the same great 3D hack and slash action you’re used to, with more options to busy yourself with. On the other it’s the same hack and slash action you’ve played before, with more options than may be necessary. This title itself is a solid addition to the series, but franchise fatigue could see Koei Tecmo's Warriors falling on their own swords.