The PS4 version of Samurai Warriors 4 Empires was primarily tested for the purpose of this review.
Samurai Warriors 4 Empires takes a different approach in the story mode compared to it’s predecessors, opting for a large scale scenario driven story mode in lieu of the individual character driven scenarios of earlier titles. You have an overview map of Feudal Japan and it’s up to you to eventually unify Japan under one rule in a heavy bastardisation of the Sengoku Period. It’s not the most accurate way to learn about one of the most interesting and bloody periods in Asian warfare, but like it’s distant Chinese cousins in Dynasty Warriors, the setting is definitely unique enough to warrant a passing interest in the main story, despite some shoddily delivered dialogue and cutscenes.
There really isn’t much to talk about in Empires’ story. The background is always interesting and will hopefully garner some people to crack open a history book, but the Samurai Warriors franchise isn’t the most accurate depiction of Feudal Japan. What’s given in characters, dialogue and cutscenes isn’t overly impressive, but delivers the story of a Unified Japan well enough.
Graphics wise, Empires doesn’t have anything to write home about. Like most Warriors games, it’s impressive to see such large staggering armies in front of you to slaughter, but with repeated assets (every enemy looks the same outside of enemy officers), bland environments that don’t take advantage of the rich Japanese settings and unimpressive voice acting, the presentation takes a real hit.
As always, the fantastical twists that Warriors’ takes with the rich cultural background is either hit or miss: you’ll either love the fictional liberties taken with the story or be disappointed that not more historical accuracy was given. Though this is a Warriors game, which has steadily taken the fictional route time and time again.
In terms of raw performance, the PS4 version saw some pretty heavy dips during Musou heavy attacks against large crowds of enemies. This wasn’t constant enough to warrant heavy concern, but it’s a shame given the low quality of textures and the amount of repeated assets on show. A steady framerate could have been provided but there are dips in the performance. Other than that Empires is a passable game, presentation wise.
While the raw meat and bones of Empires remains similar to Dynasty Warriors and it’s predecessors, it’s the ‘Empire’ part of the game that reveals just how much has been added. For newcomers and non-strategists, it’s going to be a headfirst dive into difficult tactical modes, squad management and base building. There are lot of things to absorb in Empires outside of the hack and slash combat.
There’s domestic activities that need to be monitored, loyalties with generals that need to be established, and home building that creates jobs that create resources that creates a bigger army to win scenarios. Going in solo with one character isn’t going to do it anymore, despite the seemingly tough warriors at your disposal: you will soon find yourself overwhelmed quickly without the help of allies to bring in. Relationships are pivotal to a winning army; taking a page out of Fire Emblem, relationships in Empires can be established with officers, creating a synergy between partners that will lead to a greater amount of success in the big battles.
At the heart of it all is your Castle: something that will start off as a lowly command centre with a few rooms, eventually growing to a huge multi-tiered impenetrable fortress. It’s in your castle that you can formulate battle strategies, forge alliances, assign titles to high ranking officers and recruit more allies. Utilizing your Castle is essential to winning, and it can be a bit intimidating to deal with all these management tactics, but the end result is very satisfying.
In terms of the hack and slash aspects, it’s not as revitalized as the base building aspects, but it’s serviceable. There’s your standard attacks, hyper attacks that clear out mobs easily without any cooldowns, Musou attacks that require a gauge to fill, and a separate Rage meter that enters the player into an invincible and fast state that will turn the tide of a battle if used correctly. There are a lot of different weapons to master, and you’ll probably stick to one favourite, as the system isn’t deep enough to really warrant a lot of experimentation. The different styles do feel unique enough to make your chosen style noticeably different, making switching styles require a bit of strategy.
There’s quite a bit to uncover in Empires; I haven’t even begun to talk about weapon and officer customizations, proficiency levels, items,weapon forging, battle tactics and formations. What’s probably the biggest addition however are Base Battles, claiming enemy bases and establishing supply lines, whilst cutting off enemy lines. Smart strategy will lead to gaining enemy bases with minimal losses, and analysing enemy placements can lay siege to an otherwise difficult base. It’s not quite as deep as one would hope (sometimes the basic hack and slash will suffice quite well, too often actually), but it’s another layer of gameplay that makes Empires worth exploring.
While the hack and slash aspects of Empires aren’t anything revolutionary, and the presentation still remains unimpressive, Empires contains some very well fleshed out modes that will have you sinking a lot of time into, if it’s your thing. Samurai Warriors 4 Empires is definitely worth playing if you are even mildly interested in the Warriors franchise and Japanese Feudal history, and if you haven’t touched a Warriors game since, is still worth a purchase.
Huge amount of tactical gameplay in an otherwise hack and slash game
Interesting depiction of Feudal Japan
Huge amount of content which stretches to hundreds of hours of gameplay
Hack and slash combat isn't refined as it should be
Bland environments, repeated assets results in an unimpressive looking game
The base building and tactical gameplay can be difficult for newcomers