Title: Samurai Warriors 4: Empires

Platform: PS4, PS3, PS Vita

Reviewed on: PS4

Genre: Action, Hack and Slash

Players: Single player, Multiplayer (1-2)

Written by Dragoon 26th March 2016

The long standing Warriors franchise (known as the Musou series in Japan) has always been a favourite of mine, especially the spin off Samurai Warriors series so to say I was excited for this game is a bit of an understatement. Samurai Warriors 4: Empires is the latest entry into the series and mixes the usual hack and slash gameplay of the Warriors games with strategic elements. Focusing on the Sengoku period of Japanese history you control the fate of one of the many clans vying for power, each with it's own goal through various historically accurate scenarios. The Empires series has always had a strong focus on customisation and this entry is no different, you can create your own scenarios and officers. Will this be an Empire to stand the test of time or will it just end up crumbling?

Samurai Warriors 4: Empires takes the improvements made in the previous Samurai Warriors 4-II and adds a turn based strategy game system. Gameplay consists of two phases, one where you manage your clan and one where you fight out your battles. The management phase lets you control how your clan is run from an upgradeable castle. You get to assign your officers as magistrates who manage a certain area of your clan such as your economy. Each officer has their own unique set of skills which makes them more suitable for certain positions than others, I really enjoyed this feature because it felt like your clan had a real structure to it and it helped put some focus on characters other than the one you control.

Each turn you get to listen to your magistrates and choose which of their policies you want to implement. These policies affect your kingdom in different ways and each officer has their own unique policies to choose from. For example a magistrate from your combat office will unlock new tactics for use in the battle phase whereas a political magistrate will try to form alliances with other clans who you can then trade and ask for support from. You can only choose a set number of policies to use a turn so it makes you think about your priorities, this gives you some great control in how you run your clan and lets you tailor it to how you want to play. If you don't want to bother with this though you can always ask your trusted advisor to handle it for you, allowing you to focus elsewhere.

There are some interesting cutscenes that play out in your castle. Your officers can form different kinds of relationships through working together both on and off the battlefield. Two officers who fought together in a previous battle will seek each other out back at base to compliment each other and become friends while an officer who has stood out to the Daimyo (the leader of the clan) will be made a retainer. There are also other events such as officers playing pranks on each other back home. It's always exciting to see what will happen next, eventually you'll see these scenes repeatedly with different characters but it's never feels dull, it's fun to see how different officers react to the same situation since each has their own unique dialogue.

The battle phase is the real meat of the game though. You are given a map of Japan with all of the castles in each province being occupied by different clans and you get to choose whether you want to invade a neighbouring clans castle or wait it out while you build up your clan. Each Daimyo has their own ambition, a goal they are focused on reaching. For example some wish to unite the land while others just want to reach the capital or destroy a rival clan. If you choose to invade or to defend from an invasion yourself you are taken to the familiar battle screen of past Warriors game. While it may look similar at first glance there's a lot more to battles in Empires than first meets the eye.

As mentioned earlier there are various tactics you can employ which each have unique effects on the battle. There are formations which offer various buffs to your army for a limited period but your enemy can also use formations, they work on a rock, paper, scissors type system so you could end up at a disadvantage if your enemy picks one that counters yours. There are also various abilities which can either work passively or will need to be activated in the heat of battle. These range from simple buffs to ninja attacks on enemy bases so there is even more tactical diversity on offer.

Once you are actually on the field of battle the gameplay is vintage Warriors. You run around the battlefield hacking and slashing your way through hundreds of enemies while battling enemy officers and capturing bases. All of the bases are linked together as a supply chain, your goal is to capture bases so you can chain towards the enemy main camp and eventually defeat their leader. If the enemy supply chain is still intact they are buffed up and damn near impossible to kill so you need to capture bases to have a fighting chance. This again offers some tactical depth since your time is limited, do you try and capture all the bases so the enemy is easier while risking running out of time and losing the battle or do you rush their commander and try to fight them while they are still buffed up? There were a few battles where I almost ran out of time because I tried to capture too many bases but rushing your way through them all and defeating their leader with seconds left on the clock is always a rush.

Your officers relationships also offer you unique situations in battle. Officers who have a good relationship with your commander can be switched to in the middle of battle which is very handy if you need to sort a bad situation on the other side of the map. There are unique quests that pop-up depending on your relationships as well, for example if you have two officers in a rivalry together there might be a quest to try and defeat more enemies than the other one. There are also some events with enemy officers, if they have a historical connection with your Daimyo there may be a special cutscene between them. You can also forge a rivalry with your enemies which makes some battles feel more personal.

The combat itself is tight and responsive, having been refined through the many iterations of the Warriors franchise. Each officer has their own unique weapon and style of fighting so you are sure to find one which suits the way you like to play. The unique Musou attacks are an officers big finishing moves and they definitely feel like it, they are always a blast to use and really help you feel like an all powerful god of the battlefield. The controls are simple to get the hang of and there are plenty of combos and nuances you can pick up on as you play. The only issue I really had with the gameplay was that it sometimes felt like bases were a slog to take down and for some reason the horse calling feature didn't seem to work as well as it did in past iterations, usually you hold down the button for your horse and they will gallop up to you and you'll automatically jump on but my horse frequently seemed to get lost or run past me, an annoyance for sure but a minor one.

There are two main game modes on offer, Conquest and Genesis. Conquest has you playing through historically accurate scenarios with set, time appropriate clans and officers while Genesis lets you customise the map to your liking with any combination of clans and officers you want. Conquest is a more structured mode with some actual story behind it but I found Genesis more fun due to the customisation on offer and the fact I could play with my own custom officers. The game lets you create your own warriors, you can choose from a wide range of armors and weapons and while the customisation options for the characters themselves may not be the deepest there is more than enough there to create a wide range of different characters who don't feel out of place amongst the main cast. There is also an option to import your characters from the other Samurai Warriors 4 games which was a nice option to have.

Graphically the game looks good but not fantastic. The main officers themselves all look great though which is quite a feat considering the number on offer but I would have liked some costume options available outside of DLC. The battlefields look great with a wide range of different locals on offer from castles bathed in Sakura blossoms to snowy mountains but some of the textures are rough. The normal enemies look very bland if you look at them closely but when there are hundreds of them on the screen at one time it's not really an issue. I was amazed at how little slow down there was when a lot of things were happening in a battle, that has always been an issue with the games in the past so I was happy to see how technically sound it was. The soundtrack is typical Warriors fare, a mix of heavy rock with traditional Japanese sounds that helps amplify the action without being distracting. The game only offers Japanese voice acting but it was all delivered with the series trademark flamboyance and the amount of voiced scenes on offer was quite impressive.

Overall I was very pleased with Samurai Warriors 4: Empires, it took what was good about past Warriors games and added in a fresh twist for the strategic parts. The customisation on offer is fantastic and the turn based strategy gameplay is really fun, it never felt tedious or shoehorned in. The combat is refined and satisfying and while it may not be the prettiest game on the PS4 it doesn't look bad with vibrant levels and a colorful cast. Fans of the Warriors series like me will feel right at home and newcomers are sure to find something they can sink their teeth in to, there are hours of replay value here so you are sure to get your monies worth. I highly recommend giving it a go, this Empire is sure to stand for a long time yet.


Fun strategy elements,

Vintage Warriors gameplay,

Strong customisation,

Great replay value.


Not the best looking game,

Character creator could do with being a little deeper.

Final verdict,

Samurai Warriors 4: Empires is a worthy addition to the Warriors lineage, marching to a triumphant 9/10.

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