Are you ready for a return to Feudal Japan? Want to build your own castle, your own empire even? Well, Samurai Warriors 4: Empires is here to quench your thirst for conquest.
This is the third game in Samurai Warriors 4 series. SW4 was a great game that brought new life into, not just to the Samurai Warriors series, but also the Musou genre in general. Samurai Warriors 4-II, on the other hand, felt more like an expansion than a completely new title. Next up it's Samurai Warriors 4: Empires, which is fun and addictive, but isn't perfect.
Empires brings many Musou genre staples to the table. We're talking huge maps packed with enemies, armies clashing in chaotic battles. As in previous games, the player controls the most powerful unit on the board, and can use them to devastating effect on an opposing force. However, what makes this different from other entries in the series is Empires brings a tactical edge to proceedings and new ways to play via a prominent strategy layer that complements the button-bashing battles. Similarly to other Empires games it offers unique modes, things which you won't find in other Musou titles.
Conquest mode has number of scenarios set across different years, and different clans, characters and officers are made available to you. In this mode you select a clan, fulfil your ambition and - hopefully - unite the country. However, depending on the clan chosen and its ambition, once you've completed your mission (of which there are a few: reaching the capital, uniting a region or the whole country) you will be given the option to either save and play a different scenario, or carry on with the clan chosen and unite the land under one banner. A cool feature that Conquest mode offers is all the scenarios take place in different years, so specific officers won't be available in certain scenarios as they're either dead, not old enough to fight, or not even born yet. It's a nice feature and it shows that developer Omega Force cares about its source material, the Sengoku (or "Warring States") period of Japanese history.
Genesis mode plays similarly to Conquest mode, only this time around you get decide on the scenario, what clan you want to play as, and your overall ambition (or you can create your own scenario). When making your own you choose what region you start in, as well as the officers that make up your kingdom. You can also edit individual clans and place them anywhere on the map, effectively setting up your scenario as you see fit, thus allowing for variety and a plentiful number of play-throughs.
When you either pick a clan or create one, you will inevitably make both friends and enemies. Luckily these are clearly identified, allies in blue and enemies are red (both in the menus, and in battle). In terms of the strategy layer, there are essential values that affect your army, and these are the backbone of your fighting force. There are six values; commerce, rice yield, strategy, troop strength, fame and loyalty. Commerce affects your money, rice yield affects your supplies/materials (also in the autumn there's a chance for a boost in materials, so even seasons have an effect on the game). Strategy is rather straight forward, the higher it is, you'll be able to acquire more strategies and use more in battle, and it affects the quality of the formations you acquire. Troop strength is self-explanatory. Fame allows you to form alliances and trade with other clans and empires, and you can request reinforcements from your allies. Loyalty affects how effective your officers will be in battle, increasing the chances of them taking over an enemy base during combat.
There are a group of people which affect the aforementioned values, and these are magistrates. Some officers are better than others at certain roles, so deciding which officer you want to become magistrates will affect the policies they put forward. As you progress you will be able to appoint better people, who in turn will put forward improved policies. Then there is the strategist; you recruit someone who will oversee your domestic affairs, overseeing development, military and personnel, and they can put forward recommended policies for you to consider (or you can ignore their advice and choose your own if you prefer). As you progress through the campaign you'll earn a lot of money, supplies and fame. You will also be able to develop and evolve your castle - your central hub - which allows you to appoint more magistrates. Building your castle and watching it grow adds to the sense of progression.
When it comes to taking over, you can take down a rival empire region by region or, if you're up to it, you can take on the castle housing the leader head on and then you will take all of the territory owned by that clan. It's up to you how you take down a rival, the game doesn't force you play in a certain way; there's a lot of freedom in how you tackle things.
Tactics are a big part of the game. There are formations, basic tactics and executable tactics. There are three kinds of formations; ones that increase your attack, your speed, and your defence. These formations actually help quite a bit (although sadly they don't make your army actually go into formation). Basic tactics will last the duration of a battle and will buff you or your army, while executable tactics will affect the battle and will help you take over bases and win the day, however, they do have a time limit.
A returning feature is the character editor, a favourite amongst fans. You'll be able to create your own characters as in previous games, but there's not much new here to tell you about. What is interesting is that you can import all the characters you created in the previous Samurai Warriors 4 games. Technically the game is sound. It runs off the same engine used in Samurai Warriors 4 and 4-II, which comes as no surprise. One thing that some Musou games struggle with technically is frame-rate, and with so many troops on screen it can drop at times. Luckily, like the previous Samurai Warriors 4 games, Empires doesn't suffer from this, we played around 35-40 hours and didn't experience any noticeable dip in frame-rate (although, we were playing the PS4 version).
Samurai Warriors 4: Empires is good, but it isn't perfect. First of all something which has plagued Samurai Warriors and Dynasty Warriors for a long time is recycled music. Sadly this new game also falls into the same trap. Another area that this game struggles with is its tactics; the formations and tactics are great additions to the series, however, if you play on the easy difficulty, then these tactics and formations don't have that much of an impact, and you can then pretty much hack your way through battles like every other Musou title out there (therefore, our advice is to turn up the difficulty a notch). Another slight issue is the amount of options and features can be a bit overwhelming, and newcomers may well struggle with this at first.
Samurai Warriors 4: Empires is a great addition to the series, and the combat is still as fresh and fluid as ever. The scenarios are fun to play but the real thrill and enjoyment comes from creating your own and playing it as you see fit, which adds tons of replay value to the package. The formations and tactics are a great addition and bring much needed depth, and the strategy layer puts a fresh spin on what's becoming a congested sub-genre. With so much replay value on offer, this is a title that Musou fans won't want to skip.