03 November, 2014

Review - Cutting a Neon Swath in Samurai Warriors 4

Fresh from the fair fields of Hyrule, I jump straight into the not-so-dissimilar battles that now rage across feudal Japan. Samurai Warriors 4 is the first entry of its particular strain of Warriors titles on the current generation platforms, and if its Dynasty Warriors cousin is any indication, the Warring States are in for some big changes.

Samurai Warriors 4

Samurai Warriors 4 makes some sweeping alterations to the flow of combat, the speed of movement and pace of engagements. At the heart of these changes is the new Hyper Attack which replaces the charge attack from previous titles, though power attacks can be chained into combos with normal attacks, just as they used to. Initiating a hyper attack will send your character dashing forward trailing neon lights, scything great arcs into the enemy ranks in a shower of particles. These attacks are fast, faster than even the combos of characters like Kunoichi, or Zhang He and Cao Pi (in the Dynasty Warriors series), and best still, every character can use hyper attacks, though some are more attuned than others.

Hyper attacks making generating a hit combo count of several thousand trivially easy as the attacks will carry you between the bands of enemy soldiers, so you are rarely without things to hit. This increased attack range comes at a cost however, normal movement speed seems to have been decreased. Though this can be countered by using a horse obviously, which can now be mounted far more elegantly, and maps are not very large in scale, but they are constructed in the usual labyrinthine manner, meaning a lot of movement to and from objectives. Whether movement speed is actually slower or not, it certainly felt more sluggish than I could recall, but perhaps this is merely a result of increased combat speed.

Objectives have changed slightly too, there is an increased focus in secondary objectives – story scenarios may contain perhaps a dozen of these missions. Some of these are character specific and simply will not appear if you are not equipped with the right officers.  These are often based around key events or strategies in the battle; if an enemy threatens your general, the objective to intercept that enemy may appear. If you fail to do so you will not only fail to gain the reward, but your general will probably die shortly after, costing you the battle. This in itself is nothing new but they have increased in volume and visibility. These missions keep the battles active, you’re rarely just cutting through enemies, you will pretty much always have a target, or half a dozen, to pursue. However, they manifest in perhaps the most irritating way; rather than just flashing along the bottom of the screen like objectives would have previously, they display a map over most of the screen pausing the game. It is really not necessary, it is hard to miss the large icons on your map and they are never complex enough to require illustrating.

There are some smaller modifications to gameplay, such as the Spirit Gauge. The Spirit Gauge is used to break through blocking, and when it is fully charged the character can enter Rage mode. The Rage mode grants temporary invincibility as well as some offensive upgrades, but really it is just means to an end, that end is Ultimate Musou. The most devastating of all Musou. Additionally, you are now able to perform finishers on enemy officers, once they havelow health and are stunned, not unlike those found in Warriors Legends of Troy.

Samurai Warriors 4 offers a weighty character roster, with over fifty playable main characters, and countless numbers of named lieutenants and other non-playable characters. Some of the new faces include; the puppy-like Toyohisa Shimazu, the treacherous Hisahide Matsunaga, or ‘the Maid of Misfortune’ Koshōshō. Additionally, there is a suitably detailed custom character creator, allow you to change the usual armour and physical appearance, as well as importing character portraits or custom emblems from an external drive. These custom characters can be brought into any scenario unlocked in the free mode, but they really come to life in the Chronicle mode. In Samurai Warriors 4 you take two warriors into battle, but unlike Warriors Orochi 3 you don’t cycle through them, both officers fight independently on the field. You can switch between them at will and issue orders, which is useful when dealing with a several missions at the same time.

The usual story mode and accompanying free mode, are present. Though I was taken aback by the size of the story mode; there are twelve campaigns, each containing several scenarios with some side scenarios scattered here and there. Each campaign details a specific faction’s rise to power and their historically important battles, with some extra focus on the new characters. Although the story mode is impressively large, I found myself spending more time the new Chronicle mode, which is not unlike Mercenary mode from previous Warriors games. In Chronicle mode you take your character travelling across the entire map of Japan, meeting other warriors and fulfilling life goals. The map is split up into regions, to gain access to each you’ll need to battle through a series of very short scenarios which will increase your friendship with the officers involved. This important because friendship spawns events, small scenes with some dialog choices that are often humorous or at the very least weird. They were my true motivation for travelling the maps; to gain the friendship and events of my favourite characters, or those new to this title.

On the PS4, endless mobs fill the screen, ripe for harvesting using the sweeping hyper attacks. The quality of the presentation is similar to Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends, which came out earlier this year. Textures, lighting and the character models in particular are some of the best looking in the Warriors series yet. Voice acting is all Japanese, with English subtitles, which avoids all the awkward pronunciations of English voice actors that has in the past. 

Samurai Warriors 4 makes some sweeping changes to the core combat, most notably hyper attacks, which are a welcome change to the rather flat charge attacks that preceded them. The pace has changed too, normal movement speed seems pitiful when measured next to the rapid dashing of hyper attacks. There is a lot to see in Samurai Warriors’ hefty story mode and a lot of characters to unlock and play as. The side missions do an admirable job of adding urgency and drive to the scenarios, as well as adding some extra personality to the characters feature in the officer-specific objectives. Samurai Warriors 4 is a solid entry for the series on the current generation consoles, but the changes though quite large, will do little to entice new players or those who have left the series behind.

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