17 March, 2016

Review – Samurai Warriors 4 Empires

The officers of the Warring States continue to do battle at blistering speeds in Samurai Warriors 4 Empires. No, you would not be unjust is suggesting this game released twice before, nonetheless, Empires takes some important and consequential steps.   

Review – Samurai Warriors 4 Empires banner

Samurai Warriors 4 Empires

Despite my review history, and longer-reaching game history being littered with Koei Tecmo’s Warriors titles, I still find the act of penning a review difficult. It’s not that I think they should not, or need not be reviewed, rather I’m always faced with the difficulty of conveying the Marmite-like hack n’ slash gameplay and the regularity of their releases.

In truth I doubt many people truly hate the Warriors button-mashing action, as the Marmite analogy would suggest, I would suspect most who don’t love it as I do are simply bored by it, which is maybe a greater failing for a videogame. And I do so love it, but like every pleasure I have thus far encountered in my few years, it is best enjoyed in moderation. Having wised up to Koei Tecmo’s typical release schedule, I played the original Samurai Warriors 4, but gave Samurai Warriors 4-II a miss, had I not, Empires would have doubtless been a disappointing to some degree. The combat, music, and character models are all unchanged from Samurai Warriors 4, or indeed 4-II; hyper attacks continue to look awesome and feel satisfying. Naturally, additional strategic systems have been layered atop.

Review – Samurai Warriors 4 Empires musou

Fortunately, Samurai Warriors 4 Empires shares little in common with the rather deplorable Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires; for one it is technically sound, my experience was free of crippling bugs and performance issues, more than that though there are meaningful changes to the way strategy is portrayed. The game has far more in common with Koei Tecmo’s dedicated strategy series Nobunaga’s Ambition, which as the name suggests, shares Samurai Warriors’ romanticised feudal Japanese setting. This commonality is most obviously expressed through the iconography and interface, but is present through several new systems, including empire development and economy, as well as the supplies resource that determines how long invasion battles last.

As with all the Warriors Empires games, the goal of the ruler, or daimyo, is ultimately to unite the land while officers, free or employed have their own lesser agendas, in this game you may only play as a ruler and thus are always working towards that expansionist dream. Previous titles such as the Dynasty Warriors Empires titles have offered an ‘officer mode’ with varying scope, having you work from lowly lieutenant to ruler’s right-hand. Its absence here is no profound loss; missions such as, ‘escort this officer’ or ‘kill some tigers’ were best left behind, and while I appreciated the concept, the mode rarely captured the spirit that called me to the Empires games. You can of course play as any officer in your employ, and switch between them in-battle relationships permitting, or to complete in-battle side objectives. Out of battle though, the mantle of leadership is always yours, though you can delegate policy decisions to your strategist.

Review – Samurai Warriors 4 Empires custom character

Aside from selecting a strategist, you select numerous ministers, placing two officers in any given office; development, diplomacy, and so forth. The skill of your ministers determines the strategic options you’ll have, as office each will offer two of policies (directives) each turn; request a rank in the Imperial Court and forge an alliance, for example. The number of policies you can enact per turn (a season) is dependent upon your fame, which can be increased through policies and expansion. You can ignore ministers if you wish and select your own initiatives, but they can enact two policies at a time, as opposed to your one, so you’re encouraged to at least consider their suggestions.

The minsters and policies are all surfaced through a castle interface, a kind of cross-section like an open doll-house. You upgrade your castle to open additional rooms for new ministers and thus gain new options. There are a few different and quite meaningful paths down which the castle can be developed, that have subtly though pleasantly changed the flow of the several campaigns I’ve played. Aside from looking cool, and facilitating some wondrous wallpaper options, the castle is an exciting form of progression, offering the greatest overt incentive for replayability I’ve encountered in the Empires games.

Review – Samurai Warriors 4 Empires castle

Through the battle and certain policies, relationships develop between your officers. In the castle you most frequently see the fruits of these bonds, as awkward but sometimes endearing exchanges like those found in Samurai Warriors 4, presented in a manner similar to that of visual novels. As with real life, relationships are not easily controlled leading to unlikely friendships, rivalries, and more. Of course, there are plenty of oddly persistent exchanges between the lower-tiered officers I cannot rarely even consider caring about. Unlike reality, at least as far as I have experienced it, it is trivially easy to get married – in each of the campaigns I’ve played, my most played character has wed long before so much as sharing tea with anyone else.

Aside from marriage there are new relationships, such as rivalries, nemeses, and master/protégé. As I’ve already explained, these relationships are quite spontaneous, rather shallow, and the conversations woefully stilted. Nonetheless, I find them compelling and find myself longing for the day someone develops an XCOM game with the same mechanics. The relationships between historical characters I couldn’t care less about, but those involving my custom characters are another matter entirely.

Empires features custom characters, using a slightly modified version of Samurai Warriors 4’s Edit Mode, in fact your saved characters can be imported if you so desire. What’s new is the parent/child system, which enables new officers (the child) to appear progresses in their parent’s faction as the campaign, as they do in the Nobunaga’s Ambition titles. Unless I’m periodically rendered blind however, I do not believe you can set custom officers as parents, which is exactly what I want to do, as someone frequently creates my own factions of officers.

Review – Samurai Warriors 4 Empires battle

While the combat is unchanged, the battles exhibit some new and intelligent behaviour. As mentioned, the length of invasion battles depends upon the supplies committed; battle length is made exponentially more important by the gulf between one force and another. If your troops are outnumbered by several thousand, expect a tougher fight; each enemy will be noticeably more resilient and powerful until you can tip the odds back into your favour. The chained nature of bases limits what you can capture at any given time, just as in past titles main camps could only be captured when you had established a supply line. Furthermore, even if you have secured a route to a base, it’s no guarantee you’ll have the skill to take it, as bases with multiple enemy supply lines are bolstered greatly.

On the other hand, if you manage to completely encircle a group of enemy positions and close your supply lines around them, they’ll fall instantly under your control. The cascading captures are extremely satisfying and perfectly suited to the Empire’s battles, the effects of ally-to-enemy ratio and well supplied bases are equally welcome. All had necessary depth to the battles, they are apt strategic concerns.

Review – Samurai Warriors 4 Empires toshihisa shimazu

In battle you can assume formations, in spirit only, to buff you forces and place your enemies at a disadvantage. There are also passive and active tactics you can employ, such as calling in supporting cavalry to weaken enemy bases, or ordering a rain of cannon fire. Though they appear in the battles, there’s no visual fanfare, no pop, it’s just not exiting to unleash that kind of strategy even if they do get the job done. Previous Empires games have at least provided short cutscenes, and featured for dynamic stratagems, such as blocking or flooding portions of the map.

Review – Samurai Warriors 4 Empires tactics

Review – Samurai Warriors 4 Empires 4/5 goodThe game’s core is very much that of Samurai Warriors 4, there are no two ways about it, but do not dismiss the profound impact of the blistering speed and style of hyper attacks, in all their particle-rich glory. The broadened scope of the officer relationships is welcome and weird, in much the same manner as the vignettes of 4’s Chronicles mode. On the strategic front Samurai Warriors 4: Empires is perhaps the most competent of the Empires games, thanks to new dynamic flow of battles and the castle progression, though there are weakness’ that have been overcome in past and related titles. 

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