Another month, another musou game. It’s an exaggeration, but only a slight one at this point.
Koei Tecmo’s most recent release in the genre they made famous — Arslan: The Warriors of Legend — was an impressive showing, and managed to succeed by focusing on a strong narrative. It was a pleasant surprise, and while the gameplay wasn’t as deep as other titles, it managed to find its own niche in a crowded part of gaming.
Now, merely a month later, Koei Tecmo has released another feudal hack-and-slash title. As the name would suggest, Samurai Warriors 4 Empires is a fully featured spinoff of Samurai Warriors 4 that adds in a strategy element. While the action has remained largely the same, tasking you with taking out hundreds of enemies in order to usurp their bases, there’s a new layer of depth that manifests in-between the warfare as you try to unify Japan.
Adding a sense of strategy to what can be a repetitive formula is a smart move, and one that isn’t new to Koei Tecmo’s Warriors titles. Many Dynasty Warriors have received the same treatment, and the idea is still largely the same here. In-between battles, you’ll decide to make alliances with other clans, and juggle the relationships of your officers.
Those coming off of Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires might be initially disappointed that you can’t work your way up through the ranks as an officer. Thankfully, to make up for this change, players now have more control than ever when it comes to leading a nation. You’ll level up your leader and appoint a team to run key areas of the operation such as military or kingdom development. They’ll then suggest their own plan of attack that you can either choose to go with or ignore if it doesn’t fit with your play style.
One reason you’ll want to listen to your subordinate officers is that they allow you to do two actions while only taking up one turn. You start off only being able to do one action per turn, so it’s important to use their plans initially. Eventually, by levelling up on the battlefield, you’ll be able to do several actions per turn and will also be able to do more by yourself, be it raising money or troops.
Troop size is very important in Samurai Warriors 4 Empires since if you go into a battle with less troops than your opponent you’ll be at a distinct disadvantage. The enemy will start off more powerful than normal, which will make it difficult to overtake their base before time expires. This rule applies both ways, though, so if you have more troops than an enemy, then battles will end up being a breeze. It’s a give and take, and one that rewards careful planning.
This gameplay cycle is present through the two modes: Conquest and Genesis. Conquest presents several different scenarios which are all based off different points in time. It’s historically accurate up until that point, and depending on which clan you choose your goal will be either taking over a certain region or defeating a rival. After you complete this goal, you’ll be given the option to keep playing and unify Japan if you desire.
Genesis mode is a lot like Conquest, except you’re given more freedom in how it’s set up. You can customize which clans are battling, and change a number of factors that can make it either more or less challenging. You can also use custom characters in this mode, so you can bring your own friends into battle with you and appoint them as your subordinates.
The main disappointment about Samurai Warriors 4 Empires is that the core gameplay feels too much like what we’ve seen before. It feels like a step backwards from the recently released Arslan, and certain areas, such as trying to call your horse, feel needlessly janky. It still plays a lot better than the Warriors games of yesteryear, but it’s certainly not much of an upgrade. If you’ve played Samurai Warriors 4-II then you know what to expect.
Samurai Warriors 4 Empires manages to be more than just another musou game, but not by much. The strategy is different enough from past titles to not feel like a complete retread, but you can only take over Japan so many times until it starts to feel old. There’s still a lot to enjoy here though, including the inclusion of 100 new female officers, and overall it’s an enjoyable if overly familiar romp through Japanese history.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version, which we were provided with.
Koei Tecmo isn't reinventing the wheel here, and that's fine. Samurai Warriors 4 Empires is yet another enjoyable entry into the musou genre, and one that brings a few neat twists on strategy. It won't leave you amazed, but you'll have a good time.