Sometimes two great tastes don’t taste so great together. Ketchup and donuts, for instance, don’t really work out as a pair. Likewise, there’s probably not much to say about caramel-covered steak. Other times, though, it works out; the combat in the Musou (or Warriors) series mixed with a deep and involving strategy experience, as we see in Samurai Warriors 4 Empires, is a great example. Also chocolate and bananas. As delicious a combo they are, we’re just going to be talking about Empires.
As always, the Empires release of a Warriors title takes the series’ classic combat and merges it with a deep and involving strategy aspect. This remains the case here, though the focus now is on a more quest-based system than previous titles. Characters have their own plans and it’s your job to help accomplish them; in particular, each clan in Conquest mode has an overarching goal that serves as your win condition for that campaign. Careful strategy is key to achieving that goal, because while mastery of the Musou battle system means you’re still a force of destruction on the battlefield, starting a fight unprepared is bound to lead to disaster.
Said strategy involves building up resources over the course of seasons as well as managing the relationships between the officers who serve as your advisers. Officers that work well together tend to produce better results, naturally, while you’ll have less luck when you pair enemies or rivals. This even extends into battle, where you might be able to advance a particular officer’s goals by controlling them directly. The increased focus on individual characters helps address the lack of new characters in this release; your favorites are still here, of course, as what would Samurai Warriors be without Nobunaga or Masamune?
Combined with the usual troop movement and grand strategy options we’ve come to expect from the Empires games, Samurai Warriors 4 Empires ends up feeling like a vast ocean of possibility. This is even further emphasized when you consider that along with the default Conquest mode, you’ve got the Genesis mode that allows you to create your own scenarios.
Of course, oceans aren’t quite as great when you’re thrown into them without so much as water wings and told to swim. The game isn’t especially great about explaining all of the many, many options that are open to you; there appears to be some expectation that you’ve played an Empires game before and will use that previous knowledge as a base to build on. If you don’t have that base, your pagoda is going to sink into the Japanese turf…or something. The point is that the learning curve here can be nasty, especially for newcomers who would expect a Musou game to be “mash square, sometimes mash triangle, repeat until all enemies are dead.”
This is a nice-looking game, though not necessarily more so than previous Musou games on the PS4. The framerate remains smooth throughout, accompanied by the usual Japanese-flavored butt-rock and questionable voice acting. It’s the same Warriors you’ve come to expect if you’re familiar with the series. One thing that’s worth mentioning: there have been reports of this game having technical issues like crashing or save-related problems, much as we saw with Samurai Warriors 4-II. While I didn’t experience any of this myself, that does cause some degree of concern. Hopefully any issues are quickly found and patched.
Overall, if you’d like to mix your mindless soldier-slaughtering combat with some all-too-cerebral strategic planning, Samurai Warriors 4 Empires might be for you. It’s a little like peanut butter and pretzels, perhaps, or mashed potatoes and corn. The point is that if you’ve wrapped up Arslan: Warriors of Legend and you’d like a little more Musou in your life, Samurai Warriors 4 Empires can accommodate you.