This is why Japanese warlords didn't actually engage in combat.
Koei Tecmo is getting good at milking its Samurai Warriors franchise by creating sequels to its sequels. Samurai Warriors 4 spawned Samurai Warriors 4-II, and now Samurai Warriors 4 Empires has been unleashed. While the combat is basically the same, fans of the series know that the “Empires” versions of these games sacrifice deep character storylines to gain deep strategic options, and this version is no different. Sadly, strategy isn't enough to compel me to keep playing.
As stated before, the storyline is practically nonexistent. Instead of basing any battles on actual history, this game propels players to create a clan and then conquer feudal Japan to become a warlord. This is no easy task, however, as there are numerous lands to conquer or unite as well as allies to gain favor with while simultaneously building the resources required to maintain a giant army. Fans of deep strategy games will enjoy the ability to appoint officers, gain money, and even grow crops, but anyone looking for some quick, fast action should play one of the game's predecessors.
Before hitting the battlefield in Conquest mode, budding strategists need to select a clan and customize it or create one from scratch. It's even possible to create a custom officer to take into battle or import a saved character from one of the other Samurai Warriors 4 games. Part of creating a clan is appointing strategists and magistrates that offer advice and provide additional offensive and defensive strategies. Heeding their advice builds their loyalty, but ignoring it will make them less loyal and thereby less effective. This can all be a bit overwhelming at first, as players must make important decisions before the first battle starts.
After players select a territory to conquer, they can choose which officers to take into battle and even move their positions around before the big battle. When it's finally time to start smacking heads, players have already invested thirty minutes or more of their time, and it's disappointing to find out that combat is just as repetitive as it's always been. After five minutes of spamming two basic attack buttons and peppering in the special attack when the gauge is full, I was bored. Whether it's called Samurai Warriors or Dynasty Warriors, I've played this game at least a dozen times before on four generations of consoles and it has become very outdated.
While the combat experience has been streamlined a bit, everything from the look of the battle map to the need to take enemy positions in order to create a supply line before fighting the enemy commander is the same as it's always been. I do appreciate the ability to switch to other commanders during battle, but I don't like how the A.I. for the commanders makes them mostly incompetent. I can hardly rely on them to take areas by themselves, so I have to rush all over the battle map to help them at every turn. They seem like more of a distraction, if not a liability, than an asset. Fortunately, losing occasional battles doesn't end the game, but it can have a rather negative affect on a campaign.
Visually, this game is hit and miss. On one hand, friendly and enemy officers are highly detailed and have an authentic look to the era, but the backgrounds are bland and uninteresting. In addition, this game and all in the series suffer from one of my pet peeves—scores of enemies that all look identical. I simply cannot get immersed in a game where I'm fighting dozens, or in this case hundreds, of enemies that all have the same outfit, weapons, and face. This was a hardware limitation fifteen years ago, but now it just seems like lazy programming.
In the end, Samurai Warriors 4 Empires is basically the same as Samurai Warriors 4-II, but with a heavy emphasis on pre-combat strategy and no interesting storylines for the characters. Fans of the series will appreciate the variation on gameplay, but there's nothing to draw new players to the franchise.