The Way Of The Samurai is a strange one. So many moves to learn, so many facts, so much strategy. This samurai has fought many a battle against modern weaponry, futuristic weaponry and even commanded great armies. Now he has found himself playing Samurai Warriors 2: Empire. Where did the path of the samurai betray him?
Samurai Warriors 2: Empire is the 3rd Samurai Warriors game, which is a spin off series to Dynasty Warriors. And you can tell it’s a spin off of Dynasty Warriors. In fact if I’m not mistaken, it’s the same game only set in Japan instead of China. Dynasty Warriors was released in 1997 and ever since has spawned possibly billions of sequels, each one being slightly better than the other either graphically or gameplay wise, but still no massive changes to make it the best series ever. Samurai Warriors was released in 2004 for the Xbox and PS2 and a sequel was released in 2006. Samurai Warriors 2: Empire is the first expansion to the SW series and is pretty similar to the Dynasty Warriors: Empire expansions.
Samurai Warriors 2: Empire is basically Samurai Warriors 2 with some new modes added and some old ones taken away. The graphics are still quite pretty, with gorgeous looking FMVs, which have that grainy Japanese film look. Unfortunately the pop up from SW 2 is still there and still quite terrible. The fogging is still there – trying to hide the pop up. It’s still on every level, but the amount of fogging is less, which shows that the rate of pop up has gone down. Which is lucky for us. You can see the troops running around on the mini map, you just can’t see them on the battlefield properly. This game, just like SW2 has nothing on Ninety Nine Nights, but it will keep your eyes happy. It isn’t a bad looking game, but it does look like it would belong more on the PS2 than the 360.
The game overall sounds ok. The clashing of swords, the flying of arrows and the sound of burning buildings is brilliant. But it’s let down by the terribly annoying Japanese techno medieval music. The music does not suit the game at all and makes you feel like you should be flying a big robot around the battlefield and causing huge explosions. The voice acting is incredibly laughable too. The voice actors must have only spent around an hour in the recording studio, as most of the phrases are the same. Plus the actors seem like they’re only there for the money and don’t care about the game. If the voice acting was a little more enthusiastic and they replaced the music with proper oriental music, then the sound would be fantastic but alas no.
Samurai Warriors 2:Empire doesn’t really have any new characters as such. Instead they’ve added 2 NPCs from SW2 as playable characters. The great thing about the characters is that most of them, if not all, were actual warriors in Japan during the period of the game. So in the process of hacking your way through wave after wave of enemies, you can learn a bit of history too, which is brilliant. Characters range from quite boring (No) [No what? Oh that’s his name -Ed] to the fascinating (Hanzo Hattori). There are the usual characters with extremely big weapons, with axes twice the size of half the troops on the battlefield and also some characters with small weapons like knives. The big ones are much more fun to use. To find and play as new characters, over the course of the game, you can either capture them in battle and recruit them, search for them or buy them from the store. Each character brings with it different attacks. Shimazu Yoshihiro, for example, has a giant mallet and thus uses it to crush many enemies at once. He can also run at enemies and harm them in the process.
Each character can be upgraded. After each battle both the General and Lieutenant that took part in the battle gains experience points, which can add to that characters health, Musou, attack or defense. Typical Japanese hack and slash affair basically. Musou is basically magic. It can be used to unleash special attacks, which starts a sort of bullet time, where you have the advantage over your enemies and you can mow a huge group down. Of course your Musou isn’t something you can use all the time. “With great power comes great responsibility” a wise man once said. Your responsibility is to hit as many soliders round the face as many times as possible with your weapon that is so big you’d think if you put it on your back, you wouldn’t be able to get up. The controls are very easy to use. It’s not much of thinking “which button to press?”, it’s more of a “can I press this button quick enough?” X is your normal attack, A is to jump, Y is a special move and B charges up your Musou and then unleahes the attack. The triggers are used for the map and evading. The left bumper is for blocking and the right is for a special stance that, when you press either X or Y, you can perform a special move such as create a mirror version of yourself.
Unlike Samurai Warriors 2, there are only two modes in this game – Empire mode and Free Mode. Empire Mode is the main mode that you’ll be playing a lot. This mode follows real Japanese battles such as The Battle Of Kawanakajima and Incident at Honnōji. These battles are more than just a hack and slash affair. Before the battles is the strategic planning, which involves managing your land or fiefs, hiring new generals, buying tactics and stationing generals. This adds a bit of relief to the whole hacking and slashing and enables you to calm down and see both sides of battle, the crazy side and the peaceful side. It also adds a new dimension to the game, letting you pick what formations to be in, levelling up your generals out of battle with debates and other things. The battle side of things is simple. Either take over the main enemy base or kill the main general in charge, who only appears when his troops are in mortal danger. All campaigns will have you trying to take over all the feifs on the map. Sometimes during a campaign, one of your own feifs may be attacked or another clan needs your help, which means you have to help or risk loosing an ally or land. It’s basically a game of RISK, but with a lot more fighting than strategy.
Free Mode is simply Empire Mode, except you get to choose the guidelines. You get to pick the generals and lieutenants for both your team and the opponents and then simply fight. These modes have now welcomed back the Create an Officer mode, which was missing from SW2. In Create an Officer mode you do just that, create an officer. You choose the name, body, colour, weapon, clan symbol, everything! But unfortunately there are less choices than in Samurai Warriors. You can then use these new officers to fight with or against you in both Empire and Free Modes. All modes let you choose what weapon you have and whether you use a mount. The mounts are pretty useless and are only good for getting from base to base quickly. Also before you start each fight you are given a list of generals and lieutenants. This shows you who are the main people are on each team. Killing an officer is an easy way of lowering enemy morale, which makes the soldiers less willing to fight.
For some reason this expansion has gotten rid of the Xbox Live feature in SW2, which let you fight other people instead of just AI. The expansion, however, has a co-op mode during Empire and Free Mode. This allows a second player to jump into the role of another officer on your team, which can make for extremely fun battles – with you shouting at your friend because he charged straight into a camp!
Overall, Samurai Warriors 2: Empire is a decent expansion. It’s not much of an improvement on the game. It’s still slightly repetitive, as with most hack and slash games, but the co-op and strategy elements give this game a better edge, turning it from an average game to a not too bad game. Not a game to spend the full amount on, but if you find it cheap, you’ll be addicted to the colourful, body bashing fun.