My time with Samurai Warriors 5, the latest Musou/Warriors style game from Koei Tecmo’s Omega Force, has been a mostly enjoyable one. At the time of writing I’m 12 hours in, I’ve messed around with a few different modes and characters and completed 4 chapters of Nobunanga’s Path. One of the two on offer. So, I’m nowhere near finished with this game yet. What follows are my thoughts so far. Check back in a week or two for my final verdict.
Omega Force has taken an interesting approach to this title. The cutting room floor is littered with characters and story lines, a hefty number of fan favourites have been benched, so that they can focus on telling the story of two characters; Nobunaga Oda and Mitsuhide Akechi. I’m broadly in favour of this approach. The ballooning character rosters, and all the work that entails, was simply not sustainable. Opting to focus on character through-lines rather than trying to cover the entirety of the Sengoku Period – upon which the game is based – seems to me a smart call.
Naturally, the proof will be in the pudding. As yet we don’t know what the future holds for the Samurai Warriors franchise. Future instalments or DLC could add or focus on characters not yet introduced or pick up from where the current games end. How those are packaged, marketed, priced and received by the fanbase will determine their success. I’m certainly curious to see how they approach it. Admittedly, I have one eye on Omega Force’s other Musou staple, Dynasty Warriors. The success of the approach taken here may inform how the next Three Kingdoms adventure is shaped.
As a long time fan of the Dynasty Warriors lineage who hasn’t more than dabbled with previous iterations of Samurai Warriors, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the different approach taken to the combat. The combat is fluid and dynamic, especially once you’ve progressed and levelled up your characters a bit. It is every bit the hack ‘n’ slash extravaganza it was promised to be. Gliding across the battlefield like a whirlwind of sharp objects has never been easier. However, I can’t shake the feeling that the experience is missing a little something; Crunch.
No, not developer crunch – I have no idea what the working conditions are like at the Japanese studio for a start but – I’d never want more of that. I’m thinking more of the impact variety of crunch. The combat is really fast and it takes no time at all to really get the combo counter spinning away but it doesn’t often feel like you are actually hitting anything. Which is a surprise because there is no shortage of people on screen just desperate to get pelted into the sky by a very stylish and oversized attack.
Take the controller away and the action looks brilliant; When you are in control though, it feels a little less amazing than it looks. This disconnect in how the game feeds back information to the player makes it easy to get yourself into trouble without realising it. Enemies’ regular attacks are just as impactless as yours are and so you can find yourself fighting, thinking you are doing well only to realise you have way less health than you thought. Balancing making the player feel powerful while keeping the combat engaging isn’t easy and the current balance feels like a bit of a fudge.
The developers have prioritised the fluidity of the combat, in service of reaching those long combos, over how impactful each individual hit is. That’s broadly fine for the regular soldiers whose only purpose is to get blown away by the player but for the officers it can cause real problems. Officers are meant to present more of a challenge to the player, but it just doesn’t feel right for us both to be shrugging off the regular attacks of the other. There is very little risk and consequently less reward too.
To me, Musou/Warriors style games feel the best when every hit matters. When you land a hit, the enemy should flinch, allowing you to follow it up with another. Your reward for attacking successfully is that your opponent can’t attack you, or has limited options to counter you; options you can prepare for. Every break in the combo or missed attack becomes an opportunity for your opponent to launch a counter that you’ll have to defend against. You risk losing everything, or at least a chunk of health, every time you step up to fight. Samurai Warriors 5’s combat lacks that edge that would elevate it further in my estimation.
The obsession/focus on speed infiltrates every aspect of the game. The arcade style battles are relatively linear in structure with objectives to complete that help turn the tide in your favour. Some of the objectives pop up on their own as the battle progresses while others can be stumbled upon by exploring the map a little. Unfortunately, despite rewarding you for exploring in this way, the battles move so quickly that there’s little time to do so. I feel like no matter how fast I go, it is never fast enough.
The story too is not spared its effects. I must admit, I’m not very familiar with the Sengoku Period of Japan’s history. So, while I do recognise a lot of the famous names from the period who appear, I’m not fully brushed up on every detail about them. For all the room Omega Force has ostensibly given themselves to focus more on the particulars of our two POV characters, I’m not sure they have used it fully. The cutscenes and text interludes get the job done but not quite well enough. I still find myself feeling a little lost, particularly when trying to determine how much time has passed between one battle and the next. There’s definitely room for making that clearer.
Having read all of that, thank you for sticking with me, you might come away thinking that I lied at the beginning saying my experience was mostly enjoyable so far. I didn’t, it has been. I am a big fan of this style of hack ‘n’ slash game. Flashy bombastic action and stylized characters layered over a historical foundation. The real history of the Sengoku period is interesting and this is a fun way to learn a little bit about it; Albeit with a bit of artistic flourish on top that isn’t strictly accurate.
I’m looking forward to finishing the story and seeing what the journey there is like. Who knows, maybe I’ll adjust to the frenetic nature of the game. Dynasty Warriors has historically been a bit slower and more plodding in nature so that’s what I’ve been used to. Samurai Warriors 5 still has plenty of time to truly capture my heart.
In a few weeks I’ll let you know if it has.
Let me know your thoughts on the game if you’ve been playing in the comments or on social media. You’ll find me @APTSnack on Twitter, Instagram & the Out of Lives Discord.
*Thank you to Koei Tecmo for providing a preview code. Version Previewed: PC (Steam)*