Samurai Warriors 5 review: The way of the warrior

by MaddOx
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It has been a while since I played a proper hack and slash game. I grew up on Koei Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors series, and would always blast through them with my best friend, often trembling at the sight of Lu Bu as he entered the battlefield. I didn’t fall out of love with the series, but some of my favourite features from each game kept getting dropped and well, it has been a while since I touched one. So when I got the chance to check out Samurai Warriors 5 ahead of release, I couldn’t say no.

One reason why I love these games so much besides getting to beat the living daylights out of everyone in my way is the educational side of these games that teach you a little about other cultures. The Dynasty Warriors stories follow the tales of the Three Kingdoms era in China. With Samurai Warriors 5 and its predecessors, the focus moves across the waters and explores Japanese culture, more specifically, a part of Japanese culture where samurai were more than the legend that we know today.

Samurai Warriors 5 follows the Sengoku period; a time when the land of the rising sun was constantly at civil war. Many figures rose to prominence during this era, each with their own ideas for honour and glory, and to rule over all of Japan. One such individual who wished to unite all of Japan again, sick of it being divided and in disarray, was Nobunga Oda, who, with his childhood friend Toshiie Maeda, would stop at nothing to see their vision for a unified Japan come true.

Samurai Warriors 5 cutscene

I won’t spoil the story for any of those looking to pick up this title, but as with any game in the Warriors series, Samurai Warriors 5 does an incredibly good job at piecing it all together. Between cutscenes and informative pieces that you can read whilst the next level is loading, you learn a lot about the many individuals during this period, and the parts they played during these times. What I particularly like is that they’ve not gone and dubbed over these scenes, and instead have characters speaking Japanese, with subtitles available in numerous languages for you to follow the story.

Some may not like this, purely because reading may distract them from watching the cutscenes unfold and miss actions that take place. But personally, I thought this was incredibly important in respecting the culture that the games are based on. Plus after a while, you begin reading them as second nature and you almost don’t even notice.

But, half the people who pick up Samurai Warriors 5 won’t even care about any of that. They’ll be picking it up for the same nostalgic reasons I wanted to check it out. That reason is that you get to run around and hack and slash every enemy in front of you. Racking up kill counts that reach the hundreds, and hit combos that engulf those figures by reaching the thousands. And the satisfaction of running into battle and just mashing buttons, or carefully putting combinations together, is just as fun and rewarding as I remembered it to be.

Samurai Warriors 5 combat, enemies being punched in the air

Sadly though, whereas I would’ve loved playing this story alongside my friend as I used to. The games nowadays seem to have not left co-op behind, but it’s no longer as much of a priority. On some levels, you have to complete them solo to move through the story, and I can’t help but think, there should’ve been a co-op story mode in Samurai Warriors 5. Because on many levels, you can pick partner characters, who you can control and direct throughout the level; whether that be pressing a certain area on the map, or holding to prevent the enemy from trying to escape through certain routes.

It’s one thing having these missions available to play in solo, but it would’ve been great to have a dedicated story mode for co-op. That said, you can play most levels on Samurai Warriors 5 with friends, but not right away, as you must at least complete the first level before many features of the game unlock, such as free mode which is when you can revisit levels with a friend.

One of the reasons for this is because the game teaches you about each bit of the game as you progress. So you’ll unlock new places like the blacksmith or the shop as you move, as well as additional game modes such as Citadel, and it will explain what they’re for along the way. Pretty much like an ongoing tutorial. There is a lot going on in Samurai Warriors 5 so I get why it has been done this way so it doesn’t overwhelm people with everything going on, but it also then feels like the tutorial is being dragged out for far too long. It needs to find a better balance I think.

SAMURAI WARRIORS 5 - Key Visual artwork

What I did enjoy about Samurai Warriors 5 besides racking up hit combos and wiping out entire maps full of enemies, is some of the other features in the game that I mentioned above. Samurai Warriors 5 is probably the title that allows you to customise more than any other in the game series, as you can not only improve characters by levelling up, but you now also get skill points so you can improve certain characteristics based on how you want to play the game, whether that be strengthening your defence or working on boosting your offensive qualities.

Alongside character customisation though, you can also add features to weapons, dismantle other weapons to reclaim features they have to put on weapons you prefer and work on your weapon mastery for each type available. Then you can also customise your troops to an extent, selecting certain types of soldiers such as archers or simple soldiers, before upgrading them to stronger units.

And it’s not only you that can do this, your enemies may have numerous different units too, some of which will be more resistant to certain characters and their attacks. So for example, there can be shield units for whom simple attacks won’t break through their ranks or spearmen who keep their pikes and spears at length to prevent you from getting close. So you have to make use of other skills that you can equip in order to deal with them, or use different weapons.

Samurai Warriors 5 cutscene - Becoming brothers

Skills are a new feature for me personally, I’m not sure who long they’ve been in the series as I say, it has been a while since I played one. But you can use energy you build up to perform certain skills. Some may just boost certain stats, others will unleash devastating attacks that can potentially wipe out these stronger units. But it’s a bit like rock, paper, scissors because no one move works for every enemy. So you have to pay attention to enemies on upcoming levels and plan your character build before entering the battlefield, otherwise, you won’t be progressing quickly at all.

And you’ll want to progress through as quick as you can, whilst also racking up combos, kills and the number of enemies you wipe out. Because for each key count, you are graded, and depending on your grades in Samurai Warriors 5 you get some rewards. These may be in the form of new items, or gold to spend at the stores, or even materials to upgrade places like the blacksmith to unlock more weapons and additional upgrades. You can always go back to perfect your scores at a later time, but there is a satisfaction to getting straight ‘S’ grades the first time around.

If you are struggling to make it through certain levels though, you can adjust the difficulty to assist you. But you’re better off learning how to perfect your combat. Not just putting together simple combos of normal and powerful attacks, but also utilising your ultimate attack when your musou bar is full. As any fan will know, this is a devastating attack that can really get you out of a pickle, as you unleash a flurry of blows towards your enemies before letting out one final blast that knocks anybody around you onto their backside.

Samurai Warriors 5 combat

As well as your musou bar, you also have a rage bar. This is much longer on the screen and sits above your health. Being a bigger bar, it takes much longer to fill up. But when it does, you can activate your rage and it will boost your stats. Blows will deal significantly more damage, and if you combine it with your musou attack, it will unleash hell upon your enemies. It’s everything you could ever want and more from a hack and slash title. Just constant mayhem. And it’s glorious.

Much like the visual aspects of Samurai Warriors 5. Everything from the artwork, the effects and as mentioned above, the language, is a tribute to ancient Japan. And it all looks so incredibly beautiful. There are so many fine details that have been included by the developers behind the game from the patterns on armour to the environments you travel through. It really does capture the essence of the Sengoku period.

However, I do have one criticism. I know people are still struggling to get their hands on a PlayStation 5 or the Xbox Series S/X, but to not have a specific version for these latest consoles? That’s just a massive letdown. Now you can Samurai Warriors 5 on those consoles, but they are only previous gen versions of the game that work through backwards compatibility. I mean, they’ve nearly been out a year now, and no doubt this game will have been in the works since before then, but developers will have known the specs, and many teams have crafted enhanced versions for other titles. So I’m just a little miffed that Samurai Warriors 5 was left out.

Samurai Warriors 5 artwork

The other problem I had concerning Samurai Warriors 5’s visual aspects is the camera system. At times, it just doesn’t feel like it could be as responsive as it should. You move your character with the left analogue stick, using the right to pan the camera around them. But if you’re trying to rack up those combos, mashing all the buttons up to deliver lethal blow after lethal blow, you can struggle with the way the camera stays where it is. Then you have to stop mashing to readjust, incredibly annoying when fighting officers, and risk losing your combo streak.

There are other modes as well in Samurai Warriors 5 that I should mention too, with the main one being Citadel Mode. This is kind of like an adaption from the Empires version of Dynasty Warriors, where you have your own base. You can improve things such as the buildings in your base, as well as the defences, with the units I mentioned further up. The idea of this mode is you then enter the battlefield, and rather than going into the battle to wipe out your enemies, you’re protecting your own base from waves.

It’s nice to see something a little different in Samurai Warriors 5, but I wouldn’t say that this mode blew me away. I’d happily trade this mode for a more custom co-op story mode. Still, it is good to mix things up a little, and if you enjoy wave-like modes that you get in many other titles nowadays, then this may help satisfy those cravings.

Samurai Warriors 5 overall thoughts

Overall, I have enjoyed playing through Samurai Warriors 5. It brought back a real taste of nostalgia, but I can’t help but feel over the years the games have lost some of their charms. New features have been brought in, and some old features have been forgotten, and it feels more like a solo player game now than ever before. This is sad because it was one of my favourites to couch co-op with friends growing up.

But whilst there are things that are disappointing, there is a lot about Samurai Warriors 5 I like. It provides some excellent challenges, has high replayability value, and I love the tributes through the art stylings and the storytelling to Japanese history and culture. It’s still an incredibly fun game, and with a few tweaks, it could be as great as I remember these titles being when I grew up.

Samurai Warriors 5 is developed by Koei Tecmo and Omega Force. The game is available to play now on Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. You can find more about the game on the official website HERE, and check out more of our reviews HERE.

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