It's been seven whole years since the last mainline instalment in the Samurai Warriors series, and as far as we're concerned, 2014's Samurai Warriors 4 is still one of the best Warriors games on the market. Samurai Warriors 5 has quite the legacy to live up to, then, but is a rebooted storyline, a fresh art style, and a slew of new gameplay mechanics enough to warrant another Japanese conquest?
Let's start with the most important part: Samurai Warriors 5 can be an absolute blast to play. We'd go as far to say that it offers up some of the most enjoyable hack and slash combat in Koei Tecmo's gigantic Warriors catalogue — but the game's convoluted structure holds it back more often than it should.
Samurai Warriors 5 can be a very grindy game when it wants to be — and not in a good way. Everything's built around a long, multi-chapter story mode that's split across the lives of two main characters. It makes for a pretty huge campaign that lasts for a good 30 hours or so — but size isn't really the problem. Indeed, our biggest gripe is that your progress through the story mode is sometimes impeded by limited character selection, alongside resource grinding that's locked behind a secondary game mode.
The idea is that you'll jump between the story mode and this secondary mode on a frequent basis. Progressing through the story unlocks more missions in the secondary 'citadel' mode, and it's there that you'll gather building materials that are required to upgrade various facilities. In turn, these facilities can be used to level up your characters and their weapons so that you can tackle harder story mode stages. On paper, it's a rather rich gameplay loop, but in practice, it adds a layer of tedium to an already lengthy campaign.
Fortunately, the story mode itself is engaging. Again, the plot centres on two key figures in Japanese history: Nobunaga Oda and Mitsuhide Akechi. The duo built the foundations for their country's long awaited unification (which would eventually occur years after their deaths), and the story of Samurai Warriors 5 focuses on this rise to power. The result provides a surprisingly personal perspective, as we get to see Nobunaga and Mitsuhide grow into the roles that would cement their place in Japanese culture. Obviously, being a Warriors game, it's all very anime (and, of course, simplified to a large degree), but it's entertaining stuff from start to finish.
Each story mode stage attempts to capture a key battle of the time, with a mix of CG cutscenes and more static dialogue scenes bookending every encounter. And although a lot of the game's 37 playable characters don't get any significant stints in the spotlight, the title does a good job of making sure that everyone's included at some point.
But as alluded, character selection throughout story mode is limited. For the most part, that's fine — you're just going to be playing as Nobunaga or Mitsuhide 95 per cent of the time anyway — but some stages require the use of a secondary hero. The issue is that this character may be comparatively weak — especially if you haven't played as them before — and so everything kind of grinds to a halt. Combat loses its flow because you're not doing enough damage, and upgrading your abilities takes a lot of resources — resources that need to be farmed over in citadel mode. So, you either get grinding, or you knock the difficulty down to easy, where chipping away at an enemy's health bar isn't quite as tedious.
It really is a shame that the structure of Samurai Warriors 5 sometimes gets in the way like this, because mowing down hordes of soldiers with absolutely ridiculous attacks and racking up combos in the thousands is fantastic fun. When you take to the battlefield as a sufficiently powerful character, there's a joyous rhythm to the hack and slash action. Samurai Warriors 5 is built on the foundations of its predecessor, with fast, wide-range hyper attacks meant for cutting down peons, and more focused, combo-based light and heavy blows designed to fell enemy officers — but it's the all-new inclusion of 'ultimate skills' that seals the deal.
Ultimate skills are essentially special moves that have cooldowns. Some give you attack or defence buffs, while others let you unleash mighty, screen-clearing attacks. They may not sound all that innovative, but ultimate skills work wonders for the game's combat system, adding a welcome layer of strategy to your character's toolkit. But perhaps the best thing about ultimate skills is that they can be cancelled into at any time — even if you're mid-combo. This opens things up dramatically, as you can essentially refine your character's style of play by picking and choosing your favourite skills. All in all, an excellent addition.
Once you're done with story mode, there's still a lot to see in Samurai Warriors 5. Any cleared story stage can be replayed in 'free mode' with characters of your choosing, and working your way through the citadel mode — while a bit tedious — is worth it for all of the weapon-bolstering rewards. Assuming you haven't had your fill of battle — or you just want to forge some totally overpowered weapons — there's plenty of reason to stick around after the credits roll.
Before we move onto the conclusion, we should highlight the game's new art direction, which pops quite nicely on a big display. Samurai Warriors 5 adopts a kind of semi-cel-shaded style, and it makes for one of the prettiest Warriors titles to date.
As a complete Warriors package, Samurai Warriors 5 doesn't quite match up to its stellar predecessor, but that doesn't stop it from being fantastic hack and slash fun. Even if the gameplay itself is largely familiar, a rebooted story mode and overhauled art style give the experience a fresh and surprisingly unique feel. What's more, the new ultimate skills system is an excellent addition, and something we'd love to see become a Warriors staple.
Good to hear it's a good game, but a shame SW4 is still better. I saw that coming though. This should have been designed for the PS5 and had more pop-in and stuff on PS4, more than normal. One of the things that made SW4 is that is was made with next gen in mind, while this had a lot of time spent on a, while aesthetically pleasing, "please work on the weak Switch" art style when the series is perfect for more horsepower and using the PS5 for more enemies and less pop-in with more wide-open areas without sacrificing character detail.
I adored SW4, but I can't say I'll be getting this due to it being designed so much for the Switch, shedding ambition for a game designed around less power than the last time around almost.
Honestly, most of my issue with this game could have been alleviated if it was a spinoff and not a sequel. Call it Samurai Warriors: Nobunaga's Journey, and I'd be way more positive about it.
But the fact that it's a direct sequel to Samurai Warriors 4, one of my favorite games, means not only will it come up short in terms of comparison, but it also has really depressing implications for the future of the series.
Ah well, I still got it as a birthday present. So I'm still going to play it. I'll probably enjoy it a lot.i just wish Koei would stop short-changing one of their flagship franchises like this.
If anyone's got any questions about the game or the review, let me know and I'll try to answer them.
@Enuo I've really enjoyed playing SW5 but I kind of agree. I'm not really sure why this game has a 5 on the end of it. Aside from the core gameplay mechanics, it's clearly trying to be a full reboot of the series.
@ShogunRok Hows the trophy list? Is this this a grueling platinum like most Warriors games?
@ShogunRok How The Music Any Stand Outs?
Loved these games back in the day but today I prefer Hyrule and Fire Emblem Warriors to these.
@ShogunRok You typed some version of the word "grind" enough to scare me off. 😝 Is there split screen couch co-op, that's usually how we play mosou games in our house?
You play Monster Hunter Rise? My first MH since Tri on Wii. Had a ton of fun, saw the credits, which after 30 hours seemed like the end of the tutorial section, but only once played that tower defense mode b/c they kind of made me. Your comments on "citadel mode" reminded me of that, only it looks like they make you play it here. I'm not usually a fan of weird modes in my game and will play them as little as possible. Those battles in Ni No Kuni 2 were so weird.
@ShogunRok I suspect to avoid naming convention confusion, as (you are probably aware) Dynasty Warriors is always behind a number due to the second their getting the "Shin" prefix.
I look forward to my copy arriving in the post tonight (hopefully)
@ShogunRok Sounds good! I've never played a Samurai Warriors game so this is now on the wish list.
Would it be possible to embed trailers/gameplay footage into the reviews please? It's pure laziness on my part so I don't have to search for them..but it would get your videos more views!
@Enuo Yes, incredibly gruelling. I spent around 45 hours reviewing SW5 and I think my Trophy list is about 70%. The Trophies I've yet to unlock are all very, very grindy. It's one of those Trophy lists where you basically have to 100% everything.
@Areus It's classic Samurai Warriors, really. There are a couple of really cool tracks, and the rest are your usual mix of electronic music with traditional Japanese instruments.
@rjejr Yeah, there's split-screen in this.
Citadel mode isn't toooooo bad because each stage only takes about five minutes — although there are a lot of them. I ended up blasting through all the later stages with my most powerful characters from story mode. No regrets!
@nicc83 Thanks for reading, and yeah, maybe something to consider!
@JapaneseSonic Yep, absolutely rock solid 60fps on PS5, not a single dip. From what I hear, performance on PS4 Pro and base PS4 is also really good.
The game does manage to render a lot of soldiers on screen at once, especially on the bigger battlefields. There are times when using a huge attack will wipe out literally hundreds of grunts in one shot, so I think the population count is probably one of the highest in any Warriors game. Performance still stays at 60, though.
@ShogunRok Thanks, I'll add it to plan B Christmas list. Plan A is a PS5 and R&C but I'm too lazy to be optimistic.
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