Samurai Warriors 2: Empires PlayStation 2 & Xbox 360
Published by: Koei
Developed by: Omega Force
Release Date: Out Now
Where the ever popular Dynasty Warriors series uses The Romance of the Three Kingdoms literary work and is set it China, the Samurai Warriors series is set in Japan's Warring States era (Sengoku). There are some subtle differences between the series, although they are very similar, and the chances are that if you like the one you're pretty much guaranteed to like the other one. For the most part in both of these series, the main focus is purely on mass combat action. In recent years there have been Empires variants of the Dynasty Warriors titles that have basically added a strong strategy element to the game to make for a much more substantial gaming experience that relies not only on your combat skills but also on your ability to make tactical decisions. Now it's time for the Samurai Warriors series to get the Empires treatment with Samurai Warriors 2: Empires.
Samurai Warriors 2: Empires offers an Empire mode, a Free mode and a New Officer mode. There is also an Archive mode where you can check on the officers and their progress in the game (what levels they've reached and so forth), troops, weapons and move lists etc. We'll talk about the Empire mode in a moment as that is essentially the heart of the game. Free mode allows you to jump straight into a battle with none of the strategy elements to get in the way. You can create your own officer (15 officers can be created and saved) and you'll be able to use these officers in both Free mode and Empire mode (where the scenarios allow). There are a wealth of customisation options available to you. You'll have a choice of 13 different character models that each have around 10 different colour variations for their clothing. You'll get to choose their special abilities as well as their weapon sets, ability values and family crests etc. During battles you'll be able to give orders to your officers, via the directional pad. It's now possible to team with other officers during a battle and carry out Multi-Musou attacks. The battles can be as difficult or as easy as you like thanks to a handful of difficulty levels, so whether you've played previous Samurai Warriors/Dynasty Warriors titles or this is your first one you'll find a difficulty level to suit your skill level.
Whilst there are a few modes in Samurai Warriors 2: Empires, it's the Empire mode where most will spend their time with the game. In Empire mode you are a clan lord and you'll be challenging other clan lords either for control of Japan in the Unification scenarios or a particular region in the Regional scenarios. There are five Unification scenarios and six Regional scenarios. In each turn (a turn lasts one season meaning you have four turns per year) there are three phases. There is the strategy phase, the battle phase and if necessary the combat phase. The strategy phase allows you to use policy cards and prepare for battles. A set number of orders can be carried out (ranging from 1-5) and you'll be charged gold to policy cards. You'll be able to consult with your officers in regards to what policies should be enacted and you can delegate control of a policy to one of your officers if you wish. You'll also get to choose the tactics and formations for your troops. The battle phase allows you to choose who to do battle with. There are four types of battle: Invade, Defend, Joint Attack and Help Ally. Invasions will cost you gold in proportion to the amount of troops you deploy. Once you've made your decision, you'll get to choose which officers lead your main and relief forces. You'll also be able to choose which officer you'll control during the combat and you can also choose who a friend controls if you're playing the game in a co-op fashion. Finally you'll get to carry out your battle (if you've chosen to engage in battle that is) in the combat phase before returning once more to the strategy phase where you're given summaries (and sometimes a cutscene) of battles that have happened elsewhere on the battle map.
Let's look at the policy cards in more detail because they are an essential part of the Empires experience. Policy cards allow you to carry out diplomacy, espionage, tactics, taxes etc. You can raise officer's skill, attributes and friendship ratings with them. You could even conduct trade with China if the opportunity arises. There are various cultural activities that can be carried out too and these will have beneficial effects for fiefs and forces. The cards have all been tailored to perfectly suit the Sengoku period. You'll have authentic formations and tactics etc. and this all adds to the experience. Of course you have to be careful with your policies as you can upset your people and they could just rise against you, which is the last thing you want with so many factions already out for your blood. In short the policy cards are an excellent game-play mechanic and help to raise the Empires games above the typical Samurai Warriors experience. Fans of strategy games will love how the turn-based strategy side of the game plays out and it's a shame that you can't simply choose to have the battles auto-resolve and just keep to the strategy side when you don't feel like getting involved with the hack 'n slash action of the game.
Both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360 versions are practically identical. Whilst this is good news in a way (as those who don't own both consoles won't miss out on special features in the version they don't own), it sadly means that there is no Xbox Live mode. Both games support offline multiplayer for two players and the game can be played in a co-op fashion. Naturally if you own both a PlayStation 2 and an Xbox 360 then you are going to want to opt for the 360 version as support for 720p/1080i/1080p resolutions mean that if you have an HD display you're going to have a game that looks nicer. Even on a standard TV the 360 version does have a slight edge.
Deaf gamers shouldn't have any problems with Samurai Warriors 2: Empires. The first time you enter Empire mode you'll receive text tutorial messages that guide you through the early stages and ensure you know exactly what you're doing in each of the three phases. All cutscenes in the game are subtitled and all comments you'll receive from your officers during battle and during the turn-based Empire mode are also shown in text. It's always clear who is saying what with character portraits and names being placed alongside the subtitles. All the information in the Archive mode (apart from the character voice samples - which aren't subtitled) are shown in text.
It's clear from looking at a variety of reviews for Samurai Warriors 2: Empires, and the other Dynasty Warriors titles, that many reviewers are showing a great degree of apathy toward the titles. To a certain degree this is a little unfair especially when looking at the Empires titles. Yes I have to agree the combat model is probably due for an overhaul, with the AI not having improved from previous titles, but the Empires games are so much more than the typical Dynasty Warriors/Samurai Warriors titles. The strategy portion of the game that you'll find in the Empire mode is actually very enjoyable. I do wish you could auto-resolve the battles and maybe this will be an option in future titles, as some of the battles can take a while. The bottom line though is that if you're looking for an enjoyable, Sengoku flavoured strategy game with a good dose of mass combat action then Samurai Warrior 2: Empires is well worth the asking price on either the PlayStation 2 or Xbox 360.
Samurai Warriors 2: Empires is a must for those who enjoyed what Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires offered and at its bargain asking price (PS2-£24.99 & Xbox 360 - £29.99) it's excellent value for money for those who want more depth and strategy to add to the mass combat action that Samurai Warriors 2 offers.