It’s been a long time coming – seven years, in fact – but Samurai Warriors is back. And it’s sporting a brand new look.
Going back to the historical period depicted in the first game in the series, Samurai Warriors 5 could be viewed as a reboot in many ways. After all, there’s the new visual style, a more intimate story focused on the lives of Nobunaga Oda and Mitsuhide Akechi, and a slew of new gameplay features and improvements. After going hands-on with the first couple of chapters of the game, it’s safe to say that we’re very much looking forward to its release on 27th July.
So first, that new look. While some may not like that Samurai Warriors 5 now looks anime-ish, we think it’s great. The series’ larger-than-life characters are now more detailed than ever. They’re bold, colourful and vibrant, which better suits their younger appearances. The new style makes the game’s story scenes more interesting to watch too, and there’s a fair few animated scenes that are really cool. During gameplay, the new visual style results in eye-catching battles that really pop off the screen. And when you perform something fancy like a Musou attack, it ends with a lovely still of your character in a dramatic pose.
Despite the visual changes, however, the heart of Samurai Warriors 5 remains very familiar indeed. Jumping into Musou Mode – the game’s story mode, so to speak – the menus offer up a great deal of options that series fans will be used to by now. Well, by the end of the first chapter, anyway. Stages can be selected from a timeline, with further missions opening up as they’re completed as well as healthy assortment of side missions. Select one, and you’ll find that it’s sandwiched between story scenes that put the action into context.
When you’re actually in battle, it initially seems that Samurai Warriors 5 is the same old song and dance but with new, more stylish, threads. One button still performs a standard attack, and another can be added into the mix to finish standard attack combos with power attacks. That same button can also be used on its own to perform hyper attacks, making the player character dash across the screen. Throw in the usual gauge-powered Musou attacks and Rage mode, and during your first battle you’ll genuinely wonder what’s new.
It’s only as you progress further into Samurai Warriors 5 that its new features, and their impact, become clear. Ultimate Skills are perhaps the best new addition. Up to four skills can be equipped to each character, which can then be accessed during combat using the right shoulder button. Some simply boost your stats for a short while, but others perform snazzy attacks that come in useful when dealing with certain enemies. Sometimes you encounter shielded units that flash blue, for example; only power attacks break their defences normally, but a nifty Ultimate Skill we had access to that saw us jump up high into the air before crashing back down the ground also did the trick.
Each of the four Ultimate Skills you have equipped has their own cooldown timer, so you can make good use of them. And you’ll want to, because they really make the combat feel more energetic, varied, and fresh. While you’ll start out with only a small pool of Ultimate Skills available to equip to each unlocked character, more skills can be unlocked as you play through the game. Alongside powering up characters via levelling up, skill points are earned which can be used to unlock various stat bonuses and skills via skill trees. Strategic Tomes, which can be purchased and obtained in battle, can be consumed to provide a bunch of skill points too.
Of course, being a Samurai Warriors game, characters can also be powered up via the weapons they equip. As ever, weapons can be obtained by felling powerful foes during battle. Then, by visiting the Blacksmith, those weapons can be upgraded by placing skills on them. In Samurai Warriors 5, however, those skills are limited by a character’s weapon mastery. Fighting enemies is one way to raise mastery, of course, and another is by consuming an item called Principles of War. With characters able to make use of a wide range of weapons, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, players will need to be smart when it comes to their development.
There are some other minor new features as well, such as units with drums that boost the morale of other units around them, and bonuses for high hit combos and kill counts. For the most part though, this is Samurai Warriors as you remember it. It’s an evolution rather than a revolution, and there’s nothing wrong with that – if the formula already works, why try and fix it? As power-fantasies go, Samurai Warriors 5 seems like it will deliver the goods. Taking command of a battlefield, rushing here and there on horseback, and killing a thousand or so enemies in between singling out powerful foes and focusing on them one-on-one has never looked or played better.
Samurai Warriors 5 launches 27th July on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC.