The Musou style of hack and slash action games by Koei Tecmo, known as Warriors in English, has persisted through the last three gaming generations and managed to branch into other IPs, including Nintendo. When Dynasty Warriors 2 first launched during the early days of PlayStation 2, it was no doubt an immediate technical showcase of gaming’s future. Being able to battle fifty or so soldiers on screen simultaneously was a huge deal, and since then increasingly powerful gaming has only increased the number of foes you can mow down. In 2021, Samurai Warriors 5 lands on Xbox, also marking the debut of the Warriors franchise on X|S.
Xbox fans might remember Dynasty Warriors 9, also known as the game that literally tried to do everything. The end result was a complete mess of ideas situated in a poorly conceived open world game design. Samurai Warriors 5 on the other hand is almost the exact opposite. Here it feels like Koei Tecmo took all the good parts from the Warriors series and brought it all together in their latest hack and slash epic.
Epic is the right word here, because where Dynasty Warriors 9 perhaps tried a little too much without a coherent game structure, Samurai Warriors 5 still manages to pursue most of those ideas but in a far more structured and logical manner. The core hack and slash gameplay is as chaotic as ever, taking place in self-contained missions in a story mode that is broken up into chapters. In between the frantic gameplay players have a surprisingly decent number of strategy RPG elements to tinker with. There are several characters and their respective equipment and skills to upgrade, various other troops and even steeds to acquire, and once you clear the first chapter there is an entire castle base that players can upgrade, which includes a marketplace and a blacksmith.
What’s interesting here is while all these features are presented as separate modes, they are all integrated in a manner where progress made in upgrading the castle will have bonus effects on the main story mode. Players can choose to simply focus on the primary gameplay and just jump right into missions, but the other RPG strategy elements tend to be streamlined and don’t intrude on the pacing too much.
What you get in Samurai Warriors 5 is the best-playing rendition of the series’ signature gameplay style yet. The standard two-button medium and strong attacks are used to pull off combination attacks, and once the meter is fully charged, the iconic Musou special attack can be executed. Even after all these years, the thrill of mowing down hundreds of foes with a single sweep is unlike anything else in gaming. There are now additional attacks too to spice up the gameplay variety, and even a few defensive manoeuvres also.
The core hack and slash gameplay is situated in missions where it truly feels like you’re in the middle of an epic battlefield. There is strategy involved, as well as dynamic objectives to complete, which emerge in an organic way and require you to respond on the fly. The mission variety is strong, and for the most part you will be battling boss characters and a variety of enemy troop divisions alongside allies. Speaking of, there is a wide cast of characters, and they differ in their base weapons and fighting styles.
As great as this all sounds, it’s worth understanding that no matter how many bells and whistles Koei Tecmo come up with for their games in the Warriors IP, the core gameplay loop is largely unchanged from what we saw in Dynasty Warriors 2 on PS2 nearly two decades ago. Indeed, the core combat does inevitably become repetitive in a hurry, and perhaps there may never be a cure for this tried and tested gameplay loop. When played extensively for a long period, Samurai Warriors 5 can run thin in a hurry, but if you pace yourself between missions, it’s easier to appreciate the thrill of the action and the various ideas.
Long time fans of the series will no doubt have some interest in the lore, and Samurai Warriors 5 presents perhaps the series’ most intriguing tale yet. Nobunaga Oda, a legendary feudal lord from 15th century Japan, had long been typecast as a villain in numerous Japanese media and video games, but Samurai Warriors 5 is a rare instance where a much younger Oda is found to be the anti-hero, with the game depicting his early rise as the conqueror and unifier of Japan. For those who are fans of fictionalisation of Japanese history, this is a pretty cool spin on an iconic character, and the various other supporting characters have chemistry too.
As the first major foray of the Warriors to a new generation of gaming, Samurai Warriors 5 looks and performs the part. The sheer number of characters that appear onscreen simultaneously certainly impresses, with the performance holding up nicely even on older Xbox systems, albeit with less framerate stability. What stands out about the graphics is the cel-shaded style, giving the characters a nice manga aesthetic. While the environments are dull and practical, the chaotic action and special effects meld nicely.
Samurai Warriors 5 is no doubt the best iteration of the mainline series, be it Dynasty Warriors or Samurai Warriors (or even the Warriors Orochi spin-off). As it stands right now, this is as good as it gets for the Warriors series. It has a lot of ideas and systems which integrate in an interesting way, and the core gameplay is as fun as ever. The only caveat here is that the core gameplay loop present feels no different to that which we’ve experienced for the last two decades, and inevitably it will run thin.
Continue the Warriors story in Samurai Warriors 5, on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One