Xbox 360 gets its third hack and slash action combat game what with Ninety Nine Nights being the first, followed by Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires and now Samurai Warriors 2. The first game appeared on Xbox and was a departure from the usual Chinese inspired stories seen in the Dynasty Warriors games. The focus in Samurai Warriors 2 shifts towards the struggle for supremacy in Japan around 1500 AD as several warlords and hulking fighters duke it out to control the region. It’s fast, it’s perhaps repetitive but as a testament to the longevity of the series and games of this nature they are still being made and I assume sell reasonably well.
In Samurai Warriors 2 you are granted several modes to choose from which includes a story mode whereby you choose one of seven characters and follow their specific tale through a number of missions. Then there is Free Mode which allows you to pick any character and stage and simply battle it out until you are victorious. Survival mode which sees you select any character with the objective of fighting an infinitely large tower whilst completing some minor objectives on each floor. One of the more interesting modes is a mini game which feels like the board game monopoly where up to four players take control of areas and try and earn a set amount of cash for victory. There is an online component as well as the option for two players to fight in split screen.
For the most part, players will no doubt be drawn towards the story mode as the first port of call especially as the game’s achievements are mostly gained from completing the game with the original seven characters and then seven more which are unlocked by beating the stories of each of the original characters available from the offset. The story mode provides an opening movie and introduction as to a character’s motives for simply getting stuck into battle and killing thousands of opposing forces soldiers and minions.
Gameplay wise before any battle, players are able to head to a shop to purchase weapons and their respective upgrades as well as upgrades for their character. The shop also allows players to hire guards that will accompany them throughout the stories for all of the characters. There are a number of them of which all have varying strengths and weaknesses although I favoured a ninja type guard simply because he looked more appealing than the other rogues on offer.
Prior to actually starting one of the game’s battles, players are presented with an overhead map of the terrain which shows off key points such as the starting locations of your own officers as well as the enemy’s. Players are also able to view victory and defeat conditions, which in my experience is something that is key to success but also something that can easily be overlooked by overly eager gamers wising to simply get stuck in.
Once a battle has been initiated players are then able to freely roam around fairly large maps, which with the running speed of the characters means it takes quite some time to navigate. Luckily horses can be either purchased prior to missions or salvaged from enemy officers during battle which certainly makes travelling a whole lot faster. The general onus on winning battles is not necessarily to kill as many of the opposing force as possible but to target specific individuals who appear in a cut scene when approached. These officers come in a wide variety of guises and are generally a lot tougher to kill than the hundreds of regular soldiers that litter the maps.
The actual combat is a rather simple affair with two main attack buttons which can then be mixed up to perform combos. There are some other special moves available but these are really not necessary to use. Players are also able to fill up a gauge and perform super moves which are very handy for taking out large groups of surrounding enemies and help keep up high combos.
Very little has changed in terms of the actual game play compared to previous Dynasty Warriors games and the only real difference as far as I could tell is the way in which objectives are implemented. In other games it was quite possible and perhaps a good tactic to simply ignore everyone and head straight to the opposing force’s leader and kill him for a quick victory. Well it seems that the developers have caught on to this fact and made it virtually impossible to do this. Now the opposing leaders reside in fortified buildings which can only be entered once certain battle conditions have been met first. This means players need to pay close attention to the ramblings of fellow officers and highlighted areas on the mini map which is displayed at all times; especially as defeat can now come quite easily if your character is in the wrong place and too far away to aid a failing comrade. In fact this feature works well and creates a more involving experience, yet at the same token can be highly frustrating especially when battles can last in excess of thirty minutes. Luckily there is an option to save mid battle but again this can be frustrating especially when a save is prior to an immanent defeat meaning that a mission has to be restarted.
In general there isn’t much difference between the characters you play as and in most cases you will either be fighting against various officers or fighting alongside them, sometimes both depending on which character’s story you are playing through. The gameplay can become quite repetitive but at the same time is very good for stress relief. I think the main onus of enduring countless hours of hack and slashing is the character development as it is good to level up characters making them more powerful and thus making the killing all the more satisfying.
The other modes available are pretty much the same thing of battling until you drop with the exception of the monopoly style mini game called Sugoroku mode. This mode definitely makes a change from the others and is a welcome addition especially if you can gather some human opponents. The aim in this mode is simply to accumulate a set amount of wealth whilst having to spend on buying new areas and paying out when landing on a opponents owned land. Players can also enter sub mini games by challenging other players at certain times when landing on their owned land. This mode in general is very much a fun albeit longish game.
Graphically, Samurai Warriors 2 looks reasonably crisp with some decent looking character models and levels that each has their own distinct style. However anyone expecting a major upgrade from Xbox will be disappointed as these types of games generally tend to use lower resolution textures to accommodate the vast quantities of characters on screen at any one time even if large numbers of them stand around doing nothing other than waiting to get killed. I experienced no dips in frame rate throughout my play time and certainly no issues such as screen tearing which is a good thing. My only real contention with the game is the camera as it can be very fiddly at times and perhaps a lock on feature could have been implemented when fighting one of the game’s officers to help combat this.
Samurai Warriors 2 features a blistering soundtrack of fast paced rhythms that really have no bearing on the time period the game is set in. For gameplay purposes I guess the music helps during fast paced combat but really is something that you will either endure or loathe completely. Once again being on Xbox 360 means that players can use their own music instead. Other sound effects are the usual groans and moans of dying enemies and perhaps the clashing of metal against metal. Other than that there really isn’t much more to the sound bar the average voice acting that accompanies the game. There’s a lot of repeated phrases during battle but at the same time it adds some personality to proceedings, which is a good thing.
Samurai Warriors 2 cannot be faulted for length and whilst there are seven characters stories to complete with several missions in each as well as the un-lockable characters, means that there’s seemingly no end of fighting to be had. It is certainly not a game that can be completed in a rental period and if you like Japanese characters with a slight touch of historic relevance thrown in then you could be here for some time. What is more the addition of split screen play and online means that there’s more in store for those that get deep into the game. The only real problem is perhaps finding like minded individuals to play with.
For me Samurai Warriors 2 is a step back from the progressive style of Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires which is a shame really as it could have benefited from having a little more depth. That said, there is some fun to be had here although the age old repetitive syndrome is highlighted very much more in games of this nature and Samurai Warriors 2 is no exception. If you like hack and slash games then perhaps Samurai Warriors will appeal to you, if not then this version of the tried and trusted formula that has worked for many years now over several generations of console will not win any new fans. The addition of new modes such as the aforementioned Sugoroku mode and survival help somewhat in adding some variety but in general there really isn’t much more to the game than what you experience in the first half hour of playing bar some mildly amusing situations outlined in the story mode. Overall I would say that Samurai Warriors 2 is one for fans only and should perhaps be avoided by anyone looking for something more. Achievement addicts should also avoid the game as the time investment needed to unlock them will take far too much of their time compared to other games. Samurai Warriors 2 isn’t a bad game per se but more uninspiring than anything else, you have been warned.