Dynasty Warriors might be Koei Tecmo and Omega Force's flagship action franchise, but through the years we have gotten to see different variations of the central 1 vs. 1,000 formula with not only anime and video game franchises like One Piece, Mobile Suit Gundam, and The Legend of Zelda, but with its own spinoff franchises that take this formula through other historical eras in the Warriors Orochi and Samurai Warriors series. The most distinct out of these branching series have always been the Samurai Warriors titles, however, as it explores different eras of feudal Japan rather than China. It's been five years since the last Samurai Warriors expansion title, and seven years since the release of Samurai Warriors 4's base game, so there's a lot riding on the release of Samurai Warriors 5 to stick the landing. Not only is it the first Samurai Warriors title compatible with newer-gen systems, but it's likely going to be the first introduction to the franchise for many new players. Thankfully for those new players, and dedicated followers of the franchise, there's tons to dig into as Samurai Warriors 5 offers the most fulfilling experience in the series yet.
Just as with the previous titles, Samurai Warriors 5 drops players into different missions with maps full of thousands of enemies that you can tear through with a single character (or co-operatively) and build up combos into the thousands -- which is actually quite common, and encouraged to build up your Musou Attack special meters faster. And just like those previous titles, it's easy to jump into with Normal, Power, and "Hyper" attacks all chaining together with single-button presses. It even feels smoother than before, which can especially be felt when you're in the more difficult levels clearing out way more enemies with a single strike than in the early stages.
Shaking the fighting up this time around is the addition of Ultimate Skills. These are four additional moves that can either add a new attack or boost your character's speed, attack power, and special meter. Warriors franchise fans might have seen these incorporated in other spinoff titles recently like One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4, and they work the same way here as each one can be used many times and is refueled after a short cooldown period. Each one of these skills feels just as smooth as the regular attacks and can be chained together for fun combos.
One of Samurai Warriors' best rewards is when you have a leveled-up character use their various unlocked skills to easily clear challenges that were hard to do before, and that's especially prominent with Samurai Warriors 5. Even if you decide to pool all of your time and effort into a single character, you won't miss out on the rest of the experience because every character can use any weapon. Characters will unlock more skills with their canonical weapon of choice, of course, but Samurai Warriors 5 makes sure to reward players for not only the dedication and time spent but experimentation as well.
Rather than pay gold to quickly level up characters you aren't using or help them master higher-level weapons faster, earning high ranks in missions grants you a pool of experience and mastery points to use for the entire cast. Instead that gold is spent towards one of the biggest new additions to Samurai Warriors 5: upgrading your castle. As you continue playing the game, you'll unlock gold and various materials to buy upgrades to the shops, blacksmiths, and more to eventually access even better materials and weapons, and so on.
It all makes for the most enjoyable game flow of the franchise yet as playing through to level up characters or weapons doesn't feel like grinding but instead feels like you are continuing to build on the overall experience available. Couple this with not only the Story Mode which is a reboot of the earlier games that retells Nobunaga Oda and Mitsuhide Akechi's story, but more focused and condensed to a certain period of battles, but the new Citadel Mode, and there is lots to do.
Citadel Mode shakes up the traditional formula by tasking you with defending your home base and clearing out enemies within a short time limit rather than having you conquer territories spread out throughout a map. Playing through this mode not only rewards you with more experience and materials to evolve but using specific characters builds connections between them to unlock special story cutscenes you can't see anywhere else.
Not only is Samurai Warriors 5 the best-feeling game in the franchise to date, but it's also the best-looking too. The character roster features a mostly returning cast with some new additions, but even the older additions have been given a whole new design to fit the new ink-brush aesthetic. Some of the visual presentations haven't changed such as the stiff dialogue scenes making a return, but when in the thick of it, the Samurai Warriors franchise has never looked better.
Samurai Warriors 5 offers a ton for returning veteran players who have been wanting more for the past few years and is going to be the de-facto Musou experience for any new player interested in 1 vs. 1,000 action overall. It's the best action game Koei Tecmo has released in quite a while, and there are hours upon hours of fun to be had if you decide to dive into the deep end.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Samurai Warriors 5 is set to release on PlayStation 4 (backwards compatible with PlayStation 5), Xbox One (backwards compatible with Xbox Series X|S), Nintendo Switch, and Windows PC on July 27th. This review was based on a PlayStation 4 code provided by the publisher, and it was played on a base model PlayStation 4.