Back in June I published a preview for Samurai Warriors 5, noting how well this latest Musou runs, how slick the new art style is and how some of the new systems work. It’s review time now, and I’ve been poking at both the PC and Xbox One (via Series X) versions. It’s safe to say I’m having a great time still, and that not only did my earlier good vibes hold up, some of the additional content I’ve engaged with since really makes a difference.

Samurai Warriors 5 Review

As we’ve established before, Samurai Warriors 5 is a new angle on a familiar story. These games often look at their historical fiction on a bigger picture level, but here the focus is squarely on Nobunaga Oda as he grows from hothead teenager to infamous warlord. This youthful energy is reflected in the game’s new visual flair, which covers the familiar Warriors style with a sumi-e ink filter and much more variety and brightness in its colors. Tons of oranges, purples and yellows cover the roster, and the flair extends to combat flourishes as well.

This is easily the best looking and performing Musou to date. On both my Series X and PC, I was looking at a steady, unwavering 60 fps no matter how much nonsense was happening on screen, and Samurai Warriors 5 does not skimp on the nonsense. Whenever I pick up a new Musou lately I’m most curious about what my limitations are, and here I’m pleased to say there aren’t very many. Samurai Warriors had already begun to play a little with the light/heavy split by making the heavy button a sort of dash combo. Now, thanks to a new set of moves you can set to the left bumper and a total absence of cooldown time between anything you do, it’s possible to get some enemies (even officers) into the air and refuse to let them hit the ground until you’re ready to.

Related: Interview: Koei Tecmo's Hisashi Koinuma on Creating Samurai Warriors 5

This unreachable combo ceiling is balanced out by how strong the officer units can be, and how they will actually knock you back if you try to dash them. There’s also a war drum unit that will buff everyone in its vicinity, setting up situations in which you have to work for your dominance. That’s on top of all the battlefield’s changing objectives, which continues to be the key to what makes Musou games exciting under the hood. 

The story is also told quite well, as the more intimate focus on Oda and his relationships really makes this feel more like a story than a broad history lesson. Each new character brings something to the narrative, and since the roster is quite pared down compared to other Musou games, that means every appearance counts for something. Unfortunately, while much of the roster has a unique look and presence in the story, a weird choice was made with weapons that works against that distinct energy everywhere else.

Characters can swap between weapons at will now, which means a lack of unique combat animations. Each character does have a specialty, sometimes even governed by the story, but it sucks to see such uniformity in contrast to all Samurai Warriors 5’s individuality everywhere else. It’s weird, and feels like an attempt to have more to do, but at a notable cost.

It’s especially weird considering the new gameplay mode does plenty of work to extend Samurai Warriors 5’s life by itself. The new mode gimmick is a sort of tower defense-like mode, in which you’re given a series of bite-sized levels with fewer objectives and a home base to defend. Each scenario has its own flavor and rewards, and feeds a lot into the My Castle structure, a beast of its own.

Related: Samurai Warriors 5 Hands-On | A Colorful Past

Building up your base is nothing new to Musou games, but in Samurai Warriors 5 it’s a universal menu setup that is fueled by the rest of the game. You can’t upgrade your shops or other buildings without progressing in the story or earning materials from the defense mode. There’s more of an ecosystem here, which makes all the different pieces feel like parts of a whole instead of just, different mode selections because this is a videogame and that’s what they do.

Most reviews for Samurai Warriors 5 will probably note the swing and a miss from Dynasty Warriors 5, and praise this one for stepping back a bit and staying true to form. At the same time, docking this game points for not innovating or whatever. For me, I’ve been having a blast enjoying the fluid performance, clever mode synergy and compelling storyline. Musou games work because there’s nothing else like them, and the steps forward here have more to do with structure and presentation than gameplay. And that totally works.


Pros:

  • Slick new look
  • Airtight performance on modern platforms
  • Well told story

Cons

  • Weird weapon system

Score: 8/10

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review