Samurai Warriors: State of War Hands-On

We slaughter our way through our first demo of Koei's handheld historical Japanese hack-and-slash.

TORONTO--At the celebration of Koei's newly expanded Toronto studio today, we got to try out the first playable demo of Samurai Warriors: State of War, the new PSP iteration of the Japanese megadeveloper's nascent historical hack-and-slash series set in feudal Japan. Though the company's previous PSP effort, a port of Dynasty Warriors, was somewhat mixed, it looks as though the developer of Samurai Warriors has learned a lot about Sony's handheld in the 10 months since its last PSP game was released. The new game will re-create the wide-scale battles of the console version while offering some new multiplayer options, visual upgrades, and streamlined tactical options as well.

Samurai Warriors will contain a number of refinements to the presentation and gameplay last seen in the PSP version of Dynasty Warriors.

The most immediately noticeable update to State of War over Dynasty Warriors is the wide aspect of the action. The game dispenses with the large map bar that crowded the right side of the screen last time around; now the full width of the PSP's screen is used to display the gameplay, which lets you see more of the battlefield and opposing army at once and also looks a bit more exciting to boot. The game also seemed to be running more smoothly than Dynasty Warriors, despite the expanded field of view. In raw gameplay terms, Samurai Warriors should be quite familiar to veterans of the previous game, as you've still got the frantic button-mashing, you-against-an-army action you're used to, and the character and camera controls seem to be identical to those in Dynasty Warriors, from what we could tell.

Just because the tactical display is gone from State of War, don't think the mission structure you're familiar with from the last game is missing as well. Again, you'll begin a scenario by viewing an overhead tactical map of the entire battlefield, with individual skirmishes broken up into squares on a grid. You'll have to conquer the right enemy territories to meet your win condition, such as defeating all opposing troops or slaying a particular enemy officer. From what we saw, the game flowed much like Dynasty Warriors in that each of the gameplay sequences will only last a minute or two on average, so you'll again be able to get through lengthy missions a few pieces at a time, with the option of taking a break in between.

In the single-player campaign, the game will contain a new magic scroll system, which lets you collect 23 scrolls throughout the gameplay that grant you various offensive, defensive, and passive magical effects. You can only use up to four scrolls at one time, and each one will disappear after use, so you'll apparently have to be pretty judicious with your use of magic to get past the tougher scenarios. We got to see a couple of scrolls at work, such as a healing spell that restored our health and a passive "disease" spell that slowly sapped the health of the enemies within the square on which we used the scroll.

Soon you'll be able to get your feudal Japan on...on the go.

Samurai Warriors: State of War will be the first game in the series to offer wireless multiplayer for four people, though few details are available on the new competitive mode at this stage of development. It was confirmed that a free-for-all deathmatch game type will be available, as well as a type in which enemy officers drop gold when killed and the first player to reach 10,000 gold wins. In addition to these multiplayer modes, the game will contain a ton of unlockable characters and new weapons (which can now be obtained within missions), which should add to the lasting value. If Koei can both polish the blemishes out of the Dynasty Warriors' formula and bring all the components of this new game together, Samurai Warriors: State of War may be enough to keep diehard fans of the many console Warriors games satisfied on the go for a long while. The game is due out in the spring, and we'll bring you more on it in the coming months.

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