Koei's Samurai Warriors 2: Xtreme Legends is a standalone expansion for a game with very close ties to the company's Dynasty Warriors series. In fact, the two franchises are almost identical except for a change in scenery, with Koei abandoning ancient China in favor of bringing its outlandish characters and simplistic mechanics to feudal Japan. This expansion follows last year's release of Samurai Warriors 2: Empires, which added a welcome layer of strategy to the the series tired formula, but it lacks even Empire's depth. The real problem with the game is that it does almost nothing worthwhile that its predecessors haven't done before it.
Samurai Warriors 2: Xtreme Legends continues the fight in feudal Japan during the country's Sengoku ("warring states") era, casting you as one of six new characters with unique fighting styles. Consequently, you'll probably find at least one character you can tolerate, such as the talented but childish Toshiie or the inquisitive Gracia. As anyone familiar with the series might expect, there's little in the way of an overarching theme or objective to tie the characters together except for Koei's loose interpretation of Sengoku history, which serves as a vague backdrop for the game's action.
The majority of the 36 new scenarios are available in the typical story mode, which features five stages for each character. Just as in previous games, you slaughter hundreds if not thousands of enemies as you work your way through a mission, the goal of which is usually to kill the opposing commander. To keep things a little more lively, the game features musou special attacks that you charge up by mowing down opponents, as well as devastating (if simple) combos with plenty of graphical spark. You also get a loyal bodyguard who, in addition to following you everywhere, never hesitates to join in on your musou specials when in synch with your character. As usual, enemy officers drop stat-modifying bonuses that make your character a killing machine in a sea of color-coded bad guys. You're also awarded skills and combos any time you level up, but there's no innovation here, given that most of the combos involve hitting the same button additional times.
Though the story mode is functional, the bulk of the game's content is in its mercenary mode. There you'll spend time completing cliche mission objectives such as defeating bandits and rescuing princesses. Successful missions result in gems that can be exchanged for secret missions, mercenary levels, and levels for your officer-guards, who share their abilities with you when you have them join the fray. If you consistently assist the same commander, then you'll get invited to his clan, which will let you partake in invasion and siege missions for sorely needed variety. The mode is then completed by reuniting all of Japan under your banner or by collecting 10 precious swords, which triggers a final battle that'll test your button-mashing prowess against an onslaught of rival officers. Although mercenary mode is somewhat interesting, it feels very disjointed and cheaply thrown together; all sense of progression occurs via mission posting and reward storyboards in which you receive a graphic of a character either asking for your help or giving you gems. Additionally, you'll face off against the same foes in the same battlefields with only minor mission changes, which gets tiresome fast.
For those who'd rather engage in basic combat without restrictive rules, Koei included the usual free mode, in which you can select from characters spanning both this expansion and Samurai Warriors 2. Like story mode, free mode supports two-player sessions and lets you share character growth between all three modes.
Just as with other expansions for both the Samurai and Dynasty Warriors franchises, Koei increased the difficulty range for Xtreme Legends, offering six difficulty modes from novice to expert. The options can up the difficulty just enough that you'll occasionally die due to officer cheap-shot musou attacks, though even on expert, your opponents tend to stand there as you swing at them. Harder settings result in higher drop rates for special weapons, orbs, skills, and gold, so the option is worth investigating, mostly because gold is used to buy skills, horses, and weapon upgrades from the game's shop feature.
The voice acting is about the caliber you'd expect from the franchise or its parent series: It's melodramatic and irritating, and given that most dialogue occurs during battles, it can be very disruptive when you're fending off dozens of foes while interpreting mission goals. To worsen matters, Xtreme Legends lacks a Japanese voice-over option, which means that you're stuck with the crummy English voice acting unless you turn off the speech altogether.
Xtreme Legends' bland battlegrounds boast the same poor texturing and twitchy camera angles that those familiar with the series know all too well. About the only impressive graphical feat is the game's ability to maintain a steady frame rate despite the countless baddies engulfing the battlefield, but given that its visuals are indistinguishable from earlier Dynasty Warriors games, this is hardly an accomplishment.
Xtreme Legends does let you import data from Samurai Warriors 2 for its "remix" feature, but you'll still require both SW2 and Xtreme Legends to do so because you're forced to insert the SW2 disc in the import process. After import, you'll be able to select stages from SW2, level all characters to 70, obtain new weapons, learn new charge attacks, and engage in a bout of survival or samurai monopoly with characters from both games.
Of course, the real question is whether or not you'll want to do so. Neither the Dynasty Warriors nor Samurai Warriors franchises have evolved much since their inception, and the latter focuses on the same extremely outdated button-pounding that its parent series introduced all those many years ago. Even if hacking your way through a horde of opponents still sounds charming, you're going to need Samurai Warriors 2 to access all of the expansion's features. As such, if you've been eyeing Xtreme Legends but haven't yet picked up SW2, then you might as well purchase both. Those of you tired of the franchise's repetitive button-mashing gameplay, stale features, and dated presentation have plenty of better action games to choose.