There are improvements across the board in the newest instalment of the Soul Series.
Upon getting SoulCalibur V, there was a sense of apprehension, would it return to the glorious days of SoulCalibur II? Become something worse? Or feel like a re-release of IV. Happily, I can say that it did not become worse, and any feeling of it being a IV rehash disappears the second you get out of the menus and begin playing the game.
The most notable change to the franchise is the character roster. Many of the characters from the previous instalments are gone. Talim, Xianghua, Cassandra and Yun Seong are all gone. The game provides context as to how the new characters and styles tie in, notably with Sophitia and her two children, Petraklos and Pyrrha. Subsequently there are quite a few new characters, some of which have serious parallels to the styles of no longer present characters such as Taki and Natsu (coincidentally, Natsu is Taki's apprentice). It is a pleasant surprise to see a mix up in the roster and the appearance of Ezio from Assassins Creed, even if the roster now involves 3 mirror characters and the absence of some popular styles.
Gameplay elements have been altered as well. the Soul Gauge has turned into a bar, similar to Street Fighter's Ultra Move bar.
The newly introduced Critical Edge and Brave Edge moves use 1 of the 2 possible bars the player can accumulate in the game. A flaw in the game here is that the Critical Edge attacks of some characters are far, FAR more powerful than others.
Brave Edge works similar to an EX attack from Street Fighter IV (sorry for the Street Fighter references, it just seems like the best analogy to use). It can be tacked onto the end of certain attacks at the expense of a full Soul Gauge bar. The attacks are strong and can upset a round if used correctly. Once again however, the effectiveness of a Brave Edge depends on the character.
The balance problems in the game are in part created by the disparity between characters in these newly introduced special attacks. However there are characters that feel overpowered, or have a large advantage. Tiers are one thing, but in SoulCalibur V at times feels like there are chasms between some characters. Ezio especially is overpowered, with his attacks moderately far reaching and at abstract angles, he is incredibly difficult to defend against but incredibly easy to attack and defend with. While it is stated on the roster that he is of easy use, he is also overpowered in the extreme.
When it comes to polish. As is usual with a SoulCalibur game, it is flawless. The game looks and sound beautiful. There are no frame issues, or jolty sections, everything is perfectly smooth. The soundtrack is typical SoulCalibur stuff, that being said it is very good. No complaints here.
With the games various modes there are steps forward and backwards. There is an absence of a tutorial mode, which would be something newcomers would obviously like, and offline modes do lack variety. VS mode is fine as is Quick Battle.
Arcade mode has been improved offering various 'paths' which the player can choose with adjustable difficulty.
Story mode though doesn't live up to that of previous instalments, limiting the player to Petraklos.
The general consensus after SC IV was that the Tower mode was great but that they also wanted the Strategy-esque story component that was praised in SC III. Neither of these modes return and instead there is a rather plain story mode that offers little replay value. Its fun, if shallow.
Following the completion of this story mode however, Legendary Souls opens up allowing the player to unlock various new characters and verse some brutal AI.
Creation mode has been thoroughly improved, the characters can be reworked much more intricately than they could previously. Armour no longer holds any value and therefore what the character wears doesn't have any influence on the character's stats any more.
Online was a real surprise. The ranked match system works remarkably well and the Global Colosseo mode is fantastic, allowing the player to enter 'rooms' if you will named after cities across the world. There the player can participate in more casual battles and tournament battles. The player can also add those they play as a 'rival'. These rivals are players that the player personally competes against, with there play time, win percentage etc appearing on the upper right hand side of the screen in the menus. It allows for a sort of personal leader board or aspiration. Hence the rival term. Replays have been improved as well which is a welcome addition.
Ultimately SoulCalibur V improves greatly over its predecessor. Returning modes have been improved, if at the cost of some desired offline modes. Online is marvellous and will have you playing long after you unlock all the characters. Where the game falls down however is in its lack of innovation in its game modes, and the balancing issues between more than a handful of characters. Embrace the game and you'll love SoulCalibur V, but if other instalments haven't drawn you in, this won't do much better.