From an early age, fueled by my first grade teacher’s stories of teaching overseas, I’ve had a deep and abiding interest in Japan and its history. So when I heard about Sengoku Dynasty, I was understandably intrigued, though also a tad concerned. A game promising survival, RPG, exploration, city building, and action-adventure either has the potential to be something really great or really terrible. And so far, it’s leaning strongly into the latter, a state which its Early Access status does not do much to mitigate.
Sengoku Dynasty puts you in the sandals of a refugee from the overwhelming violence of Japan’s “Warring States” period, though it doesn’t give you an exact date to work from. The boat you bought passage on goes down, washing you and your fellow villagers up in an unfamiliar area. The ruins of a nearby village look to be the starting point for your new lives, and where you go from there is entirely up to you. Or rather, it will be up to you once you finish the introductory quests to establish a new village.
Using the Unreal engine, Sengoku Dynasty certainly brings its locale to life, from the red pine forests to the simple designs of peasant huts to the well-worn stones of shrines to the gods. Water effects abound (particularly since you’re washing up on a beach to start) and look excellent. There is a day/night cycle and when it’s night out, the darkness is basically impossible to do anything in without a torch or lantern. Fire effects are also handled well, illuminating a good area around you while also making the gloom beyond the area of effect a little more pronounced. You don’t have any sort of character customization at the start, and character models have a certain subtle sense of sameness to them. Almost like the only real difference is the hair style or head dressings.
From an audio perspective, Sengoku Dynasty is pretty good. There are distinct differences in how your tools sound when you use them. Ambient and environmental sounds abound and are rather soothing. Seriously, if you just wanted to walk in the woods and do nothing else, it’d be a very calm experience. The voice acting is decent enough, but doesn’t really go out of its way to impress you. Music is rather minimal. While a soundtrack is available as a DLC add-on you can buy on Steam, this is one instance where I wouldn’t feel bad about passing it up. It seems period appropriate, but it doesn’t really grab you.
The biggest failure point in Sengoku Dynasty at this time is the gameplay. Put simply, if you’re playing solo, it’s going to be quite possibly one of the most miserable experiences you’ll suffer through. Now, I’m no stranger to playing solo in survival games like Valheim and V Rising. And I understand that there’s an inherent challenge in those games when you’re going solo which requires going through a rather tough process when it comes to leveling up. With that said, I have not encountered a more fumble fingered, ham fisted, bone headed set of so-called “game” mechanics in a very long time. It’s like the developers abstracted things that didn’t need to be and didn’t abstract the parts which needed it most. The visually impressive day/night cycle is tied to a wildly compressed “season” mechanic, whereby a few days equates to an entire season. The last time I ran into something like that was Re:Legend, and it was one of my big annoyances with that game. Sengoku Dynasty is considerably worse. You only have about five days per season, and with only a limited amount of light available during the day to work with, you’re not going to be getting a lot done.
The building systems are overly intricate. Whereas games like Valheim require a couple types of building materials for more advanced structural components, Sengoku Rising may demand multiple types for one particular (and I would assume) basic segment. Then you have to swing the hammer multiple times, and each swing applies one piece to that segment while also wearing your hammer down. Compared to Valheim‘s “click, click, boom” construction system, Sengoku Dynasty seems to take some sort of perverse pleasure in making you do every little thing. And since certain building materials like logs don’t stack in your inventory, you’re going to be spending an inordinate amount of time going back and forth trying to grab materials, and wearing out your tools at a ferocious rate. Seriously, I’ve probably crafted more stone axes than anything else so far. And without a repair mechanism in place, you’re condemned to create new tools over and over again until you’re done or you smash your computer in frustration.
As for the quest system, I am absolutely astonished that somebody thought that instructing players to build a bridge was somehow considered more important than pointing them towards getting the new village’s food and water sources secured. Especially since you’re not the one who’s actually going to build the bridge. Nope, you have to assign workers to make that happen. Oh, and it’s going to take “several seasons” for it to happen. And this is apparently necessary to have more villagers come in. Meanwhile, other quests appear to be completely broken. The healer needs plants? OK, go out, pick a ridiculous number of plants, and then waste stupid amounts of time trying to inform the healer you’ve got what she asked for only to not have that be an option in the dialog list. I shudder to think what’s waiting further down the road.
I might normally say that it’s a good thing a game like Sengoku Dynasty is in Early Access, because if it had been formally released, nobody would play the damned thing. Unfortunately, I don’t think any amount of Early Access tweaking and fixing is going to be enough. This isn’t a flawed game. It’s completely shambolic from the very start. And life’s too short to try and force myself towards the notional finishing point. If you’re looking for a good game that is set in the Sengoku period, look elsewhere. You’ll not find it here.
Axel played Sengoku Dynasty in Early Access with a code from the developer.