Koei Tecmo is a company whose games have always captured my attention, but found issue in finding an entry point to them. Hyrule Warriors, despite the praise, ended up boring me to tears the first time I jumped on and then off the one-versus-thousands style of games. That is, until I bought One Piece Pirate Warriors 3 on a whim (during a One Piece kick) and fell in love with it. When given the chance to review Warriors Orochi 4, I jumped on it, hoping to recapture the magic and fun I had with Pirate Warriors 3.
For those who aren’t aware of what kind of action Warriors Orochi 4 features, it’s a hack and slash game that puts you in the shoes of a powerful soldier. Waves of minion-like enemies stand before you as fodder for your weapons, while more equally powered fighters come are base commanders and opposing generals. Set in a fairly decently-sized map, you move around defeating literally thousands of enemies, while leading your army towards victory by capturing bases and defeating enemy leaders.
The gameplay can be an acquired taste, as the key design is to make things fairly simple. Normal attacks are performed with two buttons, and more often than not, you find yourself using the same combos over and over. The intent is to create a powerful fantasy as you cut, shoot, and bash your way through huge squads of foes towards your goal, making you feel like the strongest fighter around.
Warriors Orochi 4 starts getting convoluted when you add in the other attack buttons. Introduced early on, every character has a special item that gives them three powerful magical attacks. They range from helpful to pointless, though, and trial and error teaches you which ones are worth using. Adding to the growing confusion is the special charge attack you can release, which was something I forgot about for the majority of my play time. You’re also given a special unity attack, which can be released after charging up another meter and will deal massive damage.
Despite an overwhelming high amount of charge meters, bars, and different combos, I found the combat to be quite engaging. Yes, I might have forgotten about one of the special attacks, but I was able to use the others effectively enough, and had fun trying out the characters. Every plays differently and wields a unique weapon. Even repeated armaments, like swords, are varied enough by combining them with additional equipment or a unique attack styles.
On the subject of characters, it’s an understatement to say that there are a lot of choices. This is because the core reason for existence of Warriors Orochi 4 is that it’s a cross-over title between Chinese-centered Dynasty Warriors, and the Samurai Warriors games set in Japan. Characters from both series are mixed together and each mission unlocks, at my count at least, a minimum of three new fighters to select for the next mission.
This fact was a two-edged sword for me. On the plus side, it kept me cycling through new allies. Each mission gives you the control of three heroes you can cycle between, and I often went into the next mission with a rookie team. While I occasionally would find a fighter who was harder to handle or just wasn’t all that fun, I also stumbled on a few who were an absolute blast to play with. This creates a feeling of freshness throughout, as I never felt stuck having to play with only a small handful of bland characters.
On the flip side, though, looking through the growing roster of men and women can get overwhelming. With so many new choices, I sometimes struggled with who to play as. While there’s an option to test out the characters, I chose to ignore it and give myself a trial by fire scenario each time by jumping into the next story chapter. The lack of focus also meant that I had no room to fall in love with any one of the characters. Even fighters I did come to enjoy got pushed to the side in case the new guy was better than the gal I found fun to play as.
As for the story, this is where the game is either strong or weak, depending on your past experiences with the Warriors franchise. I would assume, being someone who doesn’t know the characters, that the story is something fans of Samurai Warriors and Dynasty Warriors, or both, would find highly enjoyable. As someone with no understanding of the past events, or know who exactly these strangers were, it came across as a detailed, yet perplexing mess.
That’s not to say that the story is inherently bad. The core plot is simple enough; warriors from different eras and backgrounds find themselves needing to come together to defeat a common evil. In fact, the framework is laid well enough that a Warriors rookie such as myself coukd follow the gist of it. My failure to grasp the story came from the more intricate details, as well as the importance of introduced characters.
On the whole, the story mode is competent, and does its job to create a base for the gameplay, and that’s all you can ask of it at the end of the day. I did find myself, while not fully engaging in the narrative, understanding it enough that it didn’t get in the way of the fun parts.
What’s not as fun, though, is the character management, and this is where calling it bewildering would be yet another understatement. On the surface, I understand the objective; allow for customization and gamification of characters to drive continued play. There’s nothing wrong with the idea, but in execution it becomes a clustertruck of insanity. You have characters gaining bond levels with other fighters based on how much they are used together, you can equip different levels of weapons and add new elements to their attacks, levels grant skill points which can be used to upgrade stats and combo lengths, and so on.
It all creates a mess of an UI that makes me feel like I’m playing a skim-milk version of Monster Hunter. The need to be prepared is understandable in the boss-centered franchise, but here it meant large amounts of work for a little overall benefit. I actively avoided as much of character management as possible, only focusing on the skill trees and levels. Those were the only really important features anyway, as levels equal strength, and you could unlock better combos or further upgrades with each skill up.
One noteworthy feature is that while the story mode is where you’ll spend the bulk of your time with Warriors Orochi 4, there’s are online battles too. From best I can tell, it’s a 3v3 mode where you play capture the flag-style elimination matches. I say this coming from the light tutorial offered, because when I tried to jump into a few matches, all I got was waiting around. The best I could get was one other person, who would drop out after a few minutes.
Those looking to jump into the Warriors series and experience the flavor of the games, could do better. Personally, I would recommend the licensed Warriors games, such as One Piece Pirate Warriors 3 or even Hyrule Warriors, because they will teach you what you can expect from the genre. What they offer as well is a brand you’re more likely to be familiar with, and therefore care more about the characters and the story. As a newcomer to Warriors, I never felt welcomed into the mythos, my point of view being more like that of an outsider, only scratching the surface rather than becoming absorbed.
There is fun to be had with Warriors Orochi 4, as I certainly found myself hooked in once I got going, yet I don’t recommend the game for the uninitiated. It failed to leave a strong lasting impression, and I lacked the emotional connection to the story concepts. If you’re a veteran of the franchise, you’ll find Koei Tecmo has made a solid entry to add to your library. If, like me, you’re still fresh-faced, wait for a sale or work your way towards it.