Stay for a spell.
It feels like the Warriors series is constantly looking for a way to act smarter than its fans actually want it to be. The release of any given Dynasty, Samurai, or spin-off Warriors game will come with the promise of some new idea or other. We’ve had flexible combo systems, skill-based special gauges, weapon classes, squad controls. The last ‘innovation’ was the most sweeping of all, as Dynasty Warriors 9 swapped the series’ compact, enemy-packed battlefields for an astonishingly empty open world that, somehow, still wouldn’t run properly. The less said about that the better.
The thing is, I’d imagine the majority of Warriors fans are in the same boat as me. Perversely, this is a series beautiful entirely because of its mindlessness. Sweeping bright red enemy armies from the mini-map feels closer to the pleasure of a Tetris or an emptied pool table than the stresses of the hardcore action games Omega Force has seemed keen to copy in the past.
I’m happy to say that, with Warriors Orochi 4, the developers may have come around to my way of thinking. After a couple of hours with the latest iteration of the Warriors cross-universe spin-off, it’s clear this isn’t just a return to the classic format, but doubles down on its dumbest excesses in an absolutely delightful way.
I’ve long held that the best idea Omega Force ever had was to counteract the simplicity of its characters’ movesets by just making dozens of characters to try, so you never actually get a chance to get bored of them. Well, Warriors Orochi 4 has 170 of them, drawn from Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, previous Orochi games and, amazingly, Greek mythology. It’s a roster so big I’m told Koei Tecmo’s getting in touch with the Guinness Book of Records to see if it qualifies for a certificate. So that’s a plus.
Better, Orochi 4’s new combat system is a way to make things consistently more spectacular, rather than more skill-based. Every character now comes with a ‘Sacred Treasure’ weapon alongside their standard murder tool of choice. Tied to an always-building meter and activated simply by holding R1 (or equivalent shoulder button) when activating a weak, heavy or Musou attack, this lets you pull off a series of magic moves that are, almost universally, hilariously dumb.
Tadakatsu Honda summons a tiny tidal wave that he can skateboard around the battlefield, Liu Bei conjures up strange electric globes that just fall on people’s heads, and Fa Zheng, whose ‘normal’ weapon is a tiny magic carpet, somehow outdoes even that by having the ability to turn into a flaming boar and just run around for a while. There’s explosive rainbow dust, a kamehameha beam, and the ability to just make your horse appear out of thin air under your legs. It’s absolutely ludicrous – I love it.
Those who don’t care for Warriors’ dunderheaded charms aren’t likely to be swayed by any of this, of course, but after the muddy disaster of Dynasty Warriors 9, this feels like the perfect tonic for longtime fans. This promises to be the Warriors you remember, but moreso. I’m in.
Joe Skrebels is IGN’s UK News Editor, and nothing about his love for Warriors games is ironic. Follow him on Twitter.