Warriors Orochi 4 Review
Reviewed on PCAlso available on Nintendo Switch, Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One
Riding a wave of crashing water, the armour clad form of Tadakatsu Honda cuts through regiments of thoroughly unprepared foot soldiers before coming to a halt and unleashing a brutal flurry of slashes upon the survivors. In a flash, Honda disappears and is replaced by the legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, wielding two swords as he taught in the Book of Five Rings. Musashi hops onto a magically produced horse and makes for the next group of enemies, leaping down from the animal's back and unleashing a torrent of killer swings before disappearing as quickly as he arrived, replaced by the nigh on angelic form of Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom. In the thick of a swelling crowd of angry men with swords and spying a ghostly form that's soon to cause greater problems still, she calls out to her team mates, leaps into the air with them to combine their magical powers and lay waste to all nearby. This is Warriors Orochi 4 in a nutshell and it's brilliantly absurd.
Like some sort of fever dream born in the mind of a scholar of ancient Asia and European mythology, Warriors Orochi 4 takes an incredible number of historical figures from various periods of Chinese and Japanese history and asks questions such as, if they all got together, had a few fights and then started working together, what kinds of cooking tips would the generals exchange? Which hulking strong man archetypes would begin awkward bromances? Which doting siblings would converse across time about the nature of their familial relationships and what it means to be a brother, older or younger? The answers are all here, believe it or not, and it's moments like these that fill out the bare bones of Warriors Orochi's plot.
Newcomers to this offshoot of the Dynasty and Samurai Warriors franchises might well hesitate seeing that this is the fourth entry in the series, concerned that the plot could be utterly lost on them, but they'd do well to set fears aside. Luckily for the audience, especially on PC where this marks the first Warriors Orochi title to hit the format in a decade, everyone forgot what happened last time. Seriously. Orochi, a legendary eight headed and tailed snake from Japanese mythology, had previously merged the universes of Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors, effectively creating a stage for his own amusement, just to see who would win. Then he did it a couple more times for good measure. Each time, the warriors who took him down were restored to their time and place with no memory of what had happened and each time they start as blind as someone brand new to the series. So now, with Orochi seemingly defeated, Zeus has decided that meddling in the affairs of men seems like a bit of a lark and has once again brought distant times and places together. And with gods come godly powers...
Before we get to that though, it's worth noting that the Warriors games have changed very little over the years and whether you think that's a good thing or not is going to be very much a case of personal taste. Everything previous players might expect is here - cutting through hordes of cannon fodder with basic attacks, charging attacks and powerful, special gauge draining combos feels just as it always has, for better or worse. Unlike some of the other games in the franchise, you'll be forming three person teams that can be switched out at any moment, allowing Hattori Hanzo to quickly become Liu Bei mid-combo and inviting you to find your personal favourite mix of characters after eventually unlocking all 170 of them.
What's new to this particular Warriors game are the godly powers I've already alluded to. Each character has access to a powerful relic that allows them to manifest some spectacular magic on the battlefield. Each item has a quick and charged attack as well as a unique special attack that drains all of your magical reserves AND half of the special meter you use to unleash weapon combos. They're visual spectacles in a franchise that otherwise see's it's peak in the clashing of weapons on armour, with the magical attacks going far further by spewing lighting effects and particles all over the already frantic battlefield. It's welcome, albeit very exploitable due to how powerful some of these new techniques are. Tadakatsu Honda's Trident relic, shared by a handful of others, and it's wave attack are undeniably useful as a means of quickly sweeping up groups of enemies, quickly damaging them and moving fast across a battlefield where others simply don't have even half as much utility. That said, balance has never been the focus of the Warriors games so expecting it here is perhaps a fool's errand.
Alongside these relics come powerful new transformations for a handful of the core cast, the capacity to become deified and take on aspects of a mythical being. Unlocked by progressing the plot and revealed in cut scenes, it's fun seeing potentially familiar characters ascend and take on even more insane costumes and abilities, with the new power you're granted allowing you to cut through enemy generals with ease and flashy finesse. It's nothing that evolves the core idea that the Warriors games have been milking for the last twenty years, but it's certainly doesn't hurt to be able to push a player's power fantasies into even more absurd territory.
With all these warriors and abilities at your disposal, the sheer amount of content on offer here is huge. With a fully voiced (albeit in Japanese) storyline full of cut scenes, amusing dialogue between historical figures that could never have met and a lot of anime tropes, the core campaign mode will suck up many an hour with it's multiple difficulties and objectives per map. There's even local and online multiplayer available on each stage, allowing you and a friend to join forces and commit to wanton slaughter in the name of foiling Zeus's plot. Beyond that, competitive multiplayer is present in the form of a relatively simple "capture the base" mode, pitting teams of three against each other, though due to playing this before release and at unusual hours of the day I didn't manage to find any matches going so as to know whether it's likely to hold attention and have any player base weeks after release.
Playing on PC at highest settings at 1080p resolution and using an Ivy Bridge i7 processor, 16gb of DDR3 ram and a Geforce 1060 6GB card, I found frame rates dipping regularly at highest settings, unsurprisingly during moments where huge numbers of soldiers were being instantaneously vapourized by flashy magical attacks. Thankfully though, these drops never went below 30fps and did little to affect gameplay as they typically came when my character was busy with some light effect heavy animation, returning to normal when the light show was over. Dropping a few settings like volumetric fog and shadow quality helped bump frame rates up to a steady 60fps on my system so those with comparable computers will be able to find a mix of fidelity and frames that works for them.
Warriors Orochi 4 is packed full of everything a long running fan of the series or even occasional onlooker might want, be it characters, levels, the ability to upgrade weapons and level up warriors, the escalation of already potent fighting abilities or even just the often silly conversations it's possible to unlock by having certain warriors fight together consistently. As ever with the Warriors series, it's not bringing much that's genuinely new, but as the saying goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".