Koei Tecmo and Omega Force’s Warriors Orochi 4 feels like a game that will never, ever end, and I mean that in the best way possible. Even after you’ve trucked through the five chapters, roughly 70 different missions, and multiple side stories, you can swing back around and level up the characters you decided to skip during your first playthrough. And trust me when I say there are tons of characters to choose from over the course of the story; so many, in fact, that you won’t even scratch the proverbial surface your first time through the game. That said, you’ll definitely want to come back for more, as WO4 features some absolutely fantastic gameplay that runs smoothly 95 percent of the time. It’s a marked improvement over the truly mediocre Dynasty Warriors 9, and it gives musou fans the kind of next-level ferocity that made the series so popular (and fun) in the first place. It’s so addictive, in fact, that I honestly can’t stop thinking about it, even as bigger and more high-profile games slowly but surely begin to stake their claim on my free time. I can’t wait to go back to it.
The epic, over-the-top story tucked inside Warriors Orochi 4 defies my ability to adequately explain it in a way that makes total sense, so I’ll do my best to summarize: The powerful god Zeus and his children are up to no good, and by using bracelets fashioned from the serpentine locks found on Medusa’s head, they create a strange, magical, and hyperviolent world filled to overflowing with characters from the Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors franchises. In order to stop Zeus’ dastardly plot and put an end to his nefarious deeds, these heroes must join up, gather allies, and rally against the Olympian deities before it’s too late. And while there are intricacies to this plot that I’m leaving out for the sake of brevity, know that the story serves as nothing more than a framework for some wonderfully over-the-top battles.
And oh, what battles they are. Although Dynasty Warriors 9 attempted to introduce the Warriors franchise to the wilds of an open-world format, Warriors Orochi 4 sticks to the old-school format of presenting players with self-contained sorties that have a clear beginning and end. In other words, you don’t have to travel across miles of an empty open world to head to your next mission; instead, you select it from the menu, watch a quick visual novel-style cutscene, and head off into the fray. This style works very well with WO 4, as it keeps the battles coming one right after another while giving you a few moments to breathe in between. I typically love open-world games, and I rank some of them among my favorites of all time. That said, Dynasty Warriors 9 illustrated that the franchise doesn’t work well within this structure, so it’s good to see that the developers stuck to what works best for the game, as opposed to simply making it more appealing for Western gamers.
The wild and wicked battles in Warriors Orochi 4 feel fantastic; the framerate remains fairly solid throughout, which makes for a smooth, fluid, and almost flawless presentation. The latest installment in the franchise adds magic-based attacks to the mix, from the ability to fling large swaths of enemies through the air to delivering field-flattening attacks that will destroy nearly every foe on the battlefield. However, some of these attacks can cause the game to slow and stutter (the game held up pretty well on the PlayStation Pro), but other than that, you’ll hardly notice when the framerate skips a beat or two. Again, it’s a much richer, more finely tuned experience than DW 9. And if you can’t nail the combat in a Warriors game, then what’s the point of releasing it? The vast majority of fans want one thing: large groups of enemies to destroy using extremely cool characters who possess a host of visually appealing maneuvers. WO 4 delivers that and then some.
Over the course of the game, you’ll have the chance to level up your characters, three of whom you’ll switch between while doing battle in Zeus’ magical realm. You’ll also have a handful of support characters on-hand to give you a helping hand during your sorties, and each one brings his or her own unique strengths and weaknesses to the table. If you discover that some of your warriors are a bit under-leveled, you can send them off for training, or spend some of the spoils of war on augmenting their weaponry with various power-ups. What’s more, you’ll collect an assortment of new weaponry after each battle, which you can sell for gems or scrap for the elements necessary to turn your favorite weapon into a masterful work of art. As the game progressed, some of my characters had some pretty insane weaponry at their disposal, which definitely helps when the game begins to spike in difficulty during the game’s final chapters.
Perhaps the game’s biggest appeal (outside of the combat, of course) is the sheer number of playable characters you can choose from, all of whom are incredibly cool. Believe it or not, Warriors Orochi 4 now holds the Guinness World Record for the highest amount of playable characters in a single video game. Over the course of the main story and the optional side missions, players will unlock a staggering 170 different characters from across the Warriors franchise, all of whom feature their own unique magic and play style. Sure, some are very similar to others, and some possess the same basic magic attacks as their counterparts, but each one definitely looks and feels different on the battlefield. It’s difficult to choose which ones you like the best, as you can only devote so much time to each warrior before the level requirement for the next chapter rises beyond your reach. Going back to experience individual sorties as different characters adds a wealth of replayability to Warriors Orochi 4. In fact, I foresee this game staying on my PS4 well into the future, as it’s something you can drop into for a few minutes, bash some skulls, level up, and then move on with whatever else you need to do for the day.
Should you grow tired of the endless battles and want to do something else, you can spend some time watching the events that unlock as the bonds between your allies begin to grow. These fully voiced, visual novel-style sequences don’t really add much to the story, but they do provide a much-needed break when you’ve just spent 20 minutes on a mission and need to unwind before heading back into the main story. Most of these events contain your typical JRPG silliness (characters spouting flowery devotion toward one another, bold declarations of undying loyalty, etc.), and it all unfolds using the same static character portraits you’ll see throughout the game. Still, if you’re into the lore and love the characters you’re spending all this time with over the course of the story, then you’ll get a kick or two out of these events. Then again, if you detest visual novels and inane dialogue, you can ignore that this feature even exists.
Perhaps the biggest sticking point I found throughout my playthrough is the sheer amount of chatter while you’re trying to fight. If you speak Japanese, then you won’t have a problem keeping up with what everyone’s talking about. However, if you rely on the text to keep up with the never-ending conversations, then you’re going to have a very difficult time keeping up with everything. I don’t think there’s very much exposition buried in all those conversations — I never felt like I’d lost the plot during the cutscenes — but I’d still like to know what everyone’s talking about while I’m trying to take down two dozen grunts, two mini-bosses, and a giant cyclops, all of whom want to pound me into paste. Maybe I need to step up my game, but right now, trying to keep up with mountains of text during combat feels like a chore.
Warriors Orochi 4 completely defied my expectations. After the concentrated mess of systems at the center of Dynasty Warriors 9, I wondered if Koei Tecmo could bring the Warriors franchise back to its roots and get things back on the right track. Thankfully, WO 4 delivers the kind of experience fans want from this long-running series, and it does so with slick graphics, flawless presentation, and a record-breaking number of playable characters. The difficulty spike that occurs toward the end of the game does require a bit of grinding, especially if you spent a lot of time leveling up dozens of different heroes instead of focusing on a core set. Of course, there are worse offenses this game could have made, so I can’t really knock it for giving me too many options and too much to do. Thanks to the inclusion of the new magic system, Warriors Orochi 4 injects some powerful creativity into the musou franchise, and it makes you feel like an absolute beast on the field of battle. I sincerely hope that this one doesn’t get lost in the hectic shuffle of this busy season for gaming, as it offers a wonderful alternative to sprawlings open-world adventures and sports titles. And if you’re at all curious about musou games, this is the place to begin your adventure.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided by Koei Tecmo.