Warriors Orochi 4 First Impressions

Going back to Warriors basics after the divisive Dynasty Warriors 9

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I’m not the most hardcore Koei Tecmo fan. Not by a longshot. But I do love Omega Force’s games. I’ve played pretty much every Dynasty Warriors game and all the licensed spin-offs, but I don’t fully level up every character, or create cosplay, or count frames on moves, or get frustrated over weapons changes or character clones.

One time I took a picture of a pork bun in Dynasty Warriors 9 and the Koei twitter account retweeted it, so that was fun.

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Here’s my famous pork bun.

I was one of the five people who unequivocally loved that stupidly big open world game earlier this year, warts and all. I fully acknowledge that it’s a deeply strange and flawed game, where the ambition to do something different on the same low budget produced a design that was destined to polarize fans from the very beginning.

But I also think that the improvements made to its rendering tech are undeniably impressive, and even if they never use the derided open world game design again, the game’s attempt to expand confined levels into full world-spanning encounters was a good theory.

I give you all of this info so you know where I’m coming from here. After the critical lambasting of DW9 and the seeming indifference of much of the consumer fanbase, I was worried that its only legacy would be some of the lighting and shading improvements that Omega Force made to the graphics engine.

If my first few hours with Warriors Orochi 4 is anything to judge by…that’s exactly what’s happened.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Fans who hated Dynasty Warriors 9 will be right at home here, and even as someone that liked that previous game, there’s still a lot in this new one for me to enjoy.

Even though most of it is content I’ve already technically seen before remixed in a new shiny package.

Here now, in no particular order, is a whole bunch of info about what I think so far. I’ll have a full review of the game up whenever I finish the bulk of the content…which won’t be for at least a few weeks.

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I took all the images in this story using the Switch version of the game.

BACK TO SQUARE ONE

Warriors Orochi 4 is a tongue-in-cheek reboot of the Warriors Orochi franchise, which many thought was dead after the release of Warriors All Stars last year. Orochi combines characters from the Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors games together as they fight the Demon King Orochi, who’s a big bad guy that controls demons, essentially.

The opening of this entry mentions all that to bring you up to speed in a recap video.…then veers off into a brand new storyline involving some Greek and Norse gods. You see, Zeus and some other god people are standing around a bowl of liquid, and then Zeus wants to throw some snake bracelets into it for some reason. But then an evil God steals one of the bracelets? And Zeus also wants the heroes of legend from Dynasty and Samurai Warriors to come and…

Look. The plot is great and it’s wacky nonsense, so far. It’s an excuse to bring back literally every character from the two franchises being mashed up. The god characters are the only brand new characters in this particular entry, which is a level-based linear hack-and-slash that’s smaller in scope than Warriors Orochi 3…at first glance, anyway. It lacks that game’s Gauntlet Mode and branching story pathways, in favor of a big ol’ list of stages to play in linear order and some basic ways to revisit them.

Fortunately, Warriors Orochi 4 expands on scope in ways other than dropping players into an obscenely large and budget-consuming open world, like DW9. Namely, this game holds the Guiness World Record for “Most Playable Characters in a Hack-and-slash action game.” There’s a total of 170 characters here, which is really cool…

But 165 of them are from previous entries in the franchise. If you’ve played the last few Dynasty Warriors or Samurai Warriors titles you’ll immediately recognize them, and their graphical assets. Similarly, nearly all of the levels here are re-used from previous entries in the series…though with some minor graphical upgrades. Magical stones jut out of the landscape, and in the skyboxes there are random classical Greek structures because why not?

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This one of the special DLC mounts. I’m ridiculous and I bought the Deluxe version, because I’m a sucker and Koei games never get good discounts in a timely fashion. I love that this man is *requesting* a duel.

COMBAT

Fortunately, the combat manages to keep most of what worked from the last few games, and combine it together into a system that shines. The basic attack system varies whether you select a Dynasty Warriors or Samurai Warriors character, with buttons and combos mimicking those franchises, but at the heart of it it’s a two button system with a third special attack button.

That’s right, the dynamic Flow Attack system from DW9 is out, and the classic battle system that’s served about 80 of these games very well is back in. It’s a little bit strange that characters don’t have a slightly more unified control scheme, but it makes sense because almost all of the attack animations here are re-used from the games that the respective characters come from.

If you’re suddenly worried that they literally copied-and-pasted in Samurai Warriors 4 and Dynasty Warriors 8 characters and called it good, fear not…there’s some new stuff here in the form of the Magic system. Each character is pre-assigned a new magical relic out of a pool of 12, that I believe is growing larger with upcoming DLC.

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Magic controls similarly to the trigger attacks in DW9. I was shocked to see this system make a return from that loathed entry, but it’s very smartly layered in on top of the combat that everyone knows and loves. When you hold down the right shoulder button, your character’s magical relic hovers behind them on the screen. You can then press the three attack-bound face buttons to do magical attacks, all with varying and delightful results.

Pressing the jump button with your relic out summons your horse instantly and starts you riding on it. You no longer need to wait for it to try in vain to run up to you. I thought this change would bother me at first since I liked running over and seamlessly jumping on my horse (when it didn’t get stuck)…but the ability to “INSTANT HORSE” is so much more fun that I hope every Warriors game from now on does this.

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Even though I’ve only played for a few hours, this is already the most polished gameplay experience from a Warriors title in a very long time. It has none of the clunkiness that turned a lot of folks away from DW9, and it retains that game’s trigger attack system with new exciting magical abilities.

They kept the right things from every preceding game, and made a system that I’ll happily play with for hours.

Oh, and there’s also a new “Deification” system using the above-mentioned snake bracelets, but only a teensy handful of characters (just seven) can use it so it’s a strange inclusion. It’s essentially a power-up/transformation thing. It’s fine? It’s weird to single out like 7 characters for this ability, but /it’s fine.

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The exteriors look pretty okay on Switch and the interiors look….rough?

VISUALS

Almost none of the visual feature-set from DW9 comes over to Warriors Orochi 4. The game looks much closer to Warriors All Stars or the last few Samurai Warriors games than this year’s big open world monstrosity.

That’s not to say it looks bad. It’s clear, even in the Switch version that I’m playing, that there have been some small improvements to lighting, shader effects, and real-time particles that no doubt came over from the work on the open world game everyone loved to hate.

But all of the re-used assets means this game looks very much like the games that its assets came out of. Character models don’t look old, necessarily, but because most of these designs are from older games and they only received a modest visual touch-up…it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’re playing a cobbled-together collection of older visuals. Because you kind of are.

I was worried that the Switch version would run badly from some early footage I saw online, but I’m happy to say that it seems to stick to a 30FPS target most of the time whether portable or docked. If you’re super into visuals you’ll want to go for the PS4 or Xbox versions, but again…this is more of a greatest hits collection of assets than any kind of attempt at a visual showpiece. It’s not an extreme visual onslaught on any platform, but it runs much better than DW9 did at launch.

Thank goodness.

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Your current team of selected characters stands in the back of the menu screen. Get ready to see this menu a lot.

LOOT AND UI COMPLEXITY

After just a few minutes of playing this game, you’ll be bathing in new weapons and unlocked characters to add to your team. Completing each stage grants you Gems(Money), Weapons, Crystals (a more rare form of money), new characters, and…bits that grant elemental bonuses to weapons when you slot them in.

I hope you like using menus, because when you’re not hacking and slashing with the fun refined combat system…you’ll be looking at a whole lot of menus. The menu design is merely okay, with an over-reliance on samey looking squares. They’ve also split several functions into multiple menus where one would do.

I’ll explain.

If you want to equip weapons, that has a dedicated menu. Selling or dismantling weapons has a second dedicated menu. Fusing gems into weapons has a third unique menu, where you can also equip weapons if you must but only by pressing the correct button.

All of these weapon function menus live together in their own sub menu that’s part of the game’s main menu system. They all easily could have just lived on the same interface screen, but Omega Force and Koei decided that three screens would be better.

This same design philosophy permeates the entire menu system. It’s very functional and complex and enjoyable to use if you like this sort of thing, but there’s so many steps to get to everything.

Still, if you like making numbers go up and getting better things you’ll probably love this. So far, it has one of the most satisfying loot progressions I’ve seen in a Warriors game. And each of the 170 characters has a unique Skill Tree and special hidden weapons as well, so there’s an absurd amount of number-raising to do.

Also you’ll occasionally find a new horse so that’s fun.

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A SMARTER USE OF A LOW BUDGET

Dynasty Warriors 9 approached scale by spending all of its budget on a vast open world and more writing than any other Warriors game. Those are spendy creative endeavors. All 90 characters had a unique path through the story, with their own unique dialogue moments and custom endings. I played over 100 hours of that game, and I’ve still only seen about 1/6th of the actual content. I’ve been all over the world but haven’t even seen half of its map yet.

Warriors Orochi 4’s team, by comparison, seems to have put all its budgetary resources into systems, spending virtually nothing on new art assets or extensive writing. That’s not to say the writing or visuals here are bad, not at all. Just that, where these elements could be done cheaply…they were.

The story is the same for every character, though you can unlock some custom conversations between characters by building their bond rating, and that’s where most of the writing and voice acting lives. There’s no English or Chinese dubs this time around. And even the mechanical/UI/loot systems are all built on what worked before rather than being entire reworks.

It’s probably a smarter way of doing things after the big gamble that was the hated open world of DW9, honestly. Koei is (in)famous for making games quickly on small budgets, and Warriors Orochi 4 is much more traditional and “Safe” compared to Dynasty Warriors 9. Whether the fun combat and loot system hold up over the 100 or so hours I personally plan to spend on it remains to be seen. And I should probably test the co-op! There’s online and local co-op.

Oh! Some of the music doesn’t use screaming guitars in this entry, instead favoring samples of classical acoustic instruments. I didn’t know how to process this at first, but I assume it’s because the game takes place in a The new mix of Lu Bu’s theme with more traditional instrumentation is wild.

Written by

I do radio voice work by day, and write by day and night. I studied film and production. I love audio, design, and music. Also video games.

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