Warriors Orochi 4 Ultimate Review
Mass battles bring more heroes, but less refinement
Back when I first took a chance on a game called Dynasty Warriors 2, shortly after getting my PlayStation 2 for Christmas nearly two decades ago, I had no idea the series would spread like a T-Virus, infecting other IPs and mutating along the way. Dynasty to Samurai to Hyrule to Dragon Quest Warriors (and more), the Omega-Force-developed series of hack 'n' slash games have seemingly stood the test of time. And since day one, they've always been my gaming equivalent of junk food.
My latest order, in Warriors Orochi 4 Ultimate, is like one of those supersize meals which combines several big items on the menu. You've got characters from Dynasty and Samurai Warriors, ones introduced in the spin-off Orochi series, as well as even a few outsiders, like Ryu Haybusa, of Ninja Gaiden fame.
So, sticking with the fast food analogy - does it taste any good?
First and foremost, it's worth getting out of the way the fact that WO4U is re-release of Warriors Orochi 4. Existing owners of WO4 can purchase an upgrade pack to get the new features. Additions in the Ultimate version include: a couple of extra main story chapters, a handful of extra characters, the ability to equip sacred treasures freely on characters, the reincarnation system from Warriors Orochi 3, Infinity Mode (for material farming), as well as a few other smaller additions. For around $30, you'll know if that price tag is justified if you already have the base game. In short, I'd say wait until a discount if you're a die-hard fan.
If all that talk of sacred treasures and reincarnation systems mean nothing, chances are you're not as familiar with the series or have dipped your toe into Omega Force's other spinoffs. The main draw of the series is the large-scale battles, featuring hundreds if not thousands of enemies, where you act as a one-man-army scything down soldiers like wheat. Along with regular chaff, there are officers who are a little tougher to take down, and the main boss of the large map, who is often encountered at the opposite end of where you began. Basically, each level ends with you hitting them until they flee. That's it.
The story is just as simple. Everyone gets amnesia after returning to their respective worlds in the previous entries. Then, those from Dynasty and Samurai Warriors are dragged back to Orochi's world (the antagonist of the previous games) by Zeus - yes, that Zeus. To return, they must team up and acquire mysterious bangles that contain hidden power.
WO4U does not deviate from the formulae. However, unlike the mainline series, you can take up to three heroes into battle and can switch between them on the fly. Those from Dynasty Warriors have light and heavy attacks that can be chained for combos. Whereas those from Samurai Warriors boast hyper attacks, which work as crowd clearance, giving them an advantage over Dynasty characters when advancing along the battlefield.
All characters have access to magic in different flavours, depending on the sacred treasure you have equipped. Named after mythical Greek weapons of legend, they do things like conjure whirlpools that trap enemies, emit kamehameha-like bursts of energy, charge your stats, or you can even ride around the battlefield on a very angry boar. They're a great addition to the Orochi series, because they allow for more seamless combo transitions between characters. With the ability to now choose treasures to your liking, it lets you turn your three-man band into a real powerhouse.
Musou attacks, an ultimate crowd-clearing and punishing super move is, of course, still present by law. Flashy as they are, they only charge if you swap out your character (unless you have a weapon modification). This might come as a surprise to players of the other titles because it used to charge via attacking enemies. Magic also adds a second musou attack.
Perhaps the most powerful attack in your arsenal is Unity Magic. Mowing down foes fills up your Unity gauge and, when full, allows you to unleash a seven-person attack that obliterates anyone in range. The additional four units acting as passive, stat-boosting additions to your crew.
A new feature in the series as a whole is deification, which is shorthand for a super-powerful state. Only a handful of characters are capable of this. By inducing “rage mode”, that you can acquire by defeating chaos spirits on the battlefield, a character transforms, which means a new skin and boost in abilities for a set period of time. Don't for a moment think this is some massive game-changer, it's just a bit of extra attack power.
Once you've used all the fancy moves and characters at your disposal to finish a level, you'll find a number of rewards waiting. Warriors acquire new weapons by collecting them from defeated officers, and the more powerful weapons are the spoils of harder battles. Growth EXP is one currency used to level up, outside of defeating foes, and can be freely spent on any character in your massive roster. Upon leveling up, characters gain skill points to unlock more moves, buff stats, and increase the effectiveness of magic. Gems is a second currency that's used to purchase upgrades to your camp, like reaping more EXP from battles, improving base stats for characters en masse, and even unlocking new characters.
Growth points and Gems may be a little difficult to acquire in the early game, but as you start gaining access to more powerful weapons (that you can sell), it all starts rolling in. Several unlocks are also gated behind leveling up and using different characters, which encourages experimentation.
And, boy, is there a ton of characters. WO4U boasts the largest roster - well over 100. Along with the different game affiliations, characters can be grouped into speed, technique, and power. Honestly, you won't notice much difference - some can cancel attacks, instantly guard, but I rarely used them. I'd say there's no excuse for not finding tons of characters that you can have fun with. I was a particular fan of Oda Nobunaga, Zhou Tai, Keiji Maeda, Lu Bu, and dozens more.
The character roster and diverse moveset is never something that has irked me with the series (excluding Dynasty Warriors 6 and 9, which we shall not speak of). My biggest frustration has been the level design and story outside of the mainlines entries. Because WO4U is a collaboration game, you don't have the context of the original story in the levels, meaning that the majority of levels were mindless slogs going from one flashing point on the mini-map to another. It may seem a little hypocritical calling the game junk food but then expecting more, but no one ever said fast food was bad food.
The most memorable and fun battles from Dynasty or Samurai Warriors blended large, interestingly designed battlefields with simple objectives. The Battle of Chi-Bi comes to mind. In DW, it's a huge effort of moving parts - you've got to protect a character while they cast a spell, then rush to help defeat officers while they plot a sneak attack, then ensure you navigate a mass battlefield of chained ships, avoiding those on fire, to your final destination. This encounter is featured in WO4U and it's devoid of anything that made the original battle so memorable. It's just another open space where you hunt down officers until the battle ends.
I would have much preferred if instead of going for quantity, Omega Force focused on quality. However, this has been endemic of the series. With their original IPs, the company is coasting on name alone. If WO4U had inherited some of those elements as well as the characters, it would be a much more enjoyable experience. Instead, it feels as if they are relying solely on the characters to make it engaging. Even then, I miss elements like being able to customize your character's look or even have different skins from older entries in the series.
Another area that is a bit barebones is the interface. Unlike the previous entry, the physical camp area for characters was eschewed in favour of a mobile-inspired series of menus. They're fine in terms of navigation; it's just the actual camp gave a sense of an army. An update also allows you to refine some UI elements to make them less finicky, such as the character selection screen. However, it's understandable because of the sheer number of characters you have to manage.
Graphically, Omega Force has never been a leader and we're in an age where saying you can fit a lot of stuff on screen is par for the course. Character designs are, of course, cool and unique, and they do pull off the spectacle in some levels - like Sekigahara - but it's all few and far between.
If you step away from WO4U's story, there are a number of other supplemental modes. Challenge Mode is a gauntlet-style approach, with each level having different objectives, such as slaying a number of enemies within a set time. In doing so, you'll be rewarded rare weapon elements. It's useful if you're hunting for specific elements, though I found it easier to just play through the main story on a higher difficulty to acquire them, or just simply purchase them.
The Battle Arena is an online mode separate from the others. In it, you face off against online opponents to capture bases around a large area. With the points you gain from victory, your rank will increase and you earn AP to unlock other officers. You can also earn Divine Blessings, which will buff your character in a variety of ways. On the whole, I didn't find the mode that much fun because it felt quite isolated and detracts from the typical big battle feel.
Infinity Mode is a new addition in the Ultimate version of the game. However, you only unlock it after clearing Chapter 5 of the game's story (the original ending). In essence, it's the challenge/tower mode from the Samurai Warriors games, where you go through progressively harder floors with greater rewards. It's a fun mode going solo - however, it used to be some much more fun in Samurai Warriors when you could attack it with two characters. Outside of the main story mode, it's certainly the most enjoyable.
The most positive element WO4U has going for it is its massive roster of unique characters, many of which are a ton of fun to play with. However, everything else is a little sparse - levels are plentiful but rather bland; its multiplayer mode is rather boring; the story is lackluster and mostly irrelevant. I always see a lot of potential in these types of collaboration games, but Omega Force never seem to truly mix all of what made those games great into something that has a little more flavour.