I, if it has not already been made abundantly clear, love the Warriors series as a whole. And I’ve found myself particularly enjoying the Warriors Orochi branch.
Warriors Orochi’s core appeal is that it successfully divorces both the Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors casts from their original contexts, allowing them to break free from the stories they’ve been telling since the PlayStation 2 days. Instead, they get the chance to have a bit of fun.
Well, “fun” might not be quite the right word, given that Warriors Orochi 3 starts off with all of them (except for three, conveniently) dying horribly. But it’s certainly fun for us.
Warriors Orochi 3 — specifically, Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate, which is the version we’ll be exploring — unfolds some time after the events of Warriors Orochi 2, as you might expect. Having thwarted the plans of recurring villainess Da Ji and the demonic incarnation of Heian-era Japanese leader Kiyomori Taira — not to mention the resurrection of the titular snake god — the various Three Kingdoms and Sengoku-era warriors go back to trying to establish new lives for themselves in the strange parallel world Orochi had left them trapped in. As things inevitably tend to go with this lot, ambition quickly rears its ugly head, and plenty of infighting ensues — not to mention the continued efforts of Da Ji and Kiyomori Taira to bring Orochi back for a third time.
But then something terrible happens: the arrival of a gigantic, fire-breathing, multi-headed snake monster known as Hydra. In keeping with the proud traditions of gigantic, fire-breathing, multi-headed snake monsters, Hydra is not at all friendly, and proceeds to absolutely wreck the entire world in which the warriors are trapped, killing all but three of them in the process and turning most of the land into a burnt-out hellscape.
The disaster attracts the attention of the Mystics, who were something of a background presence in the first Warriors Orochi and who took a more active role in Warriors Orochi 2. Taking pity on the three survivors Sima Zhao, Ma Chao and Hanbei Takenaka — and not really wishing to let an entity as powerful as Hydra rampage unchecked — the Mystic Kaguya presents them with the opportunity to travel back in time, fix the mistakes of the past and ultimately gather an army that will allow them to defeat Hydra once and for all. Think Quantum Leap, but with more stabbing.
What unfolds from here — assuming you start in the game’s substantial story mode, which is probably the recommended way to do things — is a non-linear narrative in which you take on a variety of different battle scenarios in order to rescue new allies. On occasion, the death of an important character may seem unavoidable during a battle, and following these unfortunate happenings the surviving characters will often discuss the events leading up to the fatal encounter in order to devise a strategy. From there, several optional missions unlock, which allow you to better prepare for the battle where the character died, and completing all of these then unlocks a “Redux” variation of the original mission in which you have the opportunity to save them and add them to your roster.
It’s an interesting structure that is distinctly different from the discrete, self-contained, linear story paths of the previous two games, and it makes good use of the time travel concept. It also allows for scenarios in which characters end up meeting and fighting “themselves”, which is not something that typically happens in Warriors games; in the more historically grounded titles in the series, choosing to play as a character who would otherwise appear on the battlefield for narrative purposes usually causes a generic officer to appear in their place.
Certain missions in the overall available “tree” have prerequisites before you can tackle them, too; for example, in some cases you need to build up the friendship between specific characters in order for them to consider taking on a mission together, while in others you simply need to have completed a specific battle before you can take on another. You can probably romp through the critical path of the main story relatively quickly, but in doing so you’ll miss out on unlocking a significant number of the game’s 145 cast members as well as missing some interesting story beats along the way. The choice is yours, though; the structure of the story mode means you can always go back and tie up loose ends later.
In battle, Warriors Orochi 3 feels markedly different to its immediate predecessor. While both the original Warriors Orochi and Warriors Orochi 2 were based on the PS2-era engine and mechanics that powered Dynasty Warriors 5 and Samurai Warriors 2, Warriors Orochi 3 is more in line with the overall look and feel of Dynasty Warriors 7 — particularly in the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of Ultimate, which provide improved visuals and lighting effects.
What this means in mechanical terms is a somewhat faster pace to battle, with a greater number of weaker “peon” enemies filling the screen at any one time, and both enemy officers and playable characters receiving significantly more damage when taking a hit. As such, you can hack and slash your way through a significantly greater number of enemies at once — a typical battle’s K.O. count in Warriors Orochi 3 is at least 2-3 times higher than its equivalent in Warriors Orochi 2 — but you also have to be quite a bit more cautious, since getting caught in one ill-timed flurry from an enemy officer can absolutely wreck you.
To counterbalance this increased level of fragility, Warriors Orochi 3 also incorporates a common quality-of-life feature from many other action RPGs: an immediate heal to full HP whenever you level up. On top of that, the series’ iconic Musou attacks, which always felt rather underpowered in both Warriors Orochi and its sequel, are now very effective at inflicting heavy damage over a wide area — so long as you know how to handle them. The whole thing feels a lot more energetic as a result, with none of the getting bogged down in “chip damage” battles that could sometimes happen in late-game Warriors Orochi and its sequel.
You still fight in three-character teams in Warriors Orochi 3, though now character switching can be used as part of a combo, and optionally all three characters on your team can fight on the field at once instead of tag-teaming. There’s also a new gauge-based mechanic known as True Triple Attack, in which your whole team attacks as many enemies as possible while a meter drains, with significant currency rewards on offer depending on how many you manage to trap in the concluding “blast”. And there are even unique attacks that can be used if you use specific combinations of characters to build your team — though naturally you’ll need to figure these out for yourself.
It’ll be immediately apparent from the moment you start Warriors Orochi 3 — particularly in its Ultimate incarnation — that you’re staring down MMO levels of “Things to Do”. That could potentially be rather daunting for series newcomers, but the game’s story mode does a good job of introducing you to things gently, gradually bringing in new mechanics a bit at a time until you have all the possible options available to you. And there’s a substantial game here even if you never explore anything beyond that story mode.
But where’s the fun in that, eh? In the coming weeks, we’ll be looking in more detail at the myriad systems Warriors Orochi 3 features, and contemplating whether or not this is a game you can ever really truly “finish”. Suffice to say for now that if you want a good “evergreen game” to keep you busy any time you just fancy a bit of hack and slash, Warriors Orochi 3 will not disappoint — and if you choose to engage with it more deeply, you’ll be fighting off the demonic hordes for a very long time to come.
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