The Warriors series is like Call of Duty or the NHL sports franchises, as in you know there is going to be a new game every year. It might be called Dynasty, Samurai, Gundam or Orochi, but we all know one is coming out. This year we have Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate, a game that has been eagerly awaited for by Tecmo Koei fans for some time now. Will it offer anything new to the formula, or is it another simple DLC collection cash-in?
The part of the charm for this series that sets it apart from the others is the player is not handicapped by one narrative and seeing the same events from everyone’s view. Any experienced TK vet knows the Dynasty and Samurai stories like the back of their hand because they are steeped in history. But Orochi is a crossover; a gigantic what-if scenario that brings a fresh perspective to this flagship series. The narrative from the first two games continues, with the collected band of brothers being brought together to defeat a world consuming hydra. With almost everyone dead, the few lucky survivors of a last ditch effort to kill the beast are given the hope of rescuing everyone in the past thanks to some mystical time travel.
What TK does well in the Orochi series is it allows players to pick three characters to use in battle instead of the standard one. With a cast of characters scaling past 100 this is essential, as the default cast has been bloated past comparison. Every character has their own move set, weapons, and story. The latter being the most impressive part of the game as the story mode is longer than an RPG. No one is lost in the confusion, and even characters not billed as fan favorites get some spotlight.
As mentioned in the intro this is an ultimate version, so the base game has already been out on the market for a while now. TK took the time and made this more than a simple DLC update with a few new characters. While Kasumi from Dead or Alive is cool, her inclusion alone is not reason enough to shell out more cash. What is a reason is gauntlet mode; the mode that separates the casual players from the hardcore. Instead of three characters you get five; any five from all those unlocked previously in story mode. The only exception is a default group for players who want to try it out first. Your goal is to go through a gauntlet of new levels all warped together into a new, weird mishmash, trying to find the exit. Escape and you get loot, new characters and keys to unlock the next connecting stage. Lose and you just get some XP. However, this mode is brutally tough as there is a meter called miasma that keeps going up the more you kill, and the longer you are there. Even with ways to lower it, the situation can get out of hand quickly and also when the miasma is low certain enemy officers can one-shot the player. I had Ayane leveled past 280 (there are 9 prestige promotions), and she got slapped around like a rookie.
You would think a story mode that has the length of an RPG coupled with an additional mode that can be played endlessly would be enough for any gamer, right? While that might be true, Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate still has a few extra modes on top of this that are sure to keep you coming back for more. The standard free mode is back again, but is also joined by a duel mode and musou battlefields allows you to create and upload your own stages, and play user-created stages. Both of them are just added icing on a multi-layered cake.
The one drawback that holds things back is the near-useless artificial intelligence. As followers in each stage, the only thing your comrades end up doing is play catch-up to the player character, or in the case of enemies, end up dispatching just one or two foes throughout the entirety of a level. The direness of this is negated by the ability to earn XP for a communal pool, but nevertheless frustrating. It is even more noticeable in gauntlet mode as I never felt like my four teammates really had my back, and were little more than mobile free lives.
What was the biggest surprise for me was the soundtrack. Never have I been completely satisfied about a musical score than when playing this game. The score is timed beautifully to express the narrative of the scenario you are faced with, and old classics get a remix to spice things up. Even if you disagree with me and think the overall quality is poor, at least outside of story mode there is the option of selecting the stage music to whatever your favorite is. Ayane and Kasumi’s remixed themes were on constant loop as an aside.
The communal experience pool and the crossover of all character stats and equipment between modes allows for a seamless transition in the game. The player does not have to worry about having to regrind when switching between story and gauntlet mode, for example. This allows you to play any mode to your heart’s content and maximize your favorite characters effectively. That said, the one thing missing is some kind of usefulness for those characters either put aside when your favorite ones show up, or those who never used ever. It becomes a bit disheartening to see 60+ characters left at level one due to a lack of mechanics putting them to good use. Yes, there are certain requirements for specific story levels that force characters to gain bond points in order to unlock it. If you use your characters like mobile free lives like I do, then again, what is the use of them?
Despite a few rough criticisms I had about some of the game mechanics, this is the best Warriors game on the market right now. The fan service and inclusion of characters from Tecmo’s vast library, as well as Achilles from Koei’s Legends of Troy, point in the direction of an inevitable fourth installment getting bigger. If you were to only ever buy one Warriors game, this would be the one.