Warriors Orochi 4 review (Switch): Combo Maker

It took a while for Warriors Orochi 4 to really click with me. Recent games in the Warriors series have gone in wonderful new directions, be it the open-ended nature of Warriors All-Stars, the increased focus on characterisation in Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada, or the brilliant use of an open-world format in Dynasty Warriors 9. By contrast, a relatively old-school approach in Warriors Orochi 4 had me feeling like something was missing.

Everything fell into place when, in one mission, I managed to keep a string of attacks going, uninterrupted, from start to finish—thousands of enemy footsoldiers and a dozen-odd officers all taken down in an endless flood of weapon swings, magic, and super powers. More so than any other Warriors game I’ve played, Warriors Orochi 4 puts its focus on momentum, and there’s something immensely satisfying in that.

Related reading: Dynasty Warriors 9 copped a lot of criticism, but I still maintain that it’s one of the best Warriors games to date and a brilliant new direction for the main series. 

Typically, Warriors games have a sort of stop-start cycle: you run across the map to the next objective, and then you stop there for a while to complete said task—say, taking down an officer or capturing a base—and then you rush to the next one to do the same. You might take out a few goons along the way, but there’s not often too much incentive to do so, save racking up your KO count.

I don’t say that to criticise those games—it’s a structure that works, especially when you have to juggle competing priorities and deal with the more powerful enemies that can’t simply be button-mashed into oblivion. Rather, I bring this up for the sake of contrast. In Warriors Orochi 4, you’re still moving across the map from objective to objective, taking down officers and capturing bases. Only now, when everything goes according to plan, it’s a constant flow: you glide across the map, usually with hundreds of enemies in tow, with even powerful enemies being less a roadblock in your momentum than a key part of it.

This is all thanks to a few new systems that all work in tandem. Instead of taking a single officer into battle, or a group who act independently of one another (a la Hyrule Warriors), Warriors Orochi 4 gives you a group of three who function as one unit. You only control one of them at once, but at almost any time, you can press a button to switch to one of those waiting in the wings—and, in so doing, keep your attack string going.

That’s useful in its own right, but of far more value is the fact that swapping during one character’s strong attack creates a whirlwind effect that sucks up any and all foes nearby, ready to be comboed to hell and back. This very simple system allows for a beautiful rhythm, where you’ll do a basic four- or five-hit string ending in a strong attack, then switch to the next character and do the same, for as long as you can keep the rhythm going.

All the while, you’re adding more and more hapless goons to a growing whirlwind, Katamari style. Instead of stopping to thin out the hordes attacking your or ignoring them in favour of bigger targets, good use of the switch whirlwind means you can just pick up your assailants and take them with you. As you do so, the combo counters grows exponentially; each swing adds to your combo based on how many enemies it hits, so a single attack can potentially build your combo by hundreds.

That’s satisfying enough in its own right, but it also feeds into the new magic system in a crucial manner. As well as the usual normal attacks and Musou special moves, each character in Orochi Warriors 4 has a handful of different magical attacks at their disposal. The power of these increases dramatically if your combo count is above 300, and again if it exceeds 1,000.

All the while, you’re adding more and more hapless goons to a growing whirlwind, Katamari style.

The incentive, then, is build up your combo as you make your way to the next goal, and then unleash magical hell. With base captains and weaker officers, that 1,000-combo spell is usually enough to one-shot them; with stronger officers like the final boss of a mission, it’ll at least do a huge chunk of damage, leaving you a Musou attack or two away from victory.

Finally, there’s deification. Certain characters (and enemies) can temporarily take on the power of the gods, changing their appearance and giving them access to an unlimited supply of even more powerful magic. They’re strong enough that you’ll almost certainly want to keep a character who can be deified in your party, but don’t worry about the rest of the cast being rendered useless. There’s little point to having more than one god on your team, since only one fighter can be deified at a time, leaving with two more spots where everyone stands on equal ground, and even a team without any gods at all will still be plenty viable most of the time.

The challenge comes from actually keeping your combo alive so that you can pull out all stops exactly when you need to. A few seconds of inaction will wipe away your combo count, so if you find yourself without any foes to thwack—something that’s fairly easy to do if you’re careless or you don’t plan ahead—you’ll lose all your momentum. Building up the combo again when you’re in the vicinity of an enemy officer is still possible, but their powerful attacks and love of guarding create new hurdles to keeping momentum alive.

Furthermore, each map is home to special enemies called “Chaos Origins” who are practically immune to regular attacks, and can only be killed by magic. They’ll confer the same status on any enemies nearby, which can be troublesome if you don’t have a combo built up to quickly get rid of them. Again, you can build up a combo while you’re engaged with the Chaos Origin itself, but it’s a lot more effective, efficient, and satisfying to have a big combo ready when you arrive so you can just take them out before they can react.

Which brings me back to that moment when Warriors Orochi 4 suddenly clicked into place. After some time spent getting familiar with the new systems and finding my favoured characters (Kai and Ii Naotora, naturally) I managed to just blow through a level with and endless flood of combos and magic, with nary a dropped combo and every officer taken out in mere seconds. It was such a satisfying run that the rest of my focus became recreating it—not always an easy task, but therein lies the thing that makes Warriors Orochi 4 tick.

As good as the core combat is, Warriors Orochi 4 does drop the ball a little bit with some of the more tangential elements. More recent Warriors games have increasingly made character relationships and RPG systems big parts of the game, and that’s brought some welcome depth outside of the battles themselves. Orochi 4 has those, but they’re so minimal they bring little to the table, and feel unnecessary as a result. Nothing would be lost by stripping those systems entirely, except maybe a vague incentive to grind and artificially stretch out a game that’s already huge.

The framing for all of this is grandiose story that mostly exists as a way of bringing characters from Samurai Warriors and Dynasty Warriors together, but nonetheless makes for an exciting adventure. For reasons that mostly boil down to the fact that he’s a bit of a dick, Zeus—who looks exactly as delightfully exaggerated as you’d expect an Omega Force version of Zeus to look—decides to smash these two worlds together, by way of a set of bracelets imbued with the power of Orochi. The resulting chaos sets the 170-odd fighters fighting amongst one another and forming alliances, with the ultimate goal of returning to their own worlds and stopping whatever other chaos Zeus has planned.

It’s the usual ridiculousness that comes from a desire to bring characters together who wouldn’t normally coexist, but told earnestly enough to work. It’s exciting, it’s often funny, and it’s aware of the silliness of its premise and just runs with that—it’s always entertaining to see a character from one series meeting and bonding with their thematic counterpart from the other. It’s also surprising and impressive to see everyone get their spot in the limelight, even with a cast as big as this. Obviously, there is a handful of “main” characters that the major plot beats centre on, but everyone else still gets to play a key role and nobody feels like they’re just there to fill a spot on the roster.

As such, Warriors Orochi 4 will mostly appeal to existing Warriors fans. But don’t be dissuaded even if that isn’t you; the story here stands well enough alone that newcomers will still find plenty of enjoyment in it. Between that and a combat system that’s easy to pick up but offers far more depth than the series’ detractors would admit, with a focus on momentum and rhythm that’s incredibly satisfying, this is a game that old fans and new alike will want to check out. It may take a moment to click into place, but when they do, you’re in for a treat.

Score: 4 stars
Orochi Warriors 4
Genre: Action
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (review), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 16 October 2018 (NA) / 19 October 2018 (EU/ANZ)
The publisher supplied a copy of the game for this review.

Matthew Codd

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.