I�ve got a confession to make � in the last few days, I�ve slaughtered thousands of people. I don�t know their names, I don�t know if they had hopes, dreams, lovers or children. I killed them, in cold blood, just because I wanted to beat a 500-hit combo.
Now, before I get dragged off in handcuffs, let me explain. I�ve spent the last few days not with a bloody knife in my hand, but with a sweaty 360 controller (which is worse, you decide), playing the latest in the long-running (and seemingly endless) Warriors series of games. The Dynasty Warriors series, and its spin-off sidekick series, Samurai Warriors, have been brought together for the first time, into a sprawling murderous, rampage of a game, complete with a roster of characters from both games. In a seemingly incomprehensible plotline, the Serpent King Orochi descends from the Heavens, fuses the worlds of Three Kingdoms era of China and the Warring States period of Japan. Then, he proceeds to match his might against the finest warriors of those tumulus times. One has to wonder how dreary Heaven must be if he had to go to such lengths to get his kicks. Don�t they have Fight Club up there?
What this translates into is a hardcore hack and slash game, projected onto huge battlefields and dubious historical references, with all the hammy American voice-overs and thumb-cramping action that you could possibly hope for. Not content with providing the avid fan with a handful of characters to play and master, Warriors Orochi provides a cast of 79 playable characters, each with their own particular weapons and special moves to master. Read that again � 79 playable characters, all of whom can be upgraded and improved through a levelling system. There aren�t many games of this nature that can match a roster like that. Furthermore, the player can choose three at a time to take into battle, switching between them at will, providing much opportunity for strategy in finding the very best combinations with which to bring death and destruction to your enemies.
And death and destruction are indeed the aims of this game. Levels rarely vary far from the �move to this area and kill everyone� school of thought. In effect, each is merely one large battle area after another, filled with a vast variety of foes, from simple spearmen, to guys chucking bombs. At lower difficulties, these enemies rarely cause any problems and seem to be present simply to build up high combos of attacks, and to give your own NPC allies something to occupy themselves with. The real challenges are the enemy officers, many of whom will be familiar to long-standing fans of the Warriors games. These officers have similar combat skills to your own characters, with a variety of moves, magical attacks and corny lines of dialogue. During particularly hectic battles, you might find yourself facing up to multiple enemy officers at once. Thankfully, your ally officers aren�t completely useless and can actually stand up for themselves, taking some of the heat away. To spice things up a bit, and to provide a faster mode of transport between battles, your characters can mount horses. Combat is technically possible from horseback, though it is difficult to control, and certain to result in failure if attempted against an officer (given that they�ll just jump attack and put you flat on your back).
As for the playable characters themselves, there are three �flavours� � power, technique and speed. Unsurprisingly, power characters are lumbering, but can hit for high damage, speed characters are quicksilver and hit for almost no damage, and technique characters are middle-of-the-road types. Following the storylines for each is interesting, as they are generally quite good (despite the occasional oblique reference to events of previous games) and give some degree of purpose to the lurches from battleground to battleground. There are four campaigns in all, each following the storyline of a particular faction and their fortunes in the war. On successful completion of a level, the game will award players with experience points to dish out to their roster of characters as they see fit. This means that even characters that did not fight can be levelled, meaning that they can enter the fray late in the game without being a burden. Weapons can also be upgraded and improved, by picking up extra weapons on the battlefield and fusing two together, giving the best features of both.
Graphics-wise, the game does seem somewhat lacking. The individual models for the playable characters are good, with excellent animations and relatively high-detail skins. However, the enemies faced are more or less all the same, with the NPCs of each class of enemy all sharing exactly the same appearance and animations. The backdrops to the carnage area also drab and somewhat boring, with little variation from grassy areas hemmed in by large impassable mountains. When the game begins to pick up in difficulty and presents entire armies to your trio of killing machines, one does begin to feel a grudging respect � the sheer number of rendered characters on-screen at any one time can be impressive, and considering that most moves send multiple foes flying at once, there is very little slow-down. The framerate stays at a constant high, allowing the player the precision to cut a swath across their foes.
If you are a fan of the previous games, or are feeling like getting into the button-mashing action genre, Warriors Orochi would be a good bet. It�s certainly hard to think of a similar action game available on the PS2 or 360 that could match the depth and breadth of this title. Certainly, on the 360, where the competition is mainly from Ninety Nine Nights, Warriors Orochi wins hands down. There�s not much to attract fans of other genres, other than to see what all the fuss is about.
Now, if you�ll excuse me, I�ll find that sweaty controller again. I feel a 1000 hit combo coming on.
ps. to all the fans of the Warriors series: if I have missed some vital feature or control option, please don't hunt me down and kill me. My promotional copy came sans manual, so I might well have missed something. Apologies in advance ;)