Good game reviewers often tend to avoid sentences such as “fans of the series will love it” when it comes to putting together their closing statements about whether you should shell out your hard-earned money for a game. The reason being simply that it’s an entirely redundant phrase. There are franchises that make it painfully difficult to get away from typing those words though, and Koei Tecmo’s “Musou” collection of games is probably the one that causes writers the most trouble of all.
On the face of it, Warriors All-Stars looks like it’ll cause those same problems. At first glance, the gameplay is largely the same as we’ve come to know from the series. Hundreds of drone enemies – all of whom seem reluctant to attack you – fall at the press of the square or triangle buttons, as you plow through the crowds to reach your target, which will put up an actual fight and give you pause for thought. Bases must be taken over by defeating enough foes and then taking out the base commander. Pathways must be cleared by striking down gatekeepers. Allies that aren’t in your party must be protected from harm. Special enemies must be defeated before the clock strikes zero.
Essentially, while the scores of combatants won’t cause you much harm, the main challenge is much the same as it has been since the release of Dynasty Warriors 2 some 17 years ago. You need to keep all the metaphorical plates spinning to ensure that you don’t inadvertently lose track of something and trigger one of the defeat conditions.
It’s a hack-and-slash formula that ticks all the boxes that we’ve come to expect will be ticked. Warriors All-Stars however, is presented with a lighter, brighter touch that distinguishes it from what we’ve seen before. The cast of characters – as the title would suggest – is a collection of friendly faces plucked from the Koei Tecmo back-catalogue. Alongside three original characters, some 27 representatives from Atelier, Dead or Alive, Deception, Dynasty Warriors, Haruka, Nights of Azure, Ninja Gaiden, Opoona, Rio, Samurai Cats, Samurai Warriors, and Toukiden are all here. Even William from Nioh gets a slot on the roster (complete with Saoirse) and each character has a distinctly different play-style. Move-sets are designed to be as close to each character’s series of origin where applicable, though some liberties have been taken – entirely necessarily – to ensure that they don’t feel out of place within the Dynasty Warriors-style control system.
Character selection at the start of Warriors All-Stars is all important, since on each playthrough, you’ll begin life in the game paired up with a couple of friends logically chosen from the roster. Choose Yukimura Sanada from Samurai Warriors, and you’ll be teamed with Naotoro Li and Mitsunari Ishida from the same franchise. Pick Ōka from Toukiden and you’ll be given Horō and Tokitsugu. Other heroes for your squad are unlocked as you progress and you can chop and change between squad lineups and lead characters as you see fit on your journey through the game, with very few limitations.
Your team choices can make more difference than you’d expect, too. Holding R1 allows you to command one of your line to perform a special attack, or if more than one character can work well with their teammates, a combo assault. These are subject to a hefty cooldown period, so timing is of the essence. If issuing one order isn’t enough for you, a tap on the d-pad brings the associated squad member under your direct control, alongside your lead. Press all four directions in turn and you’ve got a line of five fighters, mimicking the actions of your main character. As you’d expect, given the amount of damage you can hand out on your own, this is devastating stuff when trying to cut through a gathering of a few hundred opponents, or even when you’re just trying to take down one higher-level boss. Weapon power ups are conspicuous by their absence, but the reasoning makes sense. In the natural homes of their own games, series, or movies, some of the characters don’t use weapons as standard.
Even with some shortcomings, the additions and changes to character development and the in-battle combat in Warriors All-Stars’ makes the actual act of fighting feel like a much deeper experience than it has in other titles. Even if the new options aren’t necessarily entirely new, this is the first time they’ve been combined in this way. Thus, this means that there are now more ways to go about doing the things that you have to do, so you’ll feel rewarded on the harder difficulty levels when one of your masterplans works exactly as you’d have hoped. On the standard difficulty, it doesn’t matter, since your squad is almost always overpowered going into any battle, to the point that the entire campaign is an absolute cakewalk.
The Big Short
That campaign is your reason for being on the battlefield in the first place of course, and the story mode here takes a slight deviation from the usual Musou style. Rather than throwing you into a 20-hour epic with escalating battles, the development team have crafted something which can be as short or as long an experience as you’d like. Every playthrough revolves around assisting Queen Sayo. A magical spring that provides life to her kingdom is dying, and her three relations (original characters Shiki, Tamaki, and Setsuna) have been tasked with finding out what’s killing it and then bringing it back to life to save the kingdom from ruin. There are three main arcs that are triggered based upon who first recruits you to help them in their task (with a fourth campaign triggering once certain conditions are met) and in total, 15 different endings are on the cards. Campaign missions appear on the world map alongside an absolute boatload of entirely optional non-story battles, allowing you to hang back and take on a few fights to level your squad up, or just press on and get the story finished. A trophy is available for completing a campaign in three hours or less and while you won’t come close on your first go around, it’s not outside of the realms of possibility for most players to do so on subsequent plays, especially since character levels carry over. A massive checklist of conversational events and happenings is also available, which is going to be more than enough for even the most dedicated of players to get through.
Given that the aesthetic performance of the game is exactly what you’d expect – stylish but sometimes clunky visuals with a bit of draw-in here and there, backed by superb music – the mileage most players get out of Warriors All-Stars is going to come down to whether they like the multiple playthroughs approach or not. Completionists will obviously be more than happy to take things on multiple times, but if you run through the campaign once and consider that to be the end of the game, you’ll feel short changed. Play it right though, and there’s an absolute ton to do here, even if playing through a Musou game multiple times is probably pushing the limits of the definition of the word “repetitive.”
Unlocking the various story branches to trigger the different endings provides a sense of puzzling to proceedings that adds some welcome depth but while the trimmings have been given a new feel and the varied cast of characters provides some new attraction, Warriors All-Stars is unlikely to draw many new players in. That won’t matter to those with any interest in the game though, as this is exactly what they will have been hoping for since the game was first announced. In short – and I’m sorry to use this, but it fits the bill – fans of the series will absolutely love it.
Warriors All-Stars review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.