Warriors All-Stars (Playstation 4 Review)
It’s a well-known fact that I’m a Musou enthusiast. I’ll jump at the chance to swing as big a sword I can find in the name of Shu, Sanada, or even Schierke without question. So, when Koei Tecmo announced that they would be combining several of their most popular modern franchises into one package, I was elated. But could Warriors All-Stars ever compete with the legendary Orochi series of years gone by?
It’s important to understand why the heroes were drawn into this new world. What purpose did this cataclysmic shift in the heroes’ timeline hold? To save the sexy fox people, of course. Like any good story based in mysticism and mage, the world is about to end and only you, aided by a set of otherworldly beings, can combine all your various strengths to conquer the evil threatening the world of sexy fox people. A world that’s name completely escapes me as I write this.
But, the world isn’t really the main focus of Warriors All-Stars’ story, even if we are fighting to save it. At the heart of the game is a tale deeply embedded in family, almost like Greek myths in depiction, with each family member fighting for their chance to rule the kingdom and save the world. Tamaki, Setsuna, and Shiki are the rulers of their respective kingdoms, drawing parallels with that of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and are entirely unique to Warriors All-Stars. All three are related: Shiki and Tamaki are siblings while Setsuna is their cousin, and all fall into rather familiar tropes. Shiki, as the oldest of the three and next in line to the throne, sees himself as the burdened edgy older brother. Tamaki, on the other hand, is the youthful and bubbly younger sister that has been prophesied to inherit the throne – she’s also the person responsible for botching the spell to summon the heroes to the world that left them scattered to the four corners. And finally there’s Setsuna, the cousin who lost his right to the throne when his father passed away that embodies the hot-headed youth stereotype. Although, you won’t find these character traits out until you’ve sided with one of them.
Warriors All-Stars boasts an ever branching narrative with a total of 15 endings, with these endings being split between the 3 main rulers as well as a true ending narrative that can be followed through any one of the 3 clans. You’ll be placed with one of the three based on your starting character, of which there are 10. My initial run was with Nioh’s William and by proxy followed the path of Shiki. All along the way you are presented with different missions and a series of conditions that will close of certain paths should you complete identified missions on the world map. It seems like a great idea on the surface, but to naturally progress through certain paths takes hours and even when playing with the different endings, there is very little deviation from the central plot. You can subvert the stagnation with each save and opt to play as a new character and under a new regime, but ultimately Warriors All-Stars really struggles to justify its own runtime let alone the investment involved to see every possible scenario through to finality.
This sprawling journey is also laboured by the presentation of the world itself; this unnamed land is massive and littered with more quests than you’ll ever have the energy to complete. Warriors All-Stars’ presents you with its map right from the off and upon it you will find copious amounts of side missions, all of which boiling doing to various riffs on running about the same battlegrounds with slightly tweaked objectives. Sometimes you’ll be prompted to kill a certain amount of enemies in a set time, others will have you seizing different bases on the battleground, and if you’re really lucky, you’ll be able to cut the wheat from the chaff and be tasked with killing one sole target. More often than not, these missions mimicked the layout of story missions and didn’t bring enough new content to really justify their existence. There are some benefits, however these are rather insignificant in terms of experience and gold, but they will increase your field of vision on the map and allow you to access more missions – some of which are required to unlock new characters.
And that’s where the beauty of Musou games normally lies; in its characters. Warriors All-Stars does its best to pull in a large variety of characters from their more prominent franchises. Although the gating of these characters based on your story or order in which you complete the missions is extremely damaging, especially with the lack of a “Free Mode” which has been a staple of the genre for decades. On a more personal level, I really didn’t enjoy Koei Tecmo’s choices for Warriors All-Stars. With limited spaces it’s obvious that a series as big as Dynasty Warriors would suffer when only a handful of its cast make the cut, but it is an absolute travesty the Wei and Wu have no representation in Warriors All-Stars at all when Zhou Cang, an entirely new character, manages to snag a spot. Then you have the flattening of characters, like William from Nioh and the Toukiden characters, who lose what make them so unique. There is no weapon switching, or in William’s case Guardian Spirits, to distinguish them from any other Musou character, leaving you lacking a sense of fulfilment.
With all these characters and the promise of budding new relationships, you’d expect the game’s relationship functions to play into all the cool dream scenarios you’d hope for. Yet, there is absolutely no real chemistry in the cast. The marginal benefits of creating a team that have access to additional support attacks (more on this later) are curtailed by a distinct lack of access to the cast for large swathes of the career. What’s more disappointing is the way in which you’re rewarded for your investment. If you gradually persevere through each battle with select members, you’ll eventually be able to intrude on them as they bathe. I don’t know what else there is to say about that aside from a growing concern that I either don’t have friends or at least none willing to unsheathe their swords and swim in a tub of lukewarm water.
So, what does Warriors All-Stars offer above your standard Musou game? Well, the aforementioned relationship mechanic does factor into actual gameplay. In the heat of battle, every cast member has a special attack that they can use to interrupt the flow of battle and execute a special attack that compliments who they are. Find the right combination in your team of 5 and some characters will be able to team up and combine their attacks for a slightly more powerful concoction of the two. It’s a nice addition that encourages you to look a little closer at team composition, but is withheld by the pacing of the game. You can also forgo these special attacks and push the corresponding button on the D-pad to tag your comrade into battle too, allowing bother players to attack in tandem on screen. Then you have the Rush mode which mimics Warriors Orochi 3’s True Triple Attack but with 5 characters instead of 3. As well as the bravery system, which is essentially a mission by mission level for your character. The more enemies and captains you kill will increase this until the limit of 10. Enemies with higher bravery levels than you will prove harder to kill and conversely those lower are swept away in single blows.
On top of the actual gameplay mechanics there is also the card system. And I’ll have to level with you here, that’s about as much as I can say about the card system. Even after 20 hours play, I am not totally sure of its exact implementation. I know it substitutes weapons in Warriors All-Stars and allows certain attributes to be equipped to characters. You can tweak these cards through a merchant/blacksmith (can they be called a blacksmith if they don’t deal with metal?) and you can also combine 3 cards to create a shiny new card. Every attempt at the combination process ended with me receiving a card of poorer quality than those that I placed, so I became disinterested in that aspect rather quickly. Thankfully this didn’t really impact my experience in any meaningful way, but for somebody that would invest countless hours in creating the perfect weapon in other Warriors games, I was extremely let down.
As much as I wanted to love Warriors All-Stars, I couldn’t. There was something missing, even though the graphics were marvellously polished. With a massive lack of variety and a rather taxing effort required to fully appreciate the story in its entirety, I ultimately felt that it wasn’t worth the effort, which is a horrible thing to say about a once beloved franchise. Deep down I wanted Warriors All-Stars to be a game-changer, but it wound up as a game changer.