If you’ve not played any of the seemingly hundreds of titles that have been released as part of KOEI Tecmo’s Warriors series, then you’ll probably not be aware that whether you’re playing the Samurai, Dynasty, or Orochi flavours, you’re playing much the same game.

Hacking, slashing, and the deaths of thousands upon thousands of drone enemies is the order of the day, and don’t for a second think that we’re exaggerating there. By the time you reach the second and third chapters of the game’s story mode, you’ll be taking down three and four thousand enemies in a single twenty minute battle. Needless to say, there’s a lot of mashing of attack buttons going on. But, there is a fair helping of strategy to be had. When you’re thrown into one of the game’s large battlefields, you generally have a set goal. Along the way though, you’ll find that AI-controlled ally units get into trouble and you have to assist them, or the enemy suddenly find reinforcements from somewhere and puts you into a bit of a bind, so you need to pay constant attention to the message boxes that appear on screen to spell out the action.

On the battlefield itself, everything seems to work relatively well. There are some camera issues to fight against, and after 14 years, the development team still hasn’t gotten around to preventing the AI fighters from standing and staring at each other. There are times when 50 allies will be stood facing a single enemy, and not only is nobody doing anything but your army aren’t progressing as they won’t move on until all the enemies are cleared. You have to run in and take out the enemy before your 50 friends will suddenly jump into action and head toward the next area. It’s can be most frustrating. It isn’t a game-breaker though, especially if you’ve played and enjoyed any of the other Warriors titles, given that they all have the same issue.

If you are a fan, then you’ll be in absolute heaven with Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate, it must be said. Although you start out with only three fighters with which to build your team, you quickly start accumulating new combatants to join your cause. By the time all is said and done, you’ll be responsible for 100-plus warriors, each with their own movesets, weaponry, accessories, and stats. That, mixed with the fact that especially there’s a standard Story Mode with multiple, branching chapters, and a fun Gauntlet Mode which introduces another style of play involving the management of your six-person team’s formation and which easily contains as much content as the story mode, means that there's a LOT of game here if you get drawn in. If there isn't enough, you can even create and download custom battlegrounds and scenarios.

At times, the number of playable characters can be a bit of a problem due to the anarchic way in which the game’s menus are set out. Just to take one example, you have to unequip a weapon before you can sell it. A process of ten or so button presses is then required to get to the character menu and change the equipped weapon. It doesn’t sound like a massive task, but you need to bear in mind that processes this lengthy are required for almost everything thanks to the poor menu design. There’s also a lack of forethought for players who haven’t played the game before. Even though there are a few tutorials, they assume that you know 90% of what they’re teaching you and frankly, that's just going to leave new players feeling like they’re sat at the bottom of a very, very steep learning curve. The fact that once they get a little way up that curve, a twenty-minute battle where you’ve killed 3,000 enemies can end in defeat because the final boss is able to juggle you to death because you’re stuck next to a wall, is just adding insult to injury.

This isn’t to say that Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate should be overlooked, necessarily. As we say, if you get into the game, you’re going to get far, far into it, as it can undeniably be great fun and a real tactical challenge. In fact, you’ll probably be so hooked that you end up picking up the sequels, spinoffs, prequels, and special editions that will end up surfacing at the rate of one every two months. The sheer scale of the battles is enough to keep the adrenaline running, even if the four hundred fighters that are on screen can be dispatched with by a single button press or a triple-team attack. It’s just that we’d have expected that the generational jump would have allowed the Warriors team to finally sort out the issues with enemies popping into view from mere feet away, to get rid of some of the more annoying gameplay issues, or to provide an easier way for new players to find their feet. At the very least, we would have expected them to have put in an improved graphical performance. Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate looks very much like a slightly polished version of a last-gen title, with some flat-out ugly textures coming into play on the by-the-book battlefields. Unfortunately, that's generally how it feels, too.

Conclusion

Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate is a tough game to score, make no mistake. Fans of the series will chastise us for rating it so low, and that’s probably fair. If you’re a fan, you’ll enjoy it due to the sheer amount of characters on hand from all of the Warriors universes, and that over-the-top hack and slash gameplay that you already like. If you’re not already deeply involved with any of the franchises though, you’re going to find a game that is inescapably fun at times and that shows an awful lot of promise, but which is ultimately let down by some poor design decisions and some somewhat dodgy AI.