By Leo Stevenson
With the launch of the PlayStation 2 many moons ago, the first of a new breed of hack and slash games entered the home market. Dynasty Warriors let gamers take part in epic battles across historical China. Fighting hundreds of enemies at a time on screen had been impossible only a few years before, but with the power of new consoles, these ancient battles could be brought to life. Similarly, the Samurai Warriors series of games delivered the same experience -- albeit set in Japan -- and gamers were delighted to walk in the shoes of these ancient warriors.
Both the Dynasty & Samurai Warriors series are much loved, but it is their fantastical offspring -- the Warriors Orochi series -- that gives gamers a very different take on events. Combining both Chinese and Japanese history, mythology and warriors with magic, fantasy and characters from within the Tecmo Koei family, Warriors Orochi delivers an action-packed, intriguing and fun experience. Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper is the Wii U port of the most recent title in the series and whilst suffering a few issues in the conversion, it's more than worthy of consideration into any Wii U owner's library.
The game begins at the end of its story. All but three of the titular warriors have been defeated by the Hydra -- a giant multi-headed demon -- and its overpowering demon army. A final push to kill the Hydra and defeat the demons fails and the three warriors retreat utterly defeated. The world seems doomed until they are approached by Kaguya, a mysterious princess promising the power of time-travel, and with it the ability to save their friends and the world. For a typical hack and slash adventure, the story is surprisingly in-depth and interesting. By going back in time to save other characters and change the tide of battle, other stories and missions are unlocked.
In the beginning, Takenaka Hanbei, Sima Zhao and Ma Chao -- all that remain of the warriors force -- return to a great losing battle in their history and are victorious thanks to their prior knowledge. The story continues through progressively more difficult battles all the way up to the beginning/end of the game and the finally showdown with the Hydra and the demon army. It's interesting to see how each battle branches off into other missions and the strength of the storytelling -- complete with original Japanese dubbing -- truly shines as the consequences of your actions in the past affect the future. Aside from the main story, additional side-missions to travel back in time and save important characters frequently appear as they are defeated in battle. Each and every major character you save joins your cause -- to slay the Hydra -- and the more allies you have the better your chances of success. Additionally, every character has a special bond with one or more of the others and by using them together in battle, you can strengthen the bond and make them stronger.
Gameplay in Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper follows the tried and tested tradition of its predecessors. Before a battle you make your final preparations -- team, weapons and more -- and once you begin you are placed within a large battlefield swarming with enemies. Standard, charged and special attacks are at your disposal and can be combined to unleash powerful combos which decimate your aggressors. Switching between characters is a breeze thanks to the shoulder buttons and with good timing you can change character and keep your combo going. While the fighting is not particularly in depth, there is enough variation in both enemies and battle to prevent you ever becoming bored or have the game feel repetitive. The dynamic changes to the missions adds an extra element of difficulty and fun as any minute your objective could change and see you frantically running from one side of the map to another to save someone important, defeat arriving reinforcements or sometimes both. On the easier difficulty settings the game is a walk in the park, but playing on Hard or Chaos modes will give even the most hardened Warriors veteran a hard time.
Those gamers looking for company while playing are in luck. Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper supports local and online co-op whilst sporting a brand new local competitive "Duel Mode". The local co-op works a treat thanks to the Wii U's GamePad. Player One uses the GamePad and screen while Player Two uses the Pro controller and the television. The game is perfectly playable on the GamePad and is certainly preferable than playing split-screen. Other than local co-op, the Wii U GamePad is seriously under-utilised. In single player the GamePad shows an identical stream to the TV -- thus supporting off-TV play -- which works well enough. Alternatively, you can opt to display a map on the GamePad, but due to the size of the maps on the comparatively small GamePad screen makes them often difficult to make out. This game seems ripe for some army command or unit directions gameplay and mapping these functions to the GamePad would have been seamless. I would have loved to command my army whilst in the midst of battle and see the results in real-time. Alas it is not to be. Perhaps in the sequel?
The online co-op mode works pretty well -- when you can find a partner -- but some odd restrictions make it difficult to commence. First up, you can only play a map you have already completed and can only do so if you "Recruit" other players. Second of all you can only play if you find somebody looking to join at the same time you are looking to recruit. It's a convoluted system that seems to make joining up with others more difficult than it should be. If the community was large enough I could see no problems but as the game is fairly niche, finding a partner can be a real pain.
The new "Duel Mode" is an excellent addition to the game and something for Wii U owners to brag about. Essentially a versus fighting mode for two players, Duel sees teams of 3v3 square off in small arenas. It's quite addictive and almost like getting an entire fighting game for free. While not as deep and complex as a traditional fighter, there is enough variety to have a lot of fun. And with over 100 characters to choose from (after unlocking them all in Story Mode) you'll never have a shortage of styles to master.
Unfortunately it's not all good news for this Wii U port. The conversion process seems to have been a rough one in some places. The graphics and textures seem less impressive than when this game was released for other consoles. It is especially glaring as the intensity of battle increases and you're facing drab, flat buildings or landscapes. The frame rate is inconsistent but not frustratingly so. Occasionally the speed dips but not enough to ruin the experience. The worst of the technical limitations is the pop-in. As you progress through the battlefield whole swarms of allies and enemies alike will simply materialise out of thin air right in front of you and then disappear just as quickly. It's laughable and totally removes you from the experience and feeling of being involved within an epic battle. Once again, it doesn't occur frequently, but when it does it's jarring.
Aside from some technical hiccups and a few ugly textures here and there, Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper is a supremely fun and action-packed game. The time-travelling story combined with fantasy, magic and historical warriors makes for an entertaining and intriguing world. If you've never played a Warriors Orochi game before or are simply looking for a great Wii U game this Christmas look no further than Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper. If you are a fan of the series and haven't played this release yet, the new Duel Mode and GamePad splitscreen should be more than enough incentive to pick it up on Wii U. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go back in time and rescue a friend.