I’ve been playing Warriors titles since they were beat ‘em ups, so I want you to understand the gravity with which I write this next sentence. I’m very glad Warriors All Stars exists. The game continues Koei Tecmo’s traditional love of faceless mook genocide, appearing as another in the long line of hack ‘n’ slash titles that involve racking up KOs while trying to avoid an epileptic seizure.
Warriors All Stars introduces the player to a kingdom which, throughout my playthrough, I don’t think was actually given a name. It’s populated by cat-people, fox-people, and dog-people in various states of undress, and ruled over by a widowed queen. Afraid that the death of her husband is bringing darkness to the land, the queen tasks her three charges, Tamaki, Shiki and Setsuna to bring back the light with the power of interdimensional heroes. This is the rough way that Koei Tecmo justify bringing together an all-star cast from their previous titles into one game.
The summoning, as you might expect, goes awry. The heroes are scattered across the land and gathered up by one of the three leaders. They’ll team up with two other heroes (at the game’s start) to begin a quest to save the kingdom, leaving thousands dead behind them. Depending on which hero is chosen, the player is assigned to a specific leader and usually joined by companions from either the same background lore or similar game type. I chose Irishman William Adams from Nioh, and was accompanied by Ryu Hayabusa and Ayane from Ninja Gaiden. Once this mini-campaign is completed a final campaign unlocks in which you can recruit the rest of the cast.
Gameplay is your usual Warriors affair - characters have a similar movepool of a normal attack chain of six attacks, and six charge attacks, like the Dynasty Warriors series. This means that some characters - like those from Warriors Orochi and Ninja Gaiden, have their movesets changed to fit the system. Unlike most Warriors games, though, weapons and abilities aren’t improved by upgrades, but through a card system. This was probably implemented to deal with the fact that not every hero in the game actually has a weapon.
Hero cards can grant the hero increased abilities, power-ups and traits. Each character can have up to 20 cards in their inventory, but only one can be equipped to a character at any given time. Any cards picked up along the way can be discarded for gold or for materials. It’s a fiddly system, and an unwelcome one that requires a lot more menu management than previous titles. Sorting the cards can get tedious quickly, especially when you'd rather be slicing through armies. Stages throughout the game are nonlinear, and can be taken at the player’s own pace. Gunning for the main stages is perfectly acceptable, as is methodically clearing secondary and tertiary maps for bonus loot and experience.
An interesting feature in All Stars is that your characters, and their companions, gain “friendship” as they fight together, making them stronger. It can also be boosted by performing simple fetch quests (in the form of slaughtering a number of faceless mooks) or by simply talking to them. It all knits together in battle, as players can bring up to five companions with them onto the field. Each is fairly autonomous but will usually hang around the player and keep them safe. You can also give them orders. If the player taps the d-pad then the AI fighters will line up alongside them and help perform powerful combo attacks.
Players are also able to use a special power that, essentially, turns them into a god of death. You’re given one at the start of each mission and can be given another if certain conditions are met. When activated, your allies will cheer you on from the sidelines, throwing items and boosts at you, while you cleave through enemies. The game generates hordes of foes while the ability is active, so it’s not uncommon to rack up 1,000 kills with each activation.
Here’s where my statement in the opening paragraph comes in - graphically the game looks great. It’s certainly much better than those of the latest Dynasty Warriors games and even a little snappier than new Samurai Warriors releases. Though your average grunt looks copy-pasted, the player characters are well modelled and detailed, and include nice touches like hair, accessories and clothes that react to movement realistically. The improvements are a sign that Koei is finally getting to grips with building their engine to work with the capabilities of newer consoles and PC setups. Flashy visuals are here in abundance, too. Each strike feels weighty and powerful, and the special attacks are full of bombast and pizzazz. Still, you might not want to play the game in a dark room - the flashes can sometimes get a little bit too much for the eyes.
Like many newer titles from Koei Tecmo, All Stars arrives without English voice acting - at least for the Japanese characters: William Adams retains his Irish brogue. The music is the usual guitar-driven rock that Koei has relied one for many, many games now, yet doesn’t feel too old or samey. Some stages feature remixed versions of the soundtracks from other titles in the Koei catalogue, which is a nice touch.
Warriors All Stars does a fair job of being more than just a tie-in, and brings some genuine innovation to the table. If you ignore the trope-filled storyline and strange setting, it functions as a great stop-gap before the larger release of Dynasty Warriors 9 or as a meaty hack ‘n’ slash to get into in short bursts. There’s very little wrong and quite a lot right with All Stars, and fans of Koei’s games could do a lot worse.
WARRIORS ALL-STARS (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
Warriors All Stars does a fair job of being more than just a tie-in, and brings some genuine innovation to the table. If you ignore the trope-filled storyline and strange setting, it functions as a great stop-gap before the larger release of Dynasty Warriors 9 or as a meaty hack ‘n’ slash to get into in short bursts.