Warriors Orochi 4 feels like it was developed on a shoestring budget. It cuts corners everywhere, from the removal of several game modes that were in previous titles, to the the fact that 95 per cent of the game's story is told through static character portraits and text boxes. However, after the dismal open world structure of Dynasty Warriors 9, Warriors Orochi 4 at least plays like a proper Warriors title, and in that sense, it's good to be back.

Speaking of Dynasty Warriors 9, this latest release probably has a lot more to do with it than Koei Tecmo would like to admit. The timing of Warriors Orochi 4's official reveal was telling, as is the game's return to traditional Warriors-style gameplay. This is a product that's meant to wash away the aftertaste of Dynasty Warriors 9. It's almost an apology, but it's an apology that the publisher didn't want to spend much money making.

For those totally out of the loop, the Warriors Orochi series is all about mashing Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors together. A dumb plot involving time travel and godlike beings acts as an excuse to throw every character from both properties into one game, and so we're left with truly gigantic playable rosters and character interactions straight out of Warriors fan fiction. Looking at it with a cynical eye, Warriors Orochi has always been a convenient way to reuse assets, but between staple gameplay mechanics like character switching and having more room for creative freedom than its history-based counterparts, the series has carved out its own deserved space in the Warriors spectrum.

Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate in particular is a great Warriors title. Bursting at the seams with game modes, playable characters, stages, and secrets, it really is the 'ultimate' Warriors Orochi experience, and it's a game that unfortunately casts a large shadow over the efforts, or lack thereof, of Warriors Orochi 4. By comparison, this sequel feels stripped back and basic, offering just about the bare minimum that you'd expect of the franchise.

The story mode is where you'll be spending most of your time, and it consists of over 50 levels. It's lengthy but linear, doing away with the alternate routes and stories of previous Orochi games, which always added a welcome layer of character-based intrigue. The plot, as mentioned, is dumb and certainly predictable, but it mostly gets the job done. It strings together each scenario with simplistic storytelling, and the game tries to give every character a line or two.

As the campaign progresses the battlefields get more and more crowded. Latter levels see you go up against thousands upon thousands of foes, and it's here that the game shines. Without question, Warriors titles are at their best when they hold nothing back, fully embracing the 'one versus one thousand' ethos that has defined them for so long. When you're tearing through whole armies, weaving special attacks into combos and switching characters just at the right time so that the action never stops, Warriors Orochi 4 is a blast. It certainly hasn't lost that fluid, satisfying edge that the series is known for.

Adding to that sense of all-conquering power is the newly introduced magic system. Each fighter has their own set of magical attacks that can be linked into standard combos, and most of them are devastatingly effective and totally over the top. From giant, flaming boars that you can summon in an instant to unleashing bolts of heavenly light upon your aggressors, magic brings a fantastical tone to the title that goes over well.

But it's everything outside of the immediate combat that lets the game down. There's no longer a hub that you can explore in story mode, and so everything takes place within one big menu. At its best it's cumbersome, and at its worst it's a headache-inducing mess. You steadily unlock features as the plot progresses, allowing you to fuse weapons and unlock bonus character skills, but every menu is buried beneath another menu, every option is hidden behind an additional button press. By the end of the game you'll have unlocked over 170 playable characters, and with these menus, keeping them organised is far, far harder than it has to be.

With enough hours pumped into the game we can look past clunky menus, but there's no excuse for an uncapped frame rate that constantly struggles to hit 60 frames per second. The drops aren't too noticeable when you're neck-deep in combo chains, but stray from combat and you'll come face to face with consistent choppiness. It's just not good enough, not in 2018, and not when your product still looks like a PS3 game.

It's now strange to think that Koei Tecmo was on a roll when this generation started. Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition, Samurai Warriors 4, and One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3 all set the bar for Warriors games going forward, but the overall quality has fallen off a cliff since. Warriors All-Stars and Dynasty Warriors 9 represent mismanaged and misguided output, and while Warriors Orochi 4 doesn't quite hit those lows, it still manages to be the weakest Warriors Orochi title yet.

Conclusion

Warriors Orochi 4 is a disappointingly cheap sequel. Stripped back and basic, it feels like a quick and easy apology aimed at fans who were left disgruntled by the dire Dynasty Warriors 9. There's still enjoyment to be found here, with the series' trademark action holding strong, but poor presentation and unstable performance drag the experience down. Koei Tecmo really needs to get its Warriors games back on track, but until that happens, you're better off nabbing the far superior Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate.