We're big fans of the One Piece: Pirate Warriors games. We reckon One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3 is the best of the bunch, and we'd even go as far to say that it's one of the very best Warriors titles on PlayStation 4. Naturally then, we had high expectations for One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4, and while it doesn't quite do enough to blow its predecessor out of the water, it still offers up a huge amount of hack and slash fun.
Once again, it's the delightful cast of One Piece that carries the action. With so many weird and wonderful powers at their disposal, the characters continue to be a perfect fit for the tried and tested Warriors format. From Luffy's rubbery recklessness to Kuzan's immensely powerful ice abilities, every playable character brings something unique and entertaining to the table.
A number of new heroes -- and villains -- have been added this time around, most of them plucked from the Whole Cake Island arc of the manga and anime. Speaking of which, Big Mom and her pirates are a focus of the game's new story mode, which covers five key arcs: Alabasta and the fight against Crocodile, Marineford and Ace's rescue, Sabaody and the struggles of the Straw Hats, Whole Cake Island and the terror of Big Mom, and, lastly, Wano Country and the tyranny of Kaido.
Needless to say, if you know One Piece, then you've already realised that this mode misses out on a lot of the original story. As such, newcomers will be completely lost. There are introductory cutscenes that try to outline the plot, but if you don't already know the characters and concepts of One Piece, they're basically impenetrable. You'll also find yourself wondering why everyone is gross sobbing all of the time.
Anyway, we're not really here for the story -- if you want that, you're always better off checking out the source material. The game's limited adaptation will take you around ten hours to finish, and it's mostly enjoyable while it lasts. Some stages are better than others -- dedicated boss fights just feel like a bit of a button mashing slog because your opponents always have so much health -- but you're able to try out different characters and prepare for the real meat of Pirate Warriors 4.
Indeed, the 'Navigation Log' is where you'll be spending most of your time. In this mode, you'll find over 100 somewhat randomised levels. They don't have story cutscenes, or any real narrative to speak of, but it's all about the action. Pick your favourite fighter, smash your way through stage after stage after stage, collect coins to boost their abilities, repeat. As long as you can stomach the gameplay's inherent repetitiveness, Navigation Log will keep you busy for ages, especially if there are multiple characters that you want to try.
Which leads us neatly onto combat. Honestly, it's about what you'd expect of the Pirate Warriors series at this point, but it does boast a couple of new gimmicks. As always, you hit combinations of square and triangle to unleash standard combos, while circle acts as a dodge button -- at least in part. You can use circle to avoid incoming attacks, or you can weave it into your combos to make them as long as possible. The downside is that dodging now temporarily consumes a stamina bar, so there's nothing to be gained by spamming it.
The introduction of a more versatile dodge mechanic, as well as a stamina bar, means that combat is more combo-based than ever before. What's more, every character now has access to a launching attack, letting you carry your enemies into the air for even more damage. The result is a combo system that actually requires a bit of practice and timing if you want to get the most out of your moves. It all makes for a rewarding learning curve.
Having said that, some characters perform far, far better than others. We're not looking for immaculate character balancing in a Warriors game, but a few members of the cast feel severely underpowered to the point where playing as them on harder levels can be an exercise in frustration.
On top of that, you've got characters like Gear Fourth Luffy, who moves so fast and so erratically that he's just a pain in the arse to use. We found ourselves gravitating towards slower or more stationary fighters purely because the camera has difficulty keeping up with anyone who zips around.
Still, find the right pirate for you and the game offers more than enough action. And if you want to bring a friend along, both online and local co-op is available. In fact, the online stuff is quite interesting. The aforementioned Navigation Log mode features a bunch of levels that let you team up with three other players (they can also be played alone with AI partners), either to rack up points in an all-out battle, desperately defend a base, or to bring down a giant foe. When the connection isn't noticeably laggy, playing these stages online can be a blast.
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 struggles to outdo its fantastic predecessor, but it's still great fun to smash through hordes of enemies alongside such a colourful cast of characters. The game's delightful and diverse roster really is its greatest strength, and thanks to an emphasis on building combos, the combat system can be surprisingly rewarding, despite its repetitive nature. The pretty standard story mode will leave non-fans completely lost, but those who enjoy the action will find a near endless supply of it in the title's other offerings.