Warriors-All Stars Reinvigorates The Musou Genre
A charming, and reinvigorating take on the musou genre popularized by Dynasty Warriors.
Dynasty Warriors is a flame from my past. As a young teenager, it provided the ultimate power fantasy: racing across large battlefields, capturing bases, juggling objectives, and carving through hundreds to thousands of enemies to send them flying. But as I grew older, the franchise didn’t seem to develop at the same pace to justify purchasing each new entry, expansion, and spinoff. I never did lose my love for the series, however. And so what better time to stoke the coals than with its latest entry, Warriors: All-Stars, and discover if it can deliver an all new experience for an old fan.
The answer to that question is both yes and no. The core mechanics are still very much the same as those I was familiar with during the series’ PlayStation 2 era. If you’ve never been a fan of the Dynasty Warriors formula, All-Stars likely won’t change your mind. What the game does feature is a dense campaign mode, numerous goals to work toward, countless rewards to earn, dozens of interesting heroes, and all of it put together into a delightfully weird but aesthetically-pleasing package that kept me playing long into the night.
I’d like to focus first on what I mean by “delightfully weird,” because it leads to the source of what makes All-Stars reinvigorating. I’m talking, of course, about its playable cast of characters. The game doesn’t build its large roster from just one universe. Instead, it features 30 heroes across 14 games from Koei Tecmo’s library. The pool is drawn from Dynasty Warriors, Dead or Alive, Toukiden, Atelier, Opoona, Nobunyaga no Yabou, Deception, Nights of Azure, Rio, Samurai Warriors, Ninja Gaiden, Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time, Nioh, and three from the game’s original setting. All are brought together, or more literally summoned, to help aid a dying world. A life-giving spring is drying up under mysterious circumstances, and only the heroes of prophecy can restore its waters and bring to the throne a new monarch to govern its power.
The narrative is nothing to write home about, but it sets up its three-way conflict well enough and wastes little time sending you into battle. And it’s in battle where All-Star’s diverse assortment of characters first shine. Said characters are so varied in design and feel that it’s compelling to recruit and use them all. Some are traditional samurai with medium-speed strikes, and then others scream through the battlefield kicking enemies into the air by the dozens or summoning magical spikes to devour foes. Each character has their own special ability, too, in addition to simple-to-perform yet devastating combo moves that differentiate them further. That’s not to say the traditional Dynasty Warriors roster doesn’t have a wild side with its own unique personalities – it absolutely does – but the fact that All-Stars pulls its cast from so many disparate games takes it to another level. The result, though certainly an odd splash of contrasting styles, is a benefit to longevity.
The contrast between heroes works to the game’s advantage in many other mechanical ways, as well, and not just how William from Nioh plays compared to the burst of adrenaline that is Samurai Warrior’s Naotori Li. The previous Dynasty Warriors that I recall were singularly focused on the power of one. I alone was the champion on the battlefield. I had allies on my side, of course, but my memory speaks to them being little more than named pieces or objectives roaming the board. That’s not quite the case in All-Stars. There’s now an addicting focus on the team, the simple relationships that can form, and how that affects one’s path through the game.
Before starting missions, I could choose not only who to personally play as, but four additional teammates to fight alongside me. They don’t serve solely to chip away the health of nearby enemies, either. Rather, they increase the toolbox of offensive and supportive actions. For example, their hero skills can be activated with the press of a button, which are then reset on a cooldown, to deal damage, inflict debuffs, or perform buffs and heals. In place of using their abilities, one to all of them can be directly controlled in conjunction with the playable hero for synchronized attacks. And then through particular combos, they may jump in to help finish the chain. They’ll also provide backup during the all new Musou Rush ability, where you become invincible for a limited duration and the game turns into a festive carnival of destruction, happy jingle included. I’ve never been so engaged with Dynasty Warriors’ combat than I have with All-Stars. It’s a flashier and busier experience, and thus a more enjoyable sandbox to dive into.
The team dynamics extend beyond the intimacy of action. As heroes continue to be brought into missions or through the completion of multi-stage requests, they earn regard toward the team leader. Build enough regard, and relationship statuses change from acquaintances up to friends. High regard unlocks all manner of passive bonuses, scenes back at the home base called Sanctuary (hint: it has a bath house), missions, new heroes, and even branching story paths and character-specific endings.
It all culminates into what’s a very strange game, but that’s why I love it. The interactions between characters of so many different games are fun to watch. And there’s always something new to work toward through multiple playthroughs (regard, levels, and items are all carried through) that can differ in significant ways, which meant I had a challenging time putting All-Stars down. “If I raise the regard for these two heroes then I can unlock a potent friendship gift” and “I’m close to Ayane-Naotori Li’s ending” were the kind of excuses I gave myself to turn one battle into six.
Finally, the way missions are laid out is interesting, too. They’re not selected or progressed through linearly. Key story battles and endless, optional missions are spread out across a colorful, beautiful world map. I probably spent the most time with the latter because as they’re completed, the accessible terrain expands giving access to further quests, heroes, and branching story paths. That said, I would have liked to see a bit more variety in the types of optional battles. There are a few good stand outs, such as one the one-hit-kill battles, but others can blur together. Thankfully, none of the missions require too much commitment. A lot can be accomplished in a short amount of time. And their brevity, presentation, and how they feed into the other systems did an excellent job rekindling the old fire I had for Dynasty Warriors.
The heart of Warriors All Stars isn’t all that different from what I knew so many years ago. But the team mechanics, bright coat of paint, and the variety of the roster go an incredibly long way in making this charming new Dynasty Warriors game an entry I can’t stop grinning about every time I play it. If you’re an old fan like me who fell off the wagon for one reason or another, or even a newcomer interested in learning about musou games, then I can’t recommend All-Stars enough.
Disclosure: A copy of the game was provided for review.