If Warriors Orochi 3 is a testament to anything, it's to the persistent survival of franchises with loyal fanbases. Commonly the butt of jokes about single-button speedruns and a semi-retro approach to graphics, Omega Force keeps developing new entries in the Musou series of large-scale battlefield brawlers. And true to form, this second sequel to what started as a Dynasty Warriors spin-off remains true to the Musou template. ??In essence, this third version of Omega Force's grand megamix of Asian history remains the same old crowd-clearing, officer-hunting game on which it has iterated on for over a decade. The story is utter nonsense, but despite introducing a dubious final boss, it only occasionally intrudes on the core pleasures of play. The character roster, meanwhile, has been expanded to over 130 playable fighters, with a new character class, the Wonder, thrown into the mix. This class, slightly puzzling on first glance, has a unique interruption move, where a normal attack string can be interjected with an unblockable slash to open up turtling officers. ?
On the battlefield, there’s a host of period siege weapons to mount, though these are rarely required (aside the decidedly clunky superweapon specifically designed to tackle the aforementioned final boss). Melee combat is still the series hallmark, with the player taking three characters into battle and able to switch between them at will. There’s more focus on maintaining the momentum of a combo this time around, by switching characters mid-string – it's a subtle difference from previous Orochi titles, but it opens a door for deep exploration to find optimal team combinations.
?During play, series favourites unlock rapidly as you burn through the early stages, but the lack of something as simple as a training area in the hub world makes the colossal cast a bewildering prospect for newcomers (and makes it easy to rely on old friends if you’re a long-standing devotee). That said, a relationship system called Bonds does enough to prompt experimentation with the full roster. Fighting alongside allied officers that are part of any given stage’s army will raise Bonds slightly, and completing mission objectives will raise them even more. Growing Bonds in turn unlocks more characters and content; repeated play with the same team will see Bonds grow the fastest. There’s also the main camp's Teahouse, where players can throw parties to raise Bonds across the roster, or more strangely, take specific characters for a one-on-one ‘moon viewing' to further strengthen their relationship.
While undoubtedly nectar of the gods for series fans, the incremental tweaks and polishes to the game's mechanics that a decade of sequels grants make it by far the most rewarding and investible Musou game to date for all-comers. Cameoing superstars, UI hangnails and wobbly minor faults neither boost nor detract from the core pleasure of dispensing with a stage with expediency and flamboyant grace, picking up pages of rewards in the process. The series' simple template offers more a sense of leisure than of challenge, but its refusal to die – and capacity to always improve more than it deteriorates – makes it worthy of engagement, and Warriors Orochi 3 is its most leisurely tour of crowd carnage yet.
Xbox 360 version tested. You can discuss the game and review in the comments section below, in the Edge forum, or on our Facebook and Google+ pages.