I had the opportunity to play through a demo of Arslan: The Warriors of Legends at London MCM recently. It’s a Warriors type game based on the anime/manga series The Heroic Legend of Arslan by the legendary Hiromu Arakawa, but it feels like a game of the anime, and not just a franchise stuck into a Warriors template.
Which isn’t to say it doesn’t feel like a Warriors game, it definitely does – in all the good ways. Omega Force are the top of their game in this console generation, and it really shows. They know, almost instinctively, where to fall-back on their now very refined Warriors formula, and where to push the unique elements of the IP they’re working on. While elements of their games do feel a little bit held back generationally (Arslan is still receiving a digital only release on PlayStation 3), they really know where they can push the current-gen versions to make it feel like it very much belongs in this generation
Graphically the game is wonderful, looking straight out of the anime. Arakawa has worked with Koei Tecmo to make sure it feels like the source material, and it really, really does. Unlike usual Warriors games, the demo I played was quite linear, but I was told this was a tweaked build to take players through the basics of the game more easily and allow them to experience a whole stage in just 10 minutes.
The basics of the gameplay that the demo took me through will be quite familiar to those who know their Warriors games. You have your normal attacks, charge attacks, unique attacks, etc. It’s all as it should be and it feels very fluid and nice to move around and cut enemies down. The block and evade feels better than ever, with ducking and weaving now feeling like more of a viable option than ever. Arslan and Daryun were the playable characters in the demo, and hats have to go off to Daryun’s unique attack, where he rams his spear through an enemy and up into the air, which was very visceral and powerful.
Characters can also have multiple weapons, which can be switched mid-combo using a “Charge Shift”, which extends the combo longer than usual and allows for a more powerful finisher. The series has toyed around with this before, but this is the first time it’s ever felt quite so intuitive. These sorts of innovations are what are really pushing the Warriors series beyond simple hack and slashes at the moment, and it’s great to see.
Horses are part of your team too, as you might expect if you’ve seen Arslan. Their function is similar to the other Warriors games, but felt a little bit smoother to control. Horse combos are a thing now, and a site to behold, with the finishing move (for Daryun’s horse, Shabrang, anyway) seeing it turn around to kick enemies and send them flying. The Mardān Rush is the biggest new addition, being based off the large scale charges in the battles in the anime. The main function of these are to allow access to a blocked off area of the map, where the final objective lie, such as a boss encounter.
This gives you a limited amount of time to control your whole battalion is one go, with the units the battalion is comprised of affecting the abilities of the attack. Essentially you just run at the enemies racking up an insane combo, eventually piling onto the objective marker to knock down some rubble or whatever. It seems that in the full game opportunities to use this will be few and far between, which will probably be for the best, as while it was fun, it could become bothersome and less fun if you have to do it too much.
The boss of the tutorial was also noteworthy. While he seemed a lot like the standard stronger characters of the Warriors series, something really came together with the way Daryun felt to control and the combat systems to create something that felt very good. I’ve faced down a lot of unique characters in Warriors games, but this was one of the time it’s most felt like a true battle between two foes.
It’s hard to pin down exactly why it felt so good compared to others in the series, maybe it was the evade system really coming into its own in a mainly one on one context, maybe it was the combos and Charge Shifts, really trying to nail the right moves. It all came together for a wonderful end of the demo. I was also assured that I was the second person at the event to beat the boss within the time limit. I am very good at video games.
Arslan: The Warriors of Legend is due out 12 February 2016 in Europe on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with a digital release on PlayStation 3.