Which of the many Warriors games should you play?

By now, you’ve hopefully read our glowing review of Samurai Warriors 5 and you’ve maybe even decided to snag yourself a copy. But perhaps you’ve been left wondering about the rest of the Warriors series — what it might have to offer, and why might you want to explore it more broadly through multiple games.

Well, never fear, ’cause I’ve been hacking and slashing my way through ancient China and numerous other battlefields since Dynasty Warriors 2 helped launch the PlayStation 2, so here’s a handy rundown of what each subseries offers to the prospective fan.

Dynasty Warriors

Dynasty Warriors 8
Dynasty Warriors 8

The flagship of the Warriors series as a whole, Dynasty Warriors explores the “Three Kingdoms” period of Chinese history, which covers approximately 169 to 280 AD. While based on real-life historical events, the games also incorporate some fictionalised elements based on Luo Guanzhong’s 14th century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the most beloved works of East Asian literature.

Dynasty Warriors games tend to have multiple storylines exploring the narratives of the Wu, Wei and Shu kingdoms, with some installments also incorporating the later Jin empire who eventually reuinted China. The stories typically intertwine with one another to provide a complete picture of the overall period, and some offer speculative “what if?” scenarios to explore what might have happened if established historical events had unfolded differently.

Most Dynasty Warriors games offer large casts of playable characters, split into their respective kingdoms. While playing through the narratives, you’re typically restricted to playing characters from the appropriate kingdom (and in some cases, only those who are directly relevant to the current point in the story) but most games in the series also incorporate a “Free Mode” that allows you to select from any of your unlocked characters and take on any previously completed battles.

The exact form character progression takes varies from installment to installment, but there’s usually a strong emphasis on collecting weapons with useful abilities attached to them. In some versions of the game, you can fuse weapons together to transfer abilities from one to another; in others, you collect items from around the battlefield to boost your stats.

Dynasty Warriors 8
Dynasty Warriors 8

The series has seen both “Empires” and “Xtreme Legends” spinoffs over the years, with the former unfolding as a relatively lightweight grand strategy affair punctuated by Warriors hack-and-slash action, while the latter are some of the first ever examples of expansion packs for console games. Early Xtreme Legends releases in the Dynasty Warriors series could be played either standalone or combined with the “main” Dynasty Warriors games to create one larger experience; these days, Xtreme Legends tends to be DLC or a new release of an individual game. Empires games are always completely separate releases.

Probably the most popular and well-received installment in the series is one of the most easily accessible today — Dynasty Warriors 8 (particularly in its Xtreme Legends Complete or Definitive Editions) offers a wide variety of ways to play, well-implemented narrative content, lots of playable characters and plenty of “postgame” progression to keep you busy even after you’ve cleared all the available story chapters.

Conversely, the series’ dalliance with open-world gameplay in Dynasty Warriors 9 was not at all well received by critics and fans alike, and is thus commonly agreed to be best avoided. That said, if you’re open to the idea of exploring an installment in a well-established series that throws everything it was known for out of the window just to see what happens, it might be worth a look for curiosity’s sake — but only if you can find a cheap copy!

Fun fact: the first Dynasty Warriors game was actually a one-on-one fighting game for the original PlayStation. In Japan, it was known as Sangoku Musou, while what we know as Dynasty Warriors 2 was known as Shin Sangoku Musou. From hereon, the Japanese numbering of the series has always been one behind the western releases, since Sangoku Musou is not considered part of the main franchise. The Japanese version of Dynasty Warriors 8 is known as Shin Sangoku Musou 7, for example.

Samurai Warriors

Samurai Warriors 5
Samurai Warriors 5

Exploring the Warring States (or “Sengoku”) period of Japanese history, Samurai Warriors offers a noticeably different experience from the Dynasty Warriors series with smaller playable casts, branching narratives and strongly objective-based gameplay.

Samurai Warriors introduced a number of concepts that subsequently found themselves into other Warriors subseries — most notably letter-grade rankings at the conclusion of each battle that graded you according to how quickly you beat a scenario, how much damage you took, enemies you defeated and various other statistics.

Different installments in the Samurai Warriors series have focused on different parts of the overall turmoil in Japan during the Sengoku era. Some take a more high-level look at the various conflicts as a whole, zipping through time and giving us an abridged version of Japanese history, while others, such as Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada and Samurai Warriors 5, focus specifically on the exploits of specific, noteworthy figures in the era.

Samurai Warriors games tend, on the whole, to feature fewer alternative game modes than their Dynasty Warriors counterparts, though they often have more in-depth character progression and customisation. This is especially true for Samurai Warriors 5, which features skill tree, weapon mastery and Ultimate Skill systems alongside the series’ usual experience and equipment progression.

Warriors Orochi

Warriors Orochi 3
Warriors Orochi 3

Eschewing historical accuracy completely, the Warriors Orochi games were initially designed as a sort of “best of Warriors” type experience, featuring cast members from both Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors. Over the course of four installments, the series has developed its own substantial and complex lore, with later episodes incorporating elements of western mythology as well as influences from Chinese and Japanese history.

Unlike the Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors series, the Warriors Orochi series has a coherent narrative that moves directly from one game to the next, so it’s worth playing them all in order, if only for the story stages. The series posits that the legendary Japanese figure Orochi has awakened from his slumber in order to summon legendary warriors from throughout history to fight for his pleasure.

Initially, warriors from both the Three Kingdoms and Sengoku eras are summoned into another dimension to battle one another — and, eventually, Orochi — but as the series progresses, the stakes increase and we start to get more guests from throughout history and mythology… and from throughout Koei Tecmo’s back catalogue, too. Warriors Orochi 3 onwards features guest appearances from characters previously seen in Dead or Alive, Ninja Gaiden and even Atelier, and Warriors Orochi 4 brings in figures from Greek and Norse mythology just to further add to the chaos.

The first two Warriors Orochi games are very straightforward, consisting of little more than their story stages and some optional additional scenarios to take on. From the third installment onwards, however, the Warriors Orochi games play host to a huge variety of ways to play — including an excellent “Gauntlet” mode in the third game that features randomly generated elements, tons of loot and potentially unlimited replayability.

If you enjoy the sort of in-depth character progression typically seen in dungeon crawlers, Warriors Orochi 3 onwards will doubtless be particularly appealing. The first two Warriors Orochi games are a little weak in comparison to their later counterparts, but are worth playing for the narrative context; 3 and 4, meanwhile, could potentially keep you busy until the end of time with everything they have to offer. Warriors Orochi 4 even holds a Guinness World Record for the most playable characters in a hack-and-slash videogame, a record which absolutely definitely was not created just for Warriors Orochi.

If your primary concern when picking up a game is “content”, then Warriors Orochi 3 and 4 are hard to beat.

Dynasty Warriors: Gundam

Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3
Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3

Often forgotten about for being so radically different to the rest of the series in tone and setting, the Dynasty Warriors Gundam games for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are worth exploring for fans of the source material.

Dynasty Warriors: Gundam features an “Official Mode” based on the Universal Century timeline of the Gundam series, while an “Original Mode” features mecha from outside this continuity and a non-canonical story.

As you might expect for a game based around mecha rather than bearded men with swords, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam combines both ranged and melee attacks, and allows players to combine pilots and mobile suits as they see fit. There’s also an “Outcome” feature that allows players to change the predetermined fates of characters in the canonical “Official” story, thereby allowing certain characters to participate in battles that they were not originally intended to be present for.

Warriors All-Stars

Warriors All-Stars

An interesting one-shot spinoff, Warriors All-Stars brings together characters from Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, Dead or Alive, Atelier, Nights of Azure, Toukiden, Nioh, Ninja Gaiden, Samurai Cats, Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time, Deception, Rio and, uh, Opoona to fight in a completely fictional world ruled by furries. The game features several narrative paths to follow, with numerous different endings available according to the battles you choose to take on and the order in which you do them.

Team Ninja’s input on development is noticeable by virtue of the game’s significantly quicker pace than many earlier Warriors games; this is a slick, speedy hack-and-slash game that is consistently satisfying to play — matched only by Hyrule Warriors in terms of pacing and rhythm.

Because of the high replayability of the game’s main story mode — and the fact that numerous shorter scenarios are available therein alongside the main narrative-centric battles — there’s only one real way to play Warriors All-Stars, but there’s plenty to keep you busy along the way. Collectible cards allow you to customise character capabilities, a friendship mechanic between the characters allows them to boost one another’s performance — and a delightfully ridiculous “Musou Rush” mechanic sees other characters cheering on your main playable character as they blast their way through some of the biggest hordes of enemies seen in the series.

Warriors All-Stars doesn’t take itself at all seriously and is all the better for it; its main story is enjoyable and even, at times, quite emotionally engaging — but for the most part this is about taking some fan favourite Koei Tecmo characters and letting them loose on a variety of weird and wonderful battlefields, then indulging in some collectible card game-style character progression to buff yourself up to obscene levels of power.

This is an oft-overlooked entry in the series, but don’t sleep on it — it really is a ton of fun.

Fire Emblem Warriors

Fire Emblem Warriors
Fire Emblem Warriors

An oft-forgotten installment in both its respective franchises, Fire Emblem Warriors is a Switch exclusive that tells a standalone, self-contained story in a dimension far removed from the main Fire Emblem titles. The game features characters from Shadow Dragon, Awakening, Fates, The Blazing Blade and Shadows of Valentia, and tasks players with preventing the resurrection of Chaos Dragon Velezark.

In true Fire Emblem tradition, Fire Emblem Warriors features a strong emphasis on pairing up characters. By approaching playable characters in combat, you can “pair up” with them, effectively using them as a stat boost and unlocking the opportunity to perform a powerful team-up attack. A variation on Fire Emblem Fates’ paired-up defence mechanic is also used, allowing the paired-up character to shield the player character from taking hits, and consistently using pairs together will rank up their Supports with one another.

Fire Emblem Warriors also respects the series’ iconic weapon triangle. Use a weapon with an advantage over an enemy and you’ll not only deal greater damage, but you can also break their armour. Conversely, weapons with a disadvantage will make your life a little more difficult.

There’s even a permadeath-esque mechanic in the game’s “Classic Mode”, which means that characters lost in story battles sustain injuries that prevent them from rejoining the battle until they are revived in a temple. While characters are incapacitated in story mode, they cannot be used in other game modes, either, so it’s in your interests to try and keep everyone standing!

Hyrule Warriors

People were skeptical when we first heard that the worlds of Zelda and Warriors would be colliding, but it ended up being a very good idea indeed. The first Hyrule Warriors game is one of the absolute best entries in the entire series — particularly in its Definitive Edition incarnation for Switch, which includes all the DLC from the Wii U original — and the second, Age of Calamity, has become one of the best-selling Warriors games of all time.

The original Hyrule Warriors’ main strength is its sheer variety of things to do. As well as a substantial story mode, which blends together original elements along with snippets from Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword and Wind Waker, there’s also a sprawling Adventure Mode, which tasks you with navigating huge pixel art Zelda maps, discovering new battles and items along the way.

A wide variety of playable characters — most of whom have multiple weapon types to fiddle around with, each of which changes up their play style radically — and deep, complex progression makes Hyrule Warriors a great fit for those who enjoy minmaxing. And, like Warriors All-Stars, Team Ninja’s involvement means that combat is slick, speedy and immensely satisfying.

Age of Calamity, meanwhile, is a more limited game in some regards due to its exclusive focus on Breath of the Wild-era Zelda, but it is nonetheless fondly regarded due to how it incorporates environmental puzzles and use of iconic items such as the Sheikah Slate as well as simply hacking and slashing away at hordes of enemies. The ability to take control of the Divine Beasts and, with the recent DLC, a Guardian, adds plenty of interest, particularly for dedicated fans of Breath of the Wild.

Honourable mentions

The Warriors series goes on and on and on, with more specialist-interest installments including the two Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage games for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the four One Piece: Pirate Warriors games across seventh- and eighth generation consoles, Arslan: The Warriors of Legend, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk — even the recent Persona 5 Strikers is arguably a Warriors game, despite being a bit heavier on the RPG elements than many other installments.

But hopefully that’s enough to get you interested in checking out the series as a whole. There really is a whole lot to discover — and as you’ll doubtless find as soon as you start playing, every one of these games is quite a bit more than just mindless button-mashing!

What are your favourite Warriors games? Let’s hear about ’em in the comments — or if you’ve got more to say, why not pen a letter for the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page?

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Pete Davison
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