The One Piece: Pirate Warriors series is known for its Dynasty Warriors-esque gameplay style, where hack-n-slash chaos reigns on the battlefield. The first 20 minutes of One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 certainly does little to change that impression, and instead introduces more musou action into the mix, alongside new supporting characters.
A new game build at Thailand Game Show 2019 came with two different experiences in tow that swaps series protagonist Luffy out for former Marine admiral Kuzan as the player character. The first playthrough serves as a tutorial, guiding players through the basic game mechanics, as well as the craft of creating combo chains as the Straw Hat Pirates captain.
Much like its predecessor, everything feels familiar, which makes it very easy to fall into the rhythm of dashing, jumping, and slicing enemies. While very manageable, especially for Pirate Warriors and Dynasty Warriors veterans, there are times where you may find yourself swarmed by troops, and end up being unable to see an impending attack from the more powerful forces.
As Luffy, movement speed runs in your favour. He darts across the field easily, and is able to land strikes fluidly from one group of enemies to another. In comparison, Kuzan is slower, but makes up for it with a powerful area-of-effect (AoE) attack, which turns the land into a slick, icy terrain and freezes hostile figures within the vicinity. Where Luffy’s special abilities are tailored to be aggressive with a focus on dealing damage, Kuzan’s features a mix of passive buffs and offensive moves that establishes him as a more well-rounded fighter.
The skill imbalance is hardly surprising, considering how Kuzan can only be accessed at a later part of the game, and not at the start like Luffy. Besides, each of the playable characters is equipped with their own unique loadouts, so it’s anything but natural that their strengths and weaknesses will vary across the pick. With the vast number of characters in the One Piece universe, exploring the their respective styles should prove to be a fun and interesting experience – especially with Pirate Warriors 4 expected to include more than the 37 quirky personalities from the previous game, such as Basil Hawkins and Kaido.
While the all-new Titan Mode mechanic (replacing Pirate Warrior 3’s Kizuna Rush) was not offered in the game demo, the battle action is an addictive, bombastic, and satisfying affair. There’s nothing like slamming into the enemy forces with a power dash, then decimating them with a whirlwind of combo attacks and special abilities; the animation is smooth and seamless to boot. A slight gripe, however, would be the fixed camera perspective: a camera reset feature is available, but it can take a few tries to arrive at a reasonable, comfortable angle at times, which is a little disruptive to gameplay.
Perhaps one of the strongest points of One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 is its accessibility. It’s extremely beginner-friendly, with the lock-on mechanic automatically bound to the most powerful enemy in the area, a mini-map at the bottom right that grants players a sense of direction, the ease of charging up special abilities, and AI help in the form of other One Piece characters. Some strategic thinking, prioritisation, and timing may be needed during boss battles or timed stages, but otherwise, the game is very easy to pick up. Just be careful not to be over-fixated on troop fodder, and everything should be smooth-sailing.
Of course, that means players who are looking for a challenge will tire of the gameplay quickly. Indeed, a common concern of musou titles is the repetitive combat that doesn’t come with many incentives, unlike role-playing games, where there’s at least the promise of experience points for levelling up, cash, equipment, or resources. Hopefully, the game story and switch of characters will be sufficient to hold the player’s attention.
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 does still appear to be your typical run-of-the-mill Dynasty Warriors title, but with a welcome dose of additional musou fun and character variations. With it heading into the Whole Cake Island Arc, one of the best fleshed-out and hyped story arc in One Piece, plenty of plot development and replayable content is set to be in store when it launches in 2020 for the PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam.