Hyrule Warriors Wii U and 3DS Developed by Omega Force & Team Ninja Released in 2014
The initial announcement of Hyrule Warriors had me in shock, it was like a dream come true. I already got the Zelda meets Total War game I always wanted thanks to a mod years before, but now we were getting an official Zelda meets Dynasty Warriors game?! I pre-ordered that the moment I got the chance to and pretty much took time off to play it, except… when you think about it… Zelda and Warriors don’t really mix that well.
The big reunion
The story starts out in the most generic way a Zelda story can. Princess Zelda feels like bad things are about to happen and begins a search for Link, which takes her about five minutes as she finds him training with the rest of her army in the very next scene. Just in time, because a horde of monsters has just popped up and it’s time to wage war. Though with Link’s help the forces of good manage to fight off the monsters, they soon find out that the princess has gone missing and fighting continues around the land.
It turns out that a powerful sorceress is pulling time-travel shenanigans, pulling villains and armies out of Hyrule’s past to help her obtain the Triforce. This means that Link and his companions have to dive into history themselves and join up with heroes of old to set things right.
On paper it’s more or less what you would want from a game like this, it provides an excuse for the cross-over and goes the extra mile by having two original characters that are central to the plot, even if Cia and Lana feel too anime-like to fit in with the Zelda world. It’s nothing spectacular and, in my opinion, does drag on a bit as the ending has you save Hyrule, then capture it again as Ganondorf, then recapture it a third time as the heroes again.
Story score: 6/10
No click at all
It would be easy to say that Hyrule Warriors is a typical Dynasty Warriors game with a Zelda skin over it, but that simply isn’t the case. Yes, you have a battlefield with lots of enemies and bases to capture, you got a simple combo system where you do light attacks and heavy attacks that combine into special moves, and you fight through hordes of ineffective enemies to get into duels with named officers that pose more challenge. That is all there, but more so than any other Warrior game, Hyrule Warriors feels more linear. The story missions are all about following paths and completing objectives, you are always told what to do and it feels more restrictive as a result of that. You capture specific bases, defeat certain enemies, or take out a threat to the mission, then move on to the next thing and optionally capture some extra stuff on the sides that is largely inconsequential to the battle overall.
While the game controls well, I feel that the urge to fit in stuff that feels Zelda is a hindrance to the flow of gameplay that the Warriors games are known for. It’s fun to cut through hordes of monsters, but then you run into special ones like Lizalfos or Moblins that are like mini-officers. They pose more of a threat and have more health, which would be fine if they weren’t so sluggish to fight. They arbitrarily block almost any of your attacks, even if you get a combo going against them they can just suddenly begin blocking or get a free parry on you. The game wants you to stop in your tracks and wait for them to open up which, again, would be fine if there weren’t so bloody many of them.
This utilizes one of the game’s brighter ideas, the counter-system. Just like your attacks create natural openings, when enemies use theirs they pause for a moment and a circle appears above their head. It’s similar to the system from Dynasty Warriors 8, but no longer requiring an elemental advantage over your enemy and the icon is much easier to read. When you get the counter-attack it tears an enemy to ribbons, doing a massive amount of damage and generally killing the likes of Lizalfos and other such monsters. This system makes it much more satisfying to battle against other heroes, as some have really brief windows during which they can be harmed and others are more open.
The characters are also really diverse, much more so than any main Warriors game. Link is a nice all-around powerhouse whereas Agitha relies on hard-hitting but imprecise summoning powers. Darunia hits like a truck with his hammer, but is often too sluggish to make use of counter-attacks, whereas Zant hits softer but more often and frantically. Characters also have their own mechanics, such as Zelda who can temporarily beef up her special moves at the cost of having no plain heavy attack or Ruto who can summon waves to wash away enemies after completing a combo.
Bosses and items are other features lifted from the Zelda series and similarly to the monsters, fail to really fit in. The bosses are lumbering creatures that are almost impervious to all normal attacks, requiring you to either use this game’s take on musou attacks or fight them like you’d fight actual bosses in the Zelda games. It takes forever to kill a dodongo with normal attacks, but throw in a bomb while he’s inhaling and you’ll leave him open for a counter-attack. It seems logical, but bosses have no cycle to them and sometimes take forever to finally give you a chance to retaliate. When you do, a single counter won’t even kill them entirely, meaning you need to keep doing it until their massive health bars are finally depleted. It’s really slow and the game keeps forcing you to fight the same 4 bosses constantly to pad out its missions, so you’ll be really tired of them by the end of it.
The items themselves are some of the familiar tools from the series: bows, bombs, a hookshot, and the boomerang. Every character can use these, it’s just that none of the characters have much use for them. Aside from opening up the bosses there is little to use them on, since obstacles like rocks are rare and often limited to optional areas. It’s just a minor hassle to deal with. Sure, you can kill enemies with them, but even if you get brief power-ups that improve their effectiveness, your regular moves are much better suited for that. It’s a mechanic that feels thrown in to make the game more Zelda-ish, but which the designers couldn’t actually find much use for.
It’s fun to see familiar characters run around and use cool attacks to plow through enemies and gameplay is all-around passable, it just feels like too much effort was made to include elements from the other half of this cross-over that get in the way of satisfying combat.
Gameplay score: 4/10
Omega Force did a great job taking all these characters from various console generations and bringing them together in an art-style that feels suitable for the HD-capable Wii U. It’s great to see old favorites like big bro Darunia spiced up with modern day graphics and many of the armors characters wear look nice, even if Link’s scarf doesn’t quite click. Overall this is just a nice-looking game from a purely technical standpoint and benefits from some really imaginative level design. My favorite stage is what me and my buddy have come to call “fangirl castle”, a large mansion filled with Link statues, Link paintings, and all sorts of nifty details, all brought to life with excellent atmosphere.
The Wii U really delivers and while enemies do suffer from some pop-in, it’s nowhere near as bad as Dynasty Warriors 6 on the Playstation 3 was. When playing on the tablet alone, as I did when I was moving and without a TV, the game does suffer from frame-rate dips when things get too hectic.
The music consists of a collection of remixes of familiar tunes from the series and a handful of new tracks. While I complained a lot throughout my Zelda reviews about music reappearing, they went with some more obscure tracks here and gave them such a make-over I hardly recognized them. The tracks manage to fit both parts of the cross-over equally well, which is an incredible feat by long-time Warriors composer Masato Koike.
The game’s greatest flaw in terms of presentation is a lack of variety in the armies. Hyrule is filled with fantastical races, but Hyrule Warriors limits it to knights, monsters, undead, and Gorons. This leads to the utterly lackluster scenarios where Ruto is commanding Gorons instead of Zora troops, or where Twili characters are commanding skeletons instead of actual Twili.
Presentation score: 8/10
The story mode in Hyrule Warriors represents just a small part of the truly massive game that lies underneath, most of which is tucked away in the adventure mode. Adventure mode is essentially a board game where you have a variety of tiles you must find a path through, each containing a mission with potential rewards. These may be items that can be used in the adventure mode itself or permanent unlockables for characters, like costumes or the much-needed weapon upgrades. Oftentimes, though, a good upgrade will be hidden and you need to use the items you received on a certain spot on the tile to “discover” them.
The adventure is expansive and imaginatively designed, a nice way to string together a variety of missions that generally have no context to them. Except I have a few issues with it. First and foremost, there is a lot of repetition here, with countless missions using the same “kill x amount of enemies while boss monsters roam around” or “fight a few characters in an arena setting” setups to bring in variety between the regular battles. While tolerable for a while, the game recycles this content so often I got really tired of it.
The second issue is the rating system. Any upgrade worth the effort requires you get the highest possible ranking in a mission, determined by the three contradicting criteria of enemies killed, damage taken, and time spent. The fatal flaw here is that you have no indication of what the game expects from you, you just go out there and have to meet a quota the game never reveals to you, even if you fail or succeed. Do you take a gamble and kill some more enemies? Well, now you are at risk of taking too much damage or taking too long to complete the mission. Some missions I had to repeat for hours for this very reason, with frustration reaching higher and higher levels each time I was shown the victory screen and got a silver reward instead.
The missions can also be brutally hard or deliberately designed to ruin your chances at a gold reward. The missions that unlock new tiers for your weapons are the hardest of all, especially because they demand you use the character the weapon is for, using the previous tier of the weapon. Some of these I found impossible to complete with a gold reward without having a second player help out by using a powerhouse like Link to tip the balance.
And while character diversity is praiseworthy, the upgrade trees attached to them are absolutely ridiculous. Each character has almost the exact same upgrade tree with different materials needed to advance it. There is no surprise to any of it and it just turns into a chore to buy the same upgrades each time and keep all your warriors upgraded. This ties in with the DLC scheme, which compensates for the absolutely tiny roster of characters the game launched with. I am not going to sugarcoat it: Nintendo ripped players off here.
Upon launch there were few fighters available, but you could buy a DLC pass to entitle you to future additions. The first pack to come out unlocked the villains for you, which isn’t DLC at all, these characters were already in the game, fully operational, you just weren’t allowed to pick them. Other characters released included variations on already existing characters (Twili Midna, Young Link, and Linkle) and when some actually interesting characters were released, these were hidden behind another pass you have to buy, celebrating the game’s port to the 3DS. All these characters are unlocked upon purchase, have no place in the story, and start as level 1 fighters with no upgrades.
Finally, there are Gold Skulltula to collect in the missions that appear when you meet specific criteria, which unlike the rating system of adventure mode, the game does explain to the player. When you fulfill the objective the Skulltula will appear somewhere on the map and you are given a vague indication of where it is. It’s only there for a small amount of time, but if you rush over and kill it, you get a piece of a drawing you can work to complete. It’s fun, but not really worthwhile to work towards. There are also some challenge missions to do, but the bulk of the end-game content is really in the adventure mode, and it is there that players will experience a lot of frustration.
Extras score: 2/10
Hyrule Warriors is a game I recommend for its story mode alone. If you are just casually playing through it once or twice, maybe dabble in a few of the extras and skip the DLC, then it’s an all-around decent game with a fun story and gameplay. If you intend to get more value out of the game you’ll find yourself bogged down with the repetitive and frustratingly designed adventure mode, maintaining the many copy & pasted skill trees for each character, and the obnoxious amount of paid DLC spread out over a confusing scheme that uses different DLC passes and bundles. It’s a game I was really enthusiastic for and which had a lot of potential, but once I got through the story mode and had to deal with all that, my goodwill towards the game depleted.