Hyrule Warriors feels like a grand experiment for the traditionally conservative Nintendo. Taking one of their most iconic universes and handing it over to another developer usually ends in disaster for them. This time however the other company isn’t trying to mimic Nintendo’s design philosophies. Instead they are taking the world of The Legend of Zelda and combining it with their own property, Dynasty Warriors, to create a mash-up of the two. This too could have ended in disaster, yet somehow it created one of the biggest surprises of the year for me as it not only met every expectation, but found a way to exceed them in a few key places.
The greatest compliment that I can give to Hyrule Warriors is that it delivers almost exactly what was promised. From the moment that the game was announced there have been questions, and Nintendo was right there with answers using videos and demos. They have hidden nothing during the game’s development, showing off trailers for individual characters on an almost weekly basis. This meant that before the game even released we had a good idea of what Hyrule Warriors was going to be. In a few words: Dynasty Warriors with a little Zelda on top. But this doesn’t totally encompass the experience of the game like I thought it would, which is where the developer found a way to go above what many were expecting from the game.
The gameplay in Hyrle Warriors is all classic Dynasty Warriors, with you controlling a hero character amidst a gigantic battle. You run around the battlefield, destroying waves of tiny enemies and focusing on the occasional Captain, or Boss character. By capturing spawn points, and strongholds you swing the tide of battle in order to accomplish whatever goal has been set before you. With Hyrule Warriors though this is modified by placing it within the universe of The Legend of Zelda. The heroes you control will be Link, Princess Zelda, Impa, Midna, and pretty much any other major character you can think of from the series. And the battles you fight will take place in important locations from the series, like Hyrule Field and Death Mountain. This might seem like a simple change, but the attention to detail that has went into the combination makes it work exceedingly well.
When fan-service is this enjoyable, it takes a game that would be a passable action experience and makes it a must-play
Small touches like inside-jokes put there for fans to pick up, or the fact that those familiar with the series will immediately recognize what weapon to use on each of the bosses add to the flavor of the game. Some might argue that this is simply fan-service, and they certainly have a point, however I fail to see why that is a bad thing. And when the fan-service is this enjoyable, it takes a game that would be a passable action experience and makes it a must-play for anyone who has an interest in the series. That is an important distinction to make however, this game is completely made for the fans.
The gameplay in Hyrule Warriors is still totally based around Dynasty Warriors with little deviation from the series’ norms. This means you will be mashing buttons as you hack-and-slash your way through hundreds of enemies. A simple and effective combo system alleviates some of the repetition and allows for strategies to formulate depending on the situation and your playable character, but every mission is essentially “get from here, to here, and kill them”. As someone who hadn’t been a fan of the Dynasty Warriors formula I expected this to be a problem, but the minor changes and the Zelda coat of paint alleviated most of my issues as I played through the game.
So fans of Dynasty Warriors will enjoy the gameplay, but what is there for Zelda fans to be interested in? Interestingly Hyrule Warriors starts out by doing more with the narrative and overall fiction of the Zelda series than any game has in the last few years. This isn’t a knock on those games, as they have done a good job of bringing together the seemingly disparate elements of the franchise, but Hyrule Warriors’ nature as a non-canon entry allows it the freedom to explore areas that a main game cannot. Unfortunately as the story progresses it never truly delivers on the promise of the first few hours, eventually falling back on a few tired tropes of the series, but it is an engaging adventure while it lasts.
Hyrule Warriors starts out by doing more with the narrative of the Zelda series than any game has in the last few years
As far as non-story elements players have a lot of game modes to choose from in Hyrule Warriors. The main story is housed within Legend Mode, which is where you will likely spend a majority of your time. However, Adventure Mode will extend the time you can put into the game. In Adventure Mode you traverse the original map from the NES game The Legend of Zelda. Each square on the map is another mission, usually consisting of only one or two objectives. You are graded on your performance, which will then unlock other areas of the map. By earning special items you can discover hidden areas, similar to how it was done in the original game. While this mode doesn’t change up the in-game formula all that much, it does give players enough variety to allow them to sink another dozen hours in if they choose to. Challenge Mode is added via an online patch, it isn’t fully fleshed out at this point but it seems to offer up a long string of objectives to complete. More work will need to be done to distinguish this mode from the main game though.
On top of all of this is a robust character system which offers unlockables, leveling, and customization. There are over a dozen playable characters in Hyrule Warriors, each with a unique set of attacks and weapons. Each can be leveled up and customized using material picked up during battle. New combos and abilities can be added through the Badge Market, which can take an otherwise weak character and turn them into a powerhouse on the battlefield. With a game like this it is easy to have one super powerful character who you use exclusively, but by using rupees you are able to level up any of your other characters without grinding with them in-game. A simple weapon customization system is available, but seems to offer up little alteration to the base stats making it an element that I usually skipped after my first few attempts. regardless of this, if you are one who looks for total customization within your games it is there for you in Hyrule Warriors.
Fans of either Dyansty Warriors or The Legend of Zelda will find Hyrule Warriors to be a must-play. While the gameplay can be repetitive it is bolstered by the variety offered up from the Zelda universe. The creativity of the story and the small touches placed in the game for fans to pick up on will surely entertain. And there are enough unlockables and game modes to keep your interest for a long time, even after the final credits roll.
- Available On: Nintendo Wii U
- Published By: Nintendo
- Developed By: Omega Force/Team Ninja
- Genre: Action, Hack and Slash
- US Release Date: September 26th, 2014
- Reviewed On: Nintendo Wii U
- Quote: "Hyrule Warriors meets and exceeds any expectations set for the game. It offers a ton of gameplay through unlockables and various modes, and will entertain with its Zelda fan-service. However the gamplay is still repetitive and non-fans will likely want to avoid."