A review by Rebecca Fleming
When Hyrule Warriors was first announced at E3 in 2013, I was somewhat underwhelmed. Though I love the Legend of Zelda series, I had never played a Dynasty Warriors game, and had never had any interest in doing so. It all just looked like a pointless button-masher with a Zelda skin, so I made up my mind not to buy it. However, release day rolled around and I found myself walking past the video game store on my way to do my grocery shopping. On impulse I ended up purchasing Hyrule Warriors. I figured that it involved Zelda, so I should at least get some entertainment out of it and, if I didn’t like it, I could always just sell it. With relatively low expectations, I scurried home with my new game, dusted off my Wii U and settled in.
The story of Hyrule Warriors is a non-canon saga that falls outside of the official Legend of Zelda timeline. Cia, a powerful sorceress, watches over space and time, never interfering with events until the soul of Link (a trainee soldier of Hyrule) catches her attention. Even though Cia knows Link’s soul is bound to another, she becomes obsessed with him. Ganondorf, the Demon King sealed away in the Sacred Realm, uses her desire against her, manipulating her in an attempt to get her to free him. Cia opens portals to different eras throughout Hyrule’s history to bring forth an army of darkness, which she uses to attack Hyrule Castle.
After Link helps General Impa to fight off the army, they realise that Princess Zelda has gone missing. Link and Impa set off to search for Zelda, close Cia’s portals and defeat the dark sorceress, meeting other allies along the way. The settings heavily reference other games in the Zelda series, particularly Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. There’s a lot of fan-service here; a lot of over-the-top nods to Zelda lore that are sure to bring a smile to your face. Someone on a social media page I frequent described Hyrule Warriors as a “Zelda fan-wank” and I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t accurate (in a good way, though).
While the characters, settings and many items are taken from the Legend of Zelda universe, game play comes straight from the Dynasty Warriors games. Each scenario will start with your character in one of the Keeps and a Mission you need to complete, which usually involves killing an enemy captain or capturing a certain Keep or Keeps. Completing one task will unlock another, and usually the final task for a scenario will involve fighting an enemy boss (some of which Zelda fans will recognise). Mad hack-and-slash fighting action is the order of the day here. It IS very much a button-masher but, even though I feared it would become repetitive, somehow the range of characters, weapons and scenarios meant that it always felt fresh, fun and interesting.
After you’ve defeated a certain number of enemies with normal attacks, you can use special attacks that vary based on which warrior and weapon you are using and always look spectacular. There’s just something about watching your favourite Zelda characters (and some new characters) unleash a torrent of fiery swords or a flurry of lightning and decimating hordes of baddies that never gets old. That being said, I mostly played in short bursts, doing a scenario here and there, and as much fun as I found it (and still find it), I can see how other people might find it repetitive and become bored with it fairly quickly.
Hyrule Warriors consists of a number of different modes, which I will describe in more detail below:
Legend Mode is essentially the story component of the game and consists of 18 scenarios. While it is mostly linear, there is one point where the story branches down three paths. However, all of these paths converge again, and it doesn’t matter which order you complete each path. However, the more scenarios you complete in Legend Mode, the more you will have access to in Adventure Mode, as many Adventure Scenarios don’t open up until you have progressed past a certain point in the story.
Free Mode contains the same scenarios as Legend Mode, but where Legend Mode scenarios only let you play as certain characters, Free Mode lets you play as any character you have unlocked.
Adventure Mode takes up the bulk of your time. It takes place on the map from the original Zelda game, which is broken up into a grid of 128 squares. The Adventure Mode scenarios use the same settings as the Legend Mode, but the missions are usually much shorter and have fewer objectives than Legend Mode scenarios. Some will ask you to defeat a single or small number of enemy bosses or an enemy commander, while others will take the form of a quiz and ask you to defeat a certain character based on a description. Completing Adventure Mode scenarios is where you will find unlockables not found in Legend Mode, as well as items needed to reveal other treasures on the Adventure Mode map. Some of these are quite simple but others are very challenging, especially if you’re trying to get an A-rank (necessary to unlock some of the higher level weapons and treasures), which usually means taking very little damage, achieving a certain number of KOs and/or completing the scenario within a certain time.
As you work your way through Legend Mode, Free Mode and Adventure Mode, completing some scenarios will yield rewards such as playable characters, weapons, heart pieces and heart containers for your characters. Enemies will also drop rupees (Hyrule currency) and materials which can be used in the bazaar to level up your characters, create potions for them or craft badges that will enhance their attack and defense abilities. The bazaar also lets you fuse weapons, giving them more attributes and making them more powerful.
One thing I really love about the game is the music. Some of the tracks are remixes of familiar Legend of Zelda melodies, while others have been composed specifically for Hyrule Warriors. There’s a bit of a rock/metal feel to most of the tracks and, while some have criticised this, I felt the soundtrack suited each level perfectly. The world of Hyrule Warriors looks great in the Wii U’s HD. However, there were some problems with objects and characters ‘popping in’. It was annoying to unleash a huge special attack that should have cleared out an area, only to turn around and immediately have more enemies suddenly appear where the others had been. Another (admittedly small) complaint I have is with the AI. You can quite often stand still for several seconds (a long time in a battle context) in the middle of a horde of enemies and they will just mill around aimlessly instead of attacking you (only the captain and boss enemies make any real effort to attack most of the time). I don’t think this reduces the fun of the game play that much (these minor enemies are, after all, little more than cannon fodder for you to smash through) but it did irk me a little.
Sadly, Hyrule Warriors lacks a true online multiplayer aspect. While you can use network functionality in the Adventure Mode maps (another player’s Link will appear somewhere on your Adventure Mode map, and though this battle will be harder than usual, you will usually get better rewards if you complete it, as will the player you have ‘helped’), the real multiplayer side of it is strictly local and only allows for two players, with one playing on the GamePad and the other using the TV screen and a Pro Controller. The downside of playing co-op is that the resolution suffers and the action sometimes lags, especially when the screen is full of enemies.
I’ve just beaten Legend Mode (which took about 10 hours) and am still working my way through Adventure Mode. In terms of hours of play time, Hyrule Warriors is definitely value for money on its own. On top of that, there are DLC packs available, some already released and some on their way. Two have already come out at $8 each; there’s another $8 pack due in February and a $3 pack due in March, or you can pay for all four now and get them for about $20. The packs include content such as additional Adventure Mode maps (which add a LOT of hours of game play), more playable characters, weapons and costumes, and additional game modes and scenarios. Also, make sure you do the free software update to get additional playable characters (Volga is my favourite, because FIERY DRAGON KNIGHT) and Amiibo support, allowing you to receive gifts from your Amiibos.
Hyrule Warriors is not a perfect game. It’s also not really a Zelda game but a Dynasty Warriors game in Zelda clothing, so anyone who goes in expecting traditional Legend of Zelda gameplay with exploration and dungeons and what-have-you will probably be disappointed. But at the end of the day, it is a fun game, and that’s what really matters. If you have played Dynasty Warriors games in the past and hated them, Hyrule Warriors probably isn’t a game for you. If you love hack-and-slash games and are a fan of the Legend of Zelda series, Hyrule Warriors is well worth your time and money.