A combined effort from Team Ninja, Omega Force, and Nintendo, Hyrule Warriors cuts the normal Zelda formula and action rolls into the hack-and-slash genre. As the first original Zelda game to debut on the Wii U, it takes no prisoners in an attempt to deliver a dynamic battlefield struggle. The game takes many cues from the developer's famous Dynasty Warriors series, but packages it in a way that will hit any Zelda fan right in the nostalgia.
Hacking and Slashing
3D Zelda games always feature distinguished combat systems, but never more than a few enemies at a time. In this fighting-oriented spinoff, however, each character channels their inner badass and sets their swords, hookshots, and magical gauntlets loose upon thousands of foes. And with a roster featuring thirteen different playable characters, carnage is sure to ensue whenever one of the champions of legend appears.
Each character has a unique play style and combat is centered around the use of combos. For example, Link is a pretty well-rounded character, whereas Impa is slow, but can wade through hordes of enemies with tremendous power (totally Cloud Strifes it). On the other hand, characters like Fi and Sheik are much quicker, but deal their damage in smaller bursts. Take some time to check out all of the abilities— the character you think the least of could surprise you the most!
Sight & Sound
This is the first we're seeing of Zelda on the Wii U, and boy does it not disappoint. Each landscape is impeccably detailed and brings back all the warm, fuzzy feelings of Hyrule. I'm also absolutely in love with the character designs— they all feel fresh and detailed without giving up any of the cartoony aspects fans have come to love about Zelda. Link with a Hogwarts-esque scarf? Brilliant.
Let me take a few steps back and say: the soundtrack for Hyrule Warriors is everything I could have hoped for. It takes the classic Zelda songs and turns them into epic rock/metal ballads. It really speaks for itself. Just give this a listen:
Even better: a small patch they released allows you to choose your favorite track to play as you rack up a body count. Makes saving the day even more epic than usual.
Each battle really feels like a struggle. Taking an enemy keep might cost you an outpost, or saving a friend in need might lose you that rare golden skulltula. Destroying that bombchu (How dare you? It's so cute!) might leave that boss monster time to dispose of your Hylian guard. For every win condition, two opposing forces seem to present themselves to keep you from your goal.
Did I mention the huge cast? Each champion comes with three skill trees (Offense, Defense, and Utility) that grant bonuses based on materials scattered throughout the battlefield. The early slots are mostly occupied by basic drops, but the more advanced techniques, like additional attacks in a combo, will require boss or rare loot. Characters also level up after a certain amount of experience is earned, but it only increases attack damage.
Hyrule Warriors also features an interesting weapon crafting system. Each weapon will have a built-in amount of attack damage, and a chance to contain a certain amount of slots that have bonuses like increased rupee gain, elemental damage, or increased strength. If you find an item that has available slots and high attack damage, you can "fuse" it with another to give it the desired perks.
It's Dangerous to Go Alone!
Rather than dividing the screen in two, Hyrule Warriors leverages the Wii U's GamePad as a second screen. Outside of the first story mission, each level can be played with two people— including adventure mode challenges. The multiplayer isn't terribly different aside from some slight difficulty changes, but what's better than teaming up with a buddy to fight hordes of monsters (IN HYRULE!)?
The Legend of Zelda... Abridged
As a general fantasy tale, Hyrule Warriors is a typical good versus evil conflict. It's not bad, but it's far from winning any awards. Compared to a Zelda entry, it suffers. The antagonist of the game is Cia, a powerful sorceress who falls in love with Link from afar after hearing the story of the Hero of Time. Knowing she could never have him because of Zelda, she slips into a moment of weakness and becomes corrupted by dark forces.
I liked the appearance of a new villain— especially one that's not Ganondorf (although he certainly makes an appearance)— but most of the story tries to tie in elements of all the other games. *Semi-spoilers if you've been hiding under a Zelda-rock for the past ten+ years*
1. It tosses in the Ocarina story element of, "Zelda has been kidnapped!" "Oh hey, other Sheikah-that-Impa-magically-doesn't-know-about, you should join us." "That's not the real Zelda! Because I'M ZELDA! SURPRISE!"
2. Link has to retrieve the Master Sword. Since he's Link. Because reasons.
I won't go into the plot much more, but the further along you get in the story, the more you'll see it leading up to a few of the inevitable Zelda plot devices/themes.
The game features three game types by default, and has added a fourth with the day one patch. Each mode is unique and interesting, but are really just rehashes of the same maps.
Here's a short breakdown of each:
Story Mode follows the main plot that I described in the previous section. Adventure Mode features a map that is a neat throwback to the 2D Zelda games and has challenges and unlockables for each tile. While the Story Mode unlocks most of the characters and weapons, you'll have to venture into this mode to get the full experience. Free Mode lets you go back to any of the completed Story Mode maps, ramp up the difficulty, and choose whichever character you'd like to play. The last game type, Challenge Mode, pits your character against a string of objectives in a battle against the clock.
Lack of Objectives
Each battlefield requires you to do one of two things: defend X or defeat Y. They try and mix it up by saying "Capture the keep!" but that just translates to "Kill a ton of monsters until this meter goes down." Occasionally a party member will need saving, which just involves standing in the circle next to them. The most unique objective you'll get will involve capturing a territory that will affect the battlefield dynamically. For example, capturing a Goron keep will stop them from rolling boulders down on all of the advancing Hylian forces (poor guys can't catch a break).
For the treasure / achievement hunters out there, there's also the option of tracking down golden skulltulas in each stage. For each one found, you'll unlock a piece of the puzzle, and open up new rewards like artwork. They'll appear randomly during the battle— usually so far away that you run the risk of losing an objective— and pop up in a general area on the minimap. Hint: listen for the "clacking" sound they are famous for. The louder it is, the closer they are.
Maybe this is me being nitpicky, but I wasn't a fan of how the camera handled the lock-on state. When an enemy jumps, it sometimes will toss the camera awkwardly over your character's head— clipping right through their face. It does a decent job of keeping track of them, but sometimes it'll make your charged ability look mega awkward and mess up the intended direction (NOOOOO all thirty seconds it took to charge wasted in an instant!)
It's Zelda. There shouldn't be any voice acting, I know. I appreciate Link's "Hyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!", Agitha's "Teeeheeeee", and Impa's "Hmph", but sometimes it gets hard to pay attention to the dialogue with a million things going on. I wouldn't give them voices, but I'd consider tossing in a narrator to at least keep you informed of objectives instead of the bells that sound. I feel like a missed a reasonable portion of what was said.
Frame Rate Issues
This will probably be adjusted with some patching, but when there's an especially large amount of things happening at once, the game suffers some lag time. It'll also happen a bit more often in multiplayer since you'll be competing for the spot of most-flashy-badass. Not enough to ruin the game experience, but just enough to annoy me.
Lack of Online Multiplayer
I'm not a big stickler on lack of multiplayer being a negative, but there have been a number of Dynasty Warrior games that I recall including this. Not to say it might not be added in the future, but I'm just surprised they didn't by default for Hyrule Warriors. It would have been nice to play with some friends who aren't local.
There's not much thinking involved in each battle aside from when to dodge or what attack/item to use. Combos are cool, gratifying, and flashy, but at the end of the day you'll be using them a thousand times over. Controls are based around spamming the normal attack, occasionally using the character special, and then burning the meter attack that you build up sporadically.
This is only made worse when you factor in each game mode is just a rehash of the same stages. So you'll go back to the same places, with the same combos, with mostly the same enemies. It takes a lot to wear me out (I'm a sucker for flashy attacks), but I know a lot of people that don't have the same patience as I do.
Hyrule Warriors brings out the violent side of Link and his peers, and exposes players to the thick of the action. It's gorgeous, sounds wonderful, and a nice introduction to the potential of a Wii U Zelda game.
I enjoyed the time I spent with it— it's definitely been one of the more interesting games on the Wii U— but I must mention a moral dilemma I had with my scoring on this:
Would I recommend this to a Zelda or Dynasty Warriors fan? Absolutely. You'll be completely blown away.
What about somebody that mostly likes the puzzle aspects of Zelda? Maybe. If you really like LoZ and the characters, I'd say it's at least worth a shot.
What if I have no experience with Zelda or Dynasty Warriors? I'm not so sure. If you like action or hack-n'-slash games, it's definitely worth a shot. I played it briefly with some friends who aren't big into Nintendo, and they all seemed to like it. But if you are looking for a game with elaborate dialogue and crazy plot twists, your money might be better spent elsewhere.
It's a fantastic game if you can appreciate what it is. It's fun, light-hearted, mindless, and can be picked up at any time to let off some steam. That, in my opinion, gets a
complete Triforce stamp of approval.
Be sure to check out Stephen's review on Kotaku for another opinion.
Other images from the official Nintendo site and collective Zelda tumblrs.
Questions? Concerns? Leave your comments below!