- Format: Wii U
- Unleashed: Europe: Out Now, North America: 26th September
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Koei Tecmo Games
- Players: 1-2
- Site: www.zelda.com/hyrule-warriors/
Zelda and Dynasty Warriors isn’t exactly the kind of combination you’d expect, is it? While Zelda has always featured combat, it’s always had a more puzzle-like nature opposed to the hack and slash that the Warriors series is known for. So how exactly have Koei Tecmo made a game that is both Zelda and Warriors?
Hyrule Warriors’ foundation is in its combat, composed of a Warriors backbone with a few Zelda elements scattered throughout. There are two types of attack – the regular and the heavy – that can be strung together. It’s an incredibly simple system that finds depth in the variety of combos serving different purposes: Some situations will call for juggling, while others are better faced with attacks that can force a wide range of enemies backward, for example. There are also special attacks that take this to higher levels, either in terms of damage or area of effect. If you collect enough magic, Focus Spirit will boost this as well as attack speed and damage. It presents a huge variety of ways to tackle each situation and encourages experimentation.
The thirteen characters were also designed with this in mind, as they all have varied styles of combat. Sheik, for example, is almost entirely about juggling the enemies, while Fi focuses on gliding through them while cutting them apart. Not only that, but the characters with different weapons can be used dramatically differently when equipped with them; Link’s sword and shield set couldn’t be any more different to his magic rod.
There’s a character for everyone, and they all do a great job of making the player feel incredibly powerful which seems to be the game’s focus. Animation and sound design mesh together perfectly to accomplish this. While Impa swings her huge sword around to send waves of enemies flying, and Link summons a giant rock pillar out of nowhere to fill the more ludicrous of power fantasies, Fi’s nimble dance wouldn’t have the same amount of gravity to it if not for the empowering metallic clings and clangs that accompany her every step. If a sense of empowerment was indeed Hyrule Warriors’ main goal, then it’s been pulled off with a perfection that has very few rivals.
The large levels feature a number of keeps and outposts – areas that spawn either enemies or allies – which are naturally the focal point for each conflict. At higher levels of difficulty it becomes quite challenging to both maintain your own positions while taking the enemies’, but it’s equally rewarding to do so for a number of reasons: the gratification of overwhelming your enemy or the Skulltulas and heart pieces you can unlock for doing so.
There’s a huge number of these to find, and it’s one of the biggest components that make the game so compelling. Golden Skulltulas will spawn after meeting certain requirements, forcing you to streamline your process of engaging the level. This can lead to several-hour-long quests on the higher difficulties that will have you tearing your hair out, but are incredibly satisfying to complete.
Weapons with varying damage values and qualities will drop in these maps as well as materials, instilling the game with a healthy dose of loot fever that will have players going back time and time again just as much as in more traditional loot games. There is also a bazaar where these weapons can be merged, transferring one of their qualities to another weapon of the same type that opens up a horde of customisation possibilities.
Materials you find, on the other hand, are used for crafting character-specific badges that boost damage, unlock new combos, or make items more effective. The rate at which the higher quality materials drop provide huge incentive to replaying previous levels for the reward of more power.
There are also a number of bosses to tackle throughout the game, and this is where Zelda mechanics are seamlessly integrated into the game. Players unlock iconic items such as bombs and a bow during their journey, which are mainly used to take on these bosses in much the same way as they are in the Zelda games. King Dodongo, for example, becomes vulnerable to your attacks after being fed a few bombs during his breathing animation that precedes a fireball attack.
There are several modes that use these mechanics in different ways. Legend Mode features a series of levels that don’t really deviate too far from the tug-of-war, but structures them in such a way that is highly compelling: Players will generally be encouraged to mix up which characters and weapons they use to keep things new and fresh until the second half of the mode, and there’s a constant influx of dramatically different environments to battle through. Free Mode features the same levels but places no restrictions on your choice of character.
Adventure mode mixes things up quite dramatically. Rather than having purely tug-of-war gameplay, there are a few carefully constructed encounters designed to push the player to learn more about the game’s inner workings, such as defeating hundreds of enemies while being chased by Gohma or killing twenty enemies in a one-hit-kill environment. These are navigated via an 8-bit Zelda map that unlocks new characters and weapons, providing a lot of meaningful rewards for a job well done. Challenge mode is one map that runs you through several of these encounters, and seems a bit tacked on as it doesn’t provide much in the way of rewards.
The entire game is made with a very strong reverence for Zelda, from the level design that features an entire shrine to Link’s past to the traditional Zelda soundtrack with a twist of Warriors’ electric guitars. It all makes for a rollercoaster ride through the Zelda universe.
Hyrule Warriors is neither a traditional Zelda nor Warriors game, but is perhaps more akin to a movie remake: The same story told by a team of people with different methods and sensibilities.