When Hyrule Warriors was confirmed for the Wii U, Nintendo and Tecmo Koei set out to cross over two of gamings biggest franchises in The Legend of Zelda and Dynasty Warriors. It was also an attempt to bring together each of their respective fans, potentially creating new ones in the process, so it had the interesting-yet-stressful job of catering to two completely different fanbases.
With who knows how long it’ll be before we get to experience the first true Zelda game on the Wii U, is Hyrule Warriors Zelda enough for non-Dynasty Warriors fans to dig in?
At its core, Hyrule Warriors is very much what you’d expect it to be–a game that plays like Dynasty Warriors, yet dressed in the garb of The Legend of Zelda series. Those of you familiar with either of them can probably guess how things turn out, but Hyrule Warriors offers enough meat to satisfy a hungry Goriya.
The game features a pretty lengthy campaign in its Legend Mode, which puts players in control of various characters from the Legend of Zelda timeline. It offers an original story, following the Zelda ideal that when the land is in peril, a hero clad in green will appear to save Hyrule. Link starts off as a lowly Hyrulean guard, but when Princess Zelda goes missing, he teams up with Impa and Sheik to rescue her; enlisting the help of other familiar faces like Ruto and Midna along the way.
The story in Legend Mode has an interesting way of sending you to various locales in Zelda history, like Ocarina of Time‘s Death Mountain, and Skyward Sword‘s Skyloft. It also manages to introduce a brand new character in Lana in a way that feels very natural, rather than just dropping her in your roster. Battles play out in typical Dynasty Warriors fashion, with you hacking and slashing through thousands of enemies to capture bases and complete specific tactical objectives, but be prepared to advance and retreat often, as your AI companions guarding your bases can’t always hold their own.
As is the case with any Dynasty Warriors game, objectives are extremely repetitive, but made easier to swallow thanks to massive boss fights and setpiece moments; like overtaking specific bases in Death Mountain to avoid having your base crushed by Goron boulders, or using the Great Fairy to summon the moon from Majora’s Mask to bring down Argorok.
Each playable character has their own unique playstyle, with some offering multiple weapons to choose from. I enjoyed my time spent with every single character and never once felt like they were clones of one another, so I applaud Tecmo Koei in the variety they provided. Link, for instance, can wield his iconic sword and shield for Spin Attacks, but can instead use the Fire Rod, offering a completely different playstyle.
Each character’s weapon also has a specific element, which deals additional damage to certain enemy types–fire dealing more damage to Moblins, or light dealing more damage to dark enemies. Sheik is perhaps the most interesting character to play, as each of her Harp combos end in a specific element. Her subsequent attacks then take on that element, allowing you to change her damage accordingly, then unleashing a massive attack that corresponds with her current elemental affinity.
Between scenarios, players can access The Bazaar to forge weapons, upgrade characters, and pay rupees to level up the lowbie characters that you’ve been neglecting. You’ll obtain a plethora of new weapons, some of which have additional slots that you can apply bonuses to; like earning additional rupees, higher XP gains, or general damage increases. These bonuses can be applied to new weapons by destroying the old one at the Smithy. Everyone in your roster is also leveled independently, and the materials you collect can be used to craft them potions or unlock additional weapon combos, better their defenses, or increase the speed in which they capture bases. Some of the upgrades require specific drops from boss fights, so if you’re interested in maxing everyone out, expect to replay certain levels many, many times.
Legend Mode took me around 12 hours to complete on the default setting, and in an interesting turn of events, eventually shifted the campaign’s focus from the heroes to controlling the villains instead. This was just another way Hyrule Warriors kept things interesting in what I felt was an extremely lengthy campaign for a hack and slash title, even though you do tend to revisit certain maps under different conditions. As The Legend of Zelda series is well known for its iconic soundtrack, you’re also given the option to choose your background music–complete with Dynasty Warriors-style metal remixes of classic tunes–while you cut your way through the campaign.
Aside from Legend Mode’s campaign, Hyrule Warriors will suck up more of your time with its Adventure Mode. Using the overworld map from the NES-classic The Legend of Zelda, the game divides the map up in to various sections that each offer their own specific adventure. These range from defeating a certain number of enemies in a specific amount of time, to completing a stage as a specific character, but your overall scores can sometimes impact the rewards you receive; like new weapons, materials, and playable characters.
While it was charming to see 8-bit versions of some of the more modern characters on the map, the objectives played out similarly enough to the campaign and made it easier for repetition to sink in. It purely exists for something to do after you’ve completed the story, but it fully succeeds in this aspect, offering an alternate way to level your roster, earn rupees, obtain materials, and unlock additional characters or weapons.
In addition to its two main modes, Hyrule Warriors also offers Free Play, which is exactly what you think it is, and Challenge Mode, which is objective-driven like Adventure Mode, but much more difficult. All modes can be played off-screen as well using the Wii U GamePad, and although I spent a majority of my time playing on the TV, toying around off-screen was just as fun.
Hyrule Warriors can also be played with a friend, although it only supports local co-op. Much like Super Mario 3D World, the lack of online multiplayer is baffling, but if you have someone to play with at home, one of you controls the main character on the TV while the other can select anyone you’ve unlocked and play along using the GamePad screen. Local co-op does have a noticeable drop in framerate, but nothing that should deter anyone from playing.
I really enjoyed the game, but there were a few areas that had me scratching my head–like the above mentioned lack of online multi-player. For starters, switching weapons during combat feels a bit clunky. You can use the D-pad to cycle through sub-weapons like bombs, a boomerang, or the hookshot, but you can also hold your finger on the GamePad screen and slide it around a radial menu. I wasn’t really satisfied with either option, as using my left thumb to cycle weapons meant that I could no longer move around; thus getting attacked. Using the touch screen also meant that I’d have to take my eyes off of the TV, becoming a sitting duck in a swarm of Moblins.
Enemy AI also leaves a lot to be desired, as many of the weaker ones swarm you in droves, but fail to mount an offense. Larger enemy types and boss fights proved to be more of a challenge, but generally required well timed dodges to exploit their weak points. Hyrule Warriors is relatively easy on its default setting, but completing Legend Mode opens up a higher difficulty that definitely spiced things up a bit. Another gripe I had was in the amount of time certain characters took to complete their special abilities, and not being able to skip their animations. Most of them are equally fast and flashy, but some, like Lana summoning the Deku Tree, seemed to take forever.
Overall, Hyrule Warriors can be repetitive, but offers enough Zelda that I think it’ll keep fans interested. If you’re familiar with the Dynasty Warriors style of play, and just so happen to be a fan of The Legend of Zelda, there’s a lot to like here and plenty to keep you occupied for 15-20 hours. With near monthly DLC planned until Spring 2015, you can already count on the available content to continually grow in the meantime, and what’s currently available is already pretty solid.
Although local co-op does suffer from fraterate issues, and switching weapons can be a bit of a pain, I still feel that Hyrule Warriors is a must-have Wii U exclusive for any fan of the source material. It may be missing the puzzles and dungeons that help define the Zelda experience, but offers enough in the way of characters, level designs, remixed tracks, and boss fights to remind you what you’re playing.
Recommended for fans of: The Legend of Zelda series, Dynasty Warriors and its many spin-offs from Tecmo Koei, hack-n-slash games, or anyone who owns a Wii U and hasn’t had much to play since Mario Kart 8 released almost 5 months ago.
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling reviews, public relations, and our social media communications. He’s an aspiring video game journalist, Baltimore native, and on again/off again WoW player that favors roguelikes, horror games, and point-and-click adventures. His favorite console is the Dreamcast, favorite game is the original Metroid, and he could watch The Goonies for the rest of his life. Contact him by e-mail at the address above, or follow his insanity on Twitter.