Hyrule Warriors was one of the big surprise announcements of last year’s final Nintendo Direct. The Direct showed gamers an unexpected collaboration with Tecmo Koei and Omega-Force, mashing the Zelda world with Dynasty Warriors. It also followed Nintendo’s announcement to share out it’s IPs for more uses.
Hyrule Warriors doesn’t fit anywhere in the official Zelda timeline, with the people at Nintendo Treehouse joking about it fitting into timeline 23A. Instead, it draws in elements from throughout the history of the series. The story follow Link initially, as he tries to prove himself as a soldier in Hyrule’s military. Of course an evil from afar is trying to steal Princess Zelda to take her triforce piece. This attack is spearheaded by a new baddie called Cia, with help from Volga and Wizzaro. The good guys also meet up with new character Lana, who is a sorcerer with a dark history. There’s also plenty of plot twists later on, some obvious to Zelda fans, like the true identity Sheik and some that will take you by surprise.
The setup of the story allows several playable characters. Obvious inclusions are Link and Zelda, while unobvious choices include Fi and Darunia. What’s magical about the characters, is that we are seeing all of them for first the time in HD (Wii U tech demo aside). There’s just something about seeing Link, Zelda and the gang in HD that brings a rather nostalgic tear to a Zelda fan’s eye. The character roster isn’t too bad and offers enough variety to make each character interesting in their own way. As you’d expect, playing as Midna offers a different experience than playing as Link, for example. Also, playing as Ganon for the first time feels epic and it it’s something that Zelda fans must try! The new characters are also a great addition to the franchise and don’t feel out of place within the bounds of the series and are as full of life as other Zelda characters from the series.
The combat is where the Dynasty Warriors side of the experience starts to break through. If you’ve played a Dynasty Warriors game before, you’ll know what to expect when you pick up Hyrule Warriors. The basic attacks are a strong and light attack and combinations of such provide different, more powerful attacks. With addition to the main combos, there’s also two different special attacks that can be performed. The first special attack is metered and the meter fills up as you defeat enemies. Once filled you can perform the special attack to defeat a lot of enemies in your surrounding area. The other special attack is built up by filling your magic meter, which in typical Zelda fashion, is filled by picking up bottles of magic potion. These special attack are more focused but provide more damage. The combat is repetitive, however, and those used to Dynasty Warriors know that it’s a staple of the series. For Zelda fans, slaying hordes of enemies will feel tedious. The only salvation is the variety of items, such as bombs, arrows and bomchus, to name a few, which offer a welcome variation to the combat.
Extended combos can also be unlocked at the bazaar, which is within Legend mode where the main story takes place. It’s not just combos than can be purchased either. There’s a variety of upgrades that can be bought in exchange for material you pick up off of enemies and the timeless Zelda currency, rupees. These upgrades can either be permanent or temporary. Each upgrade is locked to the character you have selected. Permanent upgrades can include extended combos, more special attack bars and easier keep captures, to name but a few. Temporary upgrades can include rarer material drops, for example, which can be helpful if you’re looking for specific material from a boss. There’s also 100 gold Skulltela to find throughout the entire game. There’s different requirements to make them appear in each level. They unlock pieces of illustrations and in turn, for every piece of illustration you find, you’ll unlock more items in the bazaar. You can also customize the abilities of your weapons in the bazaar. This allows you to move the abilities of one of your weaker weapons to a more powerful weapon. Abilities can include stronger attacks or a higher likelihood of collecting rarer material or weapons.
Adventure mode offers challenges based around the original Legend of Zelda game on NES. You progress through the original Zelda map, collecting items to unlock secrets or special items. These can then be used in any of the game modes. There’s a lot of nostalgia on offer here. There’s also a feature in this mode called “Network”. This is where you can play through the challenge for an extra reward. The Network Link’s appear if you’re connected to the internet and another player fails a level. It’s a nice little feature that helps extend the life of the game mode.
The one thing marring the experience the most is the framerate during co-op. You can play the entire game in co-op but it’s not really worth it. The framerate is rather poor and the whole experience feels laggy and quality that you’d expect just isn’t there. In single player, the framerate remains smooth for most of the time, with it dropping slightly when things get real busy. It’s not as game breaking as the co-op but still noticeable.
Another annoyance is some of the character bosses. These bosses are mostly a little easy and all can be exploited by pinning them against a wall and spamming attacks and a dodge. What makes this worse is that some of late game bosses are character bosses and beating easily makes their role in the story feel a little lacklustre.
Hyrule Warriors is a bit of an odd one. Zelda fans will love the references splattered everywhere but will find the combat repetitive. Dynasty Warriors fans will love the combat but the references will be wasted on them. It feels like the game is aimed at a small niche of people who happen to like both games as opposed to opening up both franchises to each set of fans. The framerate issues are inexcusable too, especially in co-op, which just feels unplayable. If you can put that aside, Hyrule Warriors is an addictive, mental hack ‘n’ slash, that’ll have you playing for longer than you’d expect.