Hyrule Warriors was announced early in 2014 much to the surprise of Nintendo fans, not only is it the first fully-fledged spinoff the beloved Legend of Zelda series has ever seen, but it was a crossover with Koei Temco’s Dynasty Warriors franchise. But now that it’s finally here, what is Hyrule Warriors really like?
Hyrule Warriors’ gameplay is an interesting blend of hack ’n’ slash action and real-time strategy, and despite a plethora of different modes, the methods by which you complete chapters in the story, clear challenges, and even progress through Adventure Mode is almost always the same. You’ll use various combo attacks and specials to plow through hordes of enemies, and though each weapon has a plethora of techniques, destroying weaker foes usually devolves into a round of button mashing. The larger enemies will take a bit more precision, but after their attacks, they’ll have a period of vulnerability, which is your chance to swoop in and take them out.
Underlying the simple conditions you must fulfill to complete a level, such as “defeat this boss,” or, “advance to the other side of the battlefield,” every map sprawls a series of “Keeps” and “Outposts” across a familiar Zelda location, such as Lake Hylia and Gerudo Valley, which you must capture from the enemy. Capturing an Outpost is as simple as defeating its guard, but to capture a Keep, you must kill several enemies before challenging another larger-than-average foe called the “Keep Boss.” After capturing a Keep or an Outpost, it will spawn reinforcements for your army—but if you let the enemies reclaim it, it will become a spawning station for theirs. So whatever the immediate task at hand may be, it’s always important to make sure that your army has a hold on these bases.
This is essentially the full extent of the game. You can use loot collected in battle to upgrade your characters in small ways, or change some of the effects their weapons have in battle, but that’s about all there is to it—it’s a pleasantly frenetic hack ’n’ slash that repeats itself for twenty chapters and dozens of additional side challenges.
But there’s something simple yet elegant about the way that Hyrule Warriors seamlessly blends the Dynasty Warriors gameplay with the Zelda universe, and it ultimately makes perfect sense.
You can play as a total of thirteen different characters from Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword (with Majora’s Mask DLC and more packs on the way), each of whom has unique weapons and playstyles so befitting their roles in the Zelda series that you wouldn’t know their movesets were invented entirely from scratch.
You can then take these characters and weapons to the Bazaar, a rich system of upgrading your warriors, which offers four different services.
In the Training Dojo, you can level up your warriors in exchange for rupees you’ve collected in battle. The lower your warrior’s level, the fewer rupees it will cost you, so it’s a clever way of circumventing the level grinding that plagues so many games. The Smithy, meanwhile, is where you go to upgrade your weapons. Each weapon has a certain number of slots available for “skills,” which have various effects in battle. Some may increase the rupees your enemies drop, some may increase the EXP you earn, and others may increase your chances of finding powerful armaments. The Smithy can transfer one weapon’s skill to another; so if you have a weak sword with a great skill, you can transfer that skill to a much more powerful one. But if you transfer a skill away from a weapon, that weapon will be destroyed—so you have to think carefully about the way you mix and match these skills to make the perfect weapon.
The Badge Shop and the Apothecary serve somewhat similar purposes—in both, you trade materials you’ve collected through your journey for a boost to certain attributes for your warrior—for example, attack power, the speed at which you can capture a Keep, and so on. The Badge Shop, however, grants these effects to a warrior permanently, while the Apothecary serves it up in the form of a potion that lasts only for one battle. Some of the more useful badges, however, can grant bonuses like additional attacks, so it’s important to keep an eye open for available upgrades.
The game’s main story takes place in “Legend Mode,” a somewhat short series of events that exists to serve a purpose rather than to provide one. The story is quite thin, revolving primarily around the witch Cia’s attempt to conquer the world, only to be pushed aside when she revives Ganondorf yet again. The worlds of the three aforementioned Zelda games come crashing into each other. The new characters and villains introduced for the story once again seem to exist mainly for the purpose of creating new characters, rather than to advance the plot. I wouldn’t necessarily bill that as a bad thing, however, because Legend Mode is far from the main attraction of the game.
Adventure Mode continues the Zelda-inspired fun, allowing players to explore a map of the original Legend of Zelda for the NES. Each square in Adventure Mode represents a new challenge for the players, with treasures to discover and rewards for completing the mission with aplomb. Some missions will reward players with “Item Cards,” representing items in the original Legend of Zelda, which can then be used to unlock secrets in the Adventure Mode map, and ultimately unlock more goods.
My only major frustration with Hyrule Warriors in an otherwise splendid adventure is that it’s sometimes quite difficult not by its merits, but rather by its flaws. Much of Hyrule Warriors’ gameplay is about task management, yet it throws so much at you without providing a sufficient way to keep track of or prioritize your objectives, and its map system is so dreadfully uninformative that it becomes impossible to know where your allies are and where you actually need to go. The GamePad provides a very simplified objective list and shows your allies’ health, but its usefulness ends there. Had they compacted that information in one part of the GamePad screen, using the rest for a detailed map which labels allies and locations, the experience would increase tenfold.
The Verdict: A Great First (True) Spinoff for the Zelda Series
If not for the rich fusion with the Zelda series, Hyrule Warriors could have been a repetitive, bland, and forgettable title collecting dust on the shelf. But there’s a spark of simplistic brilliance in setting a Warriors game in Hyrule—it’s not just the game’s saving grace, but its entire identity as an excellent celebration of all things Zelda, and incredible Nintendo spinoff to boot.