A complete love letter to The Legend of Zelda universe.
The last announced DLC and free update for Hyrule Warrior came out in North America on Thursday — two weeks after Europe and Japans’ release. The development cycle for Hyrule Warriors is finally drawing to a close after six strong months of DLC and updates. Nintendo is new to DLC this generation, so it has been interesting to see how they handle it with so many western countries abusing DLC to try and squeeze some extra cash out of people.
Hyrule Warriors was released on the Wii U in North America on September 26th last year, and has since pumped out 4 major DLC packs — along with 4 free updates. Now that it’s all said and done, Zelda fans are asking one question: Is it all worth it?
The Legend of Zelda meets Dynasty Warriors
Hyrule Warriors — the curious love child of The Legend of Zelda and Dynasty Warriors — was Nintendo’s leap of faith into the glorious land of spin-off games. Dynasty Warriors is a franchise infamous for the mass genocide of hundreds of enemies within the span of a few minutes. The point of the game is quite literally running around capturing enemy keeps and defeating evil commanders. The Warriors franchise has taken on other spin off games in the past, to create games centered around the Gundam universe.
Hyrule Warriors is a very unique game. It allows you to love it — or hate it — for a variety of reasons. The game has a ton of content, but some people may not find the content worth all of their time. We’ll be separating this review into a few distinct categories: Graphics & Audio, Gameplay, Game Modes, DLC & Free Updates, and Lasting Appeal.
Graphics & Audio
Hyrule Warriors has some stunning visuals. It does a decent job at showcasing some of the Wii U’s graphical capabilities. The Nintendo Wii U is one of the only systems on the market that can reach a consistent 60fps on games, beat out only by the Personal Computers (PCs) of modern standards. Depending on whether you bought Hyrule Warriors on a disk or digital copy will determine how much slow-down you experience in game. People who own the digital copy of the game report only running into slowdowns a few times out of hundreds of hours of play. As an owner of the physical copy, fps slowdowns are consistently popping up around crowded areas with a giant boss. Despite the slowdowns, there is no stuttering and the image remains smooth the entire time, which lends excellently to strategy for your next couple of attacks.
When playing local co-op with the Wii U Gamepad, Hyrule Warriors drops the resolution (only really visible on HD TVs) and the frame-rate locks at 30 fps. For most people, this won’t be too much of an issue, but it would be nice if the quality didn’t drop so much. While Hyrule Warriors doesn’t exactly push the limits on what the Wii U can do graphically, it looks beautiful and fluid regardless.
The audio quality found in Hyrule Warriors is crisp and well cared for. Along with the minimalist “voice acting” found for grunts and attacks, Koei Tecmo remixed many tracks famous from The Legend of Zelda and even brought in a selection of their own original tunes for players to listen to while they play.
While in a match, Hyrule Warriors lets you switch which music track you’re listening to through the pause menu, allowing you to choose from any track in the game (though it must be unlocked first). If left untouched, the music will change dynamically to fit the situation of the battlefield. When changed, the track you picked out will play on every stage until you either turn the game off or change it again. This small feature gives huge bonus points in the music department, allowing you to switch up whatever repetitive music tries to make its way into your eardrums again.
At its core, Hyrule Warriors gameplay holds extreme similarities to other games in the Warriors franchise. From a title menu, you choose which mode you want to play, choose a stage, pick a character, and off you go into a reckless battlefield to struggle for control. You must manage between defending the Allied Base and Captain from enemy bombardment and aggressively pushing through the ranks of foes to take keeps (square bases on the battlefield that represent territory control) and tackle objectives. A relatively simply concept that only grows more complex as you sink more hours into it.
You have a basic string of attacks, as well as a heavy attack button to help you perform combos. After filling up a Special Meter, characters can unleash a Special Attack. Unique to Hyrule Warriors, characters also have a Magic Meter. When full, players can unleash their magic to go into Focus Spirit mode, which increases Rupee drops, EXP rates, and more. When fighting enemies of a bit higher caliber than the normal “mook” (Warriors term for insignificant foot-soldier), they sometimes show a Weak-Point Gauge, which you can break for a devastating Weak-Point Attack. The giant bosses that appear on the battlefield require the player to use their limited selection of popular Zelda items (Bombs, Arrows, Boomerang, and Hookshot) to stun them and make them vulnerable to attacks. The combat in Hyrule Warriors is pretty simple and easy to learn, but difficult to master.
Sense of Progression – Rupees, Leveling, Heart Pieces, Gold Skulltulas and Badges
When I was considering whether or not to pre-order Hyrule Warriors back in September, the feature that pushed me over the fence and into this Legend of Zelda spin-off was the addition of leveling. Zelda and a traditional leveling system have never gone hand in hand, and I was really curious to see what it was all about. At first, I assumed it was simply a static level that represented you, as a player, but I quickly found out that each character has their own level. Just about the only thing that is actually shared between your characters consists of the amount of rupees you’ve collected.
As of the last Hyrule Warriors update, the level cap has reached its final resting peak at 255. Raising a character’s level results in health upgrades every ten levels (starting at 5) and a boost in attack power. The Training Dojo in the Bazaar can be utilized to spend all of your extra rupees on leveling characters you may not play as much. You can pay rupees to level a character all the way up to the level of your best character — Link for many people.
It’s a good idea to keep your characters leveled, as you will begin to run across missions that force you to play as certain characters, particularly in Adventure Mode (more on that later). Moreover, if you plan on collecting heart pieces, those are also exclusive to each character and must be obtained while using the character that it’s meant for. After a character has every heart piece, they should end up with 3 full rows of hearts, with 15 hearts in a row (18,000 health points).
If a Gold Skulltula appears within a match, finding and attacking it will nab the player with the piece of an illustration. There are twenty pieces in an illustration, with five illustrations to complete in the vanilla game alone. Each illustration unlocks a challenge unique to it on the Rewards Map in Adventure Mode.
While in a match, killing enemies results in either weapon or material drops. Weapons come in three basic tiers, which you must unlock. A weapon’s stars add extra damage to the tier it’s in. Slots on a weapon add extra abilities, such as quicker EXP or Rupee gain, stronger combos, and more.
The materials that drop are namely used for badge crafting, which can be found in the Bazaar. Badges are essentially augmented abilities to make the Warrior more potent in battle. These add buffs such as more combos, extra special meters, potion bottles, and faster keep taking, among other things. Warriors all use the same badges (with an extra four badges for every extra weapon they can use), but must all be crafted separately.
Once badges are no longer much of an issue, materials can be used on making potion mixtures in the apothecary, which boost certain efficiencies in your next battle. Overall, Hyrule Warriors has a very strong sense of progression. Even if you take the time out of your day to complete only one match, you’ll still feel like you’ve accomplished something.
2-Player Co Op
So long as one player is using the Wii U Gamepad, you can play with your friends or family on the same system. One player will use the TV with either a Wii U Pro Controller or a Wii-mote and Nunchuck — and I do not recommend the latter. The player using the Wii U Gamepad will simply use that as a screen (and it appears to have no resolution issues since the screen is only 480p to begin with).
Keep in mind that playing with a second person will make mooks take awhile to load on the screen. Areas will appear to be a lot sparser than if you were playing alone. This isn’t the case, however. The mooks ARE there and effecting the stage, but since they have so little influence on the stage, they are set to lowest priority load. This is okay on most stages, but can be troublesome when you’re trying to rack up a high KO count in a timely fashion.
Hyrule Warriors has four game modes accompanying the Settings and Gallery on the main menu: Legend Mode, Free Mode, Adventure Mode, and Challenge Mode — the last of which was easily overlooked until just this week.
Legend Mode in Hyrule Warriors is your typical “story mode”. The premise of the story isn’t unlike any other Zelda game. As it begins, Link is a soldier-in-training when Hyrule Castle is attacked. By the end of the battle, Zelda has disappeared and Impa grants Link his green tunic as a call-to-arms for the battles to come. Afterwards, Shiek shows up to join forces with them to try and find a white sorceress who is leading the good fight. After an appearance from sorceress Lana (a good witch unique to Hyrule Warriors that Koei Tecmo created to further the story), our heros encounter the main villain: Cia. Cia is a lore-keeper that goes a little bit beyond idolizing Link. She is obsessed with Link (she even has portraits of him strewn all about her mansion).
Cia decides to clash three moments in time from different Zelda games into the present, bringing forth characters and stages from Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword. This is how the game effectively gets away with using characters strewn all across the Zelda timeline.
Legend Mode restricts your character choice to a character that would canonically be there, according to Hyrule Warriors. The story lasts for about fourteen hours, and is worth completing to the very end. It unlocks a higher difficulty for Legend and Free Modes, as well as new characters, upgraded weapon tiers, and vastly improves mobility in Adventure Mode.
Free Mode is identical to Legend Mode, except it lets you use any character you have unlocked. If you’ve completed a mission in Legend Mode, it will show up here.
While Legend Mode offers you the characters needed to obtain the pieces of heart and gold skulltulas, Free Mode is worth playing simply out of the enjoyment for certain Legend Mode levels. Each mission in Legend Mode has certain stage conflicts that really mix up the complexity of the battle — such as draining the water out of the Water Temple so you can reach it, or using the Great Fairy Fountain to decimate hordes of enemies in an area on the battlefield.
Adventure Mode is the true gem in Hyrule Warriors. While fully completing Legend Mode could give you a solid 30 hours of gameplay, Adventure Mode will offer you over 100 hours to sink your teeth into — and that’s without paid DLC.
The main Adventure Map houses tons of Heart Pieces and Gold Skulltulas for you to nab, as well as four playable characters, a few new weapons, and every remaining Weapon Tier that wasn’t obtained through Legend Mode (aside from Cia, Wizro, and Volga, whom were all added in a free update). Collecting every character and weapon on the first Adventure Map even unlocks the Master Sword’s secret skill.
Adventure Mode sets you on an 8-bit map with various items at your disposal. Each square of the map represents its own stage. If a stage has hidden secrets, you can search the square to use your item cards — like using a candle to burn a bush and reveal the reward for a new weapon tier. If the stage has enemies present, you can head right into a match — if not, you’ll have to search for them as well.
Adventure Mode also introduces match rankings. Depending on how well you do in up to three categories (KO’s, Time, Damage Taken), you will find yourself with a rank: A (Gold), B (Silver), or C (Bronze). These matches are generally shorter than the ones found in Legend Mode, but that doesn’t mean they are easy, either.
Challenge Mode got a much needed upgrade in the update that finally made its way over to North America this week. Until now, Challenge Mode was simply a placeholder for a bigger challenge. One unique feature of Challenge Mode is that it records each of your characters’ best scores. Managing to get an A-Rank on a Challenge Mode mission will unlock new, harder missions to play. These are a different breed of gameplay entirely, and is mostly meant for fun. Don’t expect anything like Legend Mode or Adventure Mode to show up here.
DLC & Free Updates
This is one of Nintendo’s first expeditions into the land of paid DLC. The way DLC was handled for Hyrule Warriors was done differently in Japan, so I cannot speak for them, but the DLC presented to us was bundled together like a season pass. The Hero of Hyrule Pack offered in North America is $20 dollars, and it includes every DLC pack along with a Dark Link costume exclusive to the season pass.
A few months ago, Nintendo released the pre-order costumes into 3 costume packs at $1 each, for a total of up to 8 pre-order costumes for those that may have missed them. These are easily overlooked, as costumes are completely for your fashion/nostalgic needs.
Master Quest DLC Update (1.3.0)
The first DLC came alongside a free update that released three extra playable characters to the public: Cia, Volga, and Wizro. Buying the Master Quest DLC Pack adds five Legend Mode missions geared around the three villains added in the free update. These Legend Mode missions insert themselves along the current timeline in order.
This DLC also includes a full Master Quest Map (same size as the original map — 128 squares) in Adventure Mode. This map is notorious for housing the best grinding spot in the game, but also includes many unlockables that are quite different from the original Adventure Mode map. Cia, Volga, and Wizros’ tier two and three weapons are found on this map (so you must pay to max out their abilities — thankfully they are the only ones). The Master Quest Map also unlocks a variety of costumes for many characters along with 8-bit weapons to unlock. There are also 20 Gold Skulltulas to find in the Master Quest Map, making for a new illustration to collecting.
The Master Quest DLC Pack unlocks matching costumes for Lana and Cia and a new weapon for Link: Epona, his horse — which has every weapon tier unlocked from the start. At $8, this adds a wealth of new content and about 100+ more hours of gameplay into an already huge game.
Twilight Princess DLC Update (1.4.0)
This was the first free update to boost the level limit, which went from 99 to 150. At this point, they have started to work on requested improvements to game features. However, this update also added amiibo support to the game. While amiibos are largely unnecessary for playing Hyrule Warriors, one of them does add a new weapon to the game.
The Twilight Princess DLC Pack adds one new playable character: Twili Midna. She doesn’t combine with the original Midna character, so she has her own badges and levels. Zelda also receives a new weapon for her arsenal: the Dominion Rod. Both of their weapons have every weapon tier unlocked, though they start with the most basic.
The DLC comes with its own Twilight Map in Adventure Mode, featuring the 8-bit realm of Twilight, instead of the usual map of Hyrule. This map comes with its own unique rule set and is geared towards players over level 100. This is the Adventure Mode map that offers the hardest challenges. Like the Master Quest map, it adds a number of new costumes and 8-bit weapons to collect, as well as 20 Gold Skulltulas for another illustration.
The Twilight Princess DLC also adds the Postman costume for Link and an Ilia costume for Zelda, as a little treat for fans of the game. This time your $8 goes towards about 50~100 hours of extra content, depending on how quickly you breeze through the Twilight Map in Adventure Mode.
Link amiibo – Spinner Weapon (1.4.0)
The Spinner weapon is a really cool addition to Link’s arsenal, and gives him another lightning element to play around with. However, you might want to make sure you have other uses for your Link amiibo when you get it. Simply getting the Spinner weapon with an amiibo is a bit underwhelming even with their reduced price of $10.
If you own Super Smash Bros. 4, the Link amiibo is probably worth it. Otherwise just wait. Link already has a lightning element in his arsenal and it’s not like it’s a brand new character to level up with from square one.
Majora’s Mask DLC Update (1.5.0)
The free update brought Hyrule Warriors a level cap increase to 200 and added many functionality changes to the Bazaar, such as the ability to sell your excess weapons, removing slotted upgrades from a weapon, and appraising locked skills. These are all highly requested menu features that made the game that much more playable.
The Majora’s Mask DLC Pack adds two new playable characters to the mix: Tingle and Young Link (a.k.a. Fierce Diety). These are two brand new characters for you to level up that come with all weapon tiers unlocked. Along with the new characters, Lana receives a Skull Kid costume, and Shiek and Impa get costumes of their Ocarina of Time counterparts.
The Majora’s Mask DLC also adds a Termina Map for Adventure Mode, which has new costumes and 8-bit weapons for you to unlock, as well as another set of Gold Skulltulas for an illustration. This map is bound to be the most unique, for the moon is falling and it will crush Termina eventually. Every match in Termina equates to one hour, and once time is up, the Moon falls and resets the map. Never fear, your progress is not wiped. Any owl statue’s you’ve unlocked along the way will remain and you can access them right from the reset. This is a good map for taking on after the Adventure and Master Quest Maps.
This pack is another $8 dollars for another 50~100 hours. It’s a great price, but matched with the previous two packs it’s already reaching over $20. This is where the Hero of Hyrule DLC pack season pass really starts to look like a good idea.
Boss Pack DLC Update (1.6.0)
The last DLC and free update for Hyrule Warriors are now live, introducing another level cap increase (200 to 255) and a completely revamped Challenge Mode.
No new Adventure Mode maps in the Boss Pack DLC, however it does help to expand Challenge Mode beyond what the free update brought to it. Hyrule Warriors Boss Pack DLC adds two new game modes to the usual Challenge Mode options, similar in the way other DLCs brought new Adventure Maps.
The first mode, Boss Rush, has players rushing around challenging stages slaying giant bosses left and right. Playing this mode enough will unlock new costumes for Link, Zelda, and Lana.
In the second mode added, Ganon’s Fury, players take control of Beast Ganon to decimate puny foes with Ganondorf’s “true” form. Play this mode enough and you’ll win new costumes for Ganondorf and Cia, as well as another Secret Character to play during Challenge Mode. (Hint: It’s a chicken).
The Boss Pack DLC levels out at $3 dollars, since it doesn’t add a new adventure mode map. Ganon and the Secret Character have their own experience levels, but they don’t have any craftable badges and can only be used in their respective modes
All in all, Hyrule Warriors lasts about as long as you want it to last. The game doesn’t end until you say it does. It can depend on a few factors. As a long-time fan of The Legend of Zelda — and having a decent relationship with repetitive games thanks countless hours spent on MapleStory in the past — Hyrule Warriors strikes close to the heart for many reasons. It’s not really the kind of game I would enjoy, and I’m acutely aware of this. The thing that has me glued to Hyrule Warriors is how it practically makes love with The Legend of Zelda universe.
Cast of Playable Characters
Hyrule Warriors hosts 21 playable characters with 31 completely unique play-styles (32 weapons, counting the Master Sword) spread out amongst them. No weapon is used quite the same and all offer their own level of mastery. Best of all, 19 of those 21 playable characters are from the Zelda universe — or strongly influenced by it in Wizro and Volgas’ case — and the two that weren’t have their own quirks that make them fun to play. Of the 19 characters from The Legend of Zelda, only one has ever been playable before: Link. What Zelda fan wouldn’t want to play as Impa, Shiek, Ganondorf or even Zelda herself? Tearing through foes as the Princess of Hyrule and bearer of the Triforce of Wisdom is frighteningly satisfying.
Unfortunately, the stage variety in Hyrule Warriors is on the small side and can get boring to behold match-after-match. There’s enough variety to keep you from running into the same stage too often, but not nearly enough to go off of for a game that can last hundreds of hours. A lot of stages represent areas generally found within The Legend of Zelda universe, but there are some unique and interesting ones as well, such as the Temple of Souls — I never get bored of that stage.
Most stages that made it into Hyrule Warriors I have great admiration for, though I feel they could have put more effort into some — such as Ganon’s Tower. It was literally a reskin of the Hyrule Field map. Not even Ganon’s Tower from Ocarina of Time 3D was reskinned, Nintendo took the time to destroy the land. The reskin looks rad, but it would have left a much bigger impression on me if they took the time to change up the layout a bit.
Cast of Enemies
While the cast of characters is rather sizable, the enemy variety in Hyrule Warriors isn’t quite as impressive. The mooks aren’t the most important, though they could do with a little extra flavor. My biggest gripe is with the limited giant boss variety. Besides Ganon, there are 5 giant bosses: King Dodongo, Ghoma, Manhandla, Argorok and the Imprisoned. That last one I’m not so keen on — especially after the terror it caused me in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. It would have been nice to see more The Legend of Zelda bosses make an appearance.
Kind of a Grind
At points, Hyrule Warriors can seem kind of grindy — especially for people who really like to hit a few birds in a single trust. The game is meant to be taken at a leisurely pace, gaining strength steadily as you progress. Rupees are definitely meant to be spent on level progression (little else is worth more than a few thousand rupees) until you near the level cap. Free updates did add Apothecary mixtures that grant extra Rupees or EXP in battles, and there are methods that make the grind much easier, but you’re better off resorting to reddit to gain that knowledge. Most other sources on Hyrule Warriors are drastically out of date, including the official website.
Hyrule Warriors is a love letter to The Legend of Zelda series at every turn. Most Zelda fans would revel in euphoric glee during their first few hours of gameplay and discovery. Every detail in Hyrule Warriors is praising The Legend of Zelda universe in rich and satisfying ways.
Fans of the Dynasty Warriors series may also find something new in Hyrule Warriors, although it’s not quite enough to sell the system.
Hyrule Warriors is a great opportunity to revel in The Legend of Zelda hype while anticipating the next 3D Zelda Game: The Legend of Zelda Wii U (tentative title). It’s also a great example of how DLC should be handled these days. The mini costume packs may be questionable, but they don’t seem over-priced either. Overall, I felt like I received bundles more than what I payed for, but it’s really up in the air for personal preference.
A word for the weary: Don’t expect this game to play anything like a game from The Legend of Zelda series. It’s not a Zelda game, it is a Warriors game. Hyrule Warriors is a love letter to The Legend of Zelda, and not a whole lot more.