Preview: Hyrule Warriors

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the Dynasty Warriors franchise, so I’ll admit that when I first heard about Hyrule Warriors, I groaned inwardly. I understand that Dynasty Warriors has its fan following, and that the template has been used several times before, wearing the skin of other franchises, usually animes, to great effect. But The Legend of Zelda is sacred to me, like it is to many others, and after what happened with the Philips CD-i titles, the idea of the Zelda franchise being in the hands of someone other than Nintendo is terrifying.

• Developer: Omega Force, Team Ninja, Nintendo SPD
• Publisher: Tecmo Koei, Nintendo
• Reviewed on: Wii U
• Release Date: 09/19/14 (US) / 26/09/14 (Europe)

It is, however, unfair to write something off without playing it first, and I have to admit, after the gameplay videos released during and after E3 2014 my interest in Hyrule Warriors began to peak. The game looked like a lot of fun, but in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but think that this was just a quick re-skin of Dynasty Warriors, created for the sole purpose of making sales.

I’m happy to announce, then, that after a good lengthy hands on with Hyrule Warriors during the Nintendo post E3 even in Piccadilly, London, my worries seem to be completely unfounded, and the game is in fact a hell of a lot of fun.

The demo available took place on the battleground of Hyrule Field, and as much as I hate using the term ‘epic’, it really is the only word that can do it justice. The art direction is a huge factor in this, everything is brightly coloured, and really helps to retain the feeling of The Legend of Zelda games much more than it does the drab and boring art style of Dynasty Warriors.

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Link is easily the coolest he’s ever looked, closely resembling his Twilight Princess design, with a deeper green tunic and additional shoulder armour, with a long blue scarf that flows behind him as he moves around, it’s almost a shame he doesn’t look like this in an official Legend of title. Zelda too looks fantastic, instantly recognisable in her signature soft pink garb, with added armour plating, the whole design showing that the guys at Team Ninja have a lot of love and respect for the source material.

Both Zelda and Link were playable during the demo, and although the controls remain identical to each other, both characters feel drastically different. This is especially prominent when performing combos, with Zelda’s finishing moves being more steered to magic, and Link’s up close combat.

Strong and weak attacks are mapped to the Y and X buttons respectively, and although it is possible to continuously mash one or the other, changing it up and combining the two create combos, in a way fans of Dynasty Warriors should feel instantly at home with. In addition to these main attacks, the A button is used to unleash devastating special attacks, which become available after defeating a number of enemies, or after collecting pick-ups in the field.

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In a first to the Warriors template, enemies can now be locked-on to, which makes fighting generals and bosses so much easier, and really helps to give the game a distinctive Legend of Zelda feel. There were times when I was locked on to an enemy, attacking and dodging, that I zoned out and forgot it was a Warriors game I was playing.

Enemies, specifically the larger ones, will at times expose weak points. When this happens, a marker will appear above their head, segments of which will chip away until it’s empty, unleashing a devastating Weak Point Smash, killing them instantly.

Another special attack is available in the form of Focus Spirit, which can be unleashed after picking up familiar looking green pots to fill up the magic gauge. With a press of the R button, Focus Spirit is cast, and for a time, attack power and speed are increased, as well as knock back damage being decreased, which is great for when the player becomes overwhelmed by the endless hordes of infinitely spawning moblins. Killing a certain number of enemies in this state yields special effects, and using the special attack will completely empty the gauge and cause massive damage to anything that’s unfortunate enough to be in the way of the incoming attack.

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All of the attacks and specials on offer, as well as the difference in feel between characters and weapons, give the combat a lot of depth, and this is just from two playable characters in the demo. I can only begin to imagine the devastation that will be caused in the final game once people work out their favourite character/weapon combination.

The ongoing battle over Hyrule Field was huge and objective based, with Link and Zelda rushing between areas to accomplish certain tasks, such as defeat a more powerful enemy character, or take a keep. Areas with objectives are clearly marked on the map, and chatter between characters (displayed in a box, complete with character headshot, on the bottom left hand side of the screen) help to steer our heroes in the right direction, and unveil a bit more about what’s going on in the field.

Taking keeps is simple; once you enter a keep, a gauge appears. By defeating enemies, the gauge empties, and once it’s empty the Keep Boss appears. For this demo, the Keep Boss was a very familiar face. With all the enemies defeated I waited around for a few seconds before King Dodongo rolled and smashed his way through a barricaded door, and the battle was on.

King Dodongo is huge, and physical attacks do very little damage to him until he is prone. From time to time he will open his gaping mouth and begin to suck in the air around him, and fans of Ocarina of Time will know exactly what to do at this point. Once he’s prone on the floor, and his weak point appears, allowing the combo clever player to finish him in a matter of seconds. It’s a great fight that had me smiling from ear to ear with nostalgia.

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Speaking of nostalgia, Team Ninja have done a great job at incorporating little bits into the game that will no doubt leave the more sceptical Zelda fan grinning like a kid at Christmas. Early on in the demo, I was tasked with clearing rocks to progress to the next area, with no means of doing so. After a little exploration (and looking at my map marker) I found the entrance to a mine, a quick battle later and the mine was open.

At the end of the mine was a large treasure chest. When I opened it I was treated to a rotating camera and some old school Legend of Zelda treasure chest music, albeit slightly jazzed up, complete with pose and fanfare, as the item once contained in the chest (bombs) hovered and rotated above my hero’s outstretched hand. It was at this point that the game completely won me over, and I realised Hyrule Warriors is much more than a quick cash in.

The mechanics from both series merge together so well it had me questioning why it’s taken this long for this particular spin-off to happen. From the short (albeit with repeated playthroughs) demo I can see that Hyrule Warriors has a lot to offer in both gameplay and nostalgia, and cannot wait to see what other areas, characters, and items are added to the final game by the time it launches in September.

Official Game Site

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