The Warriors series as a whole has experimented with a few twists on its basic mechanics over the years, and Hyrule Warriors most certainly provides one of the most accessible, immediate takes there is.
This is at least partly down to the influence of Koei Tecmo’s division Team Ninja, who played a role in the game’s development alongside longstanding series producers Omega Force. The result is a speedy, fluid Warriors game that is easy to get into but challenging to master in its entirety.
Today we’re going to take a look at the various components that make Hyrule Warriors’ gameplay tick, and see how they come together to create such an enjoyable experience.
As we’ve previously explored, the Warriors series as a whole is built on the foundation of the same popular “two button” arcade-style combat many other third-person action games today use as their basis. One button is your primary attack button, then another can be used either as a standalone strong attack or a combo finisher with various effects. As you progress through the game, you’ll acquire different characters and different weapons, and each will handle somewhat differently while still making use of this basic mechanic.
Team Ninja’s influence is readily apparent in this most fundamental aspect of the game, as the controls are snappy and responsive. And, crucially, it’s extremely easy to judge through both visual and auditory cues where each “attack” starts, even if it involves several blows, thereby allowing you to easily judge when to hit the “strong” attack button for a combo finisher. The responsiveness of the controls here is strongly reminiscent of PlatinumGames’ Bayonetta, and, of course, of Team Ninja’s own Ninja Gaiden series. It’s a big part of what makes Hyrule Warriors so pleasant and satisfying to play, particularly when coupled with the cinematic special moves and the enjoyable “Focus Spirit” mechanic, which requires you to maintain a combo of KOs for as long as possible while racking up bonuses.
While the Dynasty and Samurai Warriors games were at least somewhat grounded in reality in terms of how their attacks worked — at least in their early installments — Hyrule Warriors is beholden to no pesky notions of historical accuracy or even physical plausibility, which allows it to let rip with a wide variety of different attack types. The world of Zelda is a world of magic, after all, so many characters have distinctly “spell-like” abilities — or just straight-up magic in the case of characters like Wizzro, Lana and Cia — rather than just swinging their weapon around in various ways.
Link, as the “main” protagonist, is perhaps easiest to get to grips with, since his sword attacks are easily understandable, and his various strong attacks to end his combos work in pretty straightforward ways. They range from launchers that throw the enemy up in the air to crowd control moves such as his classic spin attack and an immensely satisfying “charge” with his shield held out in front of him. And the sheer number of enemies on screen at any given time in Hyrule Warriors generally means that there’s always a good opportunity to make use of this.
But his classic sword-and-shield combo isn’t the be-all and end-all of Link by any means. Relatively early in the game’s Legend mode, he acquires a Fire Rod, for example, which demands a rather different approach given its ability to make use of ranged attacks and summon various fiery magical effects. The Fire Rod also mixes up the movelist a bit by allowing several strong attacks to conclude a combo rather than just one, requiring a little more thought.
As you progress further through the game, Link acquires even more weapons to add to his arsenal up to a total of seven altogether, each of which handle completely differently and effectively make him into a totally new character in gameplay terms. None are really better than the others as such; the choice simply gives you flexibility, since each has an element associated with it, and certain stages (particularly in Legend mode) provide you with an advantage if you go in equipped with the “correct” element for the job.
And this is just one character. Switch to another and you’ll find they each have their own selection of weapons — though Link has by far the most options in this regard — and unique ways of fighting. Even the different variations on Link himself handle rather differently; Child Link from Majora’s Mask, for example, has the ability to summon a Triforce-shaped exploding glyph on the ground for an extremely effective area-effect attack, while Toon Link from The Wind Waker is rather comedically depicted as being childishly clumsy — and this is something you have to bear in mind in mechanical terms, too, since his special attacks often leave him dazed or dizzy, making him vulnerable for a brief period.
The game’s Legend mode introduces you to a number of different playable characters over the course of its complete story, but not all of them, by any means — and most of those available in this way are the more easily understandable characters to play. Delve into the game’s Free, Challenge or Adventure modes, however, and you’ll have the option — sometimes the necessity, in the latter case — to play as some of the more outlandish warriors, however, including the “villains”. The main scenario even makes a point of forcing you to play as recurring series superbaddy Ganondorf for several levels, allowing you to see his story unfold from a playable perspective rather than relegating him to a cutscene.
What’s interesting about a lot of the characters is that they have their own unique meters, buffs or other mechanics to bear in mind — Sheik can infuse her attacks with elements, then release that element at will, for example; Midna can build up a gauge to make her area-effect special attack more effective; and Zelda has different finishers according to how much light energy she’s stocked in three “orbs”. If you’re a Hyrule Warriors pro, you’ll want to master one of these more complex characters.
It’s worth exploring all the characters at least a little to find one that really gels with your playstyle, as different people enjoy different things. It’s particularly gratifying to get to grips with one of the more challenging characters such as Wizzro, who makes heavy use of ranged attacks almost exclusively and thus has to be played very differently to the melee-centric characters. And while there’s a sense that the overall metagame is to try and get all of these characters to the level cap of 255 with their best possible weapons, you’re never punished for sticking with a favourite; even in Adventure Mode, which we’ll discuss in more detail next time, there is usually a way around a battle that will force you into using one character and one character only.
Actually developing your characters takes some cues from Samurai Warriors and Warriors Orochi in that you have experience points and a level rather than just acquiring collectible stat items as in the early Dynasty Warriors games. Levelling up — which you can do mid-battle, as in Warriors Orochi — increases the warrior’s health (depicted as Zelda-style heart containers rather than the Warriors series’ usual extending HP bar) and their basic attack strength, which is subsequently added to with their weapon. Unlocking new abilities, however, demands a bit of extra work.
Each character has three collections of “badges” to unlock, each corresponding to a tree of attack, defense and support skills. In order to unlock a badge and enjoy its benefits, you have to craft it using materials dropped by enemies rather than simply spending skill points as in the aforementioned other Warriors games. Some badges provide simple passive benefits, while others have important functions such as extending the maximum length of the combos each of your weapons can make use of — as well as the finishing move strong attacks. Having to acquire specific rare materials to craft higher-level badges can be frustrating at times, but it gives the game a good sense of progression and provides an almost Monster Hunter-esque feel of tracking down specific foes in order to acquire their sweet, sweet drops.
The game also doesn’t expect you to grind all the characters from level 1 up to 255 by fighting with them. A “Training Dojo” option allows you to use the Rupees you earn through battle (and as bonuses following the successful conclusion of a scenario) to level up characters directly — though they can only go as far as whichever warrior from your collection has the highest level, and it does get rather expensive after a certain point! It’s a very helpful function for getting characters you haven’t played with much off the ground, however, particualrly if you find yourself forced into using them in a challenging mission.
Once you’re into an actual battle, Hyrule Warriors makes use of a clear and easily understandable ruleset that actually gives many of its skirmishes the feeling of a “multiplayer” game where you’re working as part of a team. Once you understand how these basic rules work, the game then starts layering additional mechanics atop them, particularly in Legend mode, whose battles typically have a number of scripted events occurring throughout them rather than simply leaving the chaos to unfold.
Those basic mechanics are essentially about area control. Each map consists of various “keeps”, one of which is defined as the allied base (which you need to defend) and one of which is defined as the enemy base (which you need to attack). Controlling more keeps means you’ll have more troops on the field, which in turn will allow you to maintain control of your territory more easily — though it’s worth noting that in true Warriors tradition, all it takes is one powerful character to come in and decimate a keep, potentially turning the tide of battle.
To capture a keep, you simply beat up enemies inside it until a meter depletes, at which point a “Keep Boss” enemy appears. Defeat them and the keep switches to your side — and if the keep is concealing a treasure chest, it will be revealed at this point. If the enemy side captures the allied base in this way, you are defeated; conversely, you have a bit more work to do, since in most cases you have to actually defeat the main “boss” of the map to win the conflict, rather than just capture their base.
Combat against the other playable characters is interesting and frantic. Computer-controlled characters make heavy use of blocking, so you’ll have to familiarise yourself with your guard break attacks or watch for an opening to strike. The latter generally involves waiting for them to trigger one of the character’s combos, which has a distinctive animation and can usually be dodged if you know what to expect, at which point you have a brief window to attack and deplete a “Weak Point Gauge”. Knock this down to zero and you’ll perform a powerful, cinematic special attack that deals a ton of damage.
The fun thing is that because all the characters you’ll face off against are also playable characters, you can get a feel for them from both “sides”. You may know how to make use of Zelda’s “light bow” special attack combos when playing as her, but do you know how to avoid them and still have time to sneak in and stab her in the bum after she’s finished raining divine death down on you?
The “Weak Point” mechanic is also used with “officer” enemies, which in Hyrule Warriors take the form of classic Zelda foes such as the mummy-like Gibdos, the skeletal Stalfos and the armoured Darknuts. Once again, you’ll have to learn their distinctive attack patterns — all of which have clear “tells” to let you know they’re coming — and batter down their Weak Point when it’s revealed.
Where things get really interesting is with the Giant Bosses, a variant on what Dynasty Warriors Strikeforce did with its battles against legendary foes such as giant tigers and dragons. These foes include a number of classic Zelda dungeon-ending guardians such as King Dodongo, Manhandla and Gohma, and specific points in the story will also see you squaring off against Argorok from Twilight Princess, The Imprisoned from Skyward Sword and one of the most spectacular incarnations of Ganon himself.
Giant Boss battles work a little differently in that you can’t just chip their health down with repeated attacks. No, in true Zelda tradition you have to make use of specific items in order to throw them off balance, then inflict damage while they’re stunned. They even have a unique cinematic special attack when you deplete their Weak Point Gauge. This is a really nice throwback to the mainline series, and helps make Hyrule Warriors feel very much like a Zelda game in execution as well as spirit. Whether you’re flinging bombs into King Dodongo’s mouth or attempting to yank Argorok out of the sky with the hookshot, these battles certainly keep things interesting… particularly when some of the more challenging Adventure Mode battles throw several of them at you at once!
Hyrule Warriors’ core mechanics make it a highly enjoyable game to play — and even if all you engage with is the narrative-centric Legend mode, you’ll have a great time with it. But there’s much more to Hyrule Warriors than just its main story… so that’s what we’ll look into in more detail next time!
More about Hyrule Warriors
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