Having mentioned this game a few times on this blog previously, it is only fitting that I share some thoughts about it now that I have my hands on it. This is an initial look in that I have only cleared the first level and I didn’t even have time to complete the second level before needing to run off to work.
I have read that some feel that it is just Dynasty Warriors with Zelda skins. I have Dynasty Warriors 3 (original Xbox), Saumrai Warriors (Wii), Bladestorm (Xbox 360), Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper (WiiU) and have played various other “musou” games. I won’t call myself an expert on the series as I certainly have not played anywhere near all of them but I am familiar with it enough to say that Hyrule Warriors is more than just a reskin.
Granted, some of the mechanics are going to work in the same way that they have with other musou games. There is no sense in completely reinventing a formula that obviously has worked for Tecmo Koei. So hacking-and-slashing large hordes of enemies is a part of that, which isn’t going to change. 100% 60FPS also isn’t a part of that as you expect with these games – the game does slowdown in very action heavy scenes with effects (say when you are using a strong attack against a large group) but it doesn’t “jitter” with lost frames. To me when it does that, it feels almost like a shoot ’em up that slows down a little where it almost feels like “bullet time” as opposed to the console biting the dust. Another thing musou games are infamous for is horrendous pop-up (enemies simply appearing out of nowhere when you get close to them since the engine can’t handle rendering them from afar) and so far I have not noticed that in Hyrule Warriors, which already helps it a bit from other musou games. You can see crowds of enemies from a way off and this game throws quite a few at you to boot. It certainly shows improvement over Orochi 3 Hyper in terms of pop-up, texture resolution, lighting and shadows, etc. Those improvements combined with good art direction makes for a fine looking game on my big screen TV.
UPDATE: I got a chance to play some co-op. When that is happening, pop-up is noticable and the resolution on the gamepad is the lowest I’ve seen of any shared game where one player gets the TV, the other gets the gamepad. Fortunately it is fun to play with another person, here’s hoping someone has some sense to offer a DLC online co-op mode in the near future.
One thing that is often overlooked about these musou games is that it is not an arcade game in the sense that you push start and you are in the action, just slashing until you reach the boss. They keep this with HW. Before every battle you can prepare your warriors, crafting new items and badges (which work as perks) or leveling a weaker character up to fit with a stronger one on the team. In regards to badges, you have level trees for these to add to each character, as opposed to many other musou games where you only have 4-5 slots to add stat modifiers to a character. While not heavy on strategy, there is an element there where the better prepared you are, the better battles may fare for you. I have not unlocked the Smithy yet so I am not familiar with how it handles weapons crafting at the moment. On the surface, preparations for musou games might seem overwhelming given the number of menus but it really isn’t once you try things out a time or two. That and HW has a pleasing bright art design that is easy to navigate.
One notable difference with HW is that the items work out differently than what I have experience in other musou titles. It does have minor items like heath restoration potions but in almost every musou game I tend to forget about those items in battle. In HW, while you have that minor stuff assigned to the D-Pad, you have major Zelda universe items assigned to ZR where it is very easy to remember that is a part of your arsenal. So if you don’t want to just hack-n-slash, you can hack, slash and bomb enemies too. While not a revolution, it does change the feel of the game a little from the norm. I only have bombs at the moment so I am not sure how the others work out. Overall this is a welcome addition to the musou style.
You do come across mini and major bosses as expected but more prominent here are “weak points” where you can get a chance to eliminate a boss rather quickly if you can take advantage of this brief window. As you expect with Zelda bosses, there are patterns where using you special item usually comes into play, as opposed to the boss simply existing as a slicing sponge.
There has been talk about HW’s cutscenes and while I don’t need those to make me happy for a game (I’m in it more for the game than the movie), they are well-crafted from what I have seen so far. There are two types of cutscene’s found – one with female narration telling us about the overarching events and the other is when characters interact, using the typical Zelda text boxes to tell us what characters are saying. I do find the story easier to follow than some of the other musou games because I am more familiar with the Zelda universe than Chinese history or their historical allusions. Usually I get a little lost in all of the family disputes and connections in other musou games where I just skip those to get to the game since I don’t really care about having to read about all of the background details between two minor characters. So HW wins out in that regard (one other musou exception is BladeStorm, where I know a lot of what TK added was embellished fiction but the 100 Years War has always been more interesting to me).
The soundtrack is pretty good, if you like the Zelda themes set to rock style. Since I haven’t progressed very far yet I can’t make a final judgement on this either, only once did it play something of a generic “guy goes to town with his guitar” track that you often find in these games. It’s all fitting of course, if it were playing straight classical or chill music, the feeling would certainly not be the same.
Verdict after a short time of playing: “So far, so fun”. I have not tried out Free mode, Challenge Mode or local co-op yet. My kids will help in the co-op aspect but it would be really nice if they would offer DLC to add online co-op. I know no one from TK or Nintendo will read this but I want to emphasize that anyways. It was the only really disappointing thing about the game so far and I have a couple of friends which are passing on the game because of that, I have read online that the feeling is mutual among some groups of gamers(forum threads dedicated to the disappointment in that feature missing). While I wasn’t happy about that either, I like Zelda and musou games enough to pick this up anyways. I have a feeling it may keep me entertained longer than Mario Kart 8 as MK8 already feels old after you race the same track 100 times, whether online or off (at least DLC for that is coming but it has been a loooong year for the WiiU and a lack of consistent major games).
Fortunately Hyrule Warriors is a good start to a line-up of monthly major releases that should keep the WiiU running along better than ever.