There is something uncannily liberating about Hyrule Warriors. Wildly running through well-known Hylian scenarios while mowing down hordes of enemies as if they were made of paper is not a revelation, and neither is it earthshaking. It is, however, undeniably fun. And that right there is the redeeming quality of every flawed game that has ever existed. Hyrule Warriors is problematic, but – ultimately – it delivers timely doses of excitement to anyone who is willing to look past the fact that, in spite of looking a whole lot like a Zelda game, it is no such thing.
The polemic spin-off is a Dynasty Warriors title dressed in the vivid colors of Nintendo’s adventure opus. It contains the power of the Gorons, the grace of the Zoras, a Princess Zelda that looks more like a battle-ready veteran than a damsel in distress, and a Link that still plays the role of the silent hero in green with the added twist of – just like his fellow army-commanders – having the power to blast through an entire platoon with a single combo.
Stripped to its bare bones, the gameplay here has the complexity of the puzzles contained within The Great Deku Tree. Sure, each of the uncountable playable characters has its own strengths and weaknesses, the warrior-building options – which include the forging of badges and weapons – are vast, the unlocking of new combos adds variety to the combats, and playing the game on its highest difficulty setting requires more than button mashing.
Yet, despite it all, at the end of the day, you are still selecting a character-and-weapon combination in order to brutally murder thousands of foes on your way to victory. The game is an endless meat grinder, but it dresses up its merciless massacres with some strategic touches. All of the maps are decently big and – scattered across them – are keeps and outposts that need to be conquered and protected in order to stop enemy advances. Win them, and evil armies will stop spawning endlessly; lose them, and within some minutes you might have a new wave of platoons coming at you, turning the battle into madness.
To relatively good players, the management of those positions will come off as window-dressing on the easiest levels of difficulty: victory can be achieved in spite of it. However, on the hardest setting, controlling the field and worrying about where to go next – forward to attack a new location, or backward in order to protect something that had already been won – becomes very important.
It is that tactical undertow that pulls Hyrule Warriors, and the whole Dynasty Warriors franchise, away from the tedious pit of mindless hack-and-slash, and into the safe haven where constant action meets strategic values. And here, that is in display under the signature Triforce sigil.
The problems with Hyrule Warriors are shortcomings that are inherent to Koei’s franchise. Firstly, there are the brainless enemies that, with the exception of some bosses, are nothing but fast-food to the characters’ hungry weapon of choice. Then, there are your beloved – yet dumb – allies whose only purpose seems to be getting into trouble.
However, the game’s biggest sin is that, from the first to the last battlefield of the main adventure, there are no signs of gameplay evolution. The scenarios change, traditional Zelda pieces of equipment are found, new enemies are introduced, and awesome characters are unlocked, but never does the game attempt to branch out and truly surprise the players. The quirks and mechanics that are presented on the introductory map are the very same ones that will power the final challenge.
There are no wild turns or clever tricks, Hyrule Warriors is what it is. At least, the game is candid enough not to hide anything and show all of its secrets – which are not many – from the get go. It does not pretend to feature impressive depth, and it wears that reality on its sleeve at all times, which makes it nearly impervious to the damage of those issues.
Still, regardless of its monochromatic ways, Hyrule Warriors manages to be a solid game that, supported by a good amount of distinct modes, entertains greatly. It is a one-trick pony that performs its lonely trick well, and it is an enjoyable encounter with the Zelda world in the lull that separates one giant adventure from the next Hylian epic.