This is the third time Nintendo has released Hyrule Warriors. The first two versions – on 3DS and Wii U – had different sets of content, catered for their platforms. On the Switch, Nintendo and Koei Tecmo Games has rolled both versions of the game into one, presenting the most complete version of the title you’re going to get.
But with Warriors games (generally referred to as ‘Musou’ titles by fans), being content complete doesn’t really count for much if you’re not a fan of the gameplay. It’s infamously repetitive, and the joy of the series comes from simply mashing away at X and Y and pulling off flashy, over-the-top nonsense, sending droves of enemies flying off in every direction.
Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition is no different. Granted, you have a nice Zelda-themed skin over the top of it all this time. But under that bright, happy skin you’ve got the bones of a standard Musou game.
The Zelda flavouring certainly helps make the title more interesting than the Three Kingdoms narrative the mainline Musou games have been retreading for over 10 years – and that helps keep your attention – but if you’re new to the series, there are a few important things you should know about games like this.
Die, Nasty Warriors!
These games are repetitive. If you’re buying into a Warriors title, be aware that you’re going to be doing the same thing over and over for up to 100 hours. Personally, we quite like this kind of gameplay – you run into a crowd of enemies, start mashing X and hitting Y occasionally to pull out a move that does more area-of-effect damage to clear as much of an area as possible. It’s therapeutic.
For the most part, you really don’t have to engage your brain. Playing as Link, or Sheik, or the newly added female Link character (inventively called Linkle), or any of the 20-plus character strong cast, you can just blast through piles of enemies. Carve a path of righteous vengeance through hordes of familiar Zelda cannon fodder en route to a boss (usually an AI-controlled version of another playable character).
The minions are chaff. Most characters have a few focused attacks mapped to the normal attack button (X) which cuts through regiments of Bokoblins, Bulblins, or Miniblins effortlessly. Interrupting your ceaseless mashing of X with a Y here and there pulls out a character’s special move – you’ll notice these usually refer to something that character knows from their parent game.
The Legend Mode (fancy name for Story mode) does a good job of getting you through most of the characters and introducing you to their two primary weapons (Warriors fans will mostly notice movesets from other games… seeing Lana effectively using Lu Bu’s moveset is… interesting).
As you progress, you get medals to improve combat capability via a skill tree. This is the most rudimentary RPG progression system you could possibly imagine, and adds very little to the gameplay. It gives you a way to track progression, at least — but it’s so simple even very young children could understand it.
The game takes you through the eponymous Hyrule via 16 stages — five of them being original locations in the game, and the others coming from the wider Zelda back catalogue: Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword and Wind Waker. Each location is pretty unique and has its own layout, complete with forts to capture, traps to navigate, secrets to find, and easter eggs to enjoy.
The themes of the levels (Lake Hylia, Death Mountain, Skyloft et al) are mostly dressing. Levels play like any other Warriors game. That is, you have a task – an ally to defend, a fort to capture, a boss to defeat – and the entire game is getting from point A to point B to make that happen.
Every single challenge in the game ends with you killing something. Maybe sometimes you’ll need to kill something quickly! Maybe you’ll need to kill two things! Maybe three! …But that’s as exciting as it gets.
Again, if you’re getting into this game, you’re doing so for the Zelda dressing and the therapeutic action of slaying things. Don’t expect the levels to do anything mold-breaking or special — every single location is just a staging ground for more of the same.
This game steps it up from other Warriors titles by letting you hot swap between various characters though, and send AI allies to various places on the map. There’s more of a focus on strategy in Hyrule Warriors — in theory. You can opt to ignore all the AI options, all the ally options, and so on, and still sleepwalk through the game. Learning the systems via the dull on-screen prompts will make your life easier, but it’s not essential.
The game does offer a little alternative gameplay in the form of Adventure Mode. This nice little add-on is a lovely nod towards the original The Legend of Zelda. Moving from location to location, as per the game that started it all, you’ll progress the original story. But instead of the 2D screens and simple mechanics, you’ll fight in challenges inspired by the Warriors-based levels.
These challenges are ranked, and the better you perform, the better gear you get as a reward. If you want to step away from Legend Mode’s admittedly grating story and try some more engaging missions, this is the place to go.
As per the Wii U version of the game, there are some opportunities throughout the modes to engage in co-op. But whilst the Wii U version stuttered and suffered from texture pop-in and lag, the Switch version is silky smooth.
As such, Hyrule Warriors becomes a great game for a pair of mates to just sit and chew through together. Playing it together is like putting on an old album you both love, both know inside out, and don’t really have to pay too much attention to. It’s a great game for giving friends nostalgic for Zelda something to do whilst they catch up, you know?
Is Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition Good?
It’s not a bad game, but the mileage you’re going to get out of it will vary depending on the type of player you are. If you’re a completionist, there’s a lot to get through; the copy/paste skill trees for each character take a lot of grinding to complete. Unlockable costumes via Legend Mode take a bit of work, too.
For more involved play, Adventure Mode is an interesting take on the Musou formula, and feels like a love letter to Zelda in the best way. But the meat of all your gameplay is very simple, repetitive action – we can’t emphasise that enough. You’ll risk breaking your Joy-Cons from the constant tapping of X. You’ll wear the button out.
The formula is simple, but these are like your summer Hollywood blockbusters in a game. You can turn your brain off, gurn simply at the pretty colours and badass moves, nurse your hangover with the brainless joy of killing bad guys.
Musou games have evolved, slowly, and crossovers like this and the Fire Emblem effort (also available on Switch) have proved that the appeal for this simple hack-n-slash gameplay has never waned.
The Zelda skin helps keep things fresh, keep things different enough to warrant a purchase of this for even the most veteran Musou fans. If you’re new to the games but like Zelda, don’t go in expecting a masterpiece. But if you’re down for simple, popcorn-movie like fun you can’t go wrong with Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition. There’s a ton of content, multiple fan-favourite characters, and an over-the-top, cheese-ridden story.