Written by Aveyn Knight
At this year’s Eurogamer Expo (EGX), which ran from 21st to 24th September 2017, the UK public was treated at the time of writing, the first-ever demo of Fire Emblem Warriors. We attended the event and of course, we couldn’t miss this landmark opportunity to test-run the game. Releasing on 20th October 2017 for both the Nintendo Switch and New Nintendo 3DS systems. Fire Emblem Warriors is a mash-up of Nintendo’s tactical RPG series, Fire Emblem, and Koei Tecmo’s historical “one-man army” simulator, Dynasty Warriors.
We got to play the Nintendo Switch version of the demo and If you’ve played or know of Hyrule Warriors (or any Warriors game, for that matter), you should be familiar with the basic premise. The gameplay itself is unmistakably Dynasty Warriors, but the characters and story are pulled straight from Fire Emblem history (primarily Shadow Dragon, Awakening and Fates). So you can hack and slash your way through literally hundreds and hundreds of on-screen enemies while playing as beloved heroes such as Marth, Chrom and Corrin.
The demo began by jumping directly into the action; immediately, you’re thrown into the battlefield, one warrior versus countless soldiers, with nary an explanation of what’s going on. Seeing the game running for the first time, the sheer amount of chaos is a sight to behold—and, truthfully, it can also be somewhat bewildering. Especially for those who may be more used to the tactful and slow-paced, yet intense decision-making found in other Fire Emblem games.
That’s us, by the way. When your author was handed the demo, it took him a fair while to get accustomed to the game; previously, he had only played a few hours of Hyrule Warriors. However, after replaying the demo a few more times (the demo was around 15 minutes long), soon the pieces began to fall into place. What at first seemed like a mindless hack ‘n’ slash actually had a lot of nuances and the strategic possibilities on offer were very robust and Fire Emblem-like.
There were 4 characters available to us: Hinoka the pegasus-bound flying lance user, Camilla the wyvern-bound flying axe user, Takumi the snarky but exceptional bow user and Xander the heroic horse-riding sword user. Each has their own combos, which you can string together by mashing the “X” and “Y” buttons. Flying units and especially horse units boast incredible mobility and can zip around the battlefield at tremendous speeds when dashing with the B button.
Speaking of, the battlefield itself is comprised of several interconnected fields, paths and forts. As long as there aren’t any gates or obstructions, you can freely roam around the entire battlefield. Very often, there can be a lot happening on the battlefield. Enemies litter the battlefield in what seems like hundreds and thousands; thankfully, the generic enemies are very passive and pose little threat, essentially serving as sandbags to rack up combos.
These enemies will also spawn ad infinitum, although you can reduce their numbers by capturing the aforementioned forts. Mixed in with the cannon fodder are captains and boss-type enemies, which are tougher to take down and will frequently retaliate with force. The bosses, in particular, trigger a unique introduction movie whenever you confront one. These short movies are sure to be a delight for Fire Emblem fans, as they pull inspiration from the original games.
The main objective of the demo was to defeat three bosses: Leo the horseback mage, Ryoma the princely swordmaster and (rather strangely) a generic heavily-armoured Knight, each located in different parts of the battlefield. Completing this objective would cause the final fort to open its doors–and Corrin the draconic swordswoman would enter the fray as the last boss of the demo. In addition, there were two optional side missions for seasoned players to attempt.
Leo, Ryoma and Corrin at least were challenging foes, requiring good timing to avoid their attacks and strategic use of your character’s Specials. By performing multiple attacks, your character’s Special gauge, located just below their HP bar, will gradually fill. When the gauge reaches at least halfway, pressing A will unleash a devastating Special. You can store up two Specials if you allow the gauge to reach its maximum level.
While this is all happening, the 3 playable characters that you’re not controlling–and 2 additional non-playable allies (Cordelia and Robin)–roam the battlefield and act according to their AI. The AI of your allies can be tweaked by entering the “Pause” menu. Doing so opens a map of the battlefield. You can select your allies on the map, then choose a location or target on the map for them to focus on. You can even tell them to heal if they have a healing item on hand.
If a more hands-on approach is required, by the touch of a button (Up or Down on the D-Pad), you can instantly switch between the playable characters. Switching characters has two main benefits. Firstly, Fire Emblem Warriors abides by the traditional weapon triangle of swords beats axes, axes beat lances and lances beat swords. If you see a lot of axe-wielding enemies ahead and you are controlling a lance user, you can opt to switch to a sword user to make the battle easier.
Secondly, because the characters are always roaming around, switching characters can let you teleport around the battlefield. Say there’s something happening far away from you, but one of your other characters is close to the action, you could switch to that character, allowing you to get there quicker. Either way, the ability to switch heroes and boss people around can be very useful. Especially as some missions require attention in multiple areas at once.
Take the initial objective, which requires defeating three bosses in separate locations. Of course, you could go to each of these bosses one at a time—and that’s one valid strategy. Another would be to fight one of these bosses yourself and direct your other allies to fight the other bosses, using the weapon triangle as a starting point. In this example, there’s no right or wrong way—it’s simply a matter of how to distribute your resources.
Sometimes there can be other considerations, beyond location. Early on, a side mission appears that requires defeating a bandit before he approaches Hinoka. By default, you start controlling Hinoka, so sending her straight towards the bandit is rather dangerous, but doable if you can KO the bandit in time. Instead, it may be wise to switch to a character between Hinoka and the bandit and try to intercept.
Not long afterwards, a number of flying Pegasus Knights start flying north and you’re tasked with stopping them before they reach the north-most fort. This time, they’re moving fast and you need to prevent them reaching their goal, which means there’s not enough time to meet them all head-on yourself. Therefore it’s a perfect opportunity to show off your tactical wit and instruct a couple of heroes to fight the foes you can’t reach in a timely manner.
Another thing you can do, if you manage to come across an AI-controlled ally (for this demo, this also includes Cordelia or Robin) you can make them team up with you via the Pair Up system. Fans of Fire Emblem Awakening or Fates should be very familiar with this. While paired up, the other ally will passively follow behind, and your character’s stats will be temporarily raised.
In this formation, two additional gauges will appear beside your HP and special gauge. The first one, when full, lets you trigger a Dual Strike—where the other ally performs a single attack—by pressing ZR and Y. When the second gauge is full, the other ally will automatically trigger a Dual Guard, protecting your character from all harm. In our experience, the Dual Guard is very useful in boss battles when you unknowingly leave yourself open to attack.
Finally, while paired up, pressing “A” when both characters’ special is ready will trigger a Dual Art, which is basically the two characters’ Specials combined. Needless to say, this does some terrifying damage and is very useful for laying the smack down on troublesome bosses. The only disadvantage to pairing up is that you “lose” an ally on the battlefield; whereas separated they could be doing something else somewhere else on the battlefield.
Anyway, that’s a lot to glean from a 15-minute demo and—obviously—that’s not even everything. So far, we know the game features a History Mode that recreates famous events from previous Fire Emblem games, on top of a standard Story Mode that involves several legendary Fire Emblem heroes gathering from myriad worlds to fight a common evil and a Coliseum mode that pits you against multiple bosses (which is very similar to this demo).
In terms of gameplay, there will be character skills (borrowed straight from Fire Emblem), a badge system reminiscent of the one in Hyrule Warriors, weapon crafting, and bond conversations (essentially support conversations). Cast-wise, we officially know of 21 playable characters and additional character reveals have been promised, potentially giving us 25-30 characters, perhaps even more. Which is a lot of characters for the first edition of a Warriors game.
All in all, after playing the demo, we have great expectations for the game when it launches on 20th October for the Nintendo Switch and New Nintendo 3DS. More importantly, hopefully, we’ve put this game on your radar, if you weren’t interested in it, to begin with. By the way, even if you’re completely new to Fire Emblem and/or Warriors, you can absolutely start with Fire Emblem Warriors—it won’t assume any knowledge of either franchise. With luck, we’ll be seeing you on the battlefield again later!
Fire Emblem Warriors is available for the Nintendo Switch and New Nintendo 3DS systems available in the UK on October 20th, 2017.