Once in a while a mod comes along that just blows everything else out of the water. Hyrule: Total War is that mod.
Though it’s usually listed as a mod for Medieval 2, Hyrule: Total War is more like a total conversion, adding new factions, new battle maps, completely rebuilding the campaign map, custom-building each settlement and transforming all the units into creatures from the Zelda universe (just check out those giant spiders).
The brand new campaign sees The Hero of Time (the incarnation of Link from Ocarina of Time) choose to return to the past, meaning you have the opportunity to completely re-write the history of the land, by fair means or foul. You can command one of twelve playable factions (though six need to be unlocked), including the forest-dwelling Kokiri, the undead Stalfos and, of course, the Kingdom of Hyrule. If that’s not enough for you, there’s another nine NPC-controlled factions which you can take control of in custom battles.
The mod is remarkable for two reasons, the first of which should be obvious: It looks absolutely fantastic. The quality of the modelling, the animation and the attention to detail is on par with anything in the original Medieval 2. It’s arguably even more remarkable because the Total War series are not the most mod-friendly games out there, though Creative Assembly say they plan to address this with Rome 2.
The modder behind Hyrule:Total War goes by the handle UndyingNephalim, and he tells me he’s only 21, still a student and that the mod is just one of several labours of love that he’s been busy with for a long time now. "I started working on H:TW in January of 2011, so it's been over a year and a half since it started. I would say it's much closer to being complete than not, though it's hard to attach a specific percentage. I'd have to say over 75%," he explains. "I decided to start H:TW shortly after I stumbled upon videos of Third Age: Total War. Seeing the Lord of the Rings so well represented convinced me it was possible to do the same."
This isn’t even the only project that he has been busy with. He’s also working on a Starfox mod and a separate total conversion for Star Trek: Armada II, as well as his first commercial game, Antibody, a bullet hell side-scrolling game in the style of R-Type. "I spend every moment possible modding and creating what I can. It's safe to say I don't really have a life," he says, (which is really another way of saying “I work damn hard at what I do."
Creating a mod like H:TW takes time and isn’t easy, and UndyingNephalim has had to master Maya and MilkShape 3D for creating and converting models, Adobe Photoshop to make textures and "numerous other small programs specifically made to convert various things into Medieval 2," as well as turning to sizable Total War modding community for assistance. "I've had help from various people when I've run into roadblocks on how to do certain things in the engine, such as getting the cinematic editor to work. Jochiking has done some nice work with cinematics that he provided as early trailers for the mod. There is of course Stygian White, who also composes all the music for the mod."
If Rome 2 is going to be as mod-friendly as Creative Assembly suggest, does this mean UndyingNephalim will move his efforts over to the newer game engine? "If Rome 2 ends up being the real deal then I'd definitely consider modding it. I doubt I'll port H:TW over to it, though there are plenty of other original ideas I'd not mind being a Total War game," he says, as he goes on to explain some of difficulties he tends to run in to. "One thing I would love for CA to change is hardcoded limits. There are some rather obnoxious hardcoded limits in Medieval 2, such as faction limits, unit limits, building limits, and the list goes on. I've generally been able to overcome every barrier I've hit when modding Medieval 2, but the strict limits have always been a looming shadow."
If you’re interested in finding out more, you can follow the progress of H:TW over at the Total War Center, and if you fancy a wee bit of your own modding, this tutorial should help you get started. Those looking to Link up (Yeah, I went there) will be delighted to hear that Hyrule: Total War can be played multiplayer with anyone else who has a copy of the mod.