Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity Review — The Blood Moon Rises Once Again
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a surprisingly deep pseudo-prequel to one of this generation's greatest games. A compelling story, fluid combat, and an interesting world will do more than enough to tide fans over until Breath of the Wild 2.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
Koei Tecmo, Omega Force
Review copy provided by the publisher
The game (kind of) takes place 100 years before the events of The Great Calamity and sees Link, Zelda, Impa, and their companions fighting for the future of Hyrule. While the events of the game may initially seem familiar to those who played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Age of Calamity takes things in a different direction. A direction that caught me a little off guard but as it played out, was more than welcome.
The group of heroes are aided on their quest by a small, time-traveling Guardian. The “little guy” has been sent from the future to warn Princess Zelda of the fate that is set to befall Hyrule and to guide her and her group on a journey to change the destiny of the land. Zelda is made aware that she needs to awaken her powers in order to seal away Calamity Ganon but she struggles to do so and the longer time goes on, the more desperate she becomes.
This is what made Age of Calamity’s story feel way stronger than I had anticipated. At times the game felt incredibly bleak and I was left wondering how things could possibly resolve themselves only for a moment of heroism or a clever twist to bring everything back together with a multitude of satisfying conclusions.
“Age of Calamity often felt like a love letter to the game that came before it.”
As somebody who loved Breath of the Wild, Hyrule Warriors’ story took me on a journey. There were constant nods to events that had taken place in the game’s predecessor and as time went on in the battle-ravaged Hyrule, I could physically see the land crumbling around me, taking the shape of the world I came to love in Breath of the Wild.
Age of Calamity often felt like a love letter to the game that came before it. So much care and attention was paid to the little details but not once did it feel like it was trying to force anything. Korok’s could be found hidden around the map, presenting Link with Korok seeds to spend. Chopping trees presented wood to use for crafting and Link can use his shield to surf through crowds of enemies, to name but a few of the call-backs.
Not only did returning to this world offer the opportunity for a little fan service but it also helped to build on some of the lore from Breath of the Wild. It was genuinely interesting playing through and seeing the birth of the Sheikah Towers and finding out more about the four Champions.
“Age of Calamity does well to ensure that no area of the map is left unexplored.”
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is set out across the familiar Breath of the Wild map. Rather than having the freedom to explore, however, after each mission you are taken to back the map screen to choose where to go and which mission to tackle next.
The map is split into the same sections as Breath of the Wild and both the main missions and side missions represent the areas in which they are based. If you choose to take a mission in the Gerudo area, for example, you will be fighting across a vast desert and will encounter specific enemies, such as the Molduga, from that region.
Although the game takes the freedom of exploration away from you, Age of Calamity does well to ensure that no area of the map is left unexplored. There is a huge, and I mean huge, array of missions to take part in, all of which are spread across the whole of Hyrule. These go alongside the main story that sees Link trek from corner to corner of the map.
These missions offer the opportunity to earn a ton of new weapons, resources, and rupees to take back and then spend on upgrading characters. You can also unlock shops and increase the power of your runes, items and weapons. This means that alongside the quest icons on the map, there are a whole load of other symbols to get used to.
Some of these include a pot icon to spend resources to unlock recipes to buff you for your next mission. There are character images to increase either the hearts or teach new combos to your characters. Lastly, there are also both shop and stable icons to open locations for purchasing extra resources.
All of this made Age of Calamity feel like a much deeper experience than I was expecting. It made everything I was doing feel worthwhile and gave me a genuine reason to go through and complete each of the side missions. There are so many resources to collect and so many different places to spend them, that I lost hours completing the optional quests.
Alongside the aforementioned areas, Age of Calamity introduces a Blacksmith. The Blacksmith will undoubtedly be one of the most visited areas within the game. After earning weapons during missions, you can return to the Blacksmith to fuse them with your main weapon to increase its strength and potentially gain permanent buffs. The weapons found across the battlefield are very much like those from Breath of the Wild and, for Link at least, include a range of spears, swords, and boomerangs.
Weapon durability was a contentious issue within Link’s debut Switch adventure. While for some, it offered the opportunity to be tactical, selecting the right weapons for the right task, for others, it was just a pain. Luckily for those who fall into the second category, I have good news. Weapons don’t break in Age of Calamity and, therefore, all of those rupees spent at the Blacksmith will never go to waste.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity also got rid of another one of Breath of the Wild’s more polarising features: stamina. While you’re likely to encounter a whole bunch of rain on your missions, it’s not going to cause you to slide down a big mountain you’ve spent your time climbing.
“There are some genuine surprises within the lineup including some fan favourite characters that I never expected to get the chance to play as.”
For anybody who has played a Musou game before, Age of Calamity’s missions will feel fairly familiar. You enter a battlefield, which consists of a range of enemies and outposts, and it’s your job to battle your way through, capturing the outposts and dealing with any miscellaneous occurrences that happen along the way.
For some, this will certainly be Hyrule Warriors’ biggest downfall. While Age of Calamity does a legitimately fantastic job at making each of the missions feel varied, fundamentally, you are completing the same tasks over and over. Every mission will always have a combination of defeat X amount of enemies, help an ally, defeat a certain boss, capture or defend certain outposts, and escort a character from point A to point B.
Although it could be argued that the mission structures in Age of Calamity lack variety, the same certainly can’t be said for the characters. In previous footage, Nintendo and Koei Tecmo had shown off Link, Zelda, Impa, The King, and the four Champions as playable heroes, but that’s far from the final roster. There are some genuine surprises within the lineup including some fan favourite characters that I never expected to get the chance to play as. I implore you to complete as many of the side missions as possible to ensure you unlock them all.
The beauty of each of the characters is that they’re not simple reskins of each other either and each plays drastically different to the last. Link uses his classic sword to sweep down groups of enemies whereas Revali flies through the air, shooting the crowds with his signature bow and arrow. These differences extend to the surprise characters as well.
It’s not only their attacks that differ, either. To provide one example, Mipha deals less damage but can move quicker versus Daruk who brutishly, but very slowly, destroys crowds of enemies. The differences even extend to how they use the Runes. While you’d think throwing Remote Bombs would be the same no matter who you are, Hyrule Warriors ensures that each character does it in a vastly different manner.
Not only does Age of Calamity allow you to play as a range of characters, but certain missions allow you to pilot The Divine Beasts. These four giant robot animals allow you to destroy thousands of enemies in one fell swoop. It’s a genuine power trip that felt reminiscent of riding a Brumak for the first time in Gears of War 2. The Divine Beast sections are a fun addition to the game, and one that is used a perfect amount. They break up the other missions nicely, without ever feeling overused.
Going into the game, I anticipated the combat to be a combination of hacking, slashing, and button-mashing with not a lot else. It turns out that Age of Calamity is far more nuanced than that. This is in part due to the variety of the characters but also due to different systems the game incorporates.
Like Breath of the Wild, a perfectly timed dodge will allow you to unleash a flurry attack on an enemy. These attacks help weaken the enemy’s defensive shield, a shield that once cracked will allow you to unleash an extremely powerful attack on your foe.
Runes are also used in an extremely clever fashion within the game. Alongside the power that each Rune grants, such as using Stasis to freeze an enemy, for example, they can also be used to stagger enemies for you to then unleash damage on them, providing you nail the quick-time event.
“There were never any times when it completely bugged out, but the game certainly chugged more often than I’d like to admit.”
Sadly, the way Age of Calamity is balanced, some of the more fearsome enemies have had to be nerfed and creatures like the Lynel and the Guardians present way less of a challenge. Usually, in Breath of the Wild, a single shot from a Guardian’s laser would be enough to take a huge portion, if not all, of Link’s health. Due to the hectic nature of Hyrule Warriors, however, this has been reduced to maybe three or four hearts per hit. This took away a little of the excitement and fear that I would have expected to come when encountering these types of enemies.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is one of the few Switch titles that I’d definitely recommend playing with your console docked. While I generally prefer playing my Switch in handheld mode, there is so much going on in Age of Calamity that on a smaller screen it can be almost impossible to see. The drop in resolution also felt more obvious in this game when compared to others.
Then there’s the small matter of the framerate. I’m not somebody who particularly sets out to look for the best FPS and will almost always choose a “fidelity mode” over a “performance mode.” However, at times, it was hard not to get a little frustrated with Age of Calamity. There were never any times when it completely bugged out, but the game certainly chugged more often than I’d like to admit.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity surprised me. I expected to be a fan due to my love of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, however, I equally expected my experience to be dampened due to the Musou formula. I was wrong to have those hang-ups.
The game tells a fascinating story that goes from incredibly dire to incredibly heart-warming with everything in between. It has more depth than I would have ever expected from a title like this and has more than enough content to keep you playing for a very long time. While there are a few small tweaks that could be made, I’m just very happy that I got to revisit this version of Hyrule, something that doesn’t happen too often in the world of The Legend of Zelda.