Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a strange case for a Zelda game, in that it serves as both a sequel to 2014’s Hyrule Warriors and also as a prequel to 2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Although the franchise itself is no stranger to spin-offs like this, Nintendo has never allowed a spin-off to creep so close to the franchise’s canon: where Hyrule Warriors was a celebration of the franchise as a whole, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity tightens the focus and explores the events 100 years prior to Link’s awakening at the beginning of Breath of the Wild.
Age of Calamity’s grandiose focus is made apparent from the get-go. Booting up the game presents you with a bombastic cinematic before throwing you straight in the action, running around Hyrule Field cutting hordes of Bokoblins down to size. That opening mission can be a bit heavy on its tutorials, but they never last longer than the time it’ll take you to skim through a text box.
Upon thwarting the monsters’ assault upon Hyrule Castle and being whisked out to the game’s main menu, you’ll probably start to notice how much Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity looks like Breath of the Wild. Not only are the game’s visuals a one-to-one translation, but there’s a number of smaller details — like the use of Breath of the Wild’s map to select missions and quests — that strengthen the connection between the two. There’s a bunch of really cool appropriations of Breath of the Wild’s systems, all placed into the context of a hack-and-slash Warriors game.
With that being said, the comparisons to Breath of the Wild are more aesthetic than anything else. Even though it looks and sounds the part, Age of Calamity is more parts Hyrule Warriors than it is Breath of the Wild. That’s not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, though: I’m more just cautious that the casual fan will recognise Link and Zelda on the box and not properly know what they’re getting into.
Regardless, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity actually makes a lot of clever changes to the “Warriors formula” that help it boast a greater similarity to its source material, especially in comparison to the original Hyrule Warriors. Perhaps it’s an unfair comparison to make since the first game was intended as a series-wide crossover, but Age of Calamity feels like a much more deliberate, focused experience.
The core gameplay itself is relatively rudimentary, requiring you to string together regular and strong attacks to pull off flashy combos, but the core appeal comes less from the gameplay itself and more from using your ridiculous power to influence the wider-scale skirmish happening across the map. Slashing at foes isn’t especially difficult, but the game challenges you to micro-manage all of the victories and defeats happening concurrently all over the map.
Age of Calamity’s roster certainly isn’t as large and impressive as Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition, but the quality and depth of each character certainly makes up for this shortcoming. Each character has their own set of combos as mentioned before, but the introduction of new character-specific Unique Actions further distinguishes each warrior. These Unique Actions vary from something simple like Link’s short but long-ranged arrow volley, to something more fundamental like allowing Revali to take to the skies. Some of them do vary in utility, but they all serve as useful tools to not only distinguish each character from one another but add an additional layer to the game’s combat.
The differences don’t end there though. Seeing as Age of Calamity continues Breath of the Wild’s lineage it should be no surprise that the Sheikah Slate’s runes return. While they aren’t nearly as flexible or physics-based as they were in Breath of the Wild, they still serve as valuable combat tools. More importantly to my point, each character also has different ways of interacting with specific runes; this variation is mainly only spread across the bombs and cryonis, it still helps things feel more distinct.
While Daruk’s cryonis might launch him into the air for a powerful falling attack, Impa instead decides to hop on top of the giant ice cube and cruise around ramming into opponents. Similarly, while Urbosa tosses a bomb forwards akin to a bowling ball and takes to the air using the explosion, Zelda instead devises a remote-controlled walking “spider-bomb” that she can send into crowds of enemies. Not only does it help each character stand out, but it forces you to consider how each character’s skill set works depending upon your current circumstance.
My praise for the runes doesn’t end there, though. As a direct replacement of Hyrule Warriors’ items system, the runes work wonders. As the “Warriors franchise” has always been about mowing away at hoards of drones, one-on-one combat against bigger foes has always worked differently. In Hyrule Warriors, these fights were less about using your own attacks to whittle down the enemies’ health and more using their weaknesses against them. After a powerful attack, an enemy will expose their hexangular weak point gauge. Depleting this gauge allows you to perform a “weak point smash”, slicing off a good chunk of their health. To surface the weak point gauge quicker, you could use the item an enemy was weak to as they prepared for one of their bigger attacks. In Age of Calamity things work mainly the same, but the execution has been vastly improved.
In the original Hyrule Warriors each enemy was only weak to one specific item — Lizalfos were bested by bombs, Poes by the bow and arrow, and so on. Once you figured out what each enemy was weak to, it was just a matter of waiting until you could act. This meant each encounter with a stronger foe would force you to awkwardly stop and fiddle around with the D-pad as you cycled to the item you needed before jumping back into the fray.
Each rune instead exploits not a specific enemy, but rather an action: bombs can be used to shatter a shielding enemy’s defences; Cryonis halts enemies using charging attacks; Magnesis can return weapons being thrown through the air and Stasis can punish enemies using powerful spinning attacks. This way, fights with stronger foes become more about your ability to react and feel more dynamic as a result. Things are also easier now that each rune is assigned to its own button foregoing the awkward D-pad cycling of the original.
Age of Calamity further borrows combat elements from Breath of the Wild, namely the perfect guard and flurry rush. Not only do these additions further its connection with Breath of the Wild, but they add a surprising amount of depth to one-on-one encounters. They more often than not end up feeling a tad repetitive like the Warriors formula as a whole, but the new mechanics make things feel more strategic, and incentivises defensive play from time to time.
Taking further cues from Breath of the Wild, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a pretty hefty game. While it isn’t exactly the “open-air” experience Breath of the Wild was, the amount of content on display is quite staggering. Similar to the original Hyrule Warriors, you’ll probably finish the main campaign within a few hours if you try, but the amount of side content available should be enough to keep you busy for a while. The bulk of the original game’s side content came through the Adventure Mode, but Age of Calamity sees that mode removed, with all of the smaller levels seen within it wrapped up into the main campaign itself. This might come across as a minor change, but it all works towards Nintendo’s ultimate goal of making Age of Calamity feel more like a focused, core Zelda experience.
Similarly, the bazaar where players could customise your characters has been removed. Instead the extra combos and combat bonuses you used to be able to earn have been split across the game’s quests and cooking mechanic respectively. The quests aren’t anything special — most of them are fetch-quests, requiring you to collect and provide different materials — but they’re all contextualised within the game world through flavourful little descriptions. It’s an addition that helps the otherwise-“grindy” sections of the game feel more important, even if their frequently did lead me to mash through more than a few.
Tying character progression to these quests does make sense on paper, but in execution it leads to things feeling unnecessarily confusing. Tracking several different quests for more than a dozen characters across an enormous map quickly turns into a chore, and more often than not I actually found myself stumbling into unexpected rewards. This issue is symptomatic of the issue with much of Age of Calamity’s side content: putting all of the content together does server to unify the game’s vision, but the incredible amount of it can distract from the main story’s all-important pacing — after almost every main story mission, for example, I would return to the map only to sit through a deluge of side missions that were now available.
It’s not absolutely necessary to complete all of the side missions (that’s why they’re side missions), but when you put them all on the same screen you’ve got a constant reminder that they’re there to be completed. This won’t be a major issue for many players, to be fair, but for someone like myself who always feels pressured to explore everything a game has to offer, the quantity of side content often felt quite overwhelming.
This complaint overflows into Age of Calamity’s weapon system as well. Completing missions rewards you with new weapons, with which you can fuse with your previous ones to increase their strength and attributes. The fusing itself is fine, if not a little ordinary, but my grievance lies once again with the quantity of new weapons you receive: upon completing main missions I found myself earning anywhere from eight to twelve new weapons at once, and with limited inventory space things can easily get out of hand.
Fortunately, discarding unwanted weapons isn’t hard. Not only can they be fused with other weapons to increase their strength, but selling them can, of course, net you some cash… but when each mission rewards you with a small army’s worth of swords, trips to the blacksmith can become increasingly frequent.
All these smaller issues highlight a more fundamental flaw I found with Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. At first using Breath of the Wild’s map as your “base of operations” was a fun idea, but it soon grew to a point of tedium when you were constantly required to jump between all its facilities. It wasn’t exactly detrimental enough to drag my entire experience down, but it’s an idea that feels like it was fun on paper but not too well thought out in execution.
An unfortunate casualty of this trend is Age of Calamity’s level design. Although perhaps this point might be more contentious, as there are certainly pros and cons to its new approach. In general, Age of Calamity’s maps — which are all based on locales from Breath of the Wild — feel quite a bit more natural than the grid-based maps of the original Hyrule Warriors. This carries the distinct advantage of giving everything a greater sense of realism and scope, but abandoning the more structured approach detracts from the original game’s strategic flair of map management.
Exacerbating this issue, certain maps could often feel too big for their own good; empty hallways are a frequent sight, and the maps more often than not feel a little too padded out. This won’t be as big an issue for players who aren’t transitioning from the original game, but given the plethora of improvements Age of Calamity makes over Hyrule Warriors, it does stand out as one area where it faltered more than I’d have liked it to.
Although I’ve had a lot to complain about, I still thoroughly enjoyed my time with Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. I’m not overly surprised given that the original Hyrule Warriors was a game I adored at a compromise, and largely the same is true here too: the hacking and slashing can get a little repetitive, but it’s put in place to serve a greater purpose. The Warriors formula is one that’s less about the moment-to-moment gameplay, but rather the experience it serves as a whole. You’re less concerned about what your individual character is doing, but rather how the large scale war is unfolding as a whole.
Despite my grievances with the game, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity delivers on this premise whilst simultaneously offering one of the freshest and most unique Warriors experiences to date.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity makes some clever improvements over the original Hyrule Warriors, but ultimately feels a little more separated from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild than many fans might have expected. Despite some messy design choices, it still manages to provide a polished and satisfying experience in the Warriors line.
Ethan reviewed Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity using a retail Nintendo Switch code downloaded from the eShop.
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