With the impending release of the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild still seemingly so far away, fans have been wanting to see more of its world for the past three years since they finished up the original Nintendo Switch launch title. Out of the blue though, Nintendo provided, but this time in the form of a prequel from the acclaimed studio Omega Force at Koei Tecmo with Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. Set during the build up and climax of Calamity Ganon’s rebirth, established as taking place 100 years prior to the events of Breath of the Wild, Hyrule is now at war against the rising forces of Ganon’s minions as they prepare to counter the great evil.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
Developed by Koei Tecmo Games
Published by Nintendo
Released: 20th November 2020
Digital copy provided by Nintendo UK
If you played the original Hyrule Warriors on Wii U, 3DS or Switch, or even Fire Emblem Warriors for that matter, the general premise should not be unfamiliar to you. The Warriors series of games follows a one versus thousands setup where the characters you control utterly dominate the battlefield as you mow through hapless soldiers and take control of bases across the map to assert victory upon the opposing army. From time to time, stronger enemies with larger health bars and more diverse attacks will act as roadblocks to your progress. These stronger foes can strike with powerful attacks, opening them up to a weak-point gauge that can be whittled away with attacks. Once the gauge is depleted, they are left open to a powerful button prompt attack that takes a large chunk of their health, if not completely defeating them.
The series is more about the thrill of tearing apart hoards of foes and also the anxiety of the sudden objectives thrust upon you at a moment’s notice. While not for everyone, it certainly comes with its ups and downs that either excites or aggravates people. Now, previous Nintendo themed Warriors games played it fairly straight, mixing in series staples but not falling far from the tree. They were more of a franchise themed take on the genre than any reimagining of it. However, Age of Calamity feels more like Breath of the Wild with Warriors staples added to the mix, feeling far more distinct than previous Nintendo themed entries. The combat flow is much more unique now, with various elements from Breath of the Wild diversifying the experience in intuitive and exciting ways.
The primary new feature is the Sheikah Slate and its runes, Bombs, Stasis, Cryonis and Magnesis, which each have functions in interacting both with specific combat functions, but also with the overworld in some cases too. Bombs can break shields but also knock down trees, Magnesis can grab metallic weapons but also unearth hidden chests, and so on. Many enemies will sometimes flash a specific rune icon above them, indicating they are going to attack with a move that can be directly countered with that rune. This creates combat encounters that go well beyond the typical dodge and counter mechanics of prior Warriors games. Each character also uses these runes differently, granting a massive amount of variety even beyond the individual movesets.
The second feature to be included from Breath of the Wild is the flurry rush. If you dodge an incoming attack with just the right timing, time slows down and you can mash away at Y to take away from the enemy’s weak-point gauge. You can be surprised at just how many attacks can activate a flurry rush, as it applies to projectiles and even from enemies you aren’t currently locked onto. This is a risk-reward system that is deeply skill based, as the timing for activating a flurry rush is very tight. At best, you just dodge too early and the attack misses, at worst you don’t dodge in time and end up taking the hit.
The third feature, and one that might excite many people, is the ability to take control of the four Divine Beasts that the champions pilot. These are their own dedicated sections, not something that can be activated at will on any map, and usually have story beats attached to them. They are frankly rather sluggish to control, but deal massive amounts of damage with a range of attacks unique to each one. While it’s common knowledge that the series is known for mowing down hundreds of foes, the Divine Beats take the cake and eat another forty by having KO counts in the tens of thousands; it’s ridiculous.
By far the most engaging mechanic is how every character has unique actions mapped to the ZR button, which spreads out the possibilities even further than just having different play styles and combos. Link starts off basic, with a bow as a projectile that can trigger explosives from a distance, but with a spear he can charge forward, closing the distance between enemies, and with two-handed weapons it becomes a high risk attack that is powerful but consumes hearts (they can be healed back with X, but that leaves Link vulnerable). That’s just Link though, everyone else can perform their own actions with ZR, either as a standalone function or in tandem with their combos. Impa can mark enemies with symbols, which can be absorbed with X and used to create clones. Revali can take flight, which gives him a second set of moves to use. Urbosa charges lightning, which can be used to extend her strong attacks with lightning charged follow ups. The list goes on.
Previous Warriors games segmented their stories and mission centric modes in different menus, but Age of Calamity takes a different approach. Instead of mission to mission progress, you are met with a map of Hyrule with points of interest dotted on it. Various smaller objectives revolving around items collected in battle are found here, such as cooking pots to unlock new recipes and merchants in need of stock before they can open shop. There are also smaller missions spread about here with unique objectives involved, each standing as a substitute for the challenges in the previous Hyrule Warriors’ Legend Mode. Bringing all of these together into one whole makes everything feel like a unified experience and a part of every character’s progression through their story. You won’t run out of things to do in this game, though, for some people, the sheer amount of available missions can seem overwhelming. There was one point in the story which, upon a specific mission’s completion, updated the map with over twenty icons all at once. By the end of the game, the map is littered with various missions, making it rather cluttered.
It is actually exceptionally impressive just how much Age of Calamity looks like Breath of the Wild, almost making me think it’s the same exact engine being used between the games. The game is remarkably gorgeous, much like its predecessor. Maps are much more diversely designed too, taking direct influence from the overworld map in Breath of the Wild to create maps that don’t feel like slotted together dioramas and more like organic setpieces within a lived in world. Very few bases are just square segments like before, with some being nigh-on unidentifiable as bases until they’re actually entered, further adding to the sense of them being a part of an actual world, as if they’ve been thrown together with the land available.
Two aspects of Breath of the Wild have not been migrated over in their exact nature, that would be the story and music. Previously, background worldbuilding told most of the story and the music was very ambient and atmospheric. Now though, the story is front and centre and the music is bold, bombastic and befitting of the action packed battles brought forward. It’s very thrilling to hear returning themes brought to life as high-impact orchestral ballads. Cutscenes are much more plentiful, packed to the brim with voice acting. It’s also the first time we hear some characters speaking in English, as they’d otherwise just had Japanese dubbed grunts and text boxes before. Link doesn’t ever speak though, a constant throughout the whole franchise.
Despite all the praise, it would be very remiss of me to not mention the frame rate issues Age of Calamity possesses. Time and time again, every instance of flashy attacks with plenty of flashy visual effects utterly tanks the frame rate as the poor system struggles to keep up with the density of visual elements on display. Sure, it looks nice, but having figures drop as low as single digits sometimes is a pretty poor show. The only saving grace is that the seriously egregious drops tend to only occur during animations where you aren’t in direct control and also immune to attacks for the duration, though not always so. Pop-in is also a noticeable issue, though not to the same extent as the frame rate, as you can often tell when some objects or enemies dip in and out of existence. Lastly, handheld visuals do take a noticeable dip, looking much blurrier compared to docked, but that is often to be expected of many games on the system.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a game I do thoroughly recommend, but only if you can tolerate either the Warriors-based gameplay or the performance issues brought on by the frame rate destroying actions that are plentiful. It’s also greatly intriguing as far as the plot goes, as despite taking place during a distant yet familiar setting established by Breath of the Wild, it does go in many unexpected places throughout its runtime. Anyone keen on series lore really should look into this game, without a single doubt. The gameplay is certainly the most diverse of all the Nintendo Warriors games, but still stands as something plenty of people are sick of, sometimes from a misunderstanding or from franchise overexposure, as there have been a great many Warriors games over the years. Luckily there is a demo to try out on the eShop (which even has the entire opening of the game, cutscenes and all), so you can try it out for yourself and decide from there.
Final rating – 4 out of 5
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is available now for Nintendo Switch.
Long time fan of Nintendo and games in general, I always lean on the quirkier and unique sides of things in particular. It all started when I was lucky enough to get a Gameboy Color and Pokemon Yellow for my tenth birthday and it’s been going strong ever since. I’ve always had a need to get my voice heard and share anything I find interesting with the world.