When Nintendo first showed us Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, my heart soared with excitement. Everything about it presented fun opportunities. It’s a game that takes the Musou style of gameplay Koei Tecmo has made their trademark through games like Dynasty Warriors (and even one previous Hyrule Warriors) and applies it to the Breath of the Wild storyline of the Zelda universe. More interestingly, it chooses a point in that story that, as far as we know, has a very dire outcome. As a fan of both Musou games and Breath of the Wild, I came in expecting a lot from Age of Calamity, but I have to say, it even managed to surprise and delight me in ways I could not have expected.
A different breath in the same wild
We should temper some expectations right away. Hyrule Warriors takes place in the timeline of Breath of the Wild, but it doesn’t really play anything like BotW. You won’t be staying on a persistent map exploring at your leisure. Instead, players are entreated to the rise of the corrupt force known as Calamity Ganon through a series of battles and narrative exploring the events 100 years before Breath of the Wild began. Those looking for the full freedom of Breath of the Wild’s persistent adventure and world may be a little disappointed to find it’s not quite here due to the style that Koei Tecmo uses to tell its story.
Those who know The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will know it begins after Calamity Ganon took over Hyrule Kingdom when Link and Zelda were unable to defeat it one hundred years prior to the events of BotW, forcing Link into a century-long rest. Age of Calamity picks up with a wrinkle to that story in the form of a little spider-legged robot known as a Guardian. A far smaller version than the large, laser-spewing ones we’re used to, it leaps through a hole in time just as Calamity Ganon is making itself cozy on the castle.
Where does that Guardian find itself? Why, back in a time before ruin, just as Zelda and her father, King Rhoam, are assembling great warriors from across the land to aid in the fight against a looming Calamity Ganon. This time-traveling robot bears messages of the future created by Ganon, and with it, Link, Zelda, and every one of the champions they assemble become aware of a future they must fight to prevent.
This is all I’ll reveal, and its point is to say this: if you think you know what’s going to happen in Age of Calamity, you don’t. The story follows similar beats, but the introduction of this time-traveling future Guardian takes us on a slightly divergent path from the outcomes we know from the get-go. It’s a little trope-heavy with the time travel bit, but it’s also arguably great for adding more mystery to Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity’s narrative. And it’s aided by some of the best visual style and music. The Breath of the Wild art and music styles have always been fantastic, and Age of Calamity takes both of them and expands upon them masterfully in both the iconic battle locations of the game and the soundtrack that accompanies them (which to my delight is also collected in an in-game music player you can explore anytime between levels).
A ferocious battle & a desperate fate
At its core, Age of Calamity plays like any Musou game, but I will say that it plays like the most fleshed out and well-crafted Musou game I have ever seen. All the staples are there. The game is a series of vast battles take players through a lengthy scenario as we pick up and play some of our favorite characters from the Breath of the Wild story. Sometimes a scenario requires a certain character be played, but many of the scenarios allow you to bring multiple characters. You don’t simply swap your character at a given time either. Each character has a persistent place on the battlefield and will carry out actions as an AI-controlled bot when you’re not directly handling them. You can even give them directions on what part of the battlefield to head to through a pretty simple interface in the pause menu. Say you’re headed to a battle against a moblin leader as Link, but you need Impa to take the fight to an enemy-controlled outpost on the other side of the map. You can direct her to go there, finish your fight with the moblin, and then switch to Impa as she arrives at the location so you can fight at that outpost. In this way, each of Age of Calamity’s scenarios adds an enjoyable bit of strategic engagement to them.
The characters play delightfully different too. We knew we could play as Link, Zelda, Impa, and each of the four original Champions: the Gerudo chieftan Urbosa, the birdlike Rito archer Revali, the rocky Goron warrior Daruk, and the fishlike Zora healer Mipha. We also knew each of them could use the Shiekah Slate’s abilities in addition to their unique attacks and combos. But what we didn’t know was that each of them play vastly different even their use of the slate.
Though they each have access to Sheikah Slate abilities of Stasis (freezing enemies), Magnesis (controlling metal), Cryonis (making ice pillars), and Energy Bombs, they all use it slightly different to fit their combat styles. Link will throw a series of Energy Bombs straight forward where Zelda spawns a walking Energy Bomb that drops smaller bombs as it goes. Mipha will freeze enemies with Stasis before delivering a powerful spear lunge while Urbosa freezes them and then engages in a whirlwind spin to launch them all away. Every character has a solid mix of regular combos, special abilities, and Sheikah Slate utilization that makes each of them a pure joy to explore and play.
The enemies as well are a menagerie of Breath of the Wild foes. Bokoblins, lizalfos, Yiga Clan ninjas, and more often populate the battlefield at the command of leader beings like moblins, wizzrobes, and further Zelda staple baddies. Interestingly enough, though you can defeat many of the leader characters and beasts with pure damage, Age of Calamity incentivizes breaking their stances to deliver a decisive strike far more. Each leader foe has a stance meter that will appear when they are recovering from attacks or when you hit them with Sheikah abilities to knock them off balance. If you attack in these windows, you can shatter their stance meter and then deliver a stylish finishing attack that will kill all but boss characters in one decisive strike. Again, the characters shine here because they each have a different and flashy finishing move and it can change depending on the enemy you’re finishing off. All in all, everything in Age of Calamity is built towards making the characters you play look and feel cool as heck on the battlefield, and it succeeds in nearly every way.
Exploration, cooking, & more, simplified
Off the battlefield, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity’s experience and progression is rooted in interaction with a map of Hyrule. As you play main campaign missions through the game, you’ll collect rupies, weapons for your characters, and resources like cooking ingredients, as well as unlocking further campaign missions, challenge levels, upgrade opportunities, and further points of interest. For instance, unlocking Urbosa as a playable character unlocks a challenge level in which you can learn her fighting style better, as well as optional scenarios where you can upgrade her overall health and combos if you have the resource ingredients to complete those scenarios. You can even unlock merchants in each area that can increase availability of ingredients you might need for upgrades or a blacksmith through which you can fuse weapons to get bonuses like extra damage in air attacks or more experience gain for using said weapon.
While it may take the wind out of the sails for those looking for exploration, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity’s map system does present an interesting style of level select, upgrade systems, and optional opportunities. Even so, Breath of the Wild was very much about actual exploration and freedom, so I can’t deny a little disappointment in seeing the Age of Calamity experience confined to levels and selections on a map screen. Furthermore, the game pads itself a little too much with an overflow of optional challenge and side levels after completing campaign levels that do little to add to the experience outside of helping you level up your characters. Age of Calamity has a good story with a fascinating world of cool characters to tell it, and the deluge of these optional tasks just keeps you away from it a little too long sometimes.
An age worth revisiting
It would be silly to come into Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity expecting a pure Zelda game, but it is a most excellent expansion piece to one of the most interesting games out there. The original battle of Zelda, Link, and the four original Champions against the rise of Calamity Ganon is a great, but barely told story and Age of Calamity takes that and adds unique wrinkles that manage to make it surprising despite what we know. Moreover, the Musou aspects of it are fantastically implemented and evolved. The characters, their abilities, and the way they use the Sheikah Slate make them absolutely fun to play with in battle against the cavalcade of familiar Zelda foes.
It’s a shame that exploration and freedom have to take a back seat, and I could do without so much padding in side levels. That said, take a cornucopia of familiar Hyrule lands, add an absolutely fantastic soundtrack to each of them, and let a collection of amazing characters loose to tell a great story on the battlefield and off, and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a game no Zelda or Musou fan should pass up.
This review is based on a digital copy provided by the publisher. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity comes to the Nintendo Switch on November 20, 2020
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
- Engaging story full of great characters
- Each character plays delightfully different
- Unique Sheikah Slate abilities add another layer to each character
- Campaign missions are excellent romps through scenic Hyrule
- Soundtrack is a beautiful collection of music throughout
- Character switching & direction adds light strategy
- Exploration is confined to battlefields & map screen choices
- Too much optional level padding
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity review - A wink to the past