When the Nintendo Switch launched back in 2018, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was finally released as one of the launch titles and saw a huge success in sales. Going back a couple of years before this, Hyrule Warriors launched on Wii U, later was also re-released onto 3DS and Switch, as a new spin on The Legend of Zelda franchise, mixing different titles in the Zelda series with the game style of Dynasty Warriors, bringing fresh air onto the series. Now, we see the next game in the Hyrule Warriors franchise, set purely with the world of Breath of the Wild, covering a section of the game that even the original producer admits is best told in the Warriors style. As fans eagerly await Breath of the Wild 2, will Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity keep the fans satisfied in the meantime?
Set 100 years before Breath of the Wild, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity tells of the events building up to the resurrection of Calamity Ganon that leads to the destruction of Hyrule. The plot begins as Zelda sets out with Impa and Link to explore the world in order to find Champions to pilot the Divine Beasts. It must be noted that despite being a prequel, it does contain spoilers for Breath of the Wild as it overlaps with the memory flashbacks, at times extending them, and other times working around them. Although it is more than that as it adds more life to the Champions who you only see snippets of, showing them in action and creating more moments of them interacting with each other. Where it can feel you know where this is going, there is quite a bit of plot added to these flashbacks and do supplement the flashbacks memories well.
Compared to the first Hyrule Warriors, there is a lot more use of actual cutscenes, of course, there is also some text dialogue during the level and sometimes whilst the game is loading. This shows the story is taking more of a front seat in this one compared to the first one, and it pays off to make it more engaging. As to be expected, the cutscenes are in the same style of Breath of the Wild, creating a consistency between the two, despite the difference in gameplay. The same voice cast is back for Age of Calamity and where the voice acting is generally good, in some places it falls short. Personally, Zelda’s voice is the main problem in this department as it just doesn’t sit right with me, although it is something I felt with Breath of the Wild previously. Either way, having the focus on cutscenes is great, as despite being part of the Warriors style to have the text dialogue at the bottom left, it can be easily missed whilst fighting through enemies. Overall, it is a much stronger plot than the first Hyrule Warriors, mainly due to this focused link to one specific game over forcing a merger between a few different instalments.
Alongside the main plot, there are side quests to expand the stories further. These are a mixture of special levels with extra conditions or a unique scenario such as protecting a certain character, tending to be shorter than the main story missions. More like the special missions on the classic Zelda map in the Adventure Mode from the first Hyrule Warriors. A newer addition is the Gather requests that appear on the map, that once you hand over the items the story unfolds in a little text passage. This also serves as a replacement for the character stat upgrades (health, combos, and so forth) and to unlock services such as the weapon upgrades. This works well as it makes improving the characters more rewarding compared to the first Hyrule Warriors game, avoiding the repetitive nature of the original system and there is also a wider use of items that need to be gathered that this time can be bought making it a more rounded system. Plus, the added bonus of the text passage of the quest makes it more interesting.
If you have played the original Hyrule Warriors, or any other Warriors game (Dynasty, Fire Emblem, etc), then you will know what to expect from a hack and slash game. Controlling a major character, the player slices through huge groups of enemies, taking over outposts, and generally being the single force turning the tide of battle. Where it is fun to slash through a large amount of small-fry, of course, to add some challenge the enemy army will also have major players, the stronger enemies from Breath of the Wild such as Moblins, Hinoxs, and even Lynnels, that will need to be taken out to avoid them wiping through your army. It’s great to see all the enemies return from the Breath of the Wild, including the colour variations, to give an assortment of enemies to fight, particularly as special characteristics and traits are carried over such as Hinox’s eye being a weak point. As if that wasn’t enough, an added feature is stronger enemies also have element variations to further tactical fighting.
However, the strong link to Breath of the Wild does cause a problem from where the maps replicate places from Breath of the Wild, which compared to the first Hyrule Warriors, just don’t seem as interesting for these battles. Sure it is cool to see Hyrule before it was destroyed, seeing those familiar locations as they originally were, but it is at the cost of gameplay and at times it even causes problems with the camera. Not only that, it seems the outposts have less influence on the wider battle compared to the first game as in Age of Calamity, taking over the outpost seems to only need to fulfil an objective, and the army just seems to stand there. In the first Hyrule Warriors, outposts would spawn waves to attack other outposts, giving the player a choice to help the raid squad to allow them to naturally push through or focus on the objective itself. It is a shame as the tactical gameplay has been reduced to merely pushing through a map, with not much need to take outposts if it isn’t an objective. Still, it is minor in the grand scheme of things and there is now the ability to command other playable characters to certain spots, saving the trouble of running across the map. Where this may be at the cost of materials and KO count, it is still a nice addition and can help in a bind.
Okay, let’s move to the main event on how to cut through the enemy army which is through a combo system of working through light attacks, finishing with a heavy attack. After defeating a few enemies, the special attack gauge fills up that when available allows for a strong attack that can quickly defeat a large enemy and also create an opening with stronger enemies. There’s also a dodge and guard as you expect, key for the larger enemies as dodging at the right time allows for a flurry attack. Adding an element of tactical gameplay alongside the basic hack and slash mechanics. Where this all falls in line with the original Hyrule Warriors, the item mechanics have had an overhaul. Replacing the general items, these have been simplified into two wheels, accessed by the L and R trigger buttons. The L trigger contains food to heal, and the elemental rods for you to use in battle, charged by defeating elemental enemies of that type. Using the rods creates an opening, lasting longer if it is a weakness. On the other hand, R has the Sheikah Slate with the functions of Bombs, Magnet, Statis, and Freeze. Again, the main function of these is to create openings against stronger enemies when they use certain attacks. As there is a cooldown between each use of the Slate, it encourages careful play and develops the tactical combat further. Plus the new item system is a lot smoother and easier to get to the exact item needed at that moment.
The last bit of the combat revolves around the previously mentioned openings as these prompt a weakness gauge to appear. Dealing damage to an enemy causes the gauge to deplete and once empty, allows for a special heavy attack to deal extra damage. In an interesting move, each character has a general special attack that changes if it is a fatal blow. This can become further specialised with some characters special fatal blows for certain enemies, with Link being the only one with a special version of each. These are flashy and create a satisfying way of beating a difficult enemy, particularly as Link’s are reminiscent of beating those enemies in Breath of the Wild. Together, the casual and precise combat systems come together to create fun and satisfying gameplay for all.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity features a roster of 18 playable characters, all from the Breath of the Wild. A real highlight is each character has a completely different feel to them, going far beyond just the weapons they use. It is clear a lot of thought went into creating each character, bringing out their personality into their fight style as even combos work differently such as Revali having a ground-based combo and an air-based one, and Urbosa has a lighting gauge that is used to prologue her heavy attacks. These are enhanced by a unique action button that works either as part of the individual system or an extra attack. Not only that, even how the characters use the Sheikah Slate differs which is a nice little detail. This on its own gives more motivation to play as the different characters, as there aren’t many levels that require certain characters to defeat. Again, it is a small detail that is a shame but can be easily overlooked. Still, outside of the 18 playable characters, there are special levels that involve controlling the Divine Beasts to wipe out enemies. These levels have a first-person view from the cockpit, with motion controls to aim. Again, each of the Divine Beasts has a very different feel to control with a large map designed to bring out the best of each of them. Although it is a shame these levels have problems with loading and the draw distance can be too short, meaning attacks miss enemies they shouldn’t. Despite this though, the levels are awfully fun!
Graphics and Audio
As mentioned a few times before, Age of Calamity goes for the same aesthetic look of the Breath of the Wild, making them look pretty much like the same game. The character models particularly look exactly the same, and most of the maps recreate the locations faithfully, admittedly too faithfully as previously mentioned. However, as it is set 100 years in the past, players get to see locations, before they were destroyed and bring a new lease of life to the Hyrule fans, have no doubt spent countless hours exploring. It also opens up for some cool easter eggs, such as Lon Lon Ranch being intact. Yet striving to be the same as Breath of the Wild causes a problem as a lot of the time it doesn’t quite live up to it. Largely due to the large number of enemies, the screen refresh rate takes a hit and it can slow down right at times when there is a lot going on. This combined with the environment itself not looking fully rendered at times can ruin the experience. Admittedly it isn’t as bad when playing docked but it is still a shame and frustrating. If only the Switch console itself was a bit more powerful.
Last but not least is the sound design, and the music is a mix of from Breath of the Wild with a Warrior’s dynamic twist added to fit with the theme of battle. It manages to tread the fine line of keeping the feel of the original and yet being something new at the same time. Still, it can feel a bit like average Zelda music, where it isn’t a bad thing, it can be easy to zone out and be somewhat forgettable. Although having the general sound effects and voice cast from Breath of the Wild really solidifies the feeling that this is an extension of that game. It is interesting to go for this approach after the first Hyrule Warriors tried to bring together so many different instalments of the Zelda franchise. Age of Calamity being tied to one creates a more solid identity and is easier to get invested in and get more out of, as it does extend the original story. It also makes it more accessible to those who have only played Breath of the Wild and easier to follow the plot.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity does deliver a great extension to the plot of Breath of the Wild, feeling like a better way to explore the part of the plot that happens before the original game. This focus also creates a better consistency in the identity of the game and allows for more investment in the game. Unfortunately, there are some technical issues that spoil the game, one being it doesn’t look as good visually, the combat system works well enough to satisfy casual and experienced players alike. With huge improvements made from the mechanics of the first Hyrule Warriors, added with a diverse range of play styles through the different characters. Generally, it is a solid game that all players could pick up but really it is more for those who love Breath of the Wild and wish for more. Where it won’t satisfy the itch for the gameplay, the extension of the plot will be enough.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is out now for Nintendo Switch.