Platforms: Switch (Reviewed)
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is not Breath of the Wild 2.
I’m going to repeat that.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is not Breath of the Wild 2. Before we get into any of the details, that is very important to get through your head. This is not a Zelda game by any means. It will not scratch your Zelda itch.
It will, however, let you kill about a thousand Bokoblins at once with Zelda piloting a remote-controlled bomb robot.
Still here? Then Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is the game for you.
A strangely fitting concept
If it wasn’t clear by now, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is another licensed Warriors spinoff, inheriting the gameplay of Tecmo Koei’s other 1 vs. 1000 titles such as Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, and so on. The gameplay largely remains unchanged. You take control of a team of heroes wandering around a map littered with enemies that die in a few hits. Your goal, take them out, defeat the enemy commander, capture enemy bases by killing enemies inside, lather, rinse, repeat. This is a button-masher in every sense of the word, a game where you smash your thumb against assorted face buttons and watch wave after wave of enemies die.
This makes it a strangely fantastic fit for the story of the calamity that takes place before Breath of the Wild. In essence, it’s a tale of a kingdom being slowly overrun by an opponent with near-infinite expendable forces. Calamity Ganon doesn’t actually care about a single bokoblin dying, or a guardian being scrapped. All he cares about is victory. Meanwhile, every loss that your side takes is a tragedy, not only a loss of a human (or I guess Hylian) life but also a major loss of power in an army that is already the underdog. It fits the Warriors mold perfectly.
It’s impressive just how many elements of Breath of the Wild manage to fit into that mold. You can wander off the beaten path to look for treasure chests you can unearth with magnesis. You can chop down trees to harvest wood or destroy rocks to harvest minerals. You can still combine elements of the environment to create emergent effects, such as using lightning attacks on pools of water to take down hordes of enemies at once or lighting wooden objects on fire to change their damage properties. There’s still cooking, crafting, buying and selling loot, and even refining weapons by having them get swallowed by an octorok. You can even hunt for Koroks to collect their… you know… seeds.
But once again, this is not a Zelda game. In fact, it’s even less of a Zelda game than the original Hyrule Warriors was. It went out of its way to include puzzle-solving and exploration elements, going as far as to even include an entirely different mode with more Zelda twists.
A linear game with a ton of variety
Age of Calamity is much more straightforward. It’s essentially entirely linear, with side-missions really only existing to give you an opportunity to farm up some XP, weapons, and crafting materials. You’ll take on a mission, watch a story scene, and repeat until you get to the ending credits.
You’d think this would get repetitive, but the combat feels so fresh and rewarding that you just want to keep playing. A lot of this can be attributed to the sheer variety of combat styles Age of Calamity has to offer. Its roster is smaller than most Warriors games, but each character is unbelievably unique.
For example, Impa can set magical seals on enemies and if she breaks them, she gains an army of ninja clones to attack alongside her. Mipha can set whirlpools on the ground which she then can teleport to in order to start aerial attacks, and her special attacks can heal her and allies around her. Link is the most traditional character, largely just focused on mashing buttons and defeating enemies, but his entire playstyle changes based on the weapons you equip him with, just like it did in Breath of the Wild.
Every character can use magnesis, stasis, cryonis, and remote bombs in completely unique ways, which sometimes interact with their other systems. These don’t feel like your standard Dynasty Warriors characters, which are all just variations on “hit a button to kill enemies.” These feel as complex as, say, a Guilty Gear or BlazBlue character, each having their own specific battle goals to truly bring out their power.
And all of this is available the second you unlock a character. But complete some character-specific missions and requests and you’ll find their power evolving. New combos and systems open up alongside increases to your health and special meter. New weapons can be crafted with special seals that alter the properties of your moves, speeding them up, increasing their range, or giving them elemental properties. You’ll even get a small boost to your stats from whatever meal you last cooked. In a sense, Age of Calamity replaces all the missing Zelda-ness with these deep and intricate RPG style systems, and they are a treat to play around with.
Too powerful for the Switch
While Age of Calamity is a blast to play, it’s not quite as enjoyable to look at. While character designs are great (I love seeing all the older characters from BOTW back in their prime) and environments have an awe-inspiring sense of scale, the Switch just cannot handle Warriors-style gameplay the way other platforms can. The framerate drops a lot. You’ll notice slowdown in almost every mission, especially when you are fighting against massive enemy hordes during the climax. It’s even worse in two-player split-screen, where the frame-rate can drop from bad to unplayable.
The camera doesn’t do the game any favors either. It frequently loses the action, even when you are locked on to an important enemy. It’s even worse when certain enemies, like wizrobes, have the ability to float above you. Add to this optional motion control aiming, adjustable camera sensitivity that always seems too fast or too slow, and the general chaos of battle in general, and you’ll find that your main foe isn’t the enemy general, but your viewpoint.
Now, there’s one more thing worth talking about, and that’s the big plot twist. SPOILER WARNING for anyone who cares, but this is something that may annoy some people enough to ruin the whole game for them.
SPOILERS! - The big twist
Age of Calamity isn’t really a prequel at all. It’s not a sequel either, nor is it a side-story. It’s a “what if?” story with time travel shenanigans.
You’ll get to play as characters from the “present” era of BOTW. You’ll even get to actually defeat Calamity Ganon, save the day, and everyone ends up happy without Link ever entering the shrine of resurrection. No matter what ending you get, Age of Calamity ends in such a way that BOTW never even happens.
Unfortunately, that means that all the events of Age of Calamity aren’t canon. They have nothing to do with what actually led up to BOTW and they have nothing to do with BOTW2. Maybe they are “canon” in that weird Zelda fashion where time-travel creates an alternate timeline and maybe in the 8th version of the Hyrule Historia we will find out Age of Calamity set the stage for the big new Zelda game three consoles down the line, but for now, you won’t be satisfied.
This is why I said the very first thing you need to realize is that this game is not BOTW2. This isn’t going to feed you any deep lore about the game you loved so much. It is, unfortunately, a throwaway title, a neat little diversion that won’t matter in the long run. It is, in my opinion, a truly missed opportunity to expand on BOTW’s story.
Spoilers over. Feel free to come back.
An age worth experiencing
In some ways, Age of Calamity was not the game I wanted, but in many other ways, it was more. I was truly astounded to find that it really felt like BOTW despite having an action game shell. I happily dumped hours into it, and even now that the game is over I’m still dumping more in, trying out higher difficulties, attempting to 100 percent every mission in the game, and squeezing out every last bit of content it has to offer.
There is a lot of replay value here, and a lot of fun to be had. If you can detach yourself from your deep thirsty desire for a Breath of the Wild sequel (it’s OK, I have it too) then you will enjoy Age of Calamity more than you would have expected. Just don’t let your expectations ruin it for you.