Koei Techmo’s Warriors series of games have slowly mutated and evolved over the years, more so than other longrunning properties into a plethora of spinoff titles that have kept the series relevant to a broader audience. These spinoff games have wildly varied in quality and faithfulness to the source material, with even the original Hyrule Warriors game from 2014, feeling more akin to a mashup of iconic Zelda imagery, than a cohesive and engaging beat-em-up and hack-and-slash affair.
Although 2014’s Hyrule Warriors was a fun game, it ultimately felt like an above-average at best Omege Force Warriors game with a Legend of Zelda twist. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is the follow-up successor to 2014’s title and a direct prequel to 2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It goes without saying that Breath of the Wild for many, can be considered to be one of the best Zelda games ever made, so a direct prequel in a different genre is a risky move for all parties involved. Fortunately, Age of Calamity only stumbles on the technical side of things, while delivering an otherwise fun and engaging experience that thoroughly fleshes out the distinct Ghibli inspired world of Breath of the Wild.
Let’s get the bad out of the way, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity seems to feature an unlocked framerate, meaning the title at times feels rather unstable, particularly in some of the mid-game and later stages such as Death Mountain and Zora’s Domain, in which frames can go well below 30dfps, making the game feel unresponsive and choppy. Thankfully, playing Age of Calamity in handheld mode, from my experience seems to feature a more stable framerate, at the cost of an often blurry sub-720p presentation.
Switch Lite owners will likely benefit the most as the small form factor of the handheld-only device will likely mask the aliased image due to the difference in screen real-estate. The rumoured refresh for the base Switch hardware could also potentially solve the inconsistent performance of Age of Calamity, as cutscenes still seem to render at 60fps, showing the title’s true potential.
Looking past the performance dips, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity at first glance, is another competent entry into the Warriors series of hack and slash games, yet what sets it apart, more than anything is its firm reliance on narrative. I haven’t played every single entry into the Legend of Zelda series — yet, I can guarantee that Age of Calamity features the most dialogue in a Zelda game ever, most of which are fully voiced and articulated.
2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s story was mostly told through accounts from side characters and flashbacks, which aided in building a sense of mystique as players explored the post-war world of Hyrule. Unfortunately, this left some of the more prominent characters, in particular, the Champions/Divine Beast pilots feeling underdeveloped and utilized. With Age of Calamity, players will be delighted to find that every character, including some brand new faces have more than enough screen to time properly flesh them out and give them a sense of character that goes beyond just their designs.
As Age of Calamity is set 100 years prior to the events of Breath of the Wild, fan’s can look forward in seeing some familiar faces that don brand new (or I guess old) designs that show them at their peak before Calamity Ganon’s destruction took hold of Hyrule. And yes, the new friendly egg-shaped Guardian character present in the game is as close as Nintendo will come to in having a Star Wars droid, complete with teapot-esque beeps and boops.
In terms of the actual gameplay, the diversity in characters works well, with Link being what you’d expect, a powered-up and exaggerated version of himself complete with the unique ability to change armour and weapon types ala Breath of the Wild. The Divine Beast pilots are rightfully more attractive, with each of the four characters feeling distinct and true to their species and fighting styles.
Additional characters include the likes of Zelda and Hetsu, who feature their own unique move sets that help set them apart from the Champions.
Like Link, the rest of the playable characters included in the game can change their weapons. However, they are limited to only their specific type of arm, where as Link can switch between swords, battle-axes, and the like. Despite this limitation, I found myself gravitating towards the other characters, especially Revali, as his ability to fly and quickly manoeuvre around the map in addition to his sweeping AoE arrow-based attacks, quickly made him my go-to Champion.
Moves run the gamut of Breath of the Wild’s Sheikah Slate abilities, augmented accordingly to the character, with unique ZR moves that reflect the each of the Champions particular powers. For example, Link’s ZR move allows him to shoot a volley of arrows in quick succession. In contrast, Riju, when holding the same button, will instead charge up a meter that will enable her to electrify her enemies with each hit.
Outside of skirmishes, the player has access to Hyrule’s map not dissimilar to Breath of the Wild. The map will quickly fill up with challenge missions, requests, such as recipes, supply invocations and shops, in which the player can buy materials to either upgrade their gear, level up via training or fill out missing requirements for other requests.
Korok seeds also make a comeback — this time, dispersed throughout some of the story based levels in the game, which unlock especially useful boons to the player, such as additional space for gear.
Finally, outside of traditional objective-based levels, Age of Calamity also features sections in which the player can pilot the Divine Beasts. Unfortunately, these sections range from mildly amusing to slow and obtuse, but they do offer a nice change-up from the hacking and slashing.
Overall, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does offer a more robust and cohesive experience that fan’s of Breath of the Wild will appreciate, even if they have never played a Warriors-style game in the past.
At the very least, Age of Calamity is a great stop-gap to hold fan’s over until the eventual release of Breath of the Wild’s sequel and an even better prequel that adds much-needed context to the expansive world of Hyrule.