On paper, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity feels like the perfect mashup for a gaming console like the Nintendo Switch.
Faithfully bringing the world of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild back for a collision with a Dynasty Warriors-styled collection and combat game just makes sense.
The game, developed by Omega Force, is technically the latest installment in an apparent Hyrule Warriors series, but the real focus is its status as a narrative prequel to Breath of the Wild. Controlling Link and a host of other BoTW characters in a hack-and-slash environment is second only to the lore and timeline expansion of one of the best games of this console generation.
Age of Calamity arrives with some serious hurdles to overcome, though, given the ambitious premise. Whether it does determines whether it slots alongside the greats in what has been an astonishingly good year for the Switch library.
Graphics and Gameplay
Veterans of BoTW will come away stunned with the visuals and overall presentation of Age of Calamity.
Simply put, this game is BoTW. The same gorgeous visuals that accompanied one of the best games on the Switch and in a legendary series outright are here again. The colorful, cel-shaded style that made the 2017 release a visual treat is on form here, as are the same memorable sound effects and voices.
Granted, some compromises had to be made as players control multiple characters and work through large battlefields with hundreds and hundreds of enemies falling down upon them. The game hardly looks as good in motion as it does during the superb cutscenes.
Those cutscenes are the real treat of the experience too. Newcomers who perhaps didn’t play BoTW get a helpful push from the narrative to get immersed. And those who already know where the story goes will be happy to hear the cutscenes are splendidly acted and captivating anyway.
It helps Hyrule is engrossing for new players and seemingly largely the same for BoTW veterans. Logistically speaking, it’s a little hard to get a break from the action and figure out how much certain areas have been changed. But it’s all faithful, and BoTW veterans will hit the Leonardo DiCaprio pointing meme more than a few times.
That said, each stage doesn’t overly lend itself to exploration. There are chests and Koroks to uncover, but the game goes out of its way to give the player’s character itemized rewards to use. More often than not, attempts at exploration get met with an invisible wall.
Oddly, two of the bigger gameplay staples of BoTW are gone—there’s no stamina gauge and no weapon degradation.
While it makes sense in the confines of AoC’s structure, it could take Zelda veterans a long time to flip off a wall and bust out the hang glider while expecting the character to start climbing it instead. It’s a minor complaint, but the controls feel like they could be a big hurdle for veterans or newcomers.
Not that the mechanics themselves are overly complex. Players will work through a ton of trash mobs across a variety of different maps. Each character has light and strong attacks, a dodge and some special moves.
Bigger enemies have a weak-point gauge to whittle down, and breaking it makes them vulnerable to a weak-point attack. Proper dodge usage, just like in BoTW, leaves adversaries open to a flurry attack.
It’s all fun and easy to pick up and play, with veterans likely able to work through the biggest of mobs in a hurry and even without special abilities and new players likely able to do the same.
Where things get complex (and more fun) is with the implementation of the Sheikah Slate from BoTW. It gives each character access to the following abilities:
- Remote Bombs
Freezing enemies, stonewalling them or even using magnets to manipulate environmental hazards against enemies makes for an interesting level of strategy to what could have otherwise been a mindless slash-and-hack experience. When there are a ton of enemies on screen and the camera won’t cooperate it’s hard to always get the selection or aim right, but more often than not the system works as billed.
Besides each character having fun little unique wrinkles to those abilities, each one has a character-specific ability tied to ZR. Link, for example, fires a barrage of arrows. It’s another little small thing that helps no two characters play alike, which makes learning all of them and smartly deploying them on the battlefield a fun hurdle.
The greater challenge that neatly packs this all together becomes apparent within the game’s first few levels. It isn’t just about assigning tasks to the other playable characters on a specific stage. It’s about juggling all three to make sure they’re staying alive and completing the tasks.
Sometimes every character just needs to be babysat at once, which can lead to frustration. Sometimes the A.I. just doesn’t appear to be doing all that much. Serviceable might be the best way to describe the companion characters when a player doesn’t control them.
The game also packs in the ability to control the towering Divine Beasts. Fun as it sounds, it’s probably for the best these are short, quick romps because it’s hard to make out the enemies on the ground. While seeing the KO count climb to eyebrow-raising numbers is fun and it’s nice to get a little context to the magnitude of the threat barreling down on Hyrule, the gameplay itself doesn’t have the depth of the boots-on-ground majority of the game.
Story and More
The star of the show, for newcomers and veterans alike, is bound to be the narrative weaved here through familiar characters and lore.
It’s downright thrilling to pull the narrative back and get a bird’s-eye view of how the world prepared for the coming calamity. It takes place 100 years before BoTW and answers plenty of long-term questions fans might have had as to the formulation of the Champions and Divine Beasts. The entire basis of the game is expanding context and world-building for a 2017 release, and the decision was a superb one as the tale unfolds.
That gameplay plays a big role in tugging on these narrative threads just makes it all the better. When not on the battlefield, players manage the map of Hyrule and complete activities on it. These merely lead to menu management from the map itself and often nothing more.
But the idea of funneling resources into shops and areas around Hyrule and helping the kingdom brace for the upcoming threat is an awesome one. Very early on, for example, helping prop up the Hylian Blacksmith Guild unlocks the ability to upgrade weapons.
There are other side activities that unlock new moves for certain characters and even others that let the player learn new recipes. This is merely turning in collected items from battlefields (and different battlefields have different items), but narratively it feels great and provides a nice pause in the relentless action.
As the above would hint, there is some nice strategy and forethought that goes into battle prep. Looting during battle means duplicates of weapons, which means either selling off extra or combining them to upgrade attack power and other stats.
Collected recipes players can cook with looted items before entering a battlefield or scenario provide different sorts of stat bonuses, such as increased health or damage output. It does dial down to niche specifics, too. In theory, getting stuck on one story stage could require going back and replaying a different scenario for a specific loot for a specific recipe to make the current story stage easier.
Party formulation is another layer of strategy before the war games begin. Given the differing abilities of characters and the wide array of well-trodden places in Hyrule, success in a stage could entirely come down to decisions made before actually setting foot on the battlefield.
Unfortunately, the biggest problem for Age of Calamity is the performance. Cel-shaded or not and regardless of graphical quality, it seems any current-gen system could chug a bit given the sheer number of enemies the game throws on screen at once.
And chug it does, with some very noticeable pop-in happening in many of the areas, with something as simple as rocks on the ground materializing as a character runs. The frame rate takes some massive dips too at times, especially when performing a special attack into a group of mobs.
Is it game-ruining? Hardly. But between frame drops that seem far, far below 30FPS and a rather loose camera with a high sensitivity, losing track of one’s bearings can happen semi-regularly, especially early. These technical issues are true in docked or handheld mode, with the latter understandably being harder to discern the action on the smaller screen.
While the performance is seriously lacking, it’s worth praising the game for wrapping it all in a Zelda-friendly, familiar package. Menus are slick and quick, and little quality-of-life items like highlighting map items that are completable are a nice touch.
There are also some nice tutorials to get players acquainted. On the accessibility front, there are four different difficulty settings that have a blatantly different feel to them, which will help audiences of all ages and skill sets.
Speedrunning Age of Calamity feels like it could be a rather competitive, entertaining scene set to develop.
There is just enough in the way of build diversity and sets of skills that it could take would-be runners a long time to figure out best combinations and routes, never mind the sheer skill necessary to compete for a world record.
On launch, some basics for the genre apply. Namely…run. The battlefields are massive and the enemies seem overwhelming, yes, but players are free to sprint past the majority of baddies. That’s the idea with a speedrun, especially because the game drops plenty of treasure chests with items needed for recipes and the like from mandatory big bosses throughout stages anyway.
In short, it doesn’t ever seem worth it to get too sidetracked into exploration or unnecessary fights. Proper management of the playable characters in attacking two or more objectives at once is a must, but the controls and strategies will become second nature with time.
When actually in a fight, dodging and using the opening for a flurry rush attack is a must to break through shields and take down the big bads. Using proper counters to speed up encounters (like bombs to break through bosses with high defense traits) is an obvious must. While one character might end up becoming “meta” for runs over the long term, they all seem viable now, though Link will feel like home for most.
Besides just skirting to objectives, skipping cutscenes and other staples of runs apply, as does sheer memorization of the map and menu systems. Generally, pre-battle recipes should center on damage output, though some exceptions will apply.
Age of Calamity is a faithful, must-have game for Zelda fans who adore the world, lore and sheer circumstances around Breath of the Wild. The style, performances and developments are key to the universe and done in expert fashion, as expected.
But as a sometimes-mindless hack-and-slash game, poor performance hurts Age of Calamity in noticeable ways. There are some fun wrinkles in combat unique to the Zelda universe that keep things fresher, indeed. And the uniqueness of each character is praiseworthy, too.
At best, it’s a strong niche title that stands out more thanks to the brilliant Zelda wrapping and a great example of how a spinoff into a slightly different genre can greatly enhance source material.
Send your news and stories to us email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and WhatsApp: +447747873668.
Before you go...
Democratic norms are being stress-tested all over the world, and the past few years have thrown up all kinds of questions we didn't know needed clarifying – how long is too long for a parliamentary prorogation? How far should politicians be allowed to intervene in court cases? To monitor these issues as closely as we have in the past we need your support, so please consider donating to The Climax News Room.