Following up what many consider to be one of the greatest Zelda games ever released was never going to be easy. Nintendo obviously knows this, intentionally electing to take its time developing the highly anticipated Breath of the Wild sequel, so it’s Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity which has the task of satiating people’s hunger for more Hyrulean action until then. Mixing the world of Zelda with the gameplay from the Dynasty Warriors franchise, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is set up as a prequel to the beloved game, and the result is much better than I expected.
Set roughly 100 years before the events of 2017’s critically acclaimed open-world adventure, Age of Calamity is perfect for fans seeking additional context for Breath of the Wild. This is much more than just a Musou-style game wrapped in a Zelda skin, instead expertly blending satisfying action with nuanced characters and story moments that help further flesh out the original game’s events. This factor alone helps elevate it beyond any previous Omega Force/Nintendo crossover.
What makes it work is just how well it mimics the look and feel of Breath of the Wild. Everything from the menu screen, in-game map, to even the HUD itself all appear to have been plucked directly from Nintendo’s title, selling you on the idea that this game neatly sits in the same universe. Better yet, core ideas like how meal recipes function, Sheikah Slate abilities, and environment-specific armor all serve to inform Age of Calamity’s gameplay in some way. Familiar elements like these prove essential for evolving your eclectic cast of heroes to fight Ganon’s forthcoming threat.
Not much has changed in the Dynasty Warriors formula, mind you. You still play as a handful of combatants, capturing outposts littered across a tightly knit map and killing dozens of enemies one weapon stroke at a time. The difference this time, however, is that you’re doing so while taking part in crucial historic battles that lead up to the events of Hyrule Kingdom’s inevitable demise. If you’re someone who enjoys the rinse-and-repeat slashing of these titles but you always struggle to become invested in the story, Age of Calamity comfortably solves this issue for Nintendo fans. Almost every essential mission is bookended with fully fleshed out cutscenes – something Breath of the Wild proper severely lacked.
Age of Calamity’s story is precisely what sets it apart from other games of this ilk, kicking off just as Ganon is about to complete his apocalyptic takeover of the kingdom. Thankfully, main events begin when a lowly guardian critter is able to escape, travelling back in time before Hyrule’s destruction to forewarn our heroes about the incredible danger that’s coming. This sets the stage for seven event-filled chapters, where in between battles you get to learn more about Link’s relationship with Zelda, how the Divine Beasts came to be, and why exactly Hyrule’s four champions joined forces.
Release Date: Nov. 20, 2020
Developer: Omega Force
Battles themselves are relatively straightforward, as you go up against hundreds of enemies at a time. Spamming the “Y” button for light attacks and “X” button for heavy attacks never becomes monotonous, though, as you can just as quickly switch to a new character from your party and make use of their unique combat skills. Everyone can unleash Sheikah Slate abilities like Remote Bombs, Stasis, and Magnesis in vastly different ways, and each character is also equipped with a special ability that somehow ties into their power set. For example, hulking Goron warrior Daruk can raise and explode Magma blocks at will.
Link, while the main protagonist, is the most basic to handle out of all the character roster. Battering bosses or mid-sized enemies using standard sword swipes is fun and effective enough, but it’s really when experimenting with other heroes’ abilities and attack combos that the combat really comes to life. Revali, who is the winged champion, has a dedicated button to let him leap into the air and attack from above, for instance, while Urbosa is the master of all things electric. Age of Calamity marks the first time all four of Hyrule’s Champions are playable and most are unlocked early on in the narrative.
The first Hyrule Warriors game was notorious for how poorly it performed on a technical level, particularly in its Nintendo 3DS port for those stuck with one of the handheld’s older models. 2020’s edition thankfully never runs quite as choppily as that game did, though the Nintendo Switch can often struggle with frame rate whenever there are too many enemies on screen. This is an issue that, of course, couldn’t be avoided as almost every Omega Force game relies on depicting large-scale battles. However, when the map gets crowded and you’re trying to deploy a screen-disrupting special move, expect to see a lot of stuttering.
There’s also no getting around the fact that Link (and any other playable character) for that matter doesn’t control quite as smoothly as he once did in Breath of the Wild. He’s doesn’t climb impossibly high peaks or parachute down from the tallest mountain here, which helps, but even just running from location to location results in that trademark Dynasty Warriors stiffness. Again, it felt cumbersome at first but eventually I learned to live with it, opting to use Link’s shield surfboarding ability to travel around whenever possible.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity might not mark a bold new era for the framework style it’s based on, but as a primer for your next Breath of the Wild replay and its upcoming sequel it works remarkably well. The core gameplay loop remains largely the same throughout and might not change much outside of upgrading characters, yet by placing a greater emphasis on story and cleverly integrating elements from the established canon in smart mechanical ways, this hack-and-slash adventure easily surpassed my expectations. Knowing how this story ends doesn’t make the events leading up to it any less thrilling.