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access_time December 16, 2020 at 6:00 AM in Reviews by David Poole

Review | Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

If you had told me back in 2014 that Hyrule Warriors would eventually get another game, I probably would’ve dismissed the idea as wishful thinking. Since then, the original game was ported to both Nintendo 3DS and even the Switch, showing the title has legs. Now, it looks like we have an all new title in the series thanks to the events prior to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity tells the story of what happened 100 years before Breath of the Wild. At least, that’s what they market it as, though it’s really more of a love letter to the Switch launch title.

Taking place 100 years before the events of Breath of the Wild, Age of Calamity gives us a more prosperous Hyrule. Zelda is training to take her rightful place as the protector of the kingdom, and Link earns her favor and becomes her most loyal knight. With the threat of the Calamity Ganon looming over everyone, Link and Zelda must gather champions for the upcoming battle. There’s a lot to take in with the story, and without spoiling things, there’s a lot of surprises. This includes an element that the series is very familiar with, and it heavily affects the plot. In a lot of ways, this plot feels like an excuse to make an ultimate Breath of the Wild spin-off. For better or worse, it does at least succeed at that.

I have to hand it to Nintendo. They found a way to alleviate the wait for the Breath of the Wild sequel by crafting something for the fans. It also happens to be the perfect reason to partner up with Omega Force again. What better way to present a large scale war than a Musou game? Despite the threat of doom, the game still manages to find a way to deliver a lighthearted story. It also steers away from the somewhat melancholy mood of the 2017 game.

When it comes to gameplay, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity merges the staple Dynasty Warriors hack-and-slash action with a lot of elements of Breath of the Wild. Players will have a selection of characters to choose from as they run around battlefields annihilating hundreds of foes. There’s 18 characters in all, including some that have to be unlocked through special means. Like the previous Hyrule Warriors, Age of Calamity also makes every character unique. It might not have as many characters as Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition, but the variety is much clearer here. This is partially thanks to the special techniques assigned to the right trigger.

The game will have your typical light and heavy attacks, as well as the special attack button when your special gauge is full. You’ll also have a dodge button and blocking for defensive maneuvers. This is pretty standard Musou fare at this point. When it incorporates Breath of the Wild’s Sheikah Slate, then things start to get interesting. The right shoulder button offers four Sheikah Slate runes: Stasis, Cryonis, Magnesis, and Remote Bombs. These runes add plenty of variety and strategy to battles, and many opponents will show signals for when to use them. It helps that most characters have unique variations of the runes too.

Aside from using runes, there’s also the elemental attacks using rods, which are passively available for all characters. Like Breath of the Wild’s elemental weapons and arrows, you’ll have access to these elements here too. The game will slow down to allow you to summon lightning strikes, fireballs or ice blasts on your enemies. This especially helps when fighting a fire or ice enemy where you can exploit their weakness. Like in Breath of the Wild, lightning elemental enemies don’t have a weakness. Even so, it’s great to have the wrath of the elements in your arsenal. Of course, this is as long as you maintain a steady supply of the ammunition dropped from elemental foes.

With all these combat mechanics, on top of an ever growing list of combo attacks, you’ll have plenty of moves for your battles. Every character has the potential to grow too, as players will have multiple ways to improve their power. Not only does leveling up help, but you’ll also be able to fuse weapons and even provide resources for training. That last part actually makes for a major part of the game. As you play, you’ll have access to the map of Hyrule from Breath of the Wild. Over time, tons of missions and upgrade opportunities will appear. Missions will offer plenty of rewards, most of which will contribute to upgrading the regions with shops, training camps, and more.

A lot of time goes into improving characters, whether it’s adding to their combos, increasing their health, or even adding more special gauges. The resources for this requires a lot of grinding to get everything. Thankfully, there’s a feature you’ll unlock that allows you to target specific resources for certain upgrades. It helps to focus on your goal and makes choosing missions a bit easier to prioritize. Even so, it sometimes feels like it’s endless. As you complete these missions and upgrades, you’ll also contribute to the region, which offers rewards in itself. Like the previous Hyrule Warriors, there’s dozens of hours of content available here. It can get a little repetitive, but thanks to the unique characters and variety of tactics, there’s ways to make it less of a grind.

The unique aspects of these characters also transfer well into the presentation. Each character’s gameplay is basically an expression of themselves. Link’s traditional sword and shield gameplay feels natural, but so does his skill with spears. He even gets to do his shield surfing in battle. A younger version of Impa brings a lot of ninja-like tactics to her combat, feeling somewhat Naruto inspired as well. The way Daruk rolls around, Revali soars above, or even Mipha’s healing abilities all represent these characters perfectly. This is even more evident when using each character’s special attacks or finishing moves. As you increase your band of warriors, you’ll likely find a favorite to play as in no time.

One more thing that differentiates this title is when the player takes control of a Divine Beast. All four Divine Beasts will be accessible in multiple missions, allowing you to lay waste to your enemies. These missions are nice little breaks from the normal gameplay, and it helps to make you feel all powerful. These missions are typically pretty easy, having you mow down foes with little trouble. Either way, it’s nice to see these ancient weapons fully in action.

Despite not being an open world game, Hyrule is still brought to life in Age of Calamity. Using the familiar landscapes and models from Breath of the Wild really makes you feel right at home. You’ll also have the many shops run by various citizens to keep things lively. It helps that it maintains the same style, even down to the cutscenes, still holding up after three years. In some ways, it’s actually impressive how the game manages to perform the way it does. Of course, that isn’t to say there aren’t performance problems, as there are plenty of areas where the frame rate drops. Even so, the game still looks pretty good thanks to the fantastic art style.

Voice acting feels pretty reminiscent of Breath of the Wild as well, almost like an extension to the original game. Most of the actors reprise their roles and deliver the same energy that they did three years ago. It’s honestly nice to get more time with the champions outside of being a flashback. We also get to hear some new voices too, like the forest spirit Hestu. It honestly makes the difference from the previous Hyrule Warriors game using text dialogue.

Of course, the music is pretty great too, offering new tunes as well as remixes of the Breath of the Wild songs. From whimsical to heroic, the soundtrack to the game is excellent all throughout, even with new composers involved. As for the sound design, it seems like everything is recycled from Breath of the Wild. Enemies sound just like they did back then, offering similar cues and warning sounds like they did before. They even found a way to use the tranquil nature sounds to keep the peaceful vibes from the precious game.

While Age of Calamity is a pretty solid game, there are a few extra flaws. Collision detection seems to be off sometimes, resulting in enemies standing before you unharmed. There’s also issues with the camera, especially in tight spaces. This often makes for awkward special attacks without the cinematic camera angles or even clipping through walls. Finally, the AI isn’t that useful in the battlefield. You can command allies to move to certain areas, but don’t expect them to do much. It’s basically just positioning them for when you’ll eventually take control of them. These are minor complaints, and certainly nothing new for Musou games either.

Overall, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is an excellent successor to the original Hyrule Warriors. When it comes to being a Breath of the Wild prequel, it captures the spirit and essence, but it also somewhat tarnishes the story that game told. Despite that, the gameplay is fun and inventive enough to see this new story through, and it should still be enjoyable for fans. If it means this will fill the void till we get the proper sequel, then so be it. You can even have a friend join you for some split-screen action. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer till we get details of the Breath of the Wild sequel. For now, I’m going to continue upgrading my characters and improve the livelihood of Hyrule’s citizens.

Final Score: 8.5 out of 10

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