Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity Review
An underwhelming but enjoyable prequel.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the greatest games of all time. That’s no secret. While Breath of the Wild did several things right, however, its story was never its strong suit. Tragedy had already befallen Hyrule and its people, and Link was left to pick up the pieces after a century-long slumber. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity provides players with an opportunity to experience that tragedy firsthand, to witness the events of the Great Calamity that led to the downfall of Hyrule 100 years prior to Breath of the Wild. Being a follow-up to one of the highest-rated games ever made, Age of Calamity has some huge shoes to fill, and it unfortunately stumbles in more ways than one. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity fails as a Breath of the Wild companion piece, but it’s still a solid Musou game with an engaging combat system.
As the name suggests, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is as much of a follow-up to the original Hyrule Warriors that debuted on the Wii U in 2014 as it is to Breath of the Wild. It trades the third-person action featured in Breath of the Wild for the signature 1 vs 1,000 combat of the Dynasty Warriors series, but it incorporates elements from Breath of the Wild’s combat system to keep things feeling fresh. Set 100 years before the events of the first game, Age of Calamity shows us the beginning of a story we all know the ending to. Seeing familiar faces and locations in their prime is fun, but there’s a sense of dread that permeates every conversation and cutscene. The game very quickly goes in a radically different direction, however. It’s hard to detail exactly how Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity goes off the rails without delving into spoilers, but just know that you can safely skip this game if you’re picking it up solely to learn more about the lore and backstory mentioned in Breath of the Wild.
The appeal of a Musou game is usually never the story, however, and Age of Calamity delivers in the gameplay department. Each character is incredibly unique, and you can spend hours mastering their quirks and complexities. Impa can absorb symbols placed on enemies to create clones of herself, while Revali can take flight mid-combat and battle from the air. Even Link has a complex moveset that changes depending on the weapon he has equipped. His traditional one-handed sword and shield allow you to hold the special attack button to keep your combo going, but Link can also wield powerful two-handed weapons that can use special attacks that expend a small amount of health. This health can be recovered with food but you lose it if you get hit, creating an exciting risk-reward dynamic. Age of Calamity easily has the best combat in any Musou game.
The game also brings in elements from Breath of the Wild to further spice up combat. Every character has access to the Sheikah Slate and its four abilities: Magnesis, Stasis, Cryonis, and Remote Bombs. Despite each character having access to the same four abilities, they all utilize them in different ways. Link’s Cryonis attack is reminiscent of the original game, summoning a tower of ice that he uses to leap into the air, while Impa summons the same pillar of ice but rides it around the battlefield. The Flurry Rush mechanic also returns from Breath of the Wild, rewarding you with free hits if you perfectly time a dodge, and the elemental rods return as well. These rods can stun a boss and make them vulnerable to attacks, giving you more ways to whittle down a boss’s stun gauge for a devastating finisher.
Sadly, this combat system does not do enough to hold up the game’s tedious mission design and repetitive structure. Demolishing hordes of enemies and capturing keeps is fun for a few hours, but Age of Calamity’s story starts to drag very quickly. Each mission just bleeds into the next without many standout moments. The game does attempt to liven things up with a boss battle here and there, but these fights are mostly underwhelming. You can also pilot Divine Beasts at certain points in the story, and while these should be some of the most exciting moments in the entire game, they come across as shallow and unfulfilling. If you’re a fan of Musou games and have played titles like this in the past, you likely won’t find anything wrong with Age of Calamity’s missions, but there isn’t much here to keep everyone else engaged until the end.
Outside of main story missions, there is a boatload of side missions and challenges to undertake across the map. Thematically, these optional missions do a lot to convey the dire state of Hyrule, showing that preparations of all shapes and sizes are being taken to prepare for the impending Calamity. Shops need assistance, soldiers need training, and stables need to be opened. They really show the true scale of a kingdom-wide conflict and they expand the scope beyond just the main cast of characters. There’s more at stake here than just Link, Zelda, and the Champions, and this makes the kingdom’s inevitable downfall all the more painful.
When it comes to gameplay, on the other hand, these missions are suffocating. Every time you complete a story mission, the game makes a point of marking every new side quest and challenge on your map before you can select your next objective. There are only a few new ones that pop up after every mission, but if you don’t complete them then and there, your map will fill up with tiny icons that beg you for large amounts of resources that you don’t even know if you have or not. Quests on the world map are as numerous as the thousands of bokoblins you mindlessly slash through during story missions, and it’s very easy to lose interest when most of them just ask for an arbitrary number of Fireproof Lizards or Bladed Rhino Beetles. Just a few chapters in, the map devolves into the very same sort of checklist that Breath of the Wild tried so hard to avoid. A large number of these missions are combat-oriented and have cool rewards like secret playable characters, but they blend in with the rest of the busywork.
Graphically, the game is gorgeous. Everything from the menus to the environments look like they were lifted directly from Breath of the Wild. Unfortunately, the game’s performance leaves a lot to be desired. Framerate drops are very common when there are a lot of enemies onscreen, which is basically all the time in a Musou game like this. Some stages are better than others, but there isn’t a single mission with rock-solid performance. Zora’s Domain is one of the worst offenders, with frequent slowdown caused by its heavy rainfall and crowds of enemies. It’s not completely unplayable, but the game really needs further optimization.
Overall, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a mixed bag. As a Musou game, it’s enjoyable. While the missions are repetitive and a lot of the side content just feels like filler, the core combat system is satisfying. However, as a companion piece to Breath of the Wild, the game is a disappointment. It pulls every punch and is completely underwhelming as a prequel to Breath of the Wild. If you’re planning on picking up Age of Calamity solely for its story and characters, you’ll be disappointed. There are a few exciting moments that will please hardcore Zelda fans, but these scenes feel hollow and unearned in the context of the rest of the story. It’s best if you view this as a sequel to Hyrule Warriors rather than a prequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. If you’re a hardcore Zelda fan, this game will hold you over until the sequel to Breath of the Wild releases. If you’re not incredibly attached to Breath of the Wild’s world and characters though, you can safely skip this game.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
- Available On: Nintendo Switch
- Published By: Nintendo
- Developed By: Omega Force
- Genre: Hack and Slash
- US Release Date: November 20, 2020
- Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
- Quote: "As a Musou game, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is enjoyable. Narratively, on the other hand, it pulls every punch and is completely underwhelming as a prequel to Breath of the Wild."