Developer: Koei Tecmo
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: eShop download
Category: Adventure, Action, Fighting
No. of Players: up to 2 players
Release Date: November 20, 2020 (Worldwide)
To truly cover the history behind Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, we must go back to the beginning, and I don’t just mean 2014 when the first Hyrule Warriors game released, but 2011. As The Legend of Zelda celebrated its 25th anniversary, Nintendo would start working on the game that would later become known as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
It would be first teased in 2013, with a proper E3 blowout in 2016 and then eventually released in 2017, but the story and legacy of Breath of the Wild would not end there. This new version of Link would go on to feature in multiple games and of course, 2017 also saw the release of DLC for Breath of the Wild, with the game’s engine then being used to create 2019’s Ring Fit Adventure.
Now as we sit in 2020, with a sequel being developed, the story of Breath of the Wild is ever-expanding and now it even has a prequel in the form of Koei Tecmo’s Age of Calamity. For 9 years Nintendo has been dedicated to this narrative of Zelda games and there’s no sign of slowing down just yet.
As for the reason as to why this prequel even occurred in the first place, it’s because Breath of the Wild director Hidemaro Fujibayashi, wanted to expand on the events of the Great Calamity and during a meeting with Koei Tecmo’s Yosuke Hayashi, it was realised that such a thing could be possible and it is from that realisation that development on Age of Calamity would begin!
You’ve seen the devastation, now get ready to experience the catalyst as how it all started as Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity takes players 100 years into the past and allows them to experience firsthand the events that lead to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
At least that’s the general spill players were given prior to the game’s release and as soon as the demo came out, with a time-travelling egg guardian, things swiftly went out the window and since this is a spoiler-free review, while we won’t be divulging who are all the characters that made it in as playable, or if this prequel is as canon as we were lead to believe, we will say it is time for Link to draw the Master Sword once more, as he bands together with the Champions and more, to do all that they can to save Hyrule from its eventual destruction.
Enemies are everywhere, Revali’s abuse is never-ending and the time has come to experience a Zelda game like you’ve never played before as this Zelda/Musou fusion sets out to pave a new path of its own.
As a musou title that stays true to its source material at every time, although the game incorporates a lot of musou/hack and slash elements, it also has the look and feel of an adventure title. In fact, unpopular opinion time, in some lot of instances, Age of Calamity feels more like a true Zelda game than Breath of the Wild ever did.
That’s no disrespect to the epic title that is an unconventional Zelda by all means anyway, but the dev team behind Age of Calamity worked really hard on this one and they deserve the credit for it.
For the most part, gameplay revolves around players exploring various battlefields in a bid to meet goal requirements to advance. If you fail to meet your target in a set time, your efforts will end in defeat, same with if you die. Each character you can play as can utilise a number of actions such as guarding, dodging, quick attacks, strong attacks, a mixture of both for combos and, when the special meter is full, special attacks.
You can lock onto main enemies, such as Moblins and guardians, access the pause screen to see what the current state of play is, find out what spoils (gathered materials and weapons) you’ve recently obtained and then there are the runes.
With the R button serving as the players getaway to the Sheikah Slate, regardless of what character you play as, when holding R and pressing a directional button, players can use one of the four runes, bombs, stasis, cryonis and magnesis and the animation/effect for each character using these runes, differs immensely, so it’s worth playing as everyone even just once, to see whose use of runes is your favourite.
Runes can be a great way to cause bosses to have their weak point gauge pop up, so you can commence depleting it as soon as possible, which is very important when fighting the likes of elemental Lynels and Guardians nearer to the end of the game’s story.
Sure, you can just wail on them with a sword or a stick and see how far you can get that way, playing the long game, or when your back is against the wall and you need to kill some massive, deadly bosses with very little time to do so, diminishing the weak point gauge can be your greatest friend.
Then we come to the L button, instead of runes, it gives players access to three various elemental rods that can easily turn a tough fight to your advantage and apples, a health replenishing item for when your health is running low.
One of my favourite things to do with the rods is to take the electric one and using it on an enemy currently standing on a body of water. When the weak point gauge pops up, it will be much easier than before to thrash and it’s always just so shocking to see enemies react to a little electrocution, even when you’re just electrifying a metal object
Now, besides the obvious of conquering bosses, capturing keeps and escorting specific characters, players are still free to explore battlefields to their choosing and unlike in the previous Hyrule Warriors game where it was always important to try and get more than 1,200 KOs if you’re trying to get the best rank possible, you don’t have to with Age of Calamity.
The only time you need to meet a KO limit is when it is specifically asked of you, otherwise, do as you, including scouring every inch of this ancient Hyrule, prior to its forthcoming destruction, find some hidden Koroks and open up every single treasure chest you can possibly locate.
Outside of combat, players are presented with a map of Hyrule that in time, based on your progression, can become littered with all sorts of Challenges and Quests, with multiple menus for players to explore, including a very useful gallery where everything is stored, including every single cutscene and thing you’ve completed. Also, every track from the game can be listened to as well and it is glorious.
It is a shame to see the likes of a My Fairy mode, a medal based achievement system and no additional costumes for every available character, are not included in this instalment of Hyrule Warriors, as some of those aspects would have really carried over nicely, but at least Boss Challenge has been carried over in some capacity as Age of Calamity gameplay allows players to take control of the four Divine Beasts and administer all kinds of horror on your enemies.
The mode is rather limited as there aren’t many levels where players get to control the mechanised beasts, and they can be rather limited in that they only have three main attack types, coupled with a special attack and a block/counter in the form of the L button, but it is interesting how motion controls were incorporated for this part of the game.
Although they can be tedious at first to get the hang off, once you master what to do and how to steer better than Revali thinks he can, you can immediately become a lethal god of war, killing hundreds of foes with every action you take, just keep an eye on your health bar as carelessness can see it get evaporated rather quickly.
CONTENT & FEATURES:
If you thought Nintendo was trying to spoil us with everything they showed during trailers and gameplay segments, think again. Nintendo showed us a small teardrop in the ocean. Age of Calamity is nowhere near as content-packed as Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition, this game is massive and in the space of a single week, I was easily able to dedicate 56 hours to it, but what did that 56 hours consist of? We’re going to tackle that right now.
First and foremost, the game’s main campaign offers a total of 20 missions that are split across 7 Chapters, with each one having enough replay value that they do warrant playing through them again and again on differing difficulties, or just because there is a treasure chest of Korok discoverable on the map that players have missed. (As players progress, they will unlock the means to be told how many chests and Koroks are on each level.)
But, every time a new mission has been completed, players will be unable to access new Quests and Challenges, with quests being small side quests with a story told via a text box, offering a reward in exchange for the required materials, whereas challenges are playable levels, taking place on concentrated miniature maps of the game’s larger locations, where players meet certain goals, such as kill all enemies, kill specific enemies and don’t receive any damage.
Some challenges, depending on player skill, character levels and game difficulty, can take anywhere between 2 to 20 minutes to complete and can be rewarding to complete as they can open up additional challenges and provide reward materials helpful for completing other quests, whilst also featuring specific enemies you need to defeat to obtain materials related to them that can also be used for completing quests.
Quests are absolutely important as not only can completing them unlock rewards for the characters such as combos, more hearts, but there are no utilities such as stables for purchasing items from, unlocking services to dye clothes, train units and, of course, gain access to the blacksmith to fuse weapons.
However, the more you play and the more quests you complete, the beneficial the rewards become as players will get the chance to upgrade max weapon levels, upgrade the various runes so that there is less cooldown between each use, upgrade the Sheikah Sensor to register more required materials for quests so that you can focus solely on the levels you need to play, rather than the ones you’ve beaten already and don’t want to replay just yet.
Furthermore, when you do beat the game and go about getting every available character, there is so much diversity at play and they are all so different to each other, literally, every character warrants playing with and not just one and done, but a couple of times as there is so much to them and their move-sets that you have to play as them to see and experience everything.
Much like how the last Hyrule Warriors really tries to celebrate all things Zelda, Age of Calamity really celebrates Breath of the Wild and has strong ties to the game, not just in gameplay and spoken references, but the weapons each character use, the upgraded versions, all of Link’s available clothing items, the recipes he can cook and so much more and then, of course, there are the Koroks.
Just because there isn’t 900 of them to find this time around, there are more than 120, with the majority being discoverable on each story mission, with a few other Koroks capable of being found on some challenge maps as well.
As for their purpose, they will give players Korok Seeds that can be used on quests to upgrade apple capacity and weapon capacity and no, there is no reward or notification for collecting them. The only reward is you can complete every quest requiring Korok Seeds and there are even some challenges that give additional Korok Seeds as rewards and they are all very crucial.
Lastly, amiibo functionality returns with players able to scan in five amiibo a day to get random rewards, as materials are random and it really doesn’t matter which amiibo you use. All in all, Age of Calamity is absolutely packed to the rafters with plenty to see and do and it could even go on to have even more content should DLC be announced and released in due time.
As you would expect from a game based around the Zelda IP, Age of Calamity has an absolutely killer soundtrack, with so many tracks, including the main themes for each champion being remixed and made battle-ready and they are absolutely incredible and infinitely different to the rock-centric tracks encountered in the previous title.
There’s also a great amount of voice acting in the game as each champion is fully voiced, as are many other main characters and the interactions they have with one another are incredible.
Yes, there is a lot of text-based dialogue during the actual levels, but the extent of voice acting utilised is impressive, it really helps players have the chance to see how the Champions react to not just Link and Zelda but each other and others. Also, Impa, Robbie and Purah are hands down adorable and every scene with them is pure delight.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
While Nintendo normally likes to shake things up when it comes to all things Zelda, every so often they do a second game that utilises the same graphics a previous game had, such as Majora’s Mask and Spirit Tracks and even though Nintendo is not the primary developer this time around, it doesn’t mean they are any less involved and nor does it mean this musou adventure couldn’t follow suit.
Age of Calamity is a glorious recreation of the Hyrule we’ve seen in Breath of the Wild on every front. From enemies to landscape, to heroes, weapon and armour, everything you see utilises the art style from Breath of the Wild, with some key differences in the form of absolutely gorgeous cut-scenes that make the whole game feel like an interactive movie with certain scenes made playable.
Only, the designs style isn’t just cosmetic, but throughout as even things as minuscule as text boxes, the game’s map screen hub, explanations, mini-maps, all have that Breath of the Wild look and feel that players such as ourselves would want to expect from a prequel, regardless of whether it was a traditional Zelda game, or a ground-breaking Warriors game that lives, breathes and worships all things Breath of the Wild.
Plus, with this game taking place 100 years prior, players can get a fresh look at how things once were like Lon Lon Ranch in all its natural splendour. Still, all things have a price and for Age of Calamity, the price it must pay for its rich beauty is performance.
While the overall performance of the game is much better than what’s experienced in the demo, framerate dips can be expected, there are the occasional stutters and if you’re thinking about doing two-player co-op, you might want to think again.
As enjoyable as playing with a friend can be, this isn’t like playing on the Wii U, where one player can view their own progress on the Wii U GamePad and one gets to see their character on the TV. Both players will have to share the screen via split-screen and the framerate can get hideous, especially every time one player users their special attacks. It almost feels like you’re suddenly watching a slideshow instead of playing a video game.
It’s not just a little bit bad, but obscenely slow and some players might find this off-putting but at least single-player is miles better, just as rewarding and performance aside, that’s no reason to fault Age of Calamity just yet. Breath of the Wild had many issues at launch, but most sites still gave it a perfect score.
For fans worried Age of Calamity would be more of the same. Just another Warriors title that would soon get a bit repetitive, this simply isn’t the case. The original Hyrule Warriors might have celebrated all things Zelda and was essentially just another Warriors game with a Zelda skin that gradually got better via the new adventure mode maps that were later added as part of DLC, but Age of Calamity is so much more.
It is a Warriors game that has been forced to evolve into something so much more and embrace the game behind its inspiration. Just because there are major differences in gameplay between this prequel and its sequel, at the end of the day, it does feel like a true prequel, with a gameplay style better suited to the events that are currently transpiring.
Sure, Age of Calamity is not an open-air game like its sequel, but this is a Hyrule at war. When players complete their current mission, be it a main level, or side quest, that main screen menu of Hyrule’s map they’re presented with, it is the player’s battleplan.
You are a general, in your tent, planning your next move. Do you risk supplies to try and help others? Do you decide to adhere to a battle plan and choose where you want to attack next, or will you head on over to the blacksmith to properly sort out your arsenal?
For me, that map screen presentation, it is a formidable idea. This is well and truly a Hyrule at war and instead of this being another Warriors game that separates its content between a series of menus and modes, like a main campaign in the form of Hyrule Warriors’ Legend Mode and Adventure Mode, everything is tied together in Age of Calamity. It all matters. Every mission, every battle and every upgrade are all part of something greater, your war effort against Calamity Ganon.
Just because players aren’t free to roam Hyrule like they could before in Breath of the Wild, at least this is a game that puts players exactly where they need to be, when they need to be there and gives them the option to explore expansive, yet detailed battlefields.
Just because this isn’t the traditional Zelda you know and love, it doesn’t mean it can’t be one of your favourite games. Breath of the Wild was by no means a traditional Zelda, yet it is beloved by millions.
There were a few criticisms I had that popped up during the game’s main story, but by staying the course and playing through to the end, some of those criticisms are actually rectified, corrected and the more time you spend playing with each character, the more your mouth will drop in awe, as to just how in-depth Nintendo and Koei Tecmo went with everything.
As a musou title, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity doesn’t need to be the best Zelda game in existence, but it is the best Warriors game we have ever had the pleasure to play and it certainly raises the bar for what musou games can be going forward. We’ve known Link as hero and we’ve seen his efforts to regain his memories, but now it’s time to see him as the warrior he once was, in all of his glory in this spectacular mash-up!
THE VERDICT: 10/10
*A download key was provided by the Publisher for the purposes of this review
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