REVIEW: Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

REVIEW: Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is widely regarded as one of the best games of all time, and the impact it had on the gaming industry is being shown in newer games today like Genshin Impact and Immortals Fenyx Rising. It changed what it means to have an open world adventure game, especially in regards to being able to go anywhere and do anything as soon as you’re done with the tutorial—even going to beat the final boss. Its exploration and sense of discovery were so revolutionary that it soon became many players’ favorite game. So when it was announced that there was a prequel being released with Mouso-style gameplay, I was excited but cautiously skeptical.

Despite 2020 being filled with mega-hits like Animal Crossing, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and The Last of Us Part II, Age of Calamity is one of my favorite gaming experiences of this turbulent year. Although my time with the main Mouso series is bare to none, I’ve played a lot of the spin-off Warriors games, including the first Hyrule Warriors. After almost one-hundred-percenting Age of Calamity, I can honestly say that it’s the best of all the spin-off games.

What makes Age of Calamity the best Warriors spin-off game is just how well-incorporated Breath of the Wild’s world is into this prequel. From the characters, setting, lore, and mechanics, there was a very clear vision of what this game should be and it was pulled off to the fullest degree.

While Warriors games are often described as simple button-mashers, Age of Calamity’s combat feels much more reactionary and strategic than previous games. Combat in these games is often about whittling down tougher enemies’ shield/stun gauges so you can do massive damage to them, and Age of Calamity is no exception. The difference is that thanks to the inclusion of some Breath of the Wild mechanics, there are many ways to do this. If you’re fighting an enemy while standing in water, you can use electricity from your elemental rods or the ice power on your Sheika slate to better the effect. I often had a smug smile when I was battling someone and saw that they were standing in a puddle because I knew the fight would be over in a flash.

If you dodge an enemy’s attack at the last moment, you’ll be able to do a flurry rush attack, which also brings down the enemy’s gauge quickly. As I played through the game and learned enemy attack patterns, I became better at dodging at the right time and constantly going into flurry rush.

It was easy to become acquainted with enemies because the enemy variety in this game isn’t very good, especially in the end game—you’ll be fighting the same 10 enemy types over and over and over. The only real diversity is that they have different elemental forms, but that barely changes up how you’ll fight them. To be fair, Age of Calamity is just pulling from its source material, but it’s a shame more creative liberty wasn’t taken with enemy variety.

The Sheika slate is used to full effect in this game, like pulling up ice in front of you when an enemy is charging, throwing bombs at them right before they’re about to attack, or grabbing their weapon using the magnesis ability. Each character uses their Sheika slate powers differently, too. For example, Link will throw his bombs normally, whereas another character might use their weapon like a bat, forcing you to actually use timing and aim correctly. It’s really fun and goes to show again how differently each character plays.

There are so many ways to fight in this game, and they all blend together so well. During any fight, you have to be making on-the-fly decisions about how to tackle the enemy in front of you; if you play smart, you can turn a long, grueling encounter into a fight that makes you feel powerful and smart. I felt rewarded for using the game’s mechanics to their full extent just by the fact that combat felt easier and more like a dance when I abused the enemies’ weaknesses quickly. A lot of the game’s side challenges give you limited time to complete them, so speed is often of the essence. 

The brilliant gameplay is heightened by a great roster of characters, each with their own completely unique movesets, weapons, means of traversal, and gimmicks. Someone like Daruk is big, clunky, and relies on slow but strong attacks to get the job done. He uses magma for a lot of his strong attacks and can even make his magma explode at the push of the ZR button. Revali’s gimmick is that he can soar to the sky and snipe enemies with his bow, meaning he can stay out of trouble while picking enemies off easily. Everything about each character is different, right down to the way they move. This game is a great chance to play as the characters that Breath of the Wild really brushed over, like the four champions. 

There are a lot more characters than those just shown off in trailers and promotional material, as almost all of the important races and people from Hyrule are playable and customizable. This is especially true for Link, as he can equip three different types of weapons, all of which have different move sets and playstyles. I’ve never been one to play or like the main character of a story, but Link just felt so fluent with all of his weapons and movesets. 

What’s even better than the fighting and characters is that you get to see a lot of Breath of the Wild’s iconic locales before they were destroyed by Ganon, and they’re beautiful. Map design is often pretty poor in the Warriors games, as they just seem to be thrown together with some copy and pasted square outposts throughout. But in Age of Calamity, places like the Great Plateau, the Temple of Time, Akkala Citadel, and Hyrule Castle Town are put on full display, and you get to see how populated and beautiful the world of Hyrule used to be. Instead of just fighting on plain battlefields, you fight in towns, temples, deserts, on the sides of mountains, and in some really intricate castles. There’s such a sense of how densely lived-in central Hyrule was, and how desolate it became after the calamity. There was even a tender moment where I went to the edge of the map on the Great Plateau in the middle of a battle, and I was in the area where the king of Hyrule lived in Breath of the Wild. It was that little shack with a couple of trees and a fire pit, where so many people visited at the start of their long journey.

If you’re a fan of Breath of the Wild, it cannot be stated how cool it is to see these places. Not only this, but you get to fight in them, making the feeling of being in a huge war feel even more realistic. While the map design of previous games are stale, it’s pretty in line with Breath of the Wild’s design philosophy that you get to explore open areas like Hyrule Field, even as war wages around you. And since there is a wealth of side content to do, you’ll get many chances to explore them again and again—I’ve played almost 60 hours now, and I still love to explore.

Instead of different modes or features, Age of Calamity just has the story mode, with optional challenges you can do to get materials, weapons, or level up your characters. Battles will give you certain quest rewards that you can use on the overworld map to unlock things like more hearts for your characters, bonus combos, or new recipes that will aid you in battle. There are even facilities that can be unlocked, like merchants, blacksmiths, and a place where you can play to level up under-leveled characters. I’ve almost completed the game and there has been some grinding to get certain materials, but none of it has felt tedious in the slightest. 

Age of Calmity Review

Even after you beat the game, a new way to play story missions opens up called Blood Moon Battles, which give you an extra level of challenge and allow you to get better loot. It’s an incredibly fulfilling system that can be addicting due to always unlocking new things. If you complete one challenge on the map, then one, three, or maybe even five new ones will open up. 

The weapon system is also addicting and fun to play around with, as you can upgrade and customize your weapon’s attributes. By combining weapons, you can level up your weapon of choice and imbue it with skills that might do more damage, get you more EXP per kill, or make your movement faster. There are so many choices and endless ways to make your characters stronger, faster, and feel more powerful.

The story is easily the biggest conversation piece of this game, and I have no doubt that it will spark debates among fans for years to come. Without spoiling too much of the story, the game features plenty of twists and turns in the plot, and isn’t exactly the story that previews made it out to be. While there are some letdowns, the story does have some redeeming qualities. 

This is perhaps the first Legend of Zelda game that actually focuses a lot on Zelda as a character and not just on Link or the supporting cast. You really get to see Zelda struggle with the fact that everyone around her is fulfilling their roles as champions and doing what is expected of them, all while Zelda’s powers haven’t awakened yet. This plays out to great effect, but at the same time, it means other important characters like Impa and the four champions don’t really get a lot of characterization or development. When given more time with this cast of characters, it just seems like the wrong choice not to build out their characters or relationships with each other.

The Legend of Zelda franchise (at least to me) has always been about world-building and emotional storytelling, and this game absolutely delivers in those departments. There were even a few moments where I got choked up, and my heartstrings were definitely pulled at a few key moments. But it’s a very typical good versus evil story where the villain is bad for the sake of being bad, but with the Warriors feel of full-scale war. 

The story wasn’t exactly what I wanted, though. I wanted something really serious and emotional, to watch a desperate, heartbreaking struggle as a losing war play out, but that isn’t exactly what we got. Yes, it avoids predictability to a certain degree, but an emotional story with characters you grow to love easily trumps any negatives a predictable story has. I still liked what we were given, but I can’t help but feel like what was promised could have been made into something special.

Age of Calamity Review

Another small problem with the game was the performance issues many were experiencing during Age of Calamity’s demo. The game had noticeable frame rate issues that have been fixed on release. I only experienced significant frame rate issues during key moments when there was too much going on, like multiple bosses in one area or using a flashing finisher as Impa. Other than that, the game looks and plays amazingly.

The music in this game is beautiful, as you can expect with any Zelda title. The soundtrack features both new and returning tracks from Breath of the Wild, and the score mixed well with the thrill during some of the gameplay moments and really got my heart pounding—some of the later game is truly hype.

I loved my time with Age of Calamity, even the hours and hours I spent in the post-game. There’s so much to do, and it rarely feels repetitive. The wealth of characters and places to explore really set itself apart from other spin-off games in the Warriors franchise, and you get to rediscover a fully-realized Hyrule once again. The map design and mechanics really capture the magic of Breath of the Wild, even when it comes to combat. Although the story might not be what you want it to be, there are some really great moments that highlight certain characters, especially Zelda. The loot and weapon system is also fun, with endless amounts of customization when it comes to upgrading your characters.

I’ve been obsessed with this game since it came out, constantly wanting to get back to it and try to 100% it—and I usually never feel compelled to fully complete a game like that. I cannot recommend this game enough if you’re a Zelda fan, especially if you loved Breath of the Wild.

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