A dark cloud has been hanging over 2020 and, for many, it’s been a tough year. Between national lockdowns, mental and physical health issues caused by a global pandemic and political protests at play, it feels like we’re fighting in our own ‘Age of Calamity’ right here, right now. Yet there have been some genuine, heart-warming moments delivered this year and the late summer surprise from Nintendo and Koei Tecmo was certainly one of them.
Developed by Omega Force, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is set a century before the events of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. While it’s technically the second instalment of the Hyrule Warriors franchise, it feels more like a mechanical cog working behind the scenes of a much greater story that’s yet to unfold. In an interview at the Tokyo Game Show with producers Masaki Furusawa and Yosuke Hayashi, it was discussed how the Warriors’ team worked closely with Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma and his team to develop a game that would satisfy fans of the 2017 Switch title. According to Furusawa, the Zelda team were ‘100 times more involved this time around’ as it was developed to be ‘one moving part of a greater whole’. And from playing the demo, the first couple of chapters, alongside several challenges and side quests, it’s clear that Age of Calamity’s story and mechanics blends into the world beautifully.
Although it’s been six years since we’ve set foot in a new Hyrule Warriors title, it feels like just yesterday when Link was facing Cia in a doomsday battle scenario. Since the original Wii U version, Hyrule Warriors has been re-released on two different consoles: the Nintendo 3DS (2016) and the Nintendo Switch (2018). So, if you were a fan of the original title, you’ll find the same Warriors hack-and-slash stamp of appeal in Age of Calamity, though it comes with a Breath of the Wild twist. Instead of four separate modes, Adventure, Challenge, Free and Legend are combined into one, with players free to choose a mission by locating it on the map of Hyrule. Acting as a focal point for the game, the Sheikah Tower and its map unfolds with more services (such as the Hylian Blacksmith for weapon fusion and the military camp for character levelling), challenges (either by timed, weapon or ally restrictions) and story missions as you progress further into the game. It’s this central point of play that mimics both the look and feel of Breath of the Wild so wonderfully, it’s as if you’ve been transported back to the 2017 Switch game.
With four difficulty modes available from the outset, Age of Calamity – like its predecessor – focusses on mission-based chapters to progress the overall story. By following classic Dynasty Warriors gameplay, where the player’s objective is to capture the outpost, defeat the outpost captains and bosses, or protect an ally, the first five to seven hours of Age of Calamity are remarkably linear and introduce each of the seven announced playable characters: Link, Impa, and Zelda in chapter one, alongside the four champions – Mipha, Daruk, Urbosa and Revali – in chapter two through several superbly paced missions. Of course, the linearity of these chapters is clear; players can easily adapt to each character’s unique combat system, their Sheikah rune abilities and familiarise themselves with the locations, enemy hordes and bosses seen in Breath of the Wild.
Between the sharp slashes of Link’s sword, spear or comedic lucky ladle to the electrifying attacks of Urbosa and the ninja-like movements of the Sheikah clan from Impa, each character is utterly distinctive in their play style. Playing through each of their training trials and missions means players can understand how each character’s combat system works, while enjoying the frenetic nature of Warriors’ gameplay. Not only do characters differ in the way they fight, but they also use the Sheikah rune abilities in different ways too. Cryonis, Stasis, Magnesis and Bombs can be utilised in battle to damage an enemy’s outer shield and, by using these abilities at the perfect moment, can easily disorientate them enough to land a destructive weak-point smash. In a similar vein, performing perfect dodges or guards against larger enemies can activate the ‘flurry rush’ mechanic, whereby players can tap ‘Y’ repeatedly to damage their shield quickly, leaving them vulnerable to further attacks. And though combat may seem overwhelming to players at first, Age of Calamity presents a fairly quick learning curve that’s easy to pick up through natural game progression.
Outside of combat, Age of Calamity can be enjoyed in both single-player and co-operative modes, both in docked and handheld play. For example, in single-player mode you can seamlessly switch between all three characters on the field, as well as order them to different areas of the map to protect, defend or battle at certain outposts. In co-operative mode, gameplay ensues via the horizontal split-screen with each player carving their own route through the field. Effective communication and teamwork skills are required here.
Throughout both single and co-operative modes, players will experience occasional technical hitches, character slowdown and framerate drops during the larger battle sequences. While it’s not detrimental to the overall enjoyment of the game, co-operative play suffers from major trauma during key moments of gameplay. For example, at the end of chapter two during the Yiga Clan attack sequence, Daruk and Link team up (in our playthrough) to destroy one of the bosses, both triggering a special attack or a weak-point smash. The explosive damage causes the framerate to tank with excessive slowdown in on-screen gameplay. Although it is to be expected with the Warriors’ style of play, since the original Wii U version often suffered from the same fate during co-op, it’s a real shame that Age of Calamity also bears similar woes.
Perhaps some of the most explosive moments in Age of Calamity, though, are presented during the Divine Beasts mission-based challenges. By wielding these heavy, slow-moving mechanical beasts in a first-person shooter mode, players can destroy thousands of enemies in one fell swoop. Operated with or without the gyro motion controls, the divine beasts offer an interesting change of pace to the standard hack-and-slash gameplay. Here, the strategy is to move through miniscule enemy encampments, destroying them as you go, while countering their military-based weaponry until you reach the target waypoint. As such, we’re excited to see how this style of gameplay will unfold beyond chapter two.
Outside of divine beasts and mission-based gameplay, Age of Calamity also presents puzzle-based solving mechanics, amiibo functionality, hidden secrets such as Koroks, alongside cookery as seen in Breath of the Wild. While their use is limited in the first couple of chapters, we can’t wait to see their full effects as we move further into the game. As it currently stands, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is shaping up just like its predecessor: rough around the edges with a heart-warming yet beautifully dark storyline baked into its centre.
A copy of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity for preview purposes was provided by Nintendo UK. A full review of the game will be published in due course.