Where there is courage and wisdom, there is also power. Yet not all power is born from pure malice, some strength is contained within and builds steadily, waiting for a defining moment to be unleashed. For Princess Zelda in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, her calm and dignified emotional state is replaced with self-deprecating loathing as she desperately tries to awaken the true power within her. This is Zelda’s story – and if you’re a Breath of the Wild fan, you seriously don’t want to miss this.
Developed by Omega Force – the same team that delivered Hyrule Warriors for the Wii U in 2014 – and published by Koei Tecmo and Nintendo, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a prequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Set a century before the events of the 2017 Switch title, Age of Calamity presents the ‘Great Calamity’ and the collapse of Hyrulean forces at the hands of evil. And according to the game’s producer Masaki Furusawa, as we explained in our preview, this story is one moving part of a greater whole. It’s this beautifully intense storytelling that captures Princess Zelda in a vulnerable, heart-wrenching light. Affectionately named ‘Little Bird’ by Urbosa, the Gerudo Chieftain, Zelda’s internal struggle is enough to move even the most stoic of hearts. Her pure compassion for others, combined with her fear of failure and self-deprecating behaviour, renders her human. While Link may bear the courage to defend Hyrule, all the inhabitants of the kingdom have firmly placed their hope on Zelda. With the weight of the world on her shoulders, Age of Calamity follows Zelda as she tries to awaken her true power to defend against the forces of pure malice.
With a 20-25 hour wonderfully crafted storyline, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity blends the Dynasty Warriors hack and slash gameplay with Breath of the Wild mechanics superbly. While the first Hyrule Warriors was littered with Gold Skulltulas, classic Zelda puzzle mechanics and an array of fan-favourite franchise references, Age of Calamity certainly scales back on this in favour of the ‘less is more’ approach. This means that everything that’s included within the game is there for a very specific reason, akin to Breath of the Wild. For example, discovering the hidden Koroks within missions reward you with one korok seed, which are then utilised later in the game. Enemy bases, hidden deceptively in mission areas, now come with treasure chests housing rusted weapons that can be ‘Octo-Polished’ with collected materials by the Hylian Blacksmith. And cooking can now be utilised before a story mission or side quest to deliver additional benefits, such as boosted enemy damage, increased movement speed or additional temporary hearts. Plus, any materials that are not collected through standard gameplay can be purchased through the various regional shops and stables via the Hyrule map interface.
For fans of the first Hyrule Warriors, you’ll be pleased to know that weapon fusion returns. Each playable character has a favoured style of weapon that can be fused with others collected during story and side quest missions. Over time, weapon slots can be increased – another nod to Breath of the Wild – and stronger weapons can be easily obtained through mission progression. Some weapons will also have seals that contain certain buffs, these can be fused together to create additional enhancements, while matching seals with the same shape can increase these effects even further. It’s worth noting that during the first few chapters, Link will require access to a one-handed and two-handed sword, alongside a spear to successfully complete side quests, which means fusing different weapons is certainly beneficial. Just be careful not to drain your rupee wallet!
As players progress through the story, the central Sheikah Tower and its map will unfold (as detailed in our preview), gradually revealing more side quests and missions to level up your party. Outside of the set story missions, Age of Calamity offers plenty of challenges to whet the appetite, including timed, ally restricted, one-hit failure missions and more. Of course, these can all be played on either ‘easy’, ‘normal’, ‘hard’ or ‘very hard’ difficulty modes by simply changing it in the system menu. While we played through most of the game on a normal difficulty setting, there were times when we ventured into more challenging territory. Here, bosses dealt more damage, hordes of enemies took multiple hits to defeat and performing perfect guards and dodges were crucial to our success. Learning combat strategy with elemental rods and the Sheikah Rune abilities (Cryonis, Magnesis, Stasis and Remote Bombs) were also key in all difficulty modes. Disrupting the traditional ‘hack and slash’ gameplay with a much more refined and tactical approach meant each boss battle – be it a moblin, guardian or wizzrobe – felt fresh, challenging and unique. Discovering when to dodge and activate the flurry rush mechanic is also deeply satisfying, especially when Link, Zelda, Impa or the Champions are inches away from a scythe.
Yet despite the game’s fantastic storyline and beautiful combat mechanics, Age of Calamity occasionally meets with a terrible (often unsightly) fate. Warriors’ games are notorious for explosive action sequences, so it’s somewhat understandable that there will be moments of on-screen trauma, such as occasional framerate drops and character slowdown, as was the case with Hyrule Warriors on the Wii U. In single-player mode, framerate drops are apparent. They tend to appear when your playable character is fighting against an excessive horde of enemies in an outpost, particularly when there’s several different textures to load at once, or when there’s three of four large bosses in the same area. In co-operative mode, framerate drops are more prevalent, often occurring during those sequences stated above, as well as special attacks where it’s terribly unclear which character is fighting a particular boss.
Framerate drops aren’t the only issues that plague co-operative play. Due to its horizontal split-screen mode, the camera angles are especially unfavourable when fighting large or aerial bosses in ‘lock-on’ mode. For example, when facing wizzrobes in co-op, there are times when you physically cannot see the dancing devils on screen, forcing you to fight blind and make logical assumptions based on their fighting pattern. Camera angles are also an issue when fighting bosses in narrow, walled-in areas, making it especially difficult to pull off perfect guards or dodges to activate the flurry mechanic. Yet even though these moments are infuriating, co-op mode is still one of the best ways to enjoy Age of Calamity, since there are many story-based and side missions that are designed to be played in just this way.
Piloting the Divine Beasts, though, is a single-player affair only. Both a boon and a bane, the Divine Beasts are baked into the storyline for a change of pace. These slow-moving contraptions deliver devastating impact on miniscule enemy encampments, but there’s little satisfaction in their execution. All four Divine Beasts have unique actions that boil down to a light or heavy attack, a shield or counter action, and a special attack. While there is a time limit and a KO target, piloting the Divine Beasts lacks the intense feeling that’s so synonymous with the Warriors’ franchise. That is unless you’re using motion controls, then it’s just an exasperating tug of war.
For Nintendo Switch Lite users or those who want to play in portable mode, Age of Calamity performs reasonably well in single-player mode with minimal issues. There’s still the odd framerate drop, of course, and it’s not as visually spectacular in docked mode, but it’s still fun to play and feels similar to Hyrule Warriors Legends on the Nintendo 3DS.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is not without fault. Between the technical issues in single-player and co-operative modes, coupled with enforced sluggish gameplay during the Divine Beast segments, it’s clear that improvements could be made, though perhaps this is a limitation of the Switch hardware itself. Yet if you look past these flaws, there is an inner beauty. An utterly captivating and emotional storyline, beautifully strategic combat mechanics and missions that offer edge-of-your-seat action are all present. Encased within a Breath of the Wild setting, Age of Calamity is the perfect way to escape our reality this winter. Let’s just hope the darkness doesn’t spread any further.
A review copy of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity was provided to My Nintendo News by Nintendo UK.