Review: Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

 The hack-and-slash spin-off prequel to Breath of the Wild that works surprisingly well.

Console: Nintendo Switch

Hyrule Warriors, a crossover between Koei Tecmo's Warriors series and The Legend of Zelda, was received better than many anticipated. Not only were fans and critics impressed but Eiji Aonuma, the producer of the Zelda franchise, was as well. Aonuma approached Koei Tecmo for a new Hyrule Warriors game. The backstory of Breath of the Wild is that Calamity Ganon attacked Hyrule 100 years before, resulting in a massive battle. Fighting in massive battles is basically the entire point of Warriors games and Aonuma felt that these battles would complement well with the style of a Warriors game. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, the official prequel to the Breath of the Wild, was born.

So, how did it turn out? Well, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a solid title. One that makes its hack-and-slash gameplay fun and easily approachable to new players yet varied and with depth that, disappointingly, squanders the very aspect that made it so alluring to Zelda fans.

Let's dive in.

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity starts right in the middle of the Great Calamity, the fall of Hyrule. While defending a dying Link from a Guardian and finding her inner-power, Zelda unknowingly activates the 'Diminutive Guardian'. Seeing the chaos and destruction, the Diminutive Guardian opens up a portal and jumps through with a portion of Calamity Ganon following it.

The Diminutive Guardian ends up in the past, a few weeks before the fall of Hyrule. There, it's found by Link, Impa and Zelda and gives them insight into the future. With their new ally in toe, the trio set out to save Hyrule by firstly finding suitable pilots for the four Divine Beasts.

Age of Calamity´s story is told throughout 7 chapters, the first 4 of which are pretty strong. It has Link, Zelda, Impa and the Diminutive Guardian travel across Hyrule recruiting the Champions, find the Master Sword etc. The stuff that we've all gathered from Breath of the Wild. Nothing too exciting in that sense, but it has a new addition or a curveball here or there that makes it more interesting like Impa's involvement. The only real critique in this half is that the villain, the newly introduced Astor, is a weak character. Forgettable in every sense of the word.

The story of Age of Calamity brings us across moments only mentioned in Breath of the Wild, such as the Champions fight against the Blights that Ganon sent to take over the Divine Beasts.

However, Koei Tecmo couldn't help themselves and fall into the trap of a prequel and fail to realize that the journey is more important than the destination. No real spoilers here but there comes a point in which the story feels more like a fan-fiction then an official Zelda campaign. Even with these problems, the story is engaging and enjoyable and well-written for the most part. It's really just that 2nd half that drops the quality of the story, weigh it down and squanders what made the game so alluring to me and many other Zelda fans.

Just like the first Hyrule Warriors game, Age of Calamity features Hack-and-Slash from the Dynasty Warriors series mixed in with the Legend of Zelda characters, locals, items and mechanics. The basic gameplay loop is jumping into large-scale battles against hundreds of enemies, hacking and slashing them away as a one-person army while also completing objectives and taking strategic actions such as capturing bases and commanding troops. The latter doesn't have a big impact on the overall flow of the battle, your partners do chip damage more than anything else but it's a good lifeline and way of shortening travel time.

You've got the basic hacking and slashing and the grand combo's that are satisfying to pull off who got some extra bite to them. The maps are littered with more powerful enemies, mini-bosses if you will, that have a shield meter that needs to be depleted before you can do a good amount of damage to them. This gives the dodge and counterattacks more use as they´re capable of stunning enemies and doing damage to the shields. The best way to stun these enemies is the Sheikah Slate Ruins from Breath of the Wild. Stasis and Cryonis freeze enemies with different secondary effects, Magnesis can grab enemy weapons and smack them in the head with it and the bombs, well, blows stuff up. They, alongside the elemental staffs you pick up give you more options to deal with enemies.

Urbosa using Stasis to freeze in enemy in time and get some hits into the Yiga Blademaster mini-boss.

When you´re not mowing down enemies in the story missions there's other stuff for you to do. The hub of this game is a big map of Hyrule where you can find not only the story missions but also, side-missions challenges, requests and a variety of facilities to help you on your journey. You can try out one of the 18 playable characters in their specific missions or the training mode, try to beat a certain amount or find resources you can use to get new recipes (used for buffs) or new combos for the fighters.

You can also exchange your hard-earned rupees in the weapon shop to merge your weapons to make them stronger or use the training facility to level up your characters. Both are easy (read: not that expensive) to use and help give the player a smoother experience should you want it. By merging together the weapons you find they won't just become stronger and do more damage but they can also give the character buffs such as an increased movement speed. You can level up your characters to the same level as your highest level fighter, seriously cutting down on the amount of grinding you need to do. It still requires you to do some grinding and levelling up your characters become increasingly expensive, but it's still a very handy feature that makes the game more approachable.

Lastly for the gameplay, you also get to control the four Divine Beasts in some sections. While a fun idea it's lacking in execution. There isn´t much variety to these missions (defeat X number of enemies) and the controls aren´t the best. You aim the Divine Beasts weapons by using Gyro controls, which is cumbersome and not that precise. You can use the left joy-stick instead of the Gyro controls, which I do recommend doing. Makes these sections easier to enjoy.

During certain moments in the story and during special challenge missions, you get to take control of the four Divine Beasts ramming and stomping hundreds enemies at a time.

As Age of Calamity is meant to be a prequel to Breath of the Wild its visuals and sound (design) is the same/very similar to it. In other words, it heavily reuses that game's assets. From character models, to sound effects to the soundtrack to even some parts of the map. Most of them are built from the ground up, though even here you can see that they directly lifted some areas. The game ads in quite a bit of new stuff, like new characters, updated models of existing characters and new music but large parts are still reused.

Take the soundtrack, for instance. About half of the game are reused tracks, while the other half consists of remixed, more bombastic tracks, and brand new compositions in the same style. It makes the soundtrack both familiar, yet fresh and one I recommend listening to. I don't mind the asset reuse of this game, but I do wish that Koei Tecmo added in new enemies. Just like Breath of the Wild, the game is lacking in enemy variety. The elemental variants are nice, but they're in essence still just a Moblin or a Hinox you've seen a thousand times.

With that all said, we need to talk about the game´s technical performance. Look, I´m not someone who has extensive knowledge when it comes to the performances of games nor one that I really notice during playing. However, I am aware the game has performance issues and have come across some problems myself.

Slowdown to stutter when fighting a big horde of enemies, clipping, the camera getting stuck, assets taking too long to load or, in the case of the grass in the animation that plays every time you boot up the game, failing to load at all. I didn't even have to look close for that last one, I noticed it immediately! It's nowhere near as bad as the performance of the 3DS version of the original Hyrule Warriors and it doesn't make the game unplayable by any means but you will see these problems pop up sometime during your playthrough.

Conclusion

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a very entertaining game. It was disappointing to see that the story of the game, which was heavily emphasized in the marketing and the reason for many Zelda fans to buy the game, doesn't live up to what was promised and it isn't the brightest on the technical side of things. Yet, the gameplay is addictive and fun, with more depth than you'd think and packed with (albeit homogeneous) content that doesn't even include the DLC. I wouldn't call it a must-buy but if it looks interesting to you or want to play a Zelda game with a different gameplay style then I would give this game a look.

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