Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a spin-off prequel to Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It’s a Musou game developed by none other than Koei Tecmo in collaboration with Nintendo. The game runs on the Breath of the Wild engine and closely follows the look and feel of Nintendo’s open-world adventure by repurposing its assets and aesthetic style. Set 100 years before the events of Breath of the Wild, Age of Calamity follows the events of the war that ultimately led to the fall of the Kingdom of Hyrule. Before the fall of the Kingdom takes place, a tiny Guardian travels back in time to warn Princess Zelda of the danger that awaits her in the future. It’s up to Link and his friends to prepare for the arrival of the Great Calamity by uniting the four Champions i.e. Daruk, Mipha, Revali, and Urbosa, and their Divine Beasts.
Although it was never confirmed by Nintendo, the pre-release trailers billed Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity as a canonical entry in the Breath of the Wild timeline. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, as the prequel alters the course of several events depicted in Breath of the Wild, and therefore doesn’t align with its timeline. This is a deal-breaker of sorts, particularly for Breath of the Wild fans who will play it solely based on the idea that it’ll elaborate the existing timeline and serve as a liaison between the latter and its inevitable sequel. It’s hard to view it as an independent spin-off either, as there are events that are in fact based on Breath of the Wild’s timeline, making things all the more confusing for the player.
Canonical or not, however, the narrative is well-told and does a great job of depicting the booming relationship between Zelda and Link over the course of the game. The princess plays a more central role in this story than she did in Breath of the Wild. Cutscenes are meaningful, nicely spaced, and don’t overstay their welcome.
Combat is by far Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity’s greatest strength. Different attack combos can be executed by alternating between the quick and strong attack buttons successively in varying patterns. Some of Link’s combos begin with a juggle starter that sends enemies reeling in the air, allowing you to capitalize by chaining mid-air attacks. Other characters possess their own unique combo traits. Breath of the Wild’s perfect dodge mechanic and Sheikah slate are also part of your arsenal in Age of Calamity. Much like in Nintendo’s own adventure, the Sheikah slate gives you access to Magnetis, Cryonis, Cinetis as well as bombs, each of which has a cooldown timer associated with its use.
Mechanically, both the perfect dodge and Sheikah slate fit Age of Calamity’s gameplay like a glove. Each of the skills, that are associated with the latter, is best suited to certain types of enemies. Effective use of the slate is important for wearing down the endurance gauge of tougher enemies and temporarily staggering them. From there, you’re able to deal with a powerful attack that deals significant damage. Elemental wands obtained from defeating Wizzrobes bring an additional layer of depth to the combat. Tough enemies usually have an elemental weakness that can be exploited using a corresponding wand.
Despite the combat mechanics being great, encounters tend to get repetitive after a while. You’ll be spending most of your time slaying Moblins, Lizalfos, and other types of Lynels, and this can quickly become mundane. Luckily, changing up characters does make things less problematic in this regard.
When it comes to variety in playable characters, Age of Calamity doesn’t disappoint, with a large roster of heroes at your disposal. Among those are Link, Zelda, Impa, and the Four Champions. Each hero has moves with distinct properties and a special ability that is unique to them. Link can alter weapons and equip himself with a sword as well as a spear or a hammer. Revali uses his explosive arrows and can fight from the air or on the ground. Meanwhile, Urbosa charges his blade with electricity and hurls lightning onto the battlefield. Much like in other Musou games, such as the previous Hyrule Warriors game, strategizing a team of characters with skills best suited to the situation at hand is key to success. You’re able to fight battles simultaneously by sending heroes to different parts of the map and quickly switching between them on the fly where needed. Given the number of heroes and their varied move sets, you’re bound to find one or more characters that are best suited to your playstyle.
The progression system has been kept relatively simple yet engaging, as it doesn’t require you to overspend time in the menus. You gain access to a Sheikah tower between missions. Here, you can train your units and rank them up. You also have the opportunity to fuse weapons at the forge, which buffs their stats. Using the in-game currency earned through missions, you’ll be able to unlock new combos or improve your characters’ stats. Side activities get marked on the map as you progress through the main story, giving the game some additional playtime.
As enjoyable as the gameplay is, it is held back by dodgy performance. Things are stable as long as there are fewer NPCs in the area, but as the engine is stressed with a higher number of enemies, the game becomes noticeably unresponsive and difficult to control. Matters get worse as the battles intensify and the screen is filled with lots of visual effects. This is usually the case when assuming control of the Divine Beasts, which further stresses the engine with some heavy effects work. As a result, battles can quickly go from being enjoyable to frustrating within a matter of seconds. This is all the more an issue in a game where the action takes center stage. Furthermore, the game is borderline unplayable in local coop mode. The lack of an online coop mode is a huge oversight, as it would’ve made coop play a lot more tolerable, not to mention accessible.
Despite having its moments, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity’s storyline doesn’t quite deliver upon the expectation of a canonical prequel to Breath of the Wild. As such, the engaging and surprisingly deep combat system is what holds the experience together. However, given its Musou underpinning, encounters can sometimes feel repetitive.