Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is everything that I had hoped it would be. The chance to return to this Hyrule. To witness the kingdom’s seemingly futile efforts to prepare for Calamity Ganon’s revival. The devastation wrought by the Divine Beasts and their Champions. Even to learn more about Princess Zelda’s desperate struggle to awaken her sealed powers and the strain that this had placed on her relationship with her father, King Rhoam.
The unlockable Memories in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild had offered momentary flashbacks that let us glimpse at key moments as these events unfolded. But, thanks to a welcome collaboration with Koei Tecmo Games and Omega Force, the Zelda Team has seized the chance to weave an even richer tapestry for us to bear witness to.
The resulting experience has an impact right from the opening cutscene. As Hyrule Castle falls to the unstoppable might of Calamity Ganon’s assault, an adorable egg-shaped Guardian stirs inside a long-forgotten crate. Reacting to Princess Zelda’s noble but desperate desire to protect everyone in Hyrule, the diminutive Sheikah machine conjures a Gate of Time before leaping into it to journey to the past to save her. And so your adventure begins.
Those that have dabbled with other musou games on Nintendo Switch will near enough know exactly what to expect. Whether you have spent time with Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition, Fire Emblem Warriors, Warriors Orochi 4 or the many other games in the genre on the portable home console, the underlying blueprint is instantly recognisable.
Working your way through battle scenarios, each will challenge you to complete a specified objective such as capturing outposts, defending your base, protecting a character as they are escorted across the map or toppling a daunting boss.
You must heroically lead the charge across the battlefield against a horde of enemies, hammering your Regular Attack (Y Button) and Strong Attack (X Button) in one of multiple combinations to mercilessly cut them down. The standard grunts won’t ever pose much of a challenge but are necessary to help you to build the gauge needed to be filled to unleash your Special Attack (A Button).
Where Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity starts to deviate is in lending each character in the roster their own Unique Action (ZR Button). Link can let loose a flurry of arrows, for example, whereas Daruk can make any magma that he has summoned with a Strong Attack explode and Impa can apply a Sheikah symbol to an enemy which she can then absorb to spawn duplicates of herself.
You can also Dodge (B Button), which, when evading an enemy attack at the last moment, will let you hit back hard with a Flurry Rush. Each character also has their own unique animations when using the runic powers that the Sheikah Slate grants – Stasis, Remote Bomb, Cryonis and Magnesis – although their effect is the exact same. You won’t be using these powers to explore as you did in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but they quickly become paramount when faced with the more powerful monsters and bosses that stand in your way.
These encounters can soon feel like a dance with death, especially as Calamity Ganon’s horde increases in strength to match your own levelled-up heroes. It is in these moments that the Sheikah Slate proves to be invaluable, hurling Remote Bombs to break an enemy’s guard, seeing them slam into a block of ice when they charge at you using Cryonis, hurling their weapon back at them with Magnesis or using Stasis to freeze them in place when they’re about to perform a spinning attack. You can even shoot a Hinox in the eye to temporarily stun it. Your goal is to reduce the Weak-Point Gauge when it appears, allowing you to perform a devasting attack once it is completely depleted.
To no one’s surprise, Link remains the most versatile combatant and the best all-rounder on the roster. Nintendo’s understandable aversion to spoilers means that I can’t talk about every character in the game, but each addition feels wonderfully different from each other. I never thought that Impa would rank among my favourite characters but she did, and I struggled with Revali more than I had hoped because most of his lengthier combos rely on him being in flight.
The more time that you sink into Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, the greater your reward will be. Adventure Mode and its retro-themed overworld maps from Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition does not make a return, which will come as a disappointment to some. But, that’s not to say that Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is lacking in content. Far from it. Your progression through the game’s story chapters and the characters that you intermittently unlock in tandem will frequently scatter Quests and Challenges across the map of Hyrule.
It can certainly feel intimidating to know what to prioritise, even if there is no wrong choice to be made. More often than not, the Quests require you to gather a mixture of Ingredients, Materials, Monster Parts and Ancient Parts. Their completion could reward you with bonus Hearts or extend a combo for a specific character, or unlock services such as a Merchant who you can potentially buy any Ingredients and Materials that you require from.
The Challenges are battle-focused. These are useful way to help you level up your characters, imposing restrictions such as only being able to play as a specific character, or, at their trickiest, seeing you fail if you get hit once. It’s the rewards that you can unlock which will encourage you to tackle them all, and they are a worthy distraction from the main event.
After spending more than 39 hours with the game, there is a Quest that indicates that I have not even managed to achieve a 33 percent completion rate yet. Which is astounding, really. Post-completion I am now left with higher-level Challenges to conquer, meaning that there is more (gentle) grinding for me to do with characters that I have concentrated less on.
While levelling up your characters is important, the weapons that you accumulate can be taken to the Hylian Blacksmith Guild where they can be fused with one another to enhance their power and perks. This is a key part to the game, and, while simple enough in approach, becomes a necessity as you strengthen your weapons to deal more damage to increasingly stronger opponents.
There is one unexpected area of imbalance, though. Health recovery can regularly be a challenge, especially when you reach the game’s lengthier chapters later on in which you to go toe-to-toe with the mightiest monsters that Calamity Ganon can hurl in your direction. Smashing barrels or crates and cutting down enemies that cross your path does not keep you well-stocked the apples that you munch as healing items, which, while not wanting the game to be easier than it needs to be, was a frustration.
The game’s technical performance isn’t trouble-free either, which will already be clear to those that have rampaged through Hyrule Field in the game’s otherwise generous demo. While it continues to suffer the same issues that have hampered the musou series on the portable home console such as object and enemy pop-in, it is the frame rate that can infrequently prove problematic.
For the most part, my time with the game has been consistent, with frame rate dips that only momentarily detract from the thrill of the on-screen action. It is the Divine Beasts that highlight the game’s frame rate woes, the devastation that the mammoth Sheikah machines unleash upon thousands of enemies littered open-ended battlefield coming at a cost to the game’s stability. Not that these battles aren’t incredibly enjoyable, however.
Where Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition had once offered a healthy dose of fan service, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity delivers meaningful storytelling and a worthy prequel expansion to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild that is an absolute triumph which masterfully integrates its characters, world and gameplay systems.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo