The new mechanics and abilities from Breath of the Wild add much-needed variety and depth to the Hyrule Warriors formula. This makes Age of Calamity one of the best musou games we’ve ever played.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is the second time Omega Force, a subsidiary of Koei Tecmo Games, shared with us their unique vision of The Legend of Zelda as a hack-and-slash action title. Their previous go, Hyrule Warriors, quickly became the best-selling title on Nintendo’s ill-fated WiiU console, and you can’t help but wonder if the Wii U’s limited player base was holding the title back.
While that first Hyrule Warriors title was a light, arcade-y fusion of Zelda’s iconic aesthetic and the musou combat that is Omega Force’s forte, it’s simple combat and the lackluster story made it feel inadequate.
This time around, with the blessings and support of the official Zelda team at Nintendo, Omega Force has finally shown us the potential of their vision. New utility items and skills lifted straight out of Breath of the Wild add much-needed variety to the combat, and it’s all wrapped up in a compelling narrative that keeps players engaged throughout the button mashing.
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Going From Good To Great
Age of Calamity, despite carrying the Hyrule Warriors title, is the prequel to Breath of the Wild. Set during the Great Calamity, the player takes control of a star-studded cast of Zelda characters as they fight the forces of evil. This takes place a full century before Link’s awakening in the Shrine of Resurrection that kicks off the events in Breath of the Wild.
Musou games are all about fulfilling power fantasies and allowing players to step into the shoes of legendary heroes. For games in this genre, it is often enough to just allow the player button mash their way through hundreds of enemies at once.
The original Hyrule Warriors was exactly that with a Legend of Zelda reskinning. This isn’t a criticism of the genre — sometimes we just want to spend a few hours mindlessly hacking away at bots — but it’s good to see Age of Calamity changing up the formula a bit.
The game’s roster of playable characters offers a healthy mix of established superstars and interesting newcomers to the Zelda universe. Each character has its creative arsenal of skills and weapons, and you can chain together heavy and light attacks to create combinations that are immensely satisfying to pull off.
For example, Link carries his famous bow into battle, allowing him to take potshots from a distance, while Impa can use her Seal to create shadow duplicates of herself. Players also have the option to unleash a Special Attack which deals massive damage but consumes a bar from their Special Meter.
Where Age of Calamity stands out from its musou competitors is in its collection of innovative utility items and skills.
You can find items scattered throughout the various stages, then assign them to a button for instant access — a system that visually and mechanically mirrors the item system in the Legend of Zelda series.
Some of the items are your typical RPG fare: foods for healing, fish that add special passive effects like elemental resistance, and so on. There are also crafting and cooking systems here that make it worth your while to explore the stages in search of treasure chests and raw ingredients.
Players can also pick up objects and use them as weapons, a mechanic we first saw in Breath of the Wild. You can also Shield Surf and lift objects with Magnesis. With these combat abilities and the special effects of food and armor, it feels like there are multiple strategies for dealing with enemies.
The many enemy variations, mostly lifted from Breath of the Wild, all have their own resistance and weaknesses. Any player that spends a bit of time preparing for a big fight will find their dedication rewarded greatly.
The pre-fight preparation is almost reminiscent of the oils and mantras system in The Witcher. While the system in Age of Calamity isn’t nearly as involved as that system in The Witcher 3, it still adds a layer of strategic depth that makes combat in Age of Calamity incredibly satisfying.
A Loving Tribute
Since it’s a musou title, Age of Calamity doesn’t offer the same focus on exploration and discovery as Breath of the Wild. Addictive and exciting combat is the goal, and Omega Force has knocked it out of the park.
Admittedly, a lot of what elevates Age of Calamity above its predecessor can be attributed to skills and mechanics introduced in Breath of the Wild.
Every inch of Age of Calamity feels like a loving tribute to Breath of the Wild, and it is chock full of easter eggs and obscure references to that game that fans of the series will love. But while Breath of the Wild was an excellent game, it feels good to finally spend some time being someone other than Link.
The Switch is certainly no gaming powerhouse, and it shows when playing Age of Calamity. The console struggles when the screen is filled with monsters and visual effects. This is a big issue for a game where the player is regularly dealing with dozens of enemies at once.
Omega Force has made attempts to compensate for this by implementing a dynamic resolution and reducing draw distance. However, this results in noticeable pop-ins as objects and characters load into your screen.
Though these all may be an issue for players accustomed to better performance in their games, they aren’t particularly game-breaking. Thankfully, the controls remain responsive even when the frame rate drops.
You can also dock your Switch to your TV to squeeze a few more frames-per-second of performance out of the console.
A Tale To Tie It All Together
Age of Calamity benefits greatly from having a cohesive and coherent tale to tell. While that first Hyrule Warriors suffered from an unconvincing motive — essentially a forced reason to bring together Hyrule’s most identifiable characters — Age of Calamity’s status as a prequel to Breath of the Wild has given the game a clear direction to take its tale.
It’s not perfect — character development is non-existent and there’s no attempt to reconcile Zelda’s shy, timid characterization with her violent effectiveness on the battlefield. But it’s enough to justify the existence of these characters. Its ties with Breath of the Wild also give it an instant sense of urgency, as we have some idea of the importance of the Great Calamity within the context of Breath of the Wild’s timeline.
The Final Word
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a game that stands head and shoulders above other musou titles. It allows players to live out the power fantasy of taking on hundreds of enemies in one fell swoop but does it with a flair and creativity atypical of the genre.
The new mechanics and inventory system adds strategic depth to the combat that serves to complement the straightforward hacking and slashing. Fans of musou games or fans of Zelda should give Age of Calamity a fair shot. And if you’re a fan of both, it should be an instant buy.
You can purchase Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity here for £49.99.
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