Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity Review: No Missing Links
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was released just over three years ago. Wow, it doesn’t feel like it was that long ago. Gliding from the Great Plateau for the first time, climbing up the Sheikah Towers and seeing glimpses of 100 years ago when the calamity happened. We know that there is a sequel on the way, but in the meantime we are getting a little treat in the form of a pseudo-prequel – Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity.
If you’ve played the original Hyrule Warriors then you’ll know what you’re in for. The same goes for any of the Dynasty Warriors, Fire Emblem Warriors or One Piece Pirate Warriors games. Link and friends are once again hack and slashing their way through armies of monsters. Make ever-increasingly extravagant combos with light and heavy attacks as you capture outposts and take down tough larger enemies getting in your way. Build up your special attack gauge and unleash even more over-the-top attacks to do some big damage. Most enemies can be dispatched with a bit of stabbin’, but the Moblins and Wizrobes have meters you have to wear down before you can cut them down.
While the original Hyrule Warriors was a cool crossover of characters and locations from the Zelda series, Age of Calamity is focused solely on the Breath of the Wild. Presented as a prequel to Breath of the Wild, it becomes a little more complicated. The story begins during the worst of the calamity, a small egg-shaped guardian manages to escape the corruption Ganon spreads and creates a portal that sends it back in time. Arriving not long before the calamity, the guardian is able to warn Zelda and Link of the events that lead to BotW. Zelda still is yet to find her power to seal away Ganon. They need to get pilots for the four Divine Beasts to try and stop the impending evil. On top of everything else lurking In the shadows, the Yiga Clan are plotting with a mysterious stranger. Ganon might not be the only worry.
There’s only so much I can really go into with the story. I would love to talk about it more because it really goes places. The very existence of the egg guardian means that events have been changed as the team prepares for what’s to come. By the end you will find out how this game fits into the series. Regardless of what that is, this game is a pleasant moment of respite from the state of our world in general.
You start off with Link, Zelda and Impa as everything kicks off. It’s not long before you’re off to gather up the champions to get the four Divine Beasts up and running. Given that we don’t get much time with the champions in BotW, it’s nice to get a game where they have more time to shine. As you go you’ll collect more characters to join on the quest to save Hyrule, only I can’t talk about them. Rest assured there will be more! Some become available through the story, and some you have to work a little harder to unlock. Given that the Breath of the Wildiverse doesn’t have the same expansive roster that Hyrule Warriors drew from, they make some surprising additions.
Everyone on the roster keeps the combat feeling fresh, between the offence-focused to the technical attacks and everything in between. Link feels the most versatile, being able to wield several types of weapons. The others all generally stick to the one type. But their attacks and combos make every character feel different. The whole roster also has access to the Sheikah Slate abilities – Cryosis, Magnesis, Remote Bombs and Stasis. These can be used any time in combat, although they are most useful when a bigger monster has the corresponding icon appear over their head. Hitting them with the correct ability will stun them and let you chip away at their health. You might not be able to get as creative as you could with Link in the shrines and dungeons, but they are still a cool addition when you get to throw a giant weapon back in a big jerks face.
Now where would the champions be without their Divine Beasts – Van Medoh, Van Ruta, Van Rudinia and Van Naboris. While they are a little too big for the usual battlefield, they get their own sequences to join the fight. Previously the most you experienced of these behemoths was when you were trying to survive and free them from Calamity Ganon’s hold. Now you get to wield their mighty power, wiping out groups of monsters with each laser blast. Like each champion, each Beast operates differently. Whether it’s Van Medoh fighting from the sky, Van Rudania crawling along the ground up close, or Van Naboris charging through anything in their path. Some missions contain segments controlling the Beasts, but there are also side missions that are focussed on piloting them. I never expected that the Divine Beasts would actually be playable, it’s definitely not what you’d see in the usual Warriors game.
They’re an alright distraction when you want to take out those damned Lynels with a few laser blasts in a therapeutic moment of comeuppance. I just wish that they were more enjoyable to control, though in a way you can hardly expect these titans to move swiftly. Any time-limited battles stop feeling as fun, as the beasts are slow to maneuver. These Beast missions are a small part of the game, so if they don’t wind up gelling with you outside of when they show up in the story you can easily avoid them too.
What really got me was returning to the locations all over Hyrule, taking me back to the many hours playing BotW as I tried to scour every corner of the map. While not every familiar haunt makes the cut, it covers plenty. Not only are you revisiting these areas, but you’re also seeing them in a pre-Calamity state. It was nice to be back in this world, even if the battle going on makes it hard to step back and get a better look. Even if you don’t get to visit locations or be location adjacent, it doesn’t mean they’re forgotten.
It’s not just the main story missions that you’ll be spending the next 15-30 hours on, there are many side quests that unlock the more you do along the way. Some are character specific, some let you choose anyone but have other limitations. I found myself in many races against time, tasked with capturing strongholds or defeating the tougher monsters. They’re much shorter than the story missions, some only lasting a few minutes. The side missions are a good way to work on Link’s experience level if you’re having trouble with the later story missions. As is usual with these games you can purchase levels for your team, bringing them up to pace, but they can only go as high as Link’s level. Both story and side missions have recommended levels. While they won’t stop you if you’re not quite there yet, I found I was either a level lower or a few higher. You can get pretty far into the game without spending much time grinding in the side missions, until the home stretch where I recommend keeping a few levels above and making sure you have a few members of the team upgraded.
While you can’t explore Hyrule like you could in BotW, it doesn’t mean that you won’t come across some familiar activities. You can unlock recipes for cooking when you gather enough ingredients, although it’s a shame you don’t get the catchy cooking jingle and animation this time around. You can use these meals to give you a boost for the missions, if you’re slightly underleveled a 7% damage boost can help out. Even the Koroks make an appearance, still hiding in pinwheels, crates or on suspicious markings on the ground. Hit the Y button when you find the right spot and Yahaha, you’ve got yourself a Korok and the familiar seeds used to boost your inventory.
Instead of having upgrade/ability trees, HW:AOC has chosen to integrate unlockables into the map. Now you have locations on the map you can unlock with enough resources to add extra combo attacks, add more hearts, extra special attack gauges or faster Sheikah Slate cooldowns. It might help populate the map with a lot of extra icons, but as a result the map feels a little too cluttered. The further into the game you get, the more map icons you’ll have on there. It gets to a point you need to go to the menu that lets you filter through each character’s upgrades instead of searching amongst a sea of icons. I get that upgrade trees can be boring, but you shouldn’t make them more frustrating either. Fusing weapons also returns when you visit the blacksmith. Link accumulates a lot of crappy quality weapons so you’ll never be short on fodder to upgrade with. If you want, you can get technical with it and make sure you’re only levelling up your weapons with bonus buffs that carry over. I managed fine just fusing all my excess junk weapons, when I had the rupees to do it. Eventually I was always having to sell off a bunch of tree branches and brooms from my encumbered inventory. Not having enough space for weapons might be familiar to anyone who’s played BotW, you’ll be happy to hear the weapons don’t break or lose durability. Merchants are also unlocked along the way, and like the upgrade system they can be accessed by a side menu. It doesn’t keep it from being a little tedious having to go from store to store to stock up on resources.
On the less powerful Switch hardware, one of the big questions will be how the game performs. Upfront, none of the Warriors games run that great, not on the Switch at least. Though they’ve always run more than well enough, and HW:AOC is the same. If you played the demo you’ll have noticed special attacks can bring the framerate down, and as usual for a Warriors game the draw distance isn’t the greatest either. Previous Warriors games on the Switch have allowed you to get a better performance out of Docked mode. HW:AOC runs nicely docked without fiddling with any settings. In handheld mode the framerate holds up the majority of the time. The most noticeable moments where there was any struggle were big special attacks or when there were several characters doing big combos. Besides the odd moment, the game handles a lot of enemies at once while you’re beating them up with flashy over the top attacks. On top of all of that the game retains the same visual style as BotW, everything still looks beautiful even if you can’t really stand around and admire it. Not only does it still look great but it runs better than BotW.
As with other Warriors games you can play in Multiplayer mode over a split screen. While you can usually order your other characters around the map, it’s nice having someone to fight alongside, It feels like a missed opportunity to not have a four player Champions mode. When in the split screen mode the framerate does take a hit, completely understandable. It never really impacts the game, although if you play using a Joy Con each the workaround for less buttons isn’t ideal.
With the Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition also available on the Switch. The Wii U version didn’t originally release with so much content and some of that was DLC and then it got messy when there was new DLC across both the Wii U and 3DS versions. With the definitive edition there is no doubt there is a lot of Hyrule Warriors, so with HW:AOC it can feel a bit lighter. Now as I said, Hyrule Warriors didn’t start off so jam packed, so it’s possible there is more to come. While it doesn’t have an Adventure mode, there is still a lot to do and more does open up as you play the side missions. I can only hope they at least bring Linkle back one day.