Technical Data Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Omega Force
Release Date: 20.11.2020
Played: Nintendo Switch
If you would enjoy Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity depends entirely on your tolerance for pressing buttons over and over again. So just like in every other video game. But more serious: Age of Calamity is a musou game, a Dynasty Warriors spin off. A Hack and slash in which you will fight a gigantic amount of enemies at once. Age of Calamity also is a canon prequel to Breath of the Wild. Which defines it more than its predecessor Hyrule Warriors (2014). The new game improves on nearly every aspect of the original and the general musou formula. But arguably the biggest draw to the game will be the fact, that it is not only a canon story but that it is connected to Breath of the Wild, one of the best Zelda games in recent history.
Not so endless waves of endless waves of enemies
In comparison to the little I have played of the Warriors series, Age of Calamity is a real improvement of the formular. In most of these games you battle an endless number of enemies, and try to capture different outposts, with some variation in the enemies and the maps, and a boss thrown in there. While this structure largely still applies for Age of Calamity, the mission structure and the maps is where much improved, and with it the grind of the game somewhat reduced. Somewhat because the gameplay is still very much the same. Use a combination of normal and heavy attacks to build up a special meter to unleash a devastating special attack. I for one didn’t really bother with learning much of them. I learned one for Mipha that did propel me forward to use while running through some crowds of low level enemies - same for Link. That doesn’t mean the player doesn’t get a sense of how to play the different characters or which button to hit, but it is still pretty meaningless for the most part. As are the little enemies. You can just kill them with some hits, and it takes for the most part a long time for them to hit you if you don’t move at all.
The mission design had not that much change to it either. Side missions are little focused challenges - kill a set number of enemies in a time limit or a specific one. But there is some change to it. They are much tighter and almost none of them focus on capturing a large part of the map. And also the time limit can be quite unforgiving if you are at the end faced with the rest of the enemies scattered around the map, the changes are an improvement.
The general structure of side missions is nothing too crazy. The above mentioned is paired with zero hit challenges, training missions for specific characters and skills. Most of these take under 10 minutes to complete. In some missions, mostly as an introduction to a main mission, the player pilots one of the four Divine Beasts. Sadly these are not that fun. You mostly run around in a stiff giant unable to really see the enemies, that are just tiny dots. It has a way different pace - which could be good in a game in which you frantically fight a big number of enemies. It isn’t. Revali’s Beast Vah Medoh is the best to control, but still not that fun. All of these missions are just tedious. The main challenges then are where the game shines a bit more. Introduced with a full animated cutscene the main missions are long epics and what the most people may expect from the game. In them there is more of what the game really set out to do. Capture the events of the calamity wars, of what happens 100 years before Breath of the Wild. These challenges are more complex with turns, and bigger maps. Here it feels way more exciting to battle large groups of monsters when it is in the fight for Fort Hateno or Akkala Tower. When it is against Ganon or one of the other bosses of the game. The main missions may be more of a warriors game, but there is a reason why Nintendo partnered with Omega Force and Koei Tecmo to develop this part of the Zelda franchise. And the magnitude they get with the big main battles give them the right to do so.
Champion a Character
All the main characters you expect are here, most of them are also in Botw. (Even so the game is out now for more than a month I will not go into spoilers here.) You can play as the four champions Mipha, Rivali, Daruk and Urbosa. Naturally Link, Zelda, and Impa. All of them feel different and so do the one you can unlock. The roaster is maybe not as big as the one of Hyrule Warriors (2014). But that game was way more fanservice, then this one and had not a limited scope to pull characters from. Still with the characters there the roaster is quite sizable. More important is that even the characters that could be just a copy of others are unlike them. Sure I had my favorit and Hestus or Revali are not amidst them. Mipha played as fluid as you could wish from a water dwelling Zora. It just feeled brilliantly impactful to hit “ZR” and let the lava of one of Daruks Combos explode. My absolute favorite was Impa so - sadly not Zelda. She is also my personal tipp if you struggle in the game. Link and Zelda start out with the least combos and have the most progress. All the clothing from Botw returns for Link and he has even three very distinged fighting styles with sword and shield, spear, and longsword. The progress with these characters is flawed. All of it in Age of Calamity is managed over quests. On missions you get materials - drops from monsters, plants and completing a mission - and with them you help people around Hyrule. In return you will get new Combos for characters, heart pieces or special gauges. But the game gets infinitely more grindy if you try to progress with all characters. It’s probably best to focus on the ones you like and the main characters you will need to use - Zelda and Link. You will need obscenely large amounts of money and monster parts otherwise. Money will be drained by the black smith to update weapons and by the training camp if you want to try and get one of your characters to the right level. The economical loop of Age of Calamity is not the best. I did also need to replay some of the sidequests, because I was too underleveled at some point to play the main missions. And while it is generally possible to complete them when at least one of the characters is around the right level, if not it can be annoyingly hard with the damage adding up to fast. Every finished main mission opens up new side missions and quests - until your map is filled with too many of them. And while the map can be navigated with submenus it is still a mess. Finding a specific thing out of all the little icons is hard and if you finish a quest it will still crowded the map just slightly darker. Yes, there is the sheikah sensor that can help you keep track of a quest and will show you which missions to complete for the items needed. Navigating the map can be a chore.
Mushou Breath of the Wild?
The whole map is just the map of Botw. As are most of the assets and the art style. It makes Age of Calamity a beautifully stunning cell shaded game. The colours are vibrant with a really pleasing pallet. Featuring the same red and green tones as contrasts as Botw. Some of the new enemies like elemental Moblins are just fabulous to behold and I would be gladly seeing them come back in the Breath of the Wild sequel. But there is more. Weapons and clothing return for link as does cooking. While it was a necessity in Botw, here it brings you buffs before a battle. You just select a recipe and cook away. It is a neat thing but just a side note. Something that fits the game more and therefore is a good addition.
The story was marketed as the big thing. Something the Zelda devs felt not being able to do justice in a regular Zelda game. And I can see why. The Warriors style fits better. But it also means you don’t have time to see Hyrule Castle and explore it in its glory and might before the fall. There is neither the freedom nor the time for that. Which is a disappointment. As is the story overall. While it has its epic moments where you will see the fall of Hyrule, it takes it time to begin. It will see you through not only Zelda finding her true power but introducing the champions again and giving Link somewhat of an arc to become the “Knight who seals the darkness”. Ultimately it falls flat for me. Spoiler for the ending below.* Still there are some good story moments Although the tone is a bit comical in some instances.
Lastly there is the performance of the game. It isn’t great. Especially the two player multiplayer is hit by some framerate problems. When both players unleash a special attack the game will see a large amount of slowdown. This problem is not as bad for the singleplayer. Although it can make some of the large special attacks feel even more epic. Since they are mostly way over the top, and often a bit slowed down anyway it doesn’t play that bad. There is some popin for grass textures in handheld mode. All in all it Age of Calamity plays fine on Switch. Mostly as good as expected but it is playable quite well.
Age of Calamity has some problems. There is the performance, and some of it’s set pieces. And the biggest caviart for most may be the warriors style gameplay. Ultimately the gameplay proved to be quite robust and less grindy. Sure still a warriors game at heart, Age of Calamity can be a lot of fun. And while the story was a let down for me personally I think it still is a game worth to play, if the player tolerates the warriors gameplay.
Spoiler: My problem with Age of Calamity is that the ending doesn’t stick the landing. Taunted as a sequel for Botw it actually isn’t. Because of time travel the game gets turned around a fair bit. Ganon is defeated and banished which makes this game the beginning of a new Zelda timeline. And while I am not opposed in general to that for me it lets the story down. I wanted to see the full hard ending - the gritty consequences of the Calamity War. That way I feel like it devalidates Botw somewhat. And while I can appreciate the team at Omega Force wanting to have a good ending in a game that probably has a large audience of younger children as it is on the switch. To have a game that while with large ties to Botw* still stands on its own. But Zelda always struggled with the balance of expectations of older gamers and the wish to develop for a younger audience.