Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity – A Surprisingly Deep Spin-Off

My experience with the demo version of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity wasn’t a good one, to say the least. Fast-paced, combo-heavy action games definitely aren’t my cup of tea, and at first it seemed Age of Calamity was no exception. It didn’t help that the game’s frame rate was unstable – especially in co-op play and handheld mode – and when frames start dropping, I tend to focus on the game’s performance more than I do the actual game.

Why did I decide to give the full version of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity a shot, then? I’m not exactly sure, but long story short, I’m almost seventy hours in. The game is much better than I expected, but I don’t think it’s for everyone. Unfortunately, this review is just a little bit late. I can’t get games early like some fancy review sites can, so it took me a few weeks to play through the entire campaign and come to a conclusion of my own. Nintendo, if you’re listening, call me and we can work something out.

Introduction

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity was one of several games announced and released during the COVID-19 pandemic. Following in Paper Mario: The Origami King’s footsteps, Age of Calamity was announced out of nowhere and released two months later! In terms of plot, the game is a prequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and takes place exactly a hundred years prior, so the story covers the events leading to the awakening of Calamity Ganon. Before we continue, I should mention we’ll be talking about the plot in just a bit — but there won’t be any spoilers, so if you’re trying to avoid them, you’re safe to continue reading! That being said, we will be spoiling Breath of the Wild’s story, so keep that in mind moving forward.

Personally, I’m not too keen on Musou games. If you don’t know this already, the term “Musou” refers to open hack-and-slash games that pit the player against hundreds of enemies at once. Generally speaking, I find these games somewhat repetitive and shallow by my (admittedly very specific) standards. I do believe Age of Calamity is an exception here, though, because I actually quite enjoyed it! Indeed, you do wind up fighting hundreds of enemies at a time, and it only gets repetitive sometimes.

Overall, then, does Age of Calamity stack up to Breath of the Wild? Not at all, but they’re two completely different games and you should go into both of them with a different set of expectations. If you’re expecting a masterpiece that revolutionizes the Musou genre, you’re not going to find that here; if you’re expecting to have a good time and beat up tons of monsters, you’ll find exactly that! On an unrelated note, this game also tracks your completion rate, so of course I had to 100% it! Now then, let’s kick off this review by focusing first on Age of Calamity’s storytelling and visuals.

Story & Presentation

If you’ve played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you probably have a good idea of what’s going to happen in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. As mentioned earlier, the game takes place prior to Calamity Ganon’s awakening, so most of its story chronicles Link, Zelda, and the four Champions’ attempts to prepare for the beast’s arrival. I don’t want to say too much about the story, because there are important spoilers you should avoid, as I find the plot’s overall direction rather interesting! I will say this: one thing I liked about Breath of the Wild is how lonely, quiet, and cold Hyrule felt. It made exploring and freeing the four Champions feel a lot more impactful, and unfortunately, that feeling is gone in Age of Calamity. Make no mistake — this game has an action-packed story with a lot of elements working alongside each other at once. It’s just a completely different feel than the one you’ll find in Breath of the Wild.

Now then, presentation. If you’ve seen Breath of the Wild’s aesthetic, you’ve seen Age of Calamity’s. For the most part, they’re one and the same! Much of Age of Calamity’s levels, models, and visuals are re-used, touched up, or directly ported, which makes sense because it does take place in the same world. At the time of writing, I haven’t yet published a Breath of the Wild review post, but I do really like its subtly-detailed art style and that aesthetic is once again on full display in Age of Calamity. You could perhaps argue that reusing so many graphics is lazy, but it’s an official Breath of the Wild prequel, so if any game can reuse its assets, it’s this one.

The game also includes several hours of fully-animated cutscenes, and they’re similar in quality (if not a bit better-looking) than Breath of the Wild’s. All of the voice actors from the 2017 title have returned (from what I could gather). I wasn’t a big fan of the voice acting in Breath of the Wild, though, and I’m not much a fan of it now. I’m glad it’s there, but I think some of the characters’ inflections come off as “fake”, cheesy, or unbelievably over-the-top sometimes. If I had to choose my favorite character voice, though, I’d say it’s Master Kohga’s. I think his voice perfectly fits his character!

Much of the game’s soundtrack is obscured by sound effects, so I had to take some time to listen to the music on my own. It’s definitely got its own feel to it; again, that quiet sadness from Breath of the Wild is gone, and in its place is a frantic and energetic OST that better suits the flow of battle. I think this is rather impressive, given that Breath of the Wild’s soundtrack was quite literally crafted to fit that game’s empty feeling, so the fact that Age of Calamity was able to make many of these same tracks sound naturally energetic is impressive. Despite playing almost seventy hours of the game, I can’t remember too many tracks off the top of my head. I chalk that up to the abundance of sound effects I mentioned earlier, though.

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity’s technical performance is disappointing, to say the least. The game targets a consistent 30 frames per second, but let me tell you: this goal falls flat on its figurative face, because the game does not consistently run at 30. There’s noticeable frame drops left and right, almost certainly due to the huge amount of enemies on-screen. Some characters’ attacks can drop the frame rate even further; one of the secret warriors has a special ability that makes the game much choppier, for example. In co-op, the frame rate is laughably poor, and sometimes runs like a literal slide show. The reduced frame rate didn’t mess up my input timing, but it is extremely noticeable and I found myself wondering how the game even got greenlit for release in some instances. If you’re the type of person who needs an action game to run at a consistent frame rate, you won’t find that here.

Other issues I noticed were parts of the environment popping in. Plants, rocks, and occasionally trees would suddenly appear. Small background elements, by all means, but still noticeable. Perhaps a larger issue is the game’s lengthy loading times, particularly when starting a mission. Some of them take over thirty seconds to load, and you’re often left staring at the screen until it finishes. Age of Calamity attempts to distract you from its long loading times, specifically in story missions, which plays voiceover dialogue during that loading transition. There’s no such dialogue in side quests, though, so in that case you really do just have to be patient and wait for the level to finish loading. All things considered, I do understand why the game’s performance is lackluster; the Switch isn’t a very powerful console and there’s often hundreds of entities on-screen at once. It’s a shame it couldn’t have been further optimized. Perhaps if there’s a Switch Pro in the future, we could see better frame rates?

Gameplay

As stated earlier on in the review, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a Musou game. You’re dropped into a large level and are tasked with using the Y and X buttons (the weak-attack and strong-attack buttons, respectively) to string together combos and defeat tons of small enemies. The flimsier enemies only take a hit or two before dying, but every once in a while, a “mid-boss” enemy will appear that you’ll need to beat. You can use Y and X to attack with powerful combos, but if you just mash buttons, the stronger foes are going to take a long time to beat. Instead, Age of Calamity has a weak-point gauge, which is kind of like a second health-bar. When the enemy completes an attack, their weak-point gauge appears and you’re able to deal damage to the gauge in addition to their health bar. When the gauge breaks, the enemy becomes stunned and you’re able to move in and attack with an extremely powerful weak-point smash. Each character can use the Sheikah Slate’s four Runes – Stasis, Cryonis, Remote Bombs, and Magnesis – to intercept enemies’ attacks and make their weak-point gauges appear. It might take you an hour or two to learn the inputs for attacks, blocking, dodging, and the Sheikah Slate Runes, but once you get the hang of them it’s no problem.

Speaking of characters, there are a lot of playable ones. You start out with Link, of course, and you eventually unlock others such as Zelda and the four Champions (Mipha, Daruk, Revali, and Urbosa). As you can imagine, each character has a unique moveset and uses the Sheikah Slate Runes in a different way. There’s a lot to learn about each warrior, so players who like stringing together flashy combos will have a lot of practicing to do! Or you could just take my route and try mashing buttons anyway. Personally, my favorite character to use was Mipha, as her attacks are fast and have a lot of range. Some of the characters felt slow or had wonky hitboxes that took me too long to get used to, so I pretty much only played as Mipha wherever possible. I imagine this might be the case for many of you, too — you’ll find your favorite warrior to use and focus on playing as them. There are many other secret characters to unlock, but I won’t spoil any of them here.

Age of Calamity is broken up into missions, which can be accessed from a world map. This map is identical to the one seen on the Sheikah Slate in Breath of the Wild, so it’s going to be familiar to some of you! There are a lot of missions to complete, and upon selecting one, you can either jump right in or cook a meal (using materials and ingredients you’ll find throughout the game) to boost your stats. In addition to story missions and side quests, there are “fetch quests” of sorts that appear on the world map. Depending on the quest, you’ll need to gather a certain amount of materials or defeat a certain number of enemies. These fetch quests aren’t actual levels, though, they’re map icons that require items and then give you a reward in exchange. I would’ve liked to see a bit more complexity with these, but there are plenty of playable missions on offer regardless.

Over the course of the main story, you’re also able to control each of the four Champions’ respective Divine Beasts; Vah Ruta, Vah Rudania, Vah Naboris, and Vah Medoh. Neat concept, but the execution feels kind of sloppy. The Divine Beast sections utilize motion controls, and aiming with these is a hassle especially if you’re playing handheld mode. Thankfully, these motion controls can be turned off, though I didn’t actually figure that out until I had already beaten the game. Still, I think these sections could have been fleshed out a bit more with a larger moveset and smoother aiming.

Aside from the game’s performance, there are two more issues I ran into. One of them is the camera. You’re able to move it around with the right control stick, but it gets a bit jittery sometimes since the camera is a three-dimensional object. If a player is standing with their back to a wall, the camera tries to position itself directly behind the character, which can temporarily prevent you from seeing what’s going on. My biggest issue with the game came towards the final level: enemies start getting re-used a lot. The Blight Ganons appear as bosses in Age of Calamity, and you have to fight all four of them several times if you want to complete every mission. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I got tired of fighting Thunderblight Ganon after the fifth time. The game’s final boss even finds itself reused in a few post-game missions. I just don’t really see a point in fighting these enemies again just for the sake of a challenge.

I think an important takeaway here is that Age of Calamity is a good game that gets repetitive towards the end. If you don’t like the combat system in the demo, you’re probably not going to like the actual game. I did mention that I disliked the demo but liked the full version, though I imagine that’s not going to be a common opinion among others.

The Verdict

The game certainly has its weaknesses, but on the whole, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity surprised me. It’s deeper than I thought it was going to be, and I certainly didn’t expect to play it for almost seventy hours! Again, it’s probably best to play the demo version first; your progress will transfer to the full game, so you don’t have to worry about playing the introduction level twice.

At the time of writing, Breath of the Wild’s true sequel is still in development. Age of Calamity is just a side project of sorts, but it’s surprisingly in-depth and true to the source material. I think any hardcore Zelda fan would appreciate this game even though its gameplay is drastically different from a traditional Zelda game. If you’re looking for some mindless fun – perhaps with a second player – then Age of Calamity is worth looking into. Just be prepared to run into some frame rate issues, especially in handheld co-op mode.

If you would like to read more opinion posts, please follow this link.


crest

Post a Comment