After the success of the first Hyrule Warriors, it’s no surprise Nintendo become more involved in this seconda Zelda X Warriors crossover project when the idea came about. Actually, even more than expected, the choice to make Age Of Calamity a story prequel to Breath Of The Wild is bold, as in most Warriors crossovers of series like this are non-canonical excuses to get many characters from the franchise together and let them fight in huge hack n slash battles.
Now that i’ve played the base Breath Of The Wild game (so i could give a better assessment) and i know the story enough, i can get to talk about Age Of Calamity and address the first, big question, as in, do you need to have played BOTW before playing this prequel? And it is really a prequel?
“Not really” for both is the answer.
While it will be more enjoyable to players who already experienced BOTW, as you manage to do and see things that couldn’t happen at that time, there really isn’t much that Age Of Calamity can spoil about BOTW, not much that wasn’t public knowledge, as in used to describe and sell the game or so discussed and talked about is basically known by most “gamers”. I mean, this isn’t like Fire Emblem Warriors that actually spoiled a non-insignicant fact about FE Awakening in its storyline.
On the other hand, it’s not quite a prequel because right away the game introduces a mini-Guardian and time travel, as the thing (alongside something else) is flung 100 years into the past, when the kingdom of Hyrule was preparing to face the menace known as Calamity Ganon, its return prophetized long ago. But the Guardian basically does the “good Terminator” thing and lets them know of what is gonna happen soon, even bringing evidence and data to back it up, letting everyone prepare in advance. But they’re not the only ones aware of this…
While it does take place 100 years before the events of BOTW….. it’s more a spin-off than a prequel, kinda bit of both, so Nintendo claiming that this tells of the events preceding the Calamity is an half-truth, one that wasn’t that necessary, since the first chapter sees the plot basically retcons stuff from BOTW, and basically creating – as the game itself calls it – a splintered timeline.
And yes, while i had my doubts about this being a prequel in full, i do understand frustrated players that were quite open to the idea, but instead witnessed the narrative taking the usual cop-out these Warriors spin-off usual do… but usually with an original story and characters that get to meet up with an ensemble of characters from other iterations of the franchise. And some of the reasons and explanations to the obvious questions that arise from the time travel and portals… are there, but not explained that well in cutscenes, more in the description of the scenes in the gallery and in “tips” on the loading screens. Yeah, maybe don’t do that.
If anything, i wish they could have come out with a better story, since i feel they were gonna… pretty much HAVE to invent stuff, i mean, according to what we learnt from BOTW, it’s not like that much happened before Calamity Ganon awakened, with the Champions and the Hyrule army trying in vain to fight before Zelda “did the thing”. Or better, it’s not that stuff didn’t happen, but that would have required to go further back in Hyrule history, and that would take the narrative away from either events that made sense to adapt as musou battles or the stuff from BOTW.
Still, i don’t hate the story, i’m… ok with it, and i enjoy getting to know more of the Champions and characters, i just wish they actually tried a lot more instead of the cop-out we got, but i guess this is Nintendo for you, still, which is extra ironic given their “canon” on Zelda timelines for decades.
Gameplay-wise, it’s definitely Hyrule Warriors, which is already quite good, and they further improved upon repurposing elements from the main Zelda series into the Warriors style gameplay, and in this case translating many features of Breath of The Wild, with every character being able to use the main Sheikah Plate functions as special auxiliary attacks, timed last-minute dodging or perfect parries giving you a chance to chip at the “weakness gauge” (also displayed after certain attacks) of medium and strong enemies with a flurry, so you can do a stylish finisher.
This is improved as in now medium enemies feel a bit less uncaring of what you do (to a point, it’s a musou so they can’t just flinch forever if you keep the pressure) and less spongy, as in the finishing move now actually kills and well, finishes medium enemies. Of course this doesn’t apply to very strong enemies and boss characters, who offer some challenge even on Normal.There are no direct equivalent of the giant monsters from the first Hyrule Warriors, but there was no point in crowbarring them since there are plenty of high tier enemies that require a lot of “finishers”.
Also, if there are walls nearby, you can do a contextual wall jump to start aerial attacks, or use the Paraglider (or equivalent) to remain airborne. The Sheikah powers also work as counters to specific enemy attacks (and this time you’re told via icons what ability to use to counter the enemy attack, but you gotta be quick), and you can equip and use Elemental Rods to trigger enviromental reactions (and pieces of the scenario are destructible to that end), like using Ice on water freezes the enemies, Electricity can be charged to metal objects, grass spreads fire, etc.
They really did implement many staples or common elements from Breath of The Wild, down to having Boblin skull-shaped caves with treasures and hidden Koroks, completely optional and minor, but they are nice, give you some reason to explore the levels a bit (still, i’d recommend doing so in the post-game, for various reasons) and the game even lets you equip the garbage weapons here as well, like the stick or the boblin wood mace. And yes, HERE they don’t break after being used 3-6 times, at most.
The game uses the standard Charge System seen in most Dynasty Warriors title, the standard level up system (instead of the weird thing they tried with Pirate Warriors 4), the maps do feature the fairly typical Empires-style capture base system, but also are more “free-form” and less dependant on bases dictating the flow of battle (or morale, for that matter), a trend more common in recent Warriors titles by Omega Force. The Sheikah abilities can also function as items to remove obstructions, like using bombs will reveal gusts of wind that’ll let you reach otherwise unaccessible parts of the map, but thankfully the maps are well designed and never too big or confusing.
When the story calls for it, you can even controls the Divine Beasts, which are surprisingly fun to use, with plenty of weapons, attacks and even counters for projectiles. I mean, using a giant mecha monster to kill thousands of small fries should be quite fun in itself, but often these section feel stuffy… not here, they’re quite fun and are used just right to provide variety. And the game knows it, that it unlocks single extra missions on the world map for when you wanna use the Divine Beasts again and just kill thousands of enemies with lasers and ice projectiles and stuff.
A returning feature is the commands systems (seen in SW handheld titles and later added in Hyrule Warriors Legends), so when you have multiple playable characters available on the map, you can switch to or order them to move to a specific point in the map or attack an officer-type enemy. It lacks the emphasis on base control being essential as seen in the original Hyrule Warriors or spin-offs like Pirate Warriors 3, but this strikes a good balance between keeping the base capture system and randomly forgoing for nothing else, as exemplified by the disappointing Berserk Band Of The Hawk, so there is less of a continuos backtracking to and from bases and objectives.
One thing that was bound to be “disappointing” compared to the first Hyrule Warriors is the character roster, as in this one can’t simply draw from decades of Zelda games for the characters, but it is bound mostly to what characters there were in BOTW, basically, for story reasons, so no Linkle, no Agitha killing people with bugs or no Zant cackling like an idiot while spinning a murderous Beyblade.
Is this is an actual issue?
Not really (especially if you consider the DE also added tons of DLC characters and TONS of content), since each character is well rounded, for example, while Daruk is a heavy hitter and not made for air combat, you can still use the magma pieces created by his heavy combos as props to start aerial combos, instead of just exploding the magma pieces left around to damage enemies. Quite good workaround, too, since you have a button for the evasive dash instead of jumping, like most DW spin-offs.
Each characters feels different, with some having specific playstiles, variations to the combo strings, or unique attacks that can be activated like Zelda triggering a deployed array of Sheika Plate items, powering the next special attacks, etc. And most importantly, all the playable characters are a lot of fun to use, even the medium officers-type enemies can put up more of a fight than usual on the standard difficulty setting. Also,some has multiple movesets, and they are all really damn good, even the basic “shield & sword” for Link is great, but the spear and one-handed (as in halberd/samurai sword/claymores/axes) for him are excellent as well.
And you get some surprising oddball character to play as, like the giant Korok with maracas Hestu, a character that uses frigging seals to combat people, and others i won’t spoil. I will say that you get to play as pretty much all the characters you’d think would make sense to have playable (aside from the new villain, i kinda expected him to be playable), all with new movesets that are varied even between character that use a similar weapon, or belong to the same type or ethnicity. So, for example, Daruk is still a Goron with heavy hitting slow moves, but he has his own different moves and gimmicks that set him apart from Darunia of the original Hyrule Warriors. Zero cloning.
Given the absolute disaster it was in DW 9, it’s no wonder Age of Calamity doesn’t have an open world, even if it would make sense in this case… but Omega Force clearly can’t do them, so i won’t miss it. I’ve seen what Omega Force did when they had the chance to make an open world musou, i’ve played more of 20 hours of Dynasty Warriors 9, “sets a good foundation” my ass, it was absolute garbage every way you sliced it.And i don’t want every fucking game to have “open worlds” full of boring shit just for the sake of it, at the expense of anything else. Sick of it.
Instead, in a coherent fashion with BOTW, Age Of Calamity basically uses a refined version of the world map system from Warriors All Stars (minus the hub location and the way that game handled the path to various endings), so from the Hyrule map you can access story missions, engage in some challenge battles with special rules, offer resources to complete side-missions, which reward you with other side-missions, cooking recipes, extra combo strings, more health, and unlock facilities like the blacksmith, the training grounds to level up characters with rupees, and so on.
Anyway, soon you’ll see the map filled with icons of battles, sidequest, merchants, and stuff, but in this case you’ll be glad to, this isn’t an Ubisoft open world game, after all. And you’re given way to wade through the content via menus or listed by recommend level, etc, which is useful, especially if you’re searching for a specific mission in post-game. You can also register some quests so to know where to go to find the required materials and items, quite useful in the long run.
Yeah, this means there’s no Adventure mode, arguably one of the better extra modes for a musou title ever, but with this map system that bakes in Free Mode and the usual ensemble of challenge missions you’d find in that mode (time limit, restricted use of items, making you use just some specific characters, etc), unlocking weapons, costumes and characters feel more organic, and – for better or for worst – is far less grindy. But i’m not saying that game lacks content or that Koei and Nintendo lowered the base content for this “sequel”, it’s far from short.
The story missions (with a moderate sampling of the side activities for grinding and for useful things, which will come in handy since the game becomes quite hard and challenging in the last chapters even on Normal) can be finished in 25 hours, more if you decide to do all the side missions , but still, it’s a meaty campaign, a good balance between some very thin, quick and cheap musou campaign that are there to just give an excuse and method to unlock characters, and the bloaty excess of Dragon Quest Heroes II’s campaign, which was too big for its own good.
And there are a lot of quests to do, battles to fight, stuff to upgrade, so much that even after 40 hours i wasn’t yet at 70 % completition, and it’s fun to replay the story stages, even more when they fall under the “Red Moon” so monsters are tougher and the recommendel level rises a lot. I would gladly pay for another world map full of stuff like this as DLC, but the point is that the content is good, and the overall package feels already complete as it launched, without having to wait for paid DLC that can add back the preemptively cut-out “slice o’ pie”.
Gotta say, it looks quite good, of course it uses a lot of assets from Breath of The Wild, but this isn’t Warriors Orochi, and overall, it looks legit. Is exactly how you would expect a Zelda game that is shaped after BOTW. Music is very good too, i love the Yiga themes, especially, Koei has always had pretty good composers, and this game reconfirms it.
A sour note is the performance. I played the demo and already expressed qualms when i wrote the hands-on of that… and they were well founded “fears”. I mean, i’ve played Fire Emblem Warriors on the New 3DS, and if you have played musou games for long….. there’s a good chance you’re not particularly “fussy” in this regard. But still, even with 1.01 patch, the framerate can go from good to jerky fairly regularly, especially in handheld mode, but even in docked mode, there is still a noticeable pop-up of textures and enemies. As i said, this is less of an issue in some challenge battles that take place in a smaller secluded part of a story map, there it runs better and the game manages to spawn a lot more enemies on screen at once, but of course it should.
And it’s hard to go from Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition to this, even if it makes sense since the first Hyrule Warriors ran originally on the Wii U, so of course on a generation newer hardware like Switch a game from 2014, it can run at a smooth framerate and less pop-in even on handheld. Even with the usual technical compromises these games always have to do… i feel performance could (and should) be better. I know it’s the Switch and it’s Omega Force, but still, come on.
This also answers why there’s no online co-op. But there is local co-op, you have to activate it from the world map, split-screen of course, i was able to test it by “double-teaming” (i’m not having friends come over just for playing co-op during a freaking pandemic, sorry), and in my brief experience of trying to emulate an octopus, i can say it runs better than i expected, even if texture quality and framerate obviously take a hit, even in docked mode.
There is support for Amiibo figures, but in a more general “scan figure, get a random reward”, you still can scan a max of 5 amiibos daily as before, but there is no specific item or weapon that has to be unlocked via a specific Zelda amiibo.
I did encounter some bugs & glitches, like once the game just didn’t let me move on the world map, unable to move and select anything, unable to access menùs or give input, despite the joy-cons being synced and fully charged (thank you, autosave), and once in a side mission, a Moblin just out-right stopped fighting me and went away to somewhere, leading to me keep chasing and fighting an enemy who simply wasn’t interested anymore. It didn’t happen when the objective was to kill medium enemies like it, so it didn’t stop me from completing objectives, but it was just odd.
The game also crashed on me once, just saying “the application has been closed due to an error”, but it happened after i literally just started a small mission. Nothing major, overall, mostly stuff that might already have been patched by the time you read this.
Hyrule Warriors: Age Of Calamity is not only another Hyrule Warriors (which would be quite intriguing in itself), but one Nintendo basically “sanctified” since it was made to connect with none other than Breath Of The Wild, to tell of the events of the Calamity as it happened 100 years before Link’s deep slumber and awakening, as the Champions faced the massive hordes of Ganon in war, and in that way, it fits perfectly at illustrating the battles in a Warriors fashion.
BUT note i didn’t call it a prequel, because it’s half that, and half a spin-off, as it’s set in alternate timeline with new characters and a time travel element that leads to a different scenario, with a new villain, etc. So yeah, despite the claims made, this is a narrative cop-out, not that the story in itself is that bad, but it’s quite disappointing how Nintendo basically gave them this opportunity to make a proper, canonical Warriors style prequel to a mainline Zelda game… and they didn’t.
On the other hand, some of the decisions are made in the name of gameplay and setting up more battles, as frankly not that much happened in BOTW’s past that would translate to a Warriors gameplay, so eventually Omega Force would have to invent something or try to cover a bigger part of BOTW’s Hyrule history, which would have taken the focus out of the events connected to BOTW, and not necessarily translate well into this format anyway. Or at least, i think.
While they could have pulled off the story better regardless, gameplay is a further improvement over the excellent mix of Dynasty Warriors and Zelda, taking a lot of cues and systems from Breath Of The Wild and integrating them into the classic musou formula, with a world map system acting as hub to all the content, without an open world, which is kinda odd considering what Zelda game this one takes inspiration from, but let’s be honest, is a blessing since Dynasty Warriors 9 demostrate Omega Force can’t do an open world game to save their lives, to put it mildly.
And it’s great, making for an even better experience, with some hiccups from the original Hyrule Warriors fixed or tooled to be less annoying, good map design, good variety of enemies and a decent-to-good enemy IA, and a good selection of playable characters that compensates on the roster limited to one Zelda titles with different playstiles, lots of combos, abilities and deeper progression systems. Just wish performance could be better, as it looks good, but it can go from ok framerate to janky all of sudden, especially on handheld. Again, patches could alleviate the issues.
Also, while the lack of an Adventure mode means a lot less hours spent grinding, the game offers a meaty amount of content, with a solid and robut set of story missions and lots, lots of challenges, quests and stuff to unlock and upgrade, so it’s far from short or anemic on content, and it’s good content. It just won’t give you hundreds of hours of gameplay in returns, but depending on how much you like Warriors games, you might reasonably prefer it this way.
Regardless, it’s a solid package that feels well rounded and already complete as it is (especially since we don’t know what are the plans for DLCs this time), and like it’s predecessor, it’s a great gateway title for players that might enjoy the musou formula, but are reasonably put off by Koei’s excessive output of these titles, even more as Omega Force seems to care less and less about their own original IP but are ready to put a lot of effort when somebody else’s shit is involved.