I don’t think a Warriors game has ever kept me as engrossed as Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity has, and I’ve played a lot of them.
Set a century before the events of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity lets you explore the land before Calamity struck. Though of course, it won’t stay that way. As usual, trouble is afoot, and so Link and co. will soon find themselves fighting for survival as those who would see Hyrule fall put their dastardly plans into action. Can you stop them?
Being a prequel, you don’t need to have played Breath of the Wild to appreciate Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, though it does help. It tells a grand story and it does it well thanks to beautifully created cutscenes which are fully voiced, even if it does take a bit of time to truly get off the ground. It looks great during gameplay, too, thanks to the same visual style being employed as Breath of the Wild. Though the gameplay itself is a far cry from that of the open world epic.
The focus here, as in any Warriors game, is large-scale battles. In any given combat scenario you move around the battlefield completing objectives, and along the way there are hundreds, if not thousands, of enemies to defeat. For the most part you’ll be on foot, taking control of Link or one of the many companions that join him on the journey. Breath of the Wild fans will already be familiar with some of them; Daruk, Revali, Mipha, Urbosa and Impa eventually all stand by your side, each offering their own flavour in combat. You can take control of Zelda sometimes, too.
As you move through the game you’ll find yourself taking up to four characters into battle, switching between them instantly with the d-pad. If you want to be an effective commander, you can also easily instruct them to head to various locations on the map. No matter which character you take direct control of, you have access to simple standard and strong attacks, which can be mixed to perform combos. And when a meter is charged you can perform a flashy screen-clearing special attack. On the defensive side, guarding lets you nullify most enemy attacks, but when taking on formidable foes it pays to dodge their blows at the last minute. Get it right and time will slow down, allowing you to follow up with a powerful flurry rush.
One of the benefits of performing flurry rushes, aside from doing a considerable amount of damage to an enemy, is that it quickly wears down their defences. While small fry are easily taken down with basic combos and attacks, bigger enemies that you can lock onto often pose a considerable challenge. Break down their defences, however, putting them in a dazed state, and a prompt will appear that allows you to strike at their weak spot. You’ll come to rely on it to take down some of the game’s tougher enemies, such as Lynels, though there are more tricks up Link and co.’s sleeves when it comes to dispatching their adversaries.
Aside from having their own personal parameters, such as power and movement speed, each playable character in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity also has their own unique skill. Link, for example, can whip out a bow at any time, taking aim before releasing a bevy of long range shots. Urbosa, on the other hand, can charge up lightning before releasing it on her enemies, while Daruk can bounce around like a beach ball given life. Rune powers are available to all characters, too, allowing them to freeze enemies in time, create ice blocks, throw bombs, and take control of magnetic objects. These rune powers are particularly useful when fighting bosses, as they can be used to counter their most powerful attacks. And to round things off, numerous elemental rods can be acquired to cast spells.
As fun as it is, you’ll not be spending all of your time in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity going toe-to-toe with your opponents; you’ll also occasionally find yourself piloting Divine Beasts, gargantuan constructs designed to aid the heroes in their fight. Again, these will be familiar to those that have played Breath of the Wild, but taking control of them is an exhilarating experience regardless.
Each wielding an elemental power, all of the Divine Beasts essentially control the same whether they occupy the land or air. Not that you’ll mind when you’re causing such large-scale destruction. You’ll find yourself tasked with destroying certain targets, making your way to a specific point on a map and even simply taking down a massive number of enemies. After you’ve been taking on Hinox et al. face-to-face, bombarding your enemies with balls of magma, electrocuting them with a burst of energy and unleashing a powerful beam when things get a little too hairy is very appealing. It also makes for a nice change of pace.
In between all the action, you’ll be developing your characters and planning your next move. You can do so via a map of Hyrule if you wish, interacting with the ever-increasing number of icons strewn across it. Easy-to-use menus give you quicker access to missions, quests and services, however, and so you’ll probably find yourself using them more often. Via a blacksmith you’ll be able to fuse your weapons in order to power them up, while vendors will sell you the materials needed to complete quests, though most you’ll get by simply engaging in battle. By completing quests, you’ll unlock additional attacks for your characters, as well as heart containers and more.
It’s all this additional stuff not usually found in a Warriors game that makes Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity such a compelling experience. While the action does still verge on becoming a tad repetitive at times, the focused one-on-one battles with tougher enemies and bosses, piloting Divine Beasts and ample quests nicely vary up the pace and challenge of the game. It’s much less of a mindless button-basher. As the game’s story picks up, so does the epic-ness of the battles you find yourself in, too. At times, it really feels like you’re in a struggle for survival, urging you to steel yourself and do the best that you can.
There are some minor issues, though. With so much going on and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity looking so good, the framerate can dip at times. Thankfully the worst drops occur just after you’ve taken down a formidable foe; the game struggling as fancy effects accompany the opening of chests earned as a reward. With many enemies being so large in size, spotting their tells of an upcoming attack can also be problematic; you can’t use stasis to capitalise on an enemy firing up a spinning attack if you can’t see the lock above their head, can you? Still, there’s nothing that really ruins your enjoyment of the game to any considerable degree.
Ultimately, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a treat for both Warriors fans and those who adore The Legend of Zelda series. It may not have the puzzles of a traditional Zelda game, but it packs in an obscene amount of action to make up for it. Throw in a story that will have you gripped as well as the usual Zelda charm, and you have a game that will keep you glued to the screen for tens of hours. Those who have played and loved Breath of the Wild will get a kick out of it the most though. It’s like meeting up with old friends, only this time you get to take control of them and their gigantic toys. This is the best Warriors game ever made, and a brilliant way to while away some time until the sequel to Breath of the Wild arrives.