HYRULE WARRIORS: AGE OF CALAMITY
By Mark "Demius" Bronneberg on November 27, 2020
Hyrule Warriors Age of Calamity (AoC) is the second 'warriors' game in the Zelda universe. I don't think the Zelda games need much introduction, maybe the Warriors series does. People that go into this game expecting to play a sequel to the amazing Zelda: Breath of the Wild (BotW) game are going to come out disappointed (don't worry, the aforementioned sequel is still in development). AoC is the appetizer to keep us entertained until they finally release the BotW 2. And boy does this entertain!
Maximus Decimus Meridius (Gladiator) would have been proud of KOEI Tecmo and Nintendo. This game is not like any mainline Zelda game you have played before. The first Hyrule Warriors game released on the Wii U and the 3DS in 2014 and 2016, there is also an ultimate edition on the Nintendo Switch (released in 2018). Dynasty Warriors is the franchise developed by KOEI which inspired all the spin off games. Dynasty Warriors are action games telling the tale of three kingdoms in China's history that make war on each other. They are already at Dynasty Warriors 8 and that's without counting all the spin-offs, which range from Gundam to Arslan, Berserk, Fire Emblem and One Piece. Even the amazing Persona 5 is getting the Warriors treatment with Persona 5 Scramble, which released in 2020 in Japan, localization for release in the west is taking a bit more time.
Warning: it is not possible to review this game without revealing spoilers for the original Zelda BotW. I presume you all have played this game. If you have not, SHAME ON YOU; BotW is one of the best games ever made, with a Metacritic of 97. So, stop reading this review and go buy and play that game first. and then come back and read the rest of this review. please?!
Now for the 99,9% of the sane people that did play Zelda BotW (Nintendo sold roughly 20 million copies), lets tell you what AoC is all about. The reveal of AoC shocked me at first. BotW tells a tale of Link waking up after a 100-year slumber, only to discover that everyone he ever knew or loved was slain by or has died in another way because of Calamity Ganon. Plus, the love of Link's life, princess Zelda, is trapped in an everlasting battle with Ganon. So, they want to release this game that travels back to that moment 100 years ago when Calamity Ganon did all that. Game of Thrones eat your heart out, we are going to start playing, joyfully and out of our very own free will I might add, a game in which we know that, at the end of it, everyone has to be dead or stuck in an epic battle for eternity. let that sink in for a bit. and happily start the carnage that is this game!
Now let me bring in a nuance; at the start of this game they introduce a certain mechanic 'Great Scott!', which I will not spoil too much, which opens up a possible different story ending. Now, I'm not saying that it will be different, but this is a nice touch making you 'think' you know what to expect, but it gives you the feeling this time it might be different. That is all I will share in this review, because this is one of those stories you need to experience for yourself. Please do your best to stay spoiler free for the endgame.
The only thing I did not like going into this game, is the fact that it is a Warriors game. I never played a Warriors game and I don't like action games that much, so you can see why I would be worried. But seeing this game has the best setting any game could ever hope for, let's give it the benefit of the doubt. The first thing I did was put the game on easy-mode and just cruise through it for the story bits. Easy-mode is really just that: easy. Once you learn the basic mechanics (yes, it's not just brainless button bashing), you learn it has quite some depth to it. There are a ton of characters you can choose from (Zelda, Link, the four champions and a lot more) and each character controls and play differently. Next to their own moveset, which is a combination of normal and strong attacks, everyone has the ability to cast one of three elemental staffs (fire, ice and electric) or heal themselves by eating apples. Also, the four battle-skills from BotW's Sheikah Slate make a return: bomb (throw a remote bomb), magnesis (hello Magneto), stasis (stop time) and cryonis (ice, ice baby).
The fun part about this is the fact that each character has their own version of these skills. If Link activates bomb, he can throw a few bombs at enemies in quick succession. But if the Zora champion Mipha activates bomb she literally makes it RAIN BOMBS (yes Mipha is great please use her, I love her). If you are playing as Zelda (oh come on Sakurai, of course BotW Zelda is a fighter, she kicks ass!!) the bomb skill will summon a giant driving bomb, which you can control across the battlefield sprouting out tiny bombs, until you make it explode. I love the fact that they gave Zelda a moveset that resembles at most the playstyle off a crazy Japanese speedrunner that can kill Calamity Ganon within a 5-minute time limit. Let me correct my prejudice about Warriors games. This game plays exactly like it should play, it's crazy, you kill hundreds of enemies each mission and it feels amazing. It plays like you feel it should, because you know the end is coming and you just want to go out with a bang. Correction; with lots of bangs.
Soon after mastering the controls I upped the difficulty to normal and I am enjoying the gameplay a lot now. The game isn't too difficult, as long as you keep attention to your mini-map and be sure to save your allies before they die. Warriors game often get criticism that the gameplay is repetitive. This might be the case with AoC, but because you keep unlocking additional moves or even entirely new characters, I didn't mind missions have some repetitive structure. This structure, most of the times, mean you have to defeat a certain number of enemies, save some allies, or kill some bosses to claim outposts until you can take on the main boss or reach a certain area. All mission maps, enemies and bosses (like Talus, Hinox, Molduga and Lynels) come straight out of Breath of the Wild and are a joy to behold and to battle.
Seeing parts of the world that are not yet destroyed is a really nice. Even the Koroks make a return and you can find a few hidden away each map to give you seeds which you can use to upgrade your inventory space. Your characters can level up and you can find different weapons for each of them. Link can also equip other armor sets, but these don't seem to do much but giving you a cool new esthetic. If you don't like the color of an armor set you can change it for some rupees at the dye shop. Weapons can be upgraded and granted abilities, you do this by merging them together. If you merge certain ability's together the weapon gets even stronger. As a pro-tip; be careful how you upgrade the master sword, because you will be stuck with the skills it inherits (it starts as a blank sheet)... at least, until later in the game, when you unlock the ability to reset your skills. Be sure to give it 4 matching seals to maximize its strength. If you played the demo you unlock a wooden training sword. This sword is quite strong and has a unique ability, if you can depart from it, it's a nice fit for the Master Sword.
Like I said before, the Warriors-gameplay is different from regular Zelda games, but it grows on you and is truly a lot of fun. The different combo's and skills for each hero keep the gameplay diverse and interesting. It took me around 3-4 hours to fully understand what I was doing, after that you can get really good at this game, there is strategy (map control), timing (perfect dodges and parrying) and skill involved. The game runs smooth in docked and handheld mode. I did hear from a Twitter mutual that co-op isn't working properly. Framerate drops and it's really hard to play in local co-op. My advice would be to not buy this game for the co-op alone, maybe wait until that's been improved/ patched. The lack of a working co-op mode isn't game breaking, the game focuses on single player, co-op is just an added bonus. And for me it ran fine the entire time.
Besides the action-packed missions there is a lot to do on the overworld map. Each mission you gather collectibles, these collectibles can be spent on completing side quests on the overworld. You click on one to complete it and get a reward. Rewards vary from unlocking special points of interest (like the before mentioned dye shop), extra health or additional combo moves. Leveling up characters requires you to bring them to a battle to gain XP, you can often bring more than one controllable character to missions and during the battle you can direct them from the map menu, or switch between them by pressing a button. Be sure to do this often, or else you risk that certain characters are standing around doing nothing. Once you get the hang of this you can strategically give orders and switch between controllable characters and complete maps really quick. If you don't want to control anything but Link that's doable to a certain point. If you need to use a certain character which you have not been using a lot, you can spend rupees (the currency in this game. Duh, it is a Zelda game after all) to level them up. The amount of side quests that are unlocked after each story missions is a lot, as a completionist myself it was often hard to progress the story because I still had orange dots on the map which needed completing.
Now there is a certain mechanic I forgot to mention. Most missions you control characters you choose. But some missions you pilot one of four divine beasts. Divine Beast Vah Ruta of Zora's Domain is a giant elephant that controls water; Divine Beast Vah Rudania of Death Mountain resembles a giant lizard that can spit lava or fire; Divine Beast Vah Medoh of the Hebra Mountains is a giant bird that shoots lasers from the sky; and finally, Divine Beast Vah Naboris of Geruda Desert, a giant camel that controls lightening. Controlling these enormous Divine Beasts feels overly satisfying, since you can use them to trample on or blast away thousands of enemies in the blink of an eye and the sounds they make are intimidating to say the least. The camera changes to a cockpit kind of view, to me these missions felt like the power ranges assembled their giant robot to go full on crazy on their foes. I can't remember many games that made me feel more badass, than the first missions where you get behind the cockpit of these divine beasts. These missions really felt like a combination of Star Wars, Gundam Wing and Dragon Ball where you can bring hell to Ganon's minions: piew piew, wrooooooooshhhhhh, kamehameha, super beam canon!!!! ... Yeah, good times!
The graphical style of this game is perfect, the cell shaded graphics and style are almost the same as in the original Breath of the Wild. All the original voice actors make a return (for better and worse), which is a nice addition and helps to preserve the mood. Sounds and music are great and familiar. I believe KOEI Tecmo did a great job in continuing the amazing setting the original Breath of the Wild set. Of course, it's more a collaboration so Nintendo also did their job to uphold the high quality of the series (we all remember what Cd-i did for our beloved series, apart from the super cool memes). What is also important to know is that even after 30 hours of playtime, the gameplay doesn't get repetitive. If like myself, you are invested in this franchise and particular story, you want to experience everything this game has to offer. You want Link to be a badass, you want him to throw himself heroically into a Guardian's laser blast to protect Zelda. You like the fact that Zelda plays like a crazy woman, because you know how hard she worked to unlock her powers in trying to save her friends, knowing she loses every last one of them to the Calamity in Breath of the Wild.
I never believed I would love a Warriors game as much as I love Age of Calamity. This opens up an entirely new series/ genre to me. I can't wait to try out Fire Emblem Warriors or the original Hyrule Warriors. Still I don't think any of these games can compare to what Age of Calamity does. Giving all these amazing characters more screen time is a blessing. In Breath of the Wild you only see most of them in sad flashbacks, which mostly brought tears to our or Zelda's eyes. I loved Breath of the Wild as a game, I loved the post-apocalyptic story and setting in that game. Age of Calamity is like playing trough World War 3 in the Fallout games, before or during all the atomic bombs fall. This idea is amazing, as a story this is one of the best prequels ever made. And the warriors gameplay only adds to this, for giving you the tools to reap havoc on your enemies and calamity Ganon. We all remember that final flashback in Breath of the Wild where Link gets deadly hurt in protecting Zelda, only for her to finally unlock her divine powers and become the goddess of destruction herself. Now you get to experience and play trough that build up yourself. What are you waiting for? Buy this game now. Or if you don't have a Nintendo Switch, buy it, buy Breath of the Wild, finish it and come back to Hyrule Warriors Age of Calamity to take revenge.