Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity Review – Not Exactly Next-Gen
Hyrule Warriors: Age of CalamityNovember 20th, 2020
With the announcement of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, I was convinced that Nintendo had begun a new Zelda canon centered around The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Nintendo had, at last, glanced over the lengthy and confusing Zelda timeline, and have decided to pick and choose the most worthwhile aspects of that universe and create an original timeline with all the features you adore, in a brand new setting. Creating a revolving canon around Breath of the Wild is a solid choice. Well, after a swift 25 hours of playing Age of Calamity, I'm no longer convinced this is an essential place to find canon Zelda lore, but it is so easy to get lost in playing Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity that it's still an excellent game for all Zelda fans.
We all know what Warriors (or Musou) games are like at this point. They focus on having your main character rack up massive combos and chains against swathes of enemies, killing potentially thousands within the space of time it takes to move across one of the large maps. They are games all about wide-ranging attacks that see you juggling dozens of foes at once, and huge kill counts, all while feeling cool. And it does deliver on that point, though unusually, Age of Calamity actually steps off the gas a little bit in regards to sending out throngs of enemies for you to wipe out, and instead, it focuses on the individual.
When you first start playing you'll be kicking around dozens of foes just like any other Warriors title, but it won't be long until you realize that killing the mobs is not necessary, and rarely conducive to your victory. You can kill mobs to build your special meter, but more often than not your survival and victory hinge on taking down a select few enemies which are just big and strong. Moblins, Giant Bokoblins, Wizzrobes, Hinox, Stone Talus, and even Lynel - all of the big and imposing enemies you recognize from Breath of the Wild are here, and most of the time taking them down is what will push your team towards victory.
This actually makes the moment-to-moment combat more interesting and engaging. Killing mobs is a fairly mindless task, but when up against a large enemy you're forced to pay attention, lest you be quickly defeated. Add to that the new combat influences taken from Breath of the Wild, and you have a recipe for success. When fighting bigger enemies, you want to open up their weak point, and once you've done enough damage to it, you're opened up for a Weak Point Attack, which will finish off most enemies entirely. To get at that weak point, there are several things you can do, including the Flurry Attack, which is activated once you've perfectly dodged one of your opponent's attacks. The Flurry Attack automatically slows time and opens up your opponent's weak point, allowing you to pin them down and deal damage. This will become part of your bread and butter when fighting larger enemies.
Next up is the Sheikah Slate abilities, and what they bring to the table. At any point, with any character, you can pull out these abilities from Breath of the Wild, including Stasis, Cryonis, Magnesis, and Bombs - I guess that last one should've had a fancy name like Explodesis or something. You can use these abilities at any time, Cryonis can be used as a cheeky way to get aerial as many enemies are weak to aerial attacks, and Bombs can do tiny chunks of damage directly to a foe's weak point, but this is not when they're most useful. Each big enemy in the game will have attacks that are directly countered by a Sheikah Slate ability - a spin attack gets interrupted by Stasis, a charge gets blocked by Cryonis ice, etc. Each time this happens you'll get a big warning (the Sheikah Slate rune will appear above the enemy's head) and it'll interrupt them immediately, opening them up to be brutally attacked. In a way, these moments make the game feel like Baby's First Character Action Game - and not in a bad way at all.
These Sheikah Slate parries and perfect dodges make the combat of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity feel engaging and exciting in a way that other Warriors games typically don't. Yes, there are still sections where you'll mindlessly mow down a horde of foes, but those moments are less frequent, small occasions that punctuate the bigger fights until you get back to your goal. It's a bit too easy and obvious to be a true character action game of course, but you'll quickly learn the best and fastest ways to take down the bigger opponents in the game is to play as well as possible - get those dodges and parries perfect first time every time, and when you manage to take down a strong foe in a record time, you'll feel good about it. All of these abilities obviously just add to the base attacks and combos of each playable character, meaning the game offers a lot of gameplay variety for a Warriors game before it's done.
As a huge Breath of the Wild fan, there are many aspects of the game that I adore. The world map, the areas, the enemies, the characters, and of course the gorgeous cutscenes just might be the pinnacle of the game for those desperate for more Breath of the Wild lore. But also, Breath of the Wild's beautiful art style is a bit tough to pull off when you're putting dozens of enemies on screen at a time. Quite frankly, the game can drop frames. It aims for 30FPS but doesn't hold that number. Almost never, in fact.
I genuinely had a minute where I was positive that the game's framerate had dropped into the single digits for a lengthy period of time. Playing co-op with two characters which both have heavy effects on their attacks is a recipe for a low framerate, and a low number of enemies being drawn on screen. It's a shame as co-op is still the best way to play any Warriors game, but the framerate sacrifice and loss of screen real-estate can make it feel more like a hassle than a fun way to play with friends. And this all comes to a head when playing as one of the Divine Beasts.
You likely saw this coming - yes, you can play as the Divine Beasts in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, and yes, it's awkward as hell. The Divine Beasts are slow and lumbering and mostly feel like controlling the slowest and most awkward tanks. They certainly can wipe out plenty of enemies, not from your vantage point on top of the Divine Beasts it's not like you can make out which enemies you're destroying anyway. You'll be reminded that you're "defeating" thousands of enemies, but it'll look like specs on a map flying away after your blasts. These moments are a fun novelty, but the fun disappears after the first time you play. Oh, and the frame rate looks bad in these sections, yikes.
But when you look down at the map of Hyrule and choose your missions, side quests, training missions, and upgrade your characters, it does feel comprehensive, so to speak. I do feel as if I've been battling all over Hyrule, from the Gerudo Desert to Death Mountain, in order to fend off Calamity Ganon. I feel as if there has been a massive concerted attempt to thwart an evil encroaching army, and for that, I have to give Age of Calamity its dues. It does manage to capture the feeling of a massive war.
When all is said and done, I had a lot of fun with Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, and I love the Breath of the Wild-inspired additions they've given the combat and exploration of the missions. But, if you've played one Warriors game, you've played them all. Thanks to the combat additions this might be the best Warriors game I've played, but thanks to the performance it's not the most pleasant Warriors game to play.
Review code provided by the publisher.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a perfect game to use to revisit the land of Hyrule. Combat additions make this one of the most exciting and interesting Warriors games to play, but the performance can hold it back. It's a great romp that'll keep you engaged for hours, but don't come in expecting great things from the next chapter of a canon Zelda story.
- Sheikah Slate abilities brilliantly spice up combat
- Feels like a war spanning across Hyrule
- Story cutscenes are beautiful
- Framerate and performance
- Underwhelming story