In Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity for Nintendo Switch, you take part in the history of The Legend of Zelda, bringing the epic battles that are referenced by tapestry in Breath of the Wild to life and giving you a chance to pick up a weapon and hurl yourself into the fray.
With an irresistible combination of hack-and-slash gameplay and Zelda lore, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is the perfect potion to refill your hearts gauge this winter.
Path of the Dynasty Warriors
The Hyrule Warriors series has its roots in the Dynasty Warriors games from Omega Studios and Koei. The first entry was released for PlayStation in 1997 and was a more traditional one-on-one fighter game, while the 2000 follow-up, Dynasty Warriors 2, had the player choose a character to guide through multiple historical battles set during the Three Kingdoms period (220 to 280 AD), with an ultimate goal of uniting China under a single leader.
In more recent years, spinoffs of the series have taken the waves-of-enemies gameplay style of the Dynasty Warriors games and combined them with the characters and stories of beloved Nintendo franchises.
In 2014, Hyrule Warriors was released. The game was set in Hyrule outside the main timeline of the series, and a game mechanic saw characters from different games throughout the franchise being summoned to battle, including Midna from Twilight Princess and Young Link from Majora’s Mask.
In 2017, Fire Emblem Warriors – a combination of the Fire Emblem series with Dynasty Warriors – was released. Once again, the beat-em-up gameplay of Dynasty Warriors was in full force. However, this entry incorporated one of the most memorable elements of the Fire Emblem series into its gameplay as well: the support system, which allowed characters who battled alongside one another to strengthen the bonds of their relationship, improving cooperative battle abilities and unlocking snippets of conversation between the warriors.
Influence of the Breath of the Wild
While the previous Hyrule Warriors brought together many different elements and characters from throughout the Legend of Zelda franchise, Age of Calamity specifically integrates elements and characters from Breath of the Wild into the Hyrule Warriors framework. Like the incorporation of the character support system into Fire Emblem Warriors, the elements from Breath of the Wild that are used in Age of Calamity do an excellent job of tying the spinoff game to the Zelda franchise.
The first and most obvious example of this is the Overworld map, which matches the one from Breath of the Wild and is steadily filled with markers indicating new story and training levels as well as opportunities to upgrade character move sets as the game progresses.
In addition to the locations on the map making sense when compared to the same locations in Breath of the Wild – for example, encounters with traveling merchants take place at the locations of stables – the map format also calls to mind the exploratory aspect of the game. Those who are not interested in hunting around the map can instead use a more straightforward drop-down menu, but I rarely relied on this method, instead favoring the map.
The similarities between the maps in Breath of the Wild and Age of Calamity are not limited to the Overworld. Many of the individual battlefields are either incredibly similar or nearly identical to the spaces players explored in Breath of the Wild. In addition to emphasizing the fact that this game takes place within the same realm as its predecessor, this also creates a strange sense of familiarity and near-nostalgia for those of us who explored these digital landscapes in the early days of the Switch (with a visit to the Resurrection Shrine where Breath of the Wild began proving especially poignant).
Two additional elements cinch the close relationship between Breath of the Wild and Age of Calamity.
The first is cooking and gathering recipes. In Age of Calamity, the player collects new recipes by selecting cooking-pot shaped icons that appear on the Overworld map and then exchanging the ingredients in order to unlock the recipe. Once this has been accomplished, you can elect to cook the recipe before the start of a battle (provided you have the necessary ingredients), affording various boosts and benefits, depending on the dishes selected. The recipes add another dimension to battles, and they can offer crucial advantages (and expedite gathering materials and rupees to bankroll character and weapon upgrades).
The other element that heavily evokes Breath of the Wild is Link’s varied wardrobe. In Breath of the Wild, the player ultimately collected many different clothing options for Link, which had been organized into head, top, and bottom categories, affording a staggering number of different possible clothing combinations.
Some of these clothing options were necessary to advance through Breath of the Wild – like a tunic that protected Link from the heat of lava, or the gender-concealing nature of the Gerudo robes – but others seemed to exist solely in order to make Link into a digital paper doll.
Fortunately, this sartorial element is wholly included in Age of Calamity, and the player can choose to change Link’s outfit while navigating the menus that appear before a battle. And if dressing Link in different clothing pieces still isn’t enough for you, Age of Calamity also includes Breath of the Wild’s dye shop, so you can even further customize Link’s looks.
As with the first Hyrule Warriors, there is a full roster of characters ready to sally forth into battle (at least, once you’ve done the due diligence of unlocking them, appropriately raising their level, and activating enough of their move set). The game is well balanced in terms of unlocking characters, with new characters appearing throughout the missions in the story mode. Plus, unlocking each character is accompanied with individual training missions that give you a chance to get a feel for their play style and begin the process of leveling them up.
Each character has their own roster of moves based on their story, experience, and role in the narrative, and the experience of playing one character can feel extremely distinct from playing another – for example, while Link has a more “traditional” style of battle, based on his swordplay, Zelda laregely relies on techniques that are based in the Sheikah Slate.
While each character still relies on a similar set of button combinations, the extreme variance in the battle styles ensures playing each warrior is a singular experience. Soaring above the battlefield as bow-wielding Rito warrior Revali is very different from dancing between Moblins as the maraca-shaking Korok, Hestu (whose moves call to mind AD&D’s bard class).
In addition to their unique primary move sets, each character has two sets of additional moves. One is the “rods,” elemental magical attacks that can be powered up based on assets seized from attacking Wizzrobes. And the other is the Sheikah Slate move set, including time-freezing and remote bombs (the latter having slight variance between characters, adding even more layers to the distinction between the warriors).
While the majority of the game takes place on the ground-level battlefield, it occasionally breaks this mold to put the player in the pilot’s seat of the four divine beasts. These segments are exciting and larger-than-life, and the Kaiju-scale of the battles reflect the immense size of the divine beasts.
The divine beast segments will be especially engaging for those who played Breath of the Wild, because it allows you to control each of the beasts, all four of which were dungeon-style levels that had to be explored in the preceding game. To pilot the divine beasts after becoming acquainted with them in such a way is truly a singular experience, and it’s hard not to get excited the first time you’re put in control of the immense armored entities.
In addition to building on the groundwork laid by Breath of the Wild, the divine beast segments also build on the foundations laid by the first Hyrule Warriors game. Did you enjoy seeing wave after wave of enemy go flying away from your sword in the ground battles of that game? Then get ready for the experience turned allllll the way up to eleven: as you pilot the divine beast, battalions of enemies flood the battlefields that lay spread out before you. Spoiler alert: it does not go well for them.
A Legend of Zelda
I do not want to spend too much time on the story, as it is a joy to watch unfold over the course of the game. However, one aspect that I do wish to address is the central role that Zelda plays in the narrative.
Although the name of the franchise is The Legend of Zelda, certain entries in the series are disproportionately focused on Link. This makes sense to a certain extent – Link is, most often, the character players will embody when playing Legend of Zelda games.
While Link is one of the first playable characters in Age of Calamity, part of the appeal of the game is the number of different character options available, with many missions requiring the player to take control of a warrior other than Link.
However, unlike many previous Legend of Zelda games, the narrative that unfolds in the cut scenes is clearly focused on Zelda, exploring her interiority, her role in the Calamity, and her relationships with those individuals around her. While anyone will be able to enjoy this story, it will be especially affecting for those who are more familiar with previous games in the Legend of Zelda series, with one particular musical cue used to devastating effect.
Advanced Dungeons & Decayed Guardians
Another appealing aspect of the game is the way many of its elements call to mind high fantasy and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
One way that this plays out is the way that different species have dramatically different character sizes. This applies to both allies and enemies. A Zora warrior heading into battle alongside a human will tower above their fellow solider, for example – and we even see dramatic size disparity within a species, as the Zora characters that appear in the game range in height from three feet to twenty.
The disparity in size applies to the enemies, as well. Moblins tower over Bokoblins, Hinox tower over Lynel. The varied sizes not only evoke the battles against towering enemies from Breath of the Wild, they also give a sense of variety within the battles of Age of Calamity.
Another way that the game evokes AD&D is the basic application of elemental advantages and disadvantages – for example, while most enemies can be frozen solid using the power of the Ice Rod, it proves useless against ice-based antagonists.
Finally, the many locales on the map that serve to upgrade the characters and Sheikah Slate include brief snippets of text, providing additional context and story to those who care to read them. For example, unlocking a new move for Impa doesn’t just come with access to the fresh attack, it is accompanied by a few sentences describing a situation in which Impa helped the people of Kakariko Village gather the materials they need for a seasonal feast, culminating in a villager teaching her a new technique. While it isn’t necessary to read these bits of story, they add plenty of texture, and players whose interest is piqued by these genre nuggets will get the most out of the game.
For those who are interested, Age of Calamity does include Amiibo support. Like previous games in the franchise, you can get an item (or set of items) from five individual Amiibo per day. In my experience, Legend of Zelda Amiibo seem more likely to offer weapons (with my Breath of the Wild Zelda Amiibo likely to offer Sheikah Slate weapons for the Zelda character), while non-Zelda Amiibo are more likely to deliver raw materials.
The game also features a two-player mode, which will be familiar to those who have played the first Hyrule Warriors: a horizontally split-screen and shared power-up resources. However, players may want to note that while the majority of the game can be played with two players, the level sections which put the player into the pilot’s seat of the divine beasts can only be played by one person, so Player Two will have to step into an observational role for these segments.
Another aspect of the game that I enjoyed was the extensive stats recorded, including tallies of environmental damage, such as the number of trees felled or the amount of square cubic yards of grass that had been burned by fire attacks.
Return to Hyrule
If you’re new to the series and are not sure whether or not Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is for you, there is a demo version available in the Switch eShop that includes the first two story levels and a handful of training missions, allowing you to get a taste of the gameplay.
The full game takes the elements of these early missions and fully expands them, offering a full roster of exciting characters, extensive upgrades (and in some cases customization), and hours of gameplay. Plus, even after you’ve completed the main storyline, you’ll have plenty of additional quests to take part in (and the upgraded Sheikah Slate can be used to track materials necessary to complete certain tasks, making targeted collection possible).
If you’re already familiar with Hyrule Warriors, then rest assured that Age of Calamity is an impressive refinement of the preceding entry, building on the foundations of the previous game in the series and perfectly incorporating elements from Breath of the Wild.
As we head toward the longest night of the year, taking an immersive visit to a faraway fantasy world may be exactly what you’re looking for, and with Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity offering a chance to spend some more time in Hyrule, there’s really no better option.
Review code provided to The Beat by Nintendo.