Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity Review: A Triumphant Return

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity carries with it the hope of millions of fans who fell in love with the world of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The latter title overhauled the classic Nintendo series in a way few expected, and Age of Calamity promised to add to that story using an entirely different style of gameplay. These high hopes left some wary of whether publisher Koei Tecmo could live up to the hype. But just as many suspected, Age of Calamity manages to keep its daring promises with an innovative story and character roster.

For those needing a bit more context, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity made its debut on the Nintendo Switch this month after being announced earlier in the year. The hack-and-slash title is the follow up to Hyrule Warriors, a Zelda-themed take on the classic Dynasty Warriors formula. Directed by Ryouta Matsushita, Age of Calamity promised to act as a prequel to Breath of the Wild by telling the events of the Calamity that overran Hyrule a century before Link woke up in the Shrine of Resurrection.

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(Photo: Nintendo)

Like Hyrule Warriors before it, Age of Calamity has an overarching story that requires its heroes to undertake massive battles where wanton destruction is required. Link, Zelda, and their various comrades are forced to take down thousands of monsters as they try to keep Calamity Ganon at bay. To its credit, Age of Calamity brings in some of the best enemies from Breath of the Wild to battle, and it even enhances several by giving them special elemental types. This addition brings an extra layer of strategy which fans can use to their advantage, and that isn't even to mention the game's lofty roster.

Age of Calamity sources all of its characters from Breath of the Wild, and some truly unexpected roster picks are made. There are several different character classes -- Link acts as your standard brute, but Daruk is considered an absolute tank while Revali and Mipha can dole significant damage from afar. Each fighter is given a gorgeous move set that can be expanded as the game progresses, so their style never gets stale.

In fact, there are plenty of side quests to keep any player busy. It is a challenge to 100% this title, and that is because of its quests. The game encourages these side missions as completing the main story without doing them is difficult if not impossible. The quests also give fans a better look at Hyrule's status amidst the Calamity, and well, it isn't good.

With a varied character roster at hand, Age of Calamity shines in its gameplay, and its use of Breath of the Wild assets makes fighting even better. There is a certain level of nostalgia that appears when you head into battle with a soup ladle, but Link makes it work. The game's seamless integration with Breath of the Wild is truly impressive, and it elevates Age of Calamity in every way. Of course, much of that elevation comes from the story alone as anyone can agree Age of Calamity weaves a narrative far more compelling than the first Hyrule Warriors title.

On the surface, Age of Calamity tells the tale of Hyrule before Calamity Ganon appears, and it shows how the great crises unfolded before our heroes. The game follows that strictly to a certain point, and if you ignore the addition of a certain companion Guardian, you can stop Age of Calamity at one point to see how Hyrule truly fell before Breath of the Wild. However, this is Nintendo, and Age of Calamity wasn't going to leave fans bereft with this Zelda title. The arrival of Zelda's mystery companion Guardian shifts Age of Calamity into a new timeline where Hyrule can ultimately be saved. This what-if story is a controversial route to take, but its emotional payout makes the risk worth it. Despite some hand-wavy time travel, Age of Calamity feels like an earned take on how Hyrule could have survived Calamity Ganon, and it will satisfy any fan. Of course, that means the game holds a fair amount of fan service, but in light of Breath of the Wild's sobering tale, I was thrilled to take in some lighthearted scenes.

All the good done in Age of Calamity does come at a cost. Like any hack-and-slash title inspired by Dynasty Warriors, leveling up takes grinding, and missions start to feel the same after a bit. This title does try to offset its repetitive nature by giving players different ways to off an enemy. But after you have killed one Moblin, well, you have killed them all. The silver lining is that these battles look great while playing by yourself, but the game's framerate can get really wonky when you add a second player. I noticed my original Switch struggled to process crowded fight scenes when characters performed special moves to clear the battlefield. In particular, Urbosa gave the framerate hell with her flashy lightning specials given their range of damage.

Beyond its technical limits, Age of Calamity is a welcome addition to the Legend of Zelda lore, even if it adds more timeline questions than it answers. The story's branching history will surely upset some timeline purists, but the game mitigates those concerns with a well-told story. Fans are finally given a version of Zelda they've wanted to see for years, and playing at the capable princess is a gift I will never forget. The story's emotional tale is one that I am eager to explore again, and it has reinvigorated my interest to replay Breath of the Wild. This works out perfectly for Nintendo given how the company is currently developing a sequel to the original. And if that follow-up puts as much care into its characters as Age of Calamity does, then fans are in for a delightful treat.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is now available on the Nintendo Switch. A retail code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was reviewed on a base model Nintendo Switch. You can find me on Twitter @MeganPetersCB if you have questions about the game!