Despite my best efforts to dive into as many game genres and franchises as possible, I’ve never jumped heavily into any games of the hack and slash musou variety. Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors never appealed to me, and while spin off titles such as Dragon Quest Heroes and Hyrule Warriors piqued my interest somewhat, the few hours I’d play of them failed to command my attention. The latest The Legend of Zelda musou spin-off Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity truly grabbed me unlike the games prior, providing an engaging prequel narrative set 100 years prior to the events of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. All things considered, it ends up being a fairly typical Warriors experience that manages to be fun despite being hindered by its repetitive gameplay and dreadful frame drops.
Bokoblin are everywhere
The story kicks off in the Breath of the Wild timeline upon the revival of Ganon. Calamity ensues and countless Guardians besiege Hyrule Castle and the surrounding villages, leaving destruction in their wake. The return of Calamity Ganon coincides with the awakening of a small BB-8 looking Guardian, one who appears to be attached to Princess Zelda in some form. Sensing the danger at hand, it escapes through a portal sending it back 100 years, all in a desperate attempt to warn Zelda, Link and others about the calamity that awaits, in the hopes that their actions can change the future. This revelation sends Link and company on a long and perilous journey through Hyrule, as they attempt to unite the Champions and prepare the ancient Divine Beasts to take the fight to Calamity Ganon’s’ allies known as the Yiga Clan, as well the endless horde of monsters that stand in their way.
While some criticised Breath of the Wild for having a weak story, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is much the opposite. It does an admirable job of telling the story of the events that occurred a century prior to those in Breath of the Wild, and while some events that occur throughout the story such as the Guardian time travel make me question whether the story told is truly canon or not, it is still a thoroughly enjoyable tale. While all characters don’t get the same treatment, it’s awesome to see some get fleshed out and characterised further. In the case of Princess Zelda, you see her battling with herself throughout the story, questioning her ability to aid in the quest to stop Ganon. Like in Breath of the Wild, these story cutscenes see basically all characters except for Link fully voice acted. Voice work is good without being amazing, but it is still a worthy addition alongside a slew of really detailed and quality looking cutscenes. All in all, Age of Calamity surprises with the quality of its narrative, doing a great job of providing a bit more to the Breath of the Wild lore.
Impa is awesome
Quality in the story is ever-present, however the same can’t entirely be said regarding the visuals. Utilising the same overall aesthetic of Breath of the Wild was the right decision, but sometimes it looks particularly blurry and ugly in part due to the dynamic resolution scaling that occurs in both docked and handheld mode. Having dynamic resolution scaling makes sense as it drops the resolution in an attempt to maintain graphical quality and frame rate, but it does result in the game looking a bit unattractive on occasion. Making matters worse is the frame rate, which is absolutely horrendous regardless of the dynamic resolution and its attempts to mitigate frame drops. While frame drops are part and parcel in musou games where hundreds of enemies clump together on screen, the fact that the game becomes a slideshow in some moments is almost unforgivable. This issue is only made more prominent in two player mode, as you would expect. Only in some instances does the game feel harder to play due to the performance, but it still isn’t good enough to have to deal with a game that runs and looks as poor as Age of Calamity does when things get a little intense.
Gameplay in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is exactly what you’d expect from your button mash-heavy hack and slash musou title. As Link, Zelda, Impa, or the multitude of other characters you get access to throughout the story, your task is to make your way through open battlefields slicing and dicing the hundreds if not thousands of enemies that are between you and your current objective. Objectives aren’t particularly complex, often asking for you to fight your way to a particular point of the map, or kill a certain number of a particular type of foe.
1 Princess vs 300 Bokoblin
Combat does feel really good, as it is solid fun to lay waste to a multitude of enemies with just a few hits from your weapon. Characters have regular and heavy attacks that can be used by pressing Y and X respectively, a unique action that can be triggered by pressing ZR, as well a special attack that can be used by pressing A once the special gauge is full. Each character also has the ability to use the Sheikah Slate Runes such as Remote Bomb, Cryonis, Stasis or Magnesis. Each character does feel unique, which leads to the combat not quickly growing stale, but despite the variety in each character, the combat does ultimately fall victim to monotony in the end, feeling particularly samey and tedious towards the end of the game. But hey, at least the weapons don’t degrade and break like they did in Breath of the Wild!
Progressing through these levels, killing enemies and exploring the environments will net you loot that can be used outside of missions to upgrade weapons, level up characters, craft food that provides stat buffs for upcoming battles and much more. Like the map in Breath of the Wild, the map in Age of Calamity quickly becomes littered with a whole bunch of icons, offering up challenge missions to partake in. Some of the overworld map icons can be completed by providing them with the materials they require. Satisfying these icons can earn you rewards such as additional hearts, recipes and bonus combos. The challenge missions on the map offer up fun-sized battles that take roughly three to five minutes to complete as opposed to the twenty to thirty required for mainline quests, often focusing on the use of a single character or the use of a particular combat ability. They may not reward you with narrative progression like the story missions do, but they do provide you with additional materials and experience points. There are also challenge missions that allow you to pilot a Divine Beast like you do in some of the story missions for brief moments, and while they are levels that eviscerate the frame rate, they also provide some decent fun.
There’s no doubt that there is plenty of content to play through in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, but your mileage will depend heavily on whether or not you vibe with a combat system that eventually feels tiresome.
Piloting a Divine Beast is pretty cool
Coming away from Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, I feel like I finally understand the appeal of musou games, as well as the all too familiar shortcomings of the genre. It has an excellent narrative that serves a worthy prequel tale to Breath of the Wild, and while repetition eventually broke the camel’s back and the poor performance loomed as large as Calamity Ganon himself, I’d be wrong to say that I didn’t still have a hell of a lot of fun throughout. Regardless of the enjoyment I did have until the dreaded feeling monotony started to set in, having a frame rate so unstable simply isn’t good enough. Hyrule Warrior: Age of Calamity is a good time that’s a few issues short of being a great one. It may not appeal to everyone, however if you enjoy Zelda or musou games, I deem it worthy of a shot.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch // Review code supplied by publisher