Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity Review: The New Gold Standard for Spinoffs
“Age of Calamity offers a first-class Zelda story with surprisingly varied hack-and-slash battles.”
Unique character skills
Tons of content
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is the first Zelda game that is actually about Zelda. Despite the fact that the series is named after her, the princess has played second fiddle after the legendary Link for almost 35 years. Nintendo’s newest game finally gives her the limelight she deserves and shows fans why she truly is a legend.
It’s ironic that crucial character development takes place in a side game that doesn’t even bear their name, but Age of Calamity is a lot more than your average spin-off. Building on the commitment of the first Hyrule Warriors to larger-than-life battles à la Dynasty Warriors, the action game is treated with the same care and the same thought as a main Zelda title. It’s billed as a proper prequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – and it’s clear Nintendo didn’t take that pitch lightly.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is the new gold standard for video game spin-offs. It more specifically uses full-scale combat to weave a high-stakes Zelda story, one of the most compelling stories to come out of a Nintendo mansion.
A connection to the past
Age of Calamity tells the story of the great war that plunged Hyrule into darkness 100 years before Breath of the Wild began. With the help of a time-traveling droid, Princess Zelda assembles a Crackerjack team of Hyrule’s finest warriors to prevent the inevitable rise of Calamity Gannon. The genre fits this setup perfectly, so the war actually feels as great as it was described.
Link may be the first character on the character selection screen, but Zelda herself is the real star. The story mainly focuses on her insecurity as a leader during a crisis at the end of the kingdom. Even her move is clumsy compared to other characters, as she randomly dumps bombs and blocks of ice while Link confidently cuts through the crowd. Her Arc of Salvation is more emotionally impactful than anything the Zelda series has offered in the past, which makes it a standout Nintendo narrative.
The story is largely told through fantastic cutscenes that feel as polished and detailed as an animated film. Characters are brought to life in ways that even Breath of the Wild hasn’t, and the cinematic clashes are truly exhilarating. I never thought Zelda could work as a TV show or movie, but Age of Calamity is the most compelling case the series has ever released.
One reason it works is because of the raw material. Breath of the Wild is perhaps best known for its creative focus on open-world design, but it’s easy to miss how charming the worldbuilding and characters are. Age of Calamity reinforces all of these strengths and retrospectively brings more depth, story and commitment into the game.
I never thought Zelda could work as a TV show or movie, but Age of Calamity is the most compelling case the series has ever released.
A key example of this are the divine beasts, the massive robotic animals that play a central role in both games. Breath of the Wild shows how powerful they are, but mostly uses them as elaborate puzzle dungeons. Age of Calamity pays off that lip service by letting players control the beasts and mow down literally thousands of enemies in seconds. The game is full of moments that enrich the world of Breath of the Wild without trampling its mystique.
Nintendo’s own Zelda team worked much more closely with Koei Tecmo on the game to create its story elements – and the practical approaches show this. While the game requires a working knowledge of Breath of the Wild to truly appreciate its strengths, Age of Calamity offers a dramatic weight that is rare in Nintendo games.
High stakes fight
It’s important to set the right expectations for Age of Calamity’s gameplay – it’s still primarily a Musou game that is similar to Dynasty Warriors. That comes with all the good and bad that the genre has to offer. The fight is incredibly satisfying, but the repetition is burned into its core. Players will knock down tens of thousands of enemies, repeating objectives over and over, and crushing the same two buttons until their fingers get sore. Anyone who has not yet decided on this type of game probably won’t find a revelation here.
Every time I got tired of the fighting, I unlocked a different character who instantly sparked my interest.
Age of Calamity is doing an exemplary job of keeping the fight fresh until the end of its 20-hour campaign. The main secret of success lies in the concentration on the character. There are a total of 18 playable heroes that are continuously unlocked as the game progresses. Every time I got tired of the battles, I unlocked someone who instantly revived my interest.
The game takes an almost Super Smash Bros. approach to character creation. While the basic attacks and buttons are the same for every hero, each one has their own quirks that make them feel special. Impa can create clones of itself to crush more enemies at once, while Revali can throw itself in the air and rain arrows down from above. Such differences add a level of experimentation to the game every time players unlock a new character, and turn repetitive targets into a fun battleground.
Runic skills play a huge role in combat. This is the main change in the game from the first Hyrule warriors. Each character can throw bombs, freeze enemies, grab metal objects, and create walls of ice to counter enemies, adding surprising variety to the standard battle loop for light and heavy attacks. Additionally, the way the skills work changes from character to character, giving players another compelling reason to change things up on each mission and see what kind of damage they can do.
That’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the length that the developers have taken to keep changing the fight. Different weapons can completely change movement sets, each character has a special ability on the right trigger that is completely unique, and new combos are continuously unlocked through the story. There are an amazing amount of options to play around with to successfully prove that there is more than one way to skin a Hinox.
Pushed to the limit
At first glance, Age of Calamity looks slimmer compared to the original Hyrule Warriors. The Wii U version featured a menu full of game modes that took over 200 hours to complete, while the new game has a core story mode. The light veneer turns out to be an illusion as the game is actually full of content.
The game uses the Breath of the Wild map as its overworld screen, displaying all of the available missions, subquests, and unlockable items. The map fills with symbols throughout the adventure, which becomes downright daunting in the end. Having each target in one place is a huge improvement over the comparatively disorganized Hyrule Warriors. There’s still a lot to be done, though most of it revolves around more slashes, but it’s a less excessive offering that’s easier to navigate.
With all of this content, Age of Calamity is really pushing the Switch to its limits. It’s a huge game that is not without its technical flaws. Crazy combos can cause the frame rate to temporarily drop to the speed of a slideshow. Even stranger, sometimes the game inexplicably doubles in speed and looks like a movie that’s fast-forwarding.
The multiplayer mode in particular bears the brunt of the technical pain. The game has a split screen for two players that dramatically lowers the performance of the game in a comedic way. That’s a shame because it offers a really enjoyable couch co-op experience that rewards friends who can coordinate and execute a battle plan.
Crazy combos can cause the frame rate to temporarily drop to the speed of a slideshow.
To his credit, the game never crashed on me, even if it felt like my Switch was about to explode. It has always made it out of a stutter unscathed and flawlessly. In some ways, the stutters almost feel like a badge of honor letting the players know that they carried out a seriously devastating attack. It’s not ideal, but at least it’s not groundbreaking.
Like Zelda herself, the game can sometimes feel like it’s gone over your head in the battle against technology. That’s part of the fun of the genre, however. Musou games require large swings to make players feel like an unstoppable force of nature. For all its stutters, Age of Calamity successfully brings Hyrule’s great war to life and lets the champions live up to their title.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity sets the bar for both Nintendo spin-offs with A + stories that enhance the breath of the wild and enable deceptively diverse, character-based battles. It’s still a Dynasty Warriors game, good or bad, but the game makes that less of a limitation than a fresh start for a polarizing genre.
Is there a better alternative?
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is still king, but Age of Calamity is perhaps the best and most accessible musou game out there.
How long it will take?
The campaign with a healthy dose of side missions lasts north of 20 hours, but it will take twice as long to reach 100%.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you loved Breath of the Wild, it’s an excellent accompaniment that adds retrospectively to the experience.