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Hyrule Warriors: Age Of Calamity review – Dynasty of the Wild

Nintendo is releasing a new Zelda game this year and while Age Of Calamity is not a sequel to Breath Of The Wild, it is a prequel.

2020 will not have been the first time Nintendo fans have had to endure a long stretch of months without any major first party games. This time it’s not Nintendo’s fault but for a while there it looked like they might go into Christmas without a single major new release. Pre-coronavirus, there was much speculation as to whether the sequel to Zelda: Breath Of The Wild would be ready in time, but given the release of Age Of Calamity it seems like that was never really the plan.

Hyrule Warriors is essentially a crossover between Zelda and Dynasty Warriors, Koei Tecmo’s long-running series of ultra-shallow action games, where the big gimmick is that you fight hundreds of enemies at once. There’s no story connection between the two series though, it’s just the gameplay that’s the same as Dynasty Warriors – a trick Koei Tecmo’s Omega Force team has used many times in the past, for franchises ranging from Gundam and Dragon Quest to Nintendo’s own Fire Emblem.

2014’s Hyrule Warriors on the Wii U – recently remastered for the Switch – was one of the better uses of the formula, in that it had slightly more complex combat than usual and the idea of playing as characters other than Link was an interesting novelty for Zelda fans. The original barely had a story and wasn’t based on any particular entry but Age Of Calamity takes a different approach and is an official prequel to Breath Of The Wild.

Age Of Calamity is set 100 years before the events of Breath Of The Wild and portrays the Great Calamity that laid waste to the land of Hyrule and which was previously only shown in brief flashbacks. That suggests a very downbeat ending, given how Breath Of The Wild begins, but Age Of Calamity starts with a cute little baby Guardian (the near-indestructible automatons that were supposed to be fighting for Hyrule but got taken over by Ganon) being transported back in time.

It hasn’t done much yet plot-wise, so we don’t know if maybe this is going to end up as an alternate timeline or something – given the Zelda series has several already – but that seems a distinct possibility.

If you’re not familiar with the Dynasty Warriors formula, it’s not one that needs much explanation. Battles take part on large, open world areas filled with outposts that can be taken over by your side or the enemy’s and will generate new cannon fodder fighters if left alone. Traditional Dynasty Warriors games don’t have much in the way of story but Age Of Calamity does and so each objective, from guarding Zelda to tricking a Guardian into following you has something more to it than just ‘go here and kill everything’ (although you do that anyway).

You start off by controlling Link, decked out in his generic Hyrule soldier gear, where combat works largely the same as the last game with a mixture of light and heavy attacks producing only a small number of different combos. Each character also has a different special attack that is dependent on a gauge that slowly fills up over time and a unique move, which in Link’s case is firing arrows but for other characters can be more complex.

The first new character you play as is Impa, who was never seen in her younger form in Breath Of The Wild. She has a terrible American accent that doesn’t seem to suit her at all, but her fighting technique is based around hexing enemies with magic symbols and resorbing them in order to power a set of magical clones to fight alongside her.

Urbosa works in a similar manner, storing electric power in order to use on enemies but also resorbing it to power up her sword. This sort of mechanical complexity is unusual for Dynasty Warriors, with another new one being the ability to conjure items which characters can then detonate with their special move. So, for example, Daruk the Goron is able to raise up explosive chunks of magma and Zelda uses the rune abilities of the Sheikah Slate to conjure giant bombs or multiple blocks of ice to shatter.

All of Zelda’s moves are based around using the Sheikah Slate to attack but each character can also use the runes (and the paraglider), freezing enemies with Stasis, using Cryonis to block charging enemies or attacking those in water, and using Magnesis to grab metal weapons out of an enemy’s hands or pick up metal boxes to hit them with.

With the added ability to use fire, electricity, and ice rods from downed Wizzrobes, there’s a lot more options here than you might expect, even if the combat remains relatively shallow. The problem we had with the original Hyrule Warriors is that despite being a game focused solely on action, the combat was more simplistic and less varied than actual Zelda games, where combat is only one element amongst many.

Age Of Calamity tries to address this by adding a little more depth – larger enemies have a defence gauge that you whittle down when they’re vulnerable after an attack and which can result in a quick kill – and ensuring that the overall experience is sufficiently different from normal Zeldas to avoid most direct comparisons.

It succeeds to a degree but when you’re running around battlefields that look and sound so similar to Breath Of The Wild, those comparisons are hard to avoid. At least weapons don’t break though, if that’s something you didn’t like about the original, and although Age Of Calamity’s equivalent of cooking and finding Korok seeds is more simplified, at least it’s there.

Despite it all we have to admit we are curious to see where the story goes and what other characters might be playable (there’s no sign of Linkle yet but smaller challenge missions are implied to take part in other realities, so other characters not relevant to Breath Of The Wild might still appear in cameos).

There’s also a neat mini-game where you get to control a divine beast, the first one being the Goron’s salamander-like Vah Rudania, which is able to wipe out hundreds of enemies at once with lava attacks – which makes for an amusing, if not very challenging, bonus mission.

The Dynasty Warriors formula has been around for 20 years now so there should be no confusion over what Age Of Calamity is, although this is the most complex and involved so far – even if that is a backhanded compliment. The biggest concern we have at the moment though is the visuals, which really struggle when in docked mode, especially the first battle on Hyrule Field.

Things are much better in handheld mode, and curiously the split-screen co-op doesn’t get any worse than single-player when docked, but coming off playing the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, it’s quite a culture shock to see Age Of Calamity seemingly running at sub-30fps. The frame rate is stable at the level but we’re hoping that there’ll be a day one patch to improve things, which is exactly what happened with Breath Of The Wild back in the day.

Age Of Calamity isn’t a traditional Zelda experience but if you’re a Zelda fan, there are some interesting things going on with the story and the range of playable characters. It most certainly is not Breath Of The Wild 2 but in a year such as this we’ll take what we can get.

Formats: Nintendo Switch
Price: £49.99
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Omega Force
Release Date: 20th November 2020
Age Rating: 12

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