Prequels are precarious things. When your audience knows where the story is going to go, there isn’t much chance to surprise and delight them. It was one of the many things that held back the Star Wars prequels, after all. So, when Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity was announced, that was the biggest source of trepidation for me. However, sometimes knowing the destination doesn’t really matter if the journey there is one that we can enjoy together.
Age of Calamity might not be the perfect Legend of Zelda game, but it is a more than capable of keeping fans satisfied until Breath of the Wild 2 finally hits the Switch. We’re not going to be discussing spoilers here, so proceed without fear.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity Review
I’ve already covered some of the backstory to this game, but it is important for fans to know that Age of Calamity doesn’t play like a Zelda game usually does. Fans of the previous Hyrule Warriors game or the Dynasty Warriors series will feel right at home, but the one thing this game doesn’t try to do is capture the openness and exploration of Breath of the Wild. Maps are set and boundaries are far more real. It can be a little bit jarring to be so deep into the Breath of the Wild world and be confronted with these constraints, but you’ll quickly adapt and enjoy the chaotic action for what it is.
Action is the point of the Dynasty Warriors games and Age of Calamity is no different. You’ll fight through wave after wave of enemy troops, using elaborate attacks and powerful special moves until you reach an enemy captain or a boss fight, which will require a bit more effort and strategy to overcome. It’s a tried and true formula what works well to make the world feel like it is besieged by the forces of darkness. I don’t know if it would really capture my attention if it wasn’t wrapped up in a familiar, Zelda-shaped package, but I definitely had fun nonetheless.
Age of Calamity is set 100 years before the events of Breath of the Wild and serves to tell the story of how the Champions came into their Divine Beasts as well as the rise of Calamity Ganon. If that previous sentence seemed like complete nonsense to you, this game might not be for you. The narrative expects the player to come in with a certain amount of knowledge of the setting and the events. In some ways, it is simply filling in the gaps of Link’s memories from the first game, but in a way that fleshes out characters we only caught glimpses of previously. Age of Calamity definitely feels more like a Zelda game than a Dynasty Warriors game.
The characters are one place where this game truly shines. You get access to the four Champions as well as Zelda, Impa, and Link early on, with other characters joining the roster more slowly over time. Link is especially interesting, as his portrayal isn’t that of the confused amnesiac who wakes up naked in a bathtub in Breath of the Wild. Age of Calamity Link isn’t trying to remember how to be a hero. He already is a hero and soldier in the service to the Hyrule royal family. Even before he wields the Master Sword, there isn’t really any question about if he has the courage to stand up to Calamity Ganon.
Even the knowledge that this story isn’t going to end well for our heroes won’t put much of a damper on the enjoyment you get from the game. In fact, that’s kind of the point. To see these characters struggle against a fate they cannot escape, to try to create a world where they can stop this encroaching evil is one of the most heart-breaking but rewarding stories we could have gotten at the end of 2020.
That isn’t to say the game doesn’t have some surprises. It definitely has some interesting twists going into the third act, so if you go in expecting to know exactly how it is going to play out, I think it will manage to surprise you.
While the gameplay doesn’t feel very familiar to Zelda fans, everything else will. Age of Calamity is filled with music, sound, and design that feels right at home with fans of Breath of the Wild. Koei Tecmo games did a fantastic job of not just recreating the look of my favourite Zelda game but everything else about it as well. This feels exactly like the world I spent hours running around and exploring Hyrule fell and the kingdom was reclaimed by nature.
Overall, this is definitely a game for fans of the original. However, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity still delivers the fun action of Dynasty Warriors is known for while looking and feeling like a true prequel to Breath of the Wild, which is not an easy feat.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is out now for the Nintendo Switch.