Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity Review | IGN

If there’s one thing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild fans want, it’s more Breath of the Wild, and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is here to give us… something kinda like that. Like the previous Hyrule Warriors games, this is Zelda as seen through a Dynasty Warriors lens, but the key difference here is that Age of Calamity’s premise takes us back to the events of The Great Calamity referenced throughout Breath of the Wild. This is the story of the Champions, of Zelda’s struggle to awaken her power, and of the resurrection of Ganon. The resulting game is a great fit for Koei Tecmo’s famous 1 vs 1000 gameplay, and also a fun new spin on a much-loved world.

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity really does feel like a love letter to Breath of the Wild. It goes out of its way to include as many of the signature elements of that game as it can, from the bestiary and Sheikah powers, through to cooking, Koroks, clothing options and paragliding, and they really set the tone – but it doesn’t stop there.

Age of Calamity is packed with systems, mechanics, locations, and Easter eggs pulled from its predecessor, and coming across these is a joy. Of course Link can shield surf! Or parry Guardian lasers. And why shouldn’t he wield tree branches, soup ladles, and mops as weapons? And why not cast Magnesis to yank treasure chests out of the ground or use an Octorok to polish up rusty weapons? And what could be more normal than tuning the Sheikah Sensor to find ingredients across the map? My more than 40 hours with Age of Calamity were filled with moments in which Koei Tecmo’s reverence for the source material was abundantly clear.

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Age of Calamity is able to expand upon this world in a number of areas too. There’s a large cast of playable characters for one, letting you get a sense for how deadly Impa was as a young woman, or how skilled the Champions were in battle during their prime. We even get to pilot the Divine Beasts, and while these missions aren’t actually all that exciting, they’re still a good palate cleanser, as well as an effective way to bring Breath of the Wild’s backstory to life, and to make these lumbering titans feel more real than they ever did before.[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=Age%20of%20Calamity%20really%20does%20feel%20like%20a%20love%20letter%20to%20Breath%20of%20the%20Wild.”]

Perhaps the most significant new twist, however, is also likely to be the most divisive. The opening cutscene introduces us to a miniature Guardian who comes alive at the moment Zelda’s powers awaken – when all hope is lost – and then travels back in time to warn the heroes about what is to come. Now, the Guardian itself is adorable, sure, but the time-travelling motif naturally raises the question of whether this prequel will follow the events as described in Breath of the Wild, or whether it will create its own timeline by altering the past.

I’m not going to directly answer that question here, as the story should be yours to discover, but what I will say is that while many events transpire, and there’s plenty of high-stakes drama, the actual characterisation along the way is pretty lacking. Zelda, for instance, spends a big chunk of the time playing the one note she played in most of the memories in Breath of the Wild – namely, self-doubt that she’ll ever unlock her power and be useful. It’s disappointing that she’s played so straight when this was an opportunity to do more with, well, all of the main characters, actually.

This is especially awkward because in battle, Zelda is a straight-up brawler – she wields the Sheikah Slate as her primary weapon, and yet, this badass killing machine is still meek, bookish, and lacking confidence as far as the story is concerned. There’s even an escort mission in which she can’t fight, despite the fact that – mere moments earlier – she was slaughtering hundreds if not thousands of Bokoblins, Moblins, Lizalfos, and everything else Hyrule’s got. If Age of Calamity can toss a time-travelling Guardian into the mix, surely it could’ve done a little more with Zelda, too?

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Another way to look at it is that Breath of the Wild’s story was disjointed by design – you pieced it together as you came across memories and other flashbacks, whereas here we have a storyline that runs from start to finish, yet still doesn’t really tell us anything meaningful about its characters.

None of this should really be a surprise, though, because Age of Calamity is not trying to be a Final Fantasy game. Big events are often delivered through narrated text on-screen (with some pretty questionable voice acting), while the cutscenes are largely just brief interludes that help keep the story going, or show off something cool. The primary purpose of the overarching story really is to provide a backbone for ever-evolving gameplay across the dozens of hours of Age of Calamity. And in this capacity it serves its purpose admirably.

Impa Slap

While I’d have liked a little more insight into the characters, the Rock Roast of this game really is its combat. The foundation is deliberately simple, with every character having an array of different combos based around regular attacks transitioning into strong attacks, as well as a unique central mechanic. Impa, for instance, uses ZR to place symbols on enemies which she can then absorb with strong attacks to create mirror images of herself. Absorb three symbols and she’s at full power, with a line of clones fighting to either side of her. Impa can feel absurdly powerful in this state, spraying a barrage of blades at anyone in even the vaguest of vicinities. This feeling of power only grows as you upgrade her weapons and start to take advantage of seals – weapon augmentations – that suit her play style.[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=Impa%20can%20feel%20absurdly%20powerful…%20spraying%20a%20barrage%20of%20blades%20at%20anyone%20in%20even%20the%20vaguest%20of%20vicinities.”]

What’s impressive is that every character in the roster is this distinct. Urbosa, for instance, has a lightning gauge which can be channeled – one segment at a time – into extra-powerful strong attacks in her combos. Her fighting style is very much like a dance, and I love how she balances elegant, contained moves with outright devastation. Her lightning gauge is instantly refilled after using a weak-point smash too, allowing you to chain together shockingly effective sequences of moves.

Mipha, meanwhile, literally swims around the battlefield, and her key mechanic lets her close the distance to enemies by bursting from fountains, then juggle them in the air before launching them again with another fountain, and so on. Seals that do extra damage to airborne enemies work well for Mipha’s tridents.

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I’d love to also tell you about some of the insane characters you’ll unlock later on, but that would be spoiler territory, so instead I’ll just say: woah. Age of Calamity has some awesome surprises and some truly deep cuts that fans are really going to love. They don’t all land – some characters are more intuitive to use and more robust in design than others – but still, the overall roster is a lot of fun.

Coming back to what we can discuss, Link is perhaps the most traditional character, but he also offers up the most variety: he boasts different combos, special attacks, and ZR mechanics based on the weapon type he’s using – sword and shield, spear, or the two-handed weapon category. Sword and shield, for instance, opens up parrying, shield surfing, and a rapid-fire bow, whereas two-handed weapons let him sacrifice some of his own health to juice up attacks. He’s a powerhouse.

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Stasis a While and Listen

Of course, these are just a few of the ingredients going into this mighty combat stew. Every playable character can also use four Sheikah runes – Stasis, Cryonis, Magnesis and Remote Bombs – with a unique implementation for each character. Link uses his Cryonis block as a launcher, for instance, while Impa rides hers around like some kind of ultra-compact ice car. It’s fun seeing how each has been realised in-game.

The runes’ role in combat is less freewheeling than you might expect them to be, however, as each boss – including area bosses – clearly signposts when to use a particular rune against them. It’s not enough for a big Bokoblin to be holding a shield in front of its body – you’ll also get an unmissable bomb icon telling you explosives are the way to break its guard.

This happens in basically every combat encounter and, to be fair, is a wise move for a game that’s aiming to be broadly accessible. Age of Calamity’s combat isn’t meant to be punishing, after all, it’s meant to be empowering fun. The main issue for me is that all of this hand-holding discouraged me from experimenting and using my runes at other times, as I didn’t want to get caught out needing to counter an attack while the ability recharged.

That said, there are some instances in which it makes sense to proactively use rune powers. Any time you’re able to open an enemy up to chip away at its weak-point gauge, for instance, you can use Stasis to give yourself the opportunity to whittle it down further. And against any enemy with a weak-point gauge that’s very much your priority, as eliminating the gauge lets you execute a weak-point smash attack which will one-shot most area bosses and do a major chunk of damage to anything tougher. It would have been nice if all the rune powers had a similarly strategic impact, but generally speaking they’re used reactively.

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Elemental powers, on the other hand, work in much the same way as they did in Breath of the Wild. If you’re facing a Fire Moblin (yes, there are more enemy variants now), using an Ice Rod is going to be super effective, whereas waggling a Fire Rod in its direction will tickle it at best. And of course you can do things like target a metal crate with a Lightning Rod to amplify the area of effect. It’s good to see these kinds of interactions return.

Perhaps the most critical part of why the combat feels good, however, is Age of Calamity’s implementation of dodging. Being able to lock on to larger enemies then dodge away from their attacks is a big part of what gives the action its sense of speed, letting you dance around the outside of a massive enemy or go straight at Lynels, confident you can evade their Savage Lynel Swords. And best of all, if you dodge at the right time you’ll trigger a Flurry Rush that gives you an opening to take a big chunk off the opponent’s weak-point gauge. In Age of Calamity, dodging – and by extension the Flurry Rush – is king.[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=Many%20of%20the%20most%20thrilling%20missions%20double%20down%20on%20the%20fast-paced%20combat%20by%20putting%20you%20on%20the%20clock.”]

Many of the most thrilling missions double down on the fast-paced combat by putting you on the clock. There’s a real sense of urgency when you know you need to capture a certain number of outposts or take down a certain set of powerful enemies within a limited time. In these missions you’re not bothering with the cannon fodder or scouring the corners of the map for Koroks or treasure chests. Instead, you’re bee-lining for your objective, entirely focused on dodging attacks and finding ways to whittle down those crucial weak-point gauges. Often you’re also dispatching allies to the other key points on the map so that you can switch directly from one objective to another.

Combat can be a little rough around the edges, however. The camera isn’t always helpful and sometimes loses the action completely. And while Age of Calamity generally feels fast and responsive, the frame rate can vary a bit, and this is even more noticeable in splitscreen co-op, where the game’s gorgeous visual style also takes a significant hit. It’s a real shame Koei Tecmo didn’t allow for online co-op.

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On the Level

Age of Calamity can be as easy or as hard as you want it to be. Aside from the broad difficulty settings, you have the freedom to attempt missions while you’re under the recommended level, or conversely, only ever attempt missions once you’re well above. There are so many missions that unlock over the course of the campaign that I almost never found myself having to grind to hit a certain level. In fact, the times I repeated missions were for specific drops or enemy trophies to help me complete subquests across the map. The vast majority of the time I was doing new missions.

I really like the way the progression system is structured, too. You can pay to level up allies if need be, but a character’s level is obviously only part of the picture. Completing more missions with a character means you’ll get more weapon drops for them, and spare weapons can be fused onto your existing weapon to make it more powerful and add additional perks via the seal system. And no, your weapons will never break – not even if it’s a tree branch.[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=Spare%20weapons%20can%20be%20fused%20onto%20your%20existing%20weapon%20to%20make%20it%20more%20powerful%20and%20add%20additional%20perks%20via%20the%20seal%20system.”]

I’m also a fan of how cooking has been implemented in Age of Calamity. Recipes are unlocked, as opposed to discovered through experimentation, but if you have all the ingredients you’re able to cook one or more meals before every mission, and this opens up a whole host of possibilities. If you’re slightly under-leveled you might want to stack on attack power or reduce damage taken. If you know you’ll be facing a series of bosses you may want to widen the timing window for triggering Flurry Rushes. Perhaps you just want as much XP as you can get. Or bonus rupees. There are so many options, and sometimes making Dubious Food  is absolutely the right choice.

Age of Calamity really does offer a wealth of content. All the way through the main story I was steadily unlocking new characters, revealing more missions, gaining access to more services and perks, seeing new weapon seals pop up, and upgrading my roster with more combos, more hearts, stronger powers, and so on. At no point did I hit a wall; instead I was always making progress, and always having fun. And even now, with the main story complete, my journey still isn’t over because there’s so much left to do.

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