December 21, 2020
Earlier this year, I’m sure you remember all the Nintendo fans were clamoring for new announcements. “Nothing’s even releasing this year other than Animal Crossing!” Suddenly at the end of the year we got a slew of new announcements and release dates, and good ones to boot!
We have a ton to be excited about now, that’s for sure. We have Pikmin 3 being ported to Nintendo Switch, and a shadow drop of No More Heroes and No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. To top it all off, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity was announced and released quickly thereafter.
Koei Tecmo’s Hyrule Warriors for Wii U made a splash when it came out. So much, in fact, that it was rereleased for Nintendo 3DS and later for Nintendo Switch with additional content. These releases were known as Hyrule Warriors Legends and Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition.
Age of Calamity is more than a mere fan service fueled thrill ride, however. Its predecessor focused on over-the-top antics and heavy spectacle. The newest entry in the Warriors spinoff series retains the action-packed gameplay, but rather than a star-studded cast, this title’s focus on a smaller cast creates a fun, cinematic story experience.
For this review, I will be using the same scale I have for the rest of the Zelda series on the Two Guys Playing Zelda website. I will examine the game based on four categories, graphics, sound, gameplay, and story, and award up to ten points each for a total out of forty.
Just as a warning, this review will involve spoilers, but I will only put them in the story portion. If you would like to remain spoiler free, feel free to skip past that section.
From start to finish, Age of Calamity closely resembles Breath of the Wild. The development team went out of their way to make everything from the cutscenes to the menus feel like an extension of the original game.
Playing this game feels as closely as it can to a Zelda game largely because of this dedication. If you played Breath of the Wild for Switch, you already know what to expect from the game graphically. It cannot be understated how perfectly it translates to another gameplay style.
The Age of Calamity frame rate has its issues, that’s no secret. I do think it is blown out of proportion depending on who you ask, however. In general, the frame rate is steady. There are a few particular areas where the dips are noticeable, and if your character uses effects that cause a lot of graphical confusion onscreen, this can double down on itself.
The effect of this is negligible in single player. At no point did the gameplay slow down so much that it made a noticeable difference. Multiplayer is a different story.
In split-screen mode, having two characters’ perspectives loading simultaneously taxes the game. This can cause the framerate to chug along if you fire off large lightning effects with Urbosa, for example. It didn’t ruin my co-op experience, however it definitely detracted.
I try to take official artwork into account for these reviews, however there was very little released for this game that doesn’t also exist inside the game. The key art for every character is provided with a short description when you unlock new characters, so that’s cool, but there’s not much to say about it outside mentioning that it exists.
In the end, the art style is nostalgic and endearing, enhanced by the fact that it calls back to Breath of the Wild so heavily. It wouldn’t be a service to anybody to restate myself. But if you would like a little more description, check out my review of Breath of the Wild on the Two Guys Playing Zelda website. Everything I said applies here as well.
The frame rate dips are not game-breaking, but they are keeping this category from being perfect. After very little issues in a forty-hour playthrough, I was going to rank this nine out of ten. Dips on co-op are more frequent, however, making it very difficult to play at times. I give the Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity graphics an eight out of ten.
One thing many people praise the game for is its stupendous soundtrack. At first, this confounded me. Many of my online mutuals poured out praise for tunes which had gone entirely unnoticed. Nothing stood out to me about it, why was everybody else hyping it up so much?
The answer is simple, and it goes back to the name of this category. I look at sound design as a whole when reviewing a game, and the sound design in here is… odd. While upon replaying missions and going through much of the side content, I did find myself enjoying the music more than my first trip around the block. I had to actively listen for it throughout the adventure.
As a Warriors game, there is constantly something happening onscreen. Often many, if not too many things. Being a fan of the series, I am used to this, however it can become cumbersome to try and pay attention to all this as well as notice the soundtrack.
This becomes even more difficult with the plethora of other sounds present. Enemy attacks, player character attacks, grunts of exertion and pain, and voice clips to go along with such, create a constant cacophony that distracts from what would otherwise be a killer audio experience.
Age of Calamity vs Hyrule Warriors
A comparison I will make is Age of Calamity vs. Hyrule Warriors. The original managed to mesh such sounds with an exciting, energetic score that kept your blood pumping the whole time. You could easily find yourself humming the tunes for weeks afterward.
Age of Calamity’s soundtrack being comparatively muted does nothing for it. I can’t put my finger on it to say whether this is because of the sound being mastered oddly or simply a difference in composition style.
Kumi Tanioka spearheaded the music this time around, a newcomer to the Zelda and Musou series alike. Her pedigree is impressive, however, having worked on many Final Fantasy series games. By far my favorite of her works was with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.
Crystal Chronicles is far from the high-flying style of a Musou game. While it’s not boring, the slower pace lends itself to a totally different style of music. Perhaps personal preference dictates my feelings here, but I consider the music in the original Hyrule Warriors a better fit for the style.
Is that a fair comparison, though? This is not just a Warriors game, this is a Zelda game too. Or at least it is attempting to become a cohesive combination of the two. Did it succeed? Let’s give another comparison to determine that; Age of Calamity Vs. Breath of the Wild.
Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild took a different direction from its predecessors in the Zelda series. Previous titles like Twilight Princess and Ocarina of Time are known for their badass, bombastic overworld themes, tantalizing combat tunes, and memorable story moments are often defined by the music alone.
It went back a step musically to focus on the world sounds and ambience. This served it well for what it was, but ended up leaving much of the soundtrack unmemorable.
Age of Calamity seems to have upped the ante from Breath of the Wild’s style. What I would consider barely more than background noise has transformed into an integral part of the game experience. The only problem is that I cannot help but compare it to the average Zelda game.
When I think of combining Breath of the Wild’s music with that of a Musou game, Age of Calamity gets exactly what I think of, but no more. Because it lacks the eclectic enthusiasm the series is known for, it ends up being something else. Something good, but not great. While it combines the aspects well, it doesn’t manage to enhance either one by doing so.
All of the sound design in this game was done well. I have small gripes about the mastering leaving the music as background noise, but it worked for what it was. The only major downfall is that this game is fresh in my mind yet I have a stronger recollection of the original Hyrule Warriors soundtrack.
It’s good, but as soon as I finish the next game from my backlog, I won’t remember it. This coupled with the issues in the sound levels leaves seven out of ten for Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity’s sound design.
What is Age of Calamity? Many are touting Age of Calamity among the greatest of Zelda games. Myself, I don’t categorize it as such, however good I think it is. It’s not a Zelda game to me, it’s a Musou game.
Musou is a game series by Koei Tecmo which I have followed loosely since the original Xbox generation with Dynasty Warriors 4. The games center around fighting hundreds, if not thousands of enemies at once. You also regularly fight larger, powerful foes like enemy generals, or boss monsters, depending on the specific game.
Hyrule Warriors and Age of Calamity are some of the more recent Musou spinoffs. It has also crossed over with supergiant series such as One Piece, Gundam, and the upcoming Persona 5 Strikers is a Musou game as well.
There are key distinctions that I posit as proof that Age of Calamity is not Zelda. To me, a Zelda game is focused on puzzle solving and exploration. Not that other elements cannot exist within the game, but they are not the primary selling point.
Musou games have very little of either, if any. Rather, they are through-and-through action games. This is not a bad thing, but I disagree strongly with people calling it a Zelda game.
The style of Musou action complements Zelda’s plethora of charming characters. While Link is the primary protagonist in the mainline games, this spinoff allows you to fight as Zelda, the four champions, and many other characters.
Characters & Modes
Every character has a unique set of combo moves to utilize, as well as a “unique action” that only they can perform. These tie into their fighting style and truly make all of the characters feel unlike each other, despite the combos having largely the same button inputs between them.
In terms of Age of Calamity multiplayer, it is largely the same. The split-screen is a little awkwardly laid out, often leaving you unable to see enemy health bars. However that doesn’t stop the frantic fun of mowing through enemies with a buddy.
The co-op experience could be better, however it works well enough that I’m glad it is included. As I said previously, the framerate dips are the only thing really holding this back from being a perfect experience.
Age of Calamity Open World?
Following up the last Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, many are asking, is Age of Calamity open world? Not exactly, however it has open world elements which enhance it from what has come before.
The original Hyrule Warriors’ world design was entirely level-based. Once you beat one level you go to the next, with negligible variation. Age of Calamity is level based as well. This time, though, you have certain segments of the story which allow you to play through levels in any order.
In addition, you often unlock side-missions on your world map. These include extra challenges against fearsome foes, training missions to learn each character, and some silly side-stories if you’re into the world building aspect.
Despite not truly being open world, the freedom within and varied content breaks up the monotony from previous Musou games. I loved a lot of the wacky challenges along the way, and it was nice to have a tutorial mission for every character when you unlocked them.
What does all this amount to? A solid Musou game with slathers of stupefying side-content that’s kept me engaged for over sixty-five hours. While it misses the mark in what defines a Zelda game, it does something entirely different as well as possible. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity gameplay earns a perfect ten.
(SPOILER WARNING, SKIP THIS SECTION TO AVOID SPOILERS!)
Time to get into the nitty-gritty; the true reason I picked this game up. As a Zelda fanatic, I could not help but jump in day one. After all, like many, I was enticed by the story of what happened one hundred years before Breath of the Wild!
Wait… That is literally not what this game is about. Age of Calamity is not a prequel to Breath of the Wild. The story is singular, standalone. Though it mentions characters and plot points from its predecessor, it has nothing to do with it.
I’m not saying this is inherently a bad thing. However it was an underhanded move from Nintendo to promise gamers one thing and deliver something totally unrelated. The game we were promised would be bittersweet, leading to the eventual death of King Rhoam, the Champions, and the ultimate defeat of Zelda and Link.
The product we received is a finely forged fanfiction. I like it for what it is, but I would have loved it if it were a true prequel. Also I would be far less salty about it if this was what it was advertised as in the first place.
A Flawed Story
The story is good, as stories go, but not without flaws. Astor, the mysterious new villain, serves as nothing more than a MacGuffin to facilitate the resurrection of Calamity Ganon. He caused so much speculation before the game released, and his overall plot influence amounted to naught.
Of all things, he was even warned by Sooga, another newfound antagonist, that working for Ganon could screw him over. And then it did. That was his whole story. He didn’t listen to Sooga and Ganon ate him.
He had a cool presence while he was on screen, but he was a bigger letdown than General Grievous. That’s right, an asthmatic robot who died 2 minutes into the movie had greater impact. I guess that’s what happens when you stand around brooding and edgelord-ing and never get out of your angsty teen phase.
The worst part of Astor and his situation is that we don’t know whether or not he really exists in the canon. In fact, we don’t know, is Age of Calamity canon at all? For all we know, this was Astor’s one chance to shine, and he gleamed with a fraction of the intensity of a flaming turd.
Okay, so I said the story was good and then I compared it to fecal matter, when am I getting to the praise part? I suppose I’ll start now that I got all that off my chest. The story, for what it was, delivered on many levels.
Too Much Fan Service
Expecting very few characters relative to other Musou titles, I was stunned when I unlocked some left-fielders as well as people who I wouldn’t have predicted because they didn’t exist until a century later in the timeline.
I could not help but heave a haughty “FUCK YES” when Riju came through the portal to assist Urbosa. As little sense as it made, I was ecstatic to see my favorite character from Breath of the Wild enter the fray. Bringing back the Champions’ descendants was a fanservice move, but man did they pull it off well.
Every moment of this game went a different direction than I expected. Though I didn’t live my dark, dreary desire, those moments were made with such care that I didn’t mind so much.
One thing I hate in stories is cop-out “he was okay the whole time” situations. When you are led to believe that a character dies, bringing them back feels like you’re being force-fed a happy ending. It undermines the care that went into the death scene, and demeans its impact as a story moment.
When King Rhoam was implied to have died, I thought again it might be going in a little darker direction. Though I still felt the impact of the scene (which itself was a tear-jerker) bringing back Rhoam in his old man guise, and then working that into his moveset as well made for a surprising hype moment.
Again, this was fanservice, just like the descendants coming in. But fanservice can be a good thing. Ask anybody who’s been watching The Mandalorian what they think of all the cameos. It was simply serendipitous to be reunited with Rhoam and to meet some unexpected characters, and overall these cheesy moments helped the game find its own identity.
It Is What It Is
This game’s story is not a prequel to Breath of the Wild. It is not canon, at least in my mind, though that could change next time they update Hyrule Historia. Nor is it an emotional roller coaster, nor perfect showcase of characters with emotional depth. Best of all, it doesn’t pretend to be any of these things.
Age of Calamity, rather than any artistic, highbrow Oscar bait, is a mindless action flick starring Bruce Willis or Jason Statham. It is a hype train with just enough interesting story bits to keep you interested. It is fanservice at its finest, and if that’s not what you wanted (It’s not what I wanted) then that’s okay.
For what it is, it is as close to perfect as it could possibly be. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity’s story earns it a ten. In spite of perplexing plotholes and pointless characters, it ties it all together with indescribable panache. It isn’t what I wanted or what I expected, but hot damn is it awesome!
Thirty-five out of forty is close to the best game I have played this year. Despite not hitting on every note for me personally, I can’t really complain with the product. I can and will complain about false advertising, but putting that behind me I am able to see this game as a fantastic homage to Breath of the Wild.
In my opinion, the predecessor is the best open world game of all time. The story landed with me in a way few others have managed, though I know I am in the minority. Age of Calamity brings forth a story that pays tribute while simultaneously offering something new and unique. It does so in such a way that a much larger audience seems to appreciate it as well.
For any fan of Musou or Breath of the Wild, this is an absolute must-play. If I were to rank it among the rest of the series with my review series on Twoguysplayingzelda.com, it would come in at number eight, in a tie with A Link Between Worlds.
Now I’ll turn the topic over to you. did you play it? Did you like it? Am I nuts for maining Daruk? Hit me up on Twitter, or start a larger discussion in the TGPZ Gaming Discord server and we can keep the conversation spelunking!