Hyrule Warriors was one of the most interesting games of the Wii U- an interesting blend of Zelda themes mixed with Warriors gameplay. Age of Calamity is very similar to its precursor in that it has fast, frenetic action mixed with capturing objectives and routing enemies in a mission-like structure. A third person action title sure to excite Warriors and Zelda fans alike, is Age of Calamity a wild breath of fresh air, or is it a calamitous button masher? Let’s find out.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was an incredible game that detailed the story of Link and Zelda against Calamity Ganon- and how they failed to defeat evil incarnate a century prior. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity takes place during that time period only alluded to or shown in memories in Breath of the Wild- during the time of the calamity’s first rise across Hyrule. This would normally mean that players would know exactly how Age of Calamity ends right out of the gate, but thanks to some time travel hijinks, that’s not quite the case for this game. Age of Calamity manages to be a good deal more lighthearted than the stoic Breath of the Wild, with a couple curve balls thrown in for fan service throughout the course of the game.
The actual action in Age of Calamity carries over some very specific mechanics from Breath of the Wild, such as dodging at the last moment to trigger a Flurry Rush or using Magnesis to fling metal boxes into enemies, but for the most part this is a straightforward Dynasty Warriors-style game with a lot of depth in its execution. For those who have played the original Hyrule Warriors or even any previous Warriors game made by Koei Tecmo, you should be delighted to know that there are tons of options each character has at any given time that you can take advantage of to get a leg up on the battlefield, even moreso than the original Hyrule Warriors ever had. Players will intermix light and strong attacks to clear through fields of Bokoblins, Lizalfos, Keese, and other hallmark Zelda enemies, and use the special powers of their chosen character to cut down powerful foes like Lynels and Hinoxes.
One of the important differences from Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition in comparison to Age of Calamity is that while there are fewer characters present in this game, each character plays differently from one another or has some unique mechanic. The Gerudo Champion Urbosa, for example, has a lightning gauge that she fills up by attacking (or standing still and charging, though in most cases you can just fill it faster by cutting through swaths of Bokoblins), and she can expend this gauge to do amped strong attacks at the end of her combos- and even recur some of the spent lightning if you press ZR with the proper timing after an attack.
Impa, on the other hand, can cast symbols on enemies and then absorb them by doing strong attacks, effectively performing Shadow Clone Jutsu as she summons copies of herself per symbol absorbed. The clones have the benefits of performing extra hits while she attacks, meaning that her special attack gauge builds blazingly fast- Impa can practically spam special attacks in the late game, stocking 3 special attacks in less than 20 seconds for easy dispatching of Guardians, Lynels, and whatever else may harass you. Each character has a unique mechanic, typically activated with ZR, that players can utilize to gain maximum advantage on the battlefield, and each one typically specializes in something other characters don’t (there’s even a later character who focuses on dash attacks, of all things).
The Weak Point Smash mechanic from Hyrule Warriors returns, as well. To explain this, when an elite class enemy like a Moblin, Hinox, Lynel, etc., does a powerful attack, a gauge will appear that you can break to perform an exceptionally powerful Weak Point Smash to deplete huge portions of their health. However, there are far more ways to force an enemy to expose their Weak Point Gauge than Hyrule Warriors had- that game basically required you use a character’s later combo to force the gauge to be revealed, but in Age of Calamity attacks that hit an enemy weak spot will forcibly reveal the Weak Point Gauge for you to deal damage- so characters like Mipha who can quickly launch herself into the air with her whirlpools can easily hit the heads of tall targets to damage their gauges without the need to wait for the foes to do big attacks.
The Sheikah Slate from Breath of the Wild also shows up in Age of Calamity and every character has access to it. The various runes are actually used by all of the characters in different ways, such as how Link tosses multiple Remote Bombs that allows you to aim where he throws them, while Zelda creates a giant spider bomb that you can direct into foes for maximum destruction. Some benefits of the runes are nearly universal, like how Cryonis can be used with most characters to freeze enemies standing in water, and Stasis can be used to give players even larger openings to destroy Weak Point Gauges when exposed.
Enemies may perform attacks that certain Sheikah Slate runes can stop partway through, typically with the symbol of the rune glowing on the enemy as they perform the attack. This means if a Lynel is about to charge toward you, the Cryonis symbol will appear over them- meaning you can activate Cryonis to have the Lynel charge right into the block of ice and be “knocked out,” giving you a huge opening to deal big damage. These signaled attacks somewhat function like mid battle quick-time events, but it can make you feel absurdly powerful to use Magnesis to catch an enemy’s thrown weapon out of the air and toss it back into their face for a nice, meaty beating.
Another new mechanic in Age of Calamity is a wheel of elemental rods, and healing that you can save for emergencies if you need it. Using a fire rod against an ice typed enemy or that is standing in tall grass will severely damage them and instantly reveal and crack their Weak Point Gauges, so it takes fewer hits to break. Ice rods do the same for fire typed enemies, and lightning rods stun enemies but severely injure ones standing near metal objects or in pools of water. Between the runes, rods, and unique actions, each character has a tremendous amount of options to take down foes, far more than was ever present in the original Hyrule Warriors. Characters can jump into the air and chip away at weak spots, activate Stasis, then do a big combo on the ground. Once you get the hang of it, combat flow is exceptionally fluid and can make you feel very powerful.
To add on top of all of the other mechanics mentioned previously, each character in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity can level up and some may even have completely different weapons they can utilize (Link using his traditional sword and shield will play like a completely different character from him using a spear or claymore). Each weapon can be leveled up via weapon fusion and customized further with skill seals, as well, offering loads of flexibility in how you approach kitting out your preferred crew. Impa may enjoy Special Attack Damage+, since she charges special attacks blisteringly fast, but Revali would enjoy Midair Attack Damage+ since he can take flight at basically any time as his ZR action. This added customization is much appreciated as gives the player even more to personalize and grind for as you play through Age of Calamity.
Of course, Hyrule Warriors, especially Definitive Edition, was known for having a tremendous amount of content. The amount of content in Age of Calamity is roughly equivalent to pre-DLC Hyrule Warriors, taking around 70-80 hours to fully complete and unlock everything, though obviously a little longer if you want to fully level up every single character. Comparing Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition to launch Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a little bit unfair as the former had years of downloadable content, but it should at least be noted that there’s still quite a lot of meat to Age of Calamity even if it isn’t as much as its predecessor’s definitive edition.
The amount of content in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is still pretty great, but one major problem with the game lays with performance: The game looks great in many cases and massacring hundreds of Lizalfos at once is quite satisfying, but in a lot of cases the frame rate just can’t handle how awesome the game is. Sometimes in specific areas or during certain attacks that utilizing a lot of lightning effects, the frame rate will drop into the teens, at best, which gets exacerbated if you’re playing in split-screen multiplayer (may your favorite deity help you if the person playing co-op with you loves playing as Urbosa, as her special attack can drop the frame rate into single digits in multiplayer).
The graphical fidelity of Age of Calamity is great- this is a Warriors game using the Breath of the Wild aesthetic, so it looks absolutely gorgeous outside of the performance issues. The music is very much in line with Breath of the Wild: Rather than the adrenaline-filled tracks of the original Hyrule Warriors, Age of Calamity very much uses the composition style of Breath of the Wild instead. This means tracks are a little less hard-hitting but still convey urgency when necessary.
Overall, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity has a lot more Zelda elements than the first Hyrule Warriors, seamlessly blending Breath of the Wild’s Flurry Rush and Hyrule Warriors Weak Point Smashes, among many other elements. The prequel-seeming story is quickly abandoned for a more pleasant “What if” style of plot, which may not be to everyone’s preference, but the gameplay is rock-solid. With loads of content for you to slice and dice your way through, there’s plenty to enjoy assuming you’re not sensitive to performance issues, which are present especially in multiplayer. If Warriors titles and The Legend of Zelda aren’t your thing, you may be best served looking at other games, but almost anyone who marginally likes beat ‘em ups and Zelda will find something to appreciate in Age of Calamity.