My exposure to and interest in Koei Tecmo’s Warriors franchise has always been fairly limited. On the other hand, I am a longtime fan of The Legend of Zelda franchise, and Breath of the Wild in particular happens to be one of my favorites. So when it was announced that Breath of the Wild would be getting a direct prequel in the form of a second Hyrule Warriors installment, I was both interested and wary. While Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a solid action game, several issues hold it back from true greatness.
Being a Warriors title, Age of Calamity primarily sees players plowing through massive armies of foes with a simple, flashy combat system. Combos are mainly performed through a string of light attacks followed by a heavy attack finisher, and they usually have massive areas of effect so that tens if not thousands of enemies can be defeated with ease. It’s an intuitive system that allows for a decent amount of variation in characters’ movesets, and half the fun of the game involves experimenting with each character’s different combos to see what they do. The smaller, weaker enemies mainly exist as fodder to fill up the special attack gauge more quickly, while the larger enemies are where the main challenge lies. Beating these foes involves depleting the weak point gauge for a super attack, which will only appear after the player dodges certain attacks or exposes weaknesses. These conditions make the weak point gauge a solid method for encouraging players to learn enemy tells and vulnerabilities, and the massive attack performed after depleting the gauge is a wonderful reward for fully engaging with foes. Aside from some light base management elements, this makes up the core gameplay loop of Age of Calamity, and it’s an incredibly addictive one that provides a surface-level power fantasy while still encouraging players to think about their attack strategy.
What really makes Age of Calamity stand out is how the ideas and mechanics present in Breath of the Wild are repurposed to fit an action game context. For instance, the Flurry Rush mechanic, in which players perform a series of attacks after dodging an attack at the last moment, is a perfect fit for Age of Calamity’s fast-paced combat. The Sheikah Slate runes used for puzzle-solving and environmental traversal in Breath of the Wild are smartly incorporated here both as extra attack options and as hard counters for certain enemy attacks, and it’s fun to see each character’s flashy variation for each rune. The paraglider also fits well in Age of Calamity as a tool to extend aerial combat options. The playable cast includes nearly every major character from Breath of the Wild, each of which has an entirely unique moveset befitting their personality or original role. Some of the attacks even pay homage to extremely obscure techniques found in that title, such as the bomb parry that Urbosa performs in her variation on the bomb rune. Elements like these really make Age of Calamity feel less like a cynical cash cow for the Breath of the Wild brand and more like a loving tribute from developers who were passionate about that title.
As fun as the gameplay can be, it is hampered by some glaring faults. Although the dodge has invincibility frames, it is unclear at which point in the animation those invincibility frames occur. I found myself getting hit by several attacks that I felt I should have dodged, and this issue is not helped by the occasionally wonky hitboxes on enemy attacks and the wildly inconsistent framerate, which caused many of my dodge inputs to be delayed. The camera can be horrifically uncooperative at times; often when the player is up against a wall, the camera will zoom in to clip through the character, making the action nearly undecipherable. This was especially problematic when a certain late-game boss spent nearly half the battle stuck in a narrow doorway, leading to many bad camera angles and failed attempts to get the boss to cooperate.
In addition to these problems, the latter half of the campaign really drags down the experience. It is at this point when the titular Calamity occurs, which means that whereas most games would place their climax near the end, this game extends its climax throughout most of its second half. To justify this from a gameplay perspective, the later missions pit players against scores of high-level enemies back-to-back, each requiring multiple weak-point strikes and special attacks to defeat. Considering how lengthy the campaign is, having to fight so many damage-sponge enemies for such an extended period of time quickly grows stale. I was completely worn out by the end of the game, and while this can be a satisfying feeling to have after finishing a hype-filled action game, having to fight three drawn-out mini-bosses twice in a row is the opposite of hype.
One particular mission exemplifies this issue and then some. Later in the mission, I was being utterly swamped by high-level enemies and could not prevent more of those enemies from infiltrating the base, leading to an instant game over. As it turns out, I neglected to defeat those enemies one-by-one before they began invading the base, which was the only time where I was punished for not effectively micromanaging the battlefield without the game telling me to. Unfortunately, the game automatically created a checkpoint well after the point where I could fix this problem, effectively locking me in an unwinnable situation that I could only undo by restarting the mission. The fact that this situation occurred in a modern AAA title is frankly awful, and that’s not even getting into the arduous process of defeating all of those enemies individually on the reattempt.
Ultimately, Age of Calamity is a fun action romp with many highlights, such as its presentation, combat, and extensive side content. Unfortunately, its issues leave it feeling like a footnote rather than a legend.
Score: 6 out of 10
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch