I loved the original Hyrule Warriors a whole heap, in part because I just like Warriors games in general, but mostly because it felt like a celebration of the history of The Legend of Zelda. An admittedly contrived plot paved the way for a whole host of fan-favourite characters to make an appearance, and modes like Adventure Mode called back to the series’ 8-bit roots in fun, creative ways.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a rather different proposition. It’s a direct prequel to Breath of the Wild–itself a bold move away from the games that came before it–and from I’ve seen in the couple of hours I’ve played so far, it plays that pretty straight. I’ve yet to see any surprise interdimensional visits from other Links or a sudden switch to a playable Ganon. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing–in exchange for the frivolity and fan-service of the first Hyrule Warriors, Age of Calamity is showing the makings of a much stronger central narrative.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity takes place 100 years before the events of Breath of the Wild, in the lead-up to the Great Calamity that destroyed Hyrule and installed Calamity Ganon as ruler. It retraces events that were a major part of Breath of the Wild, only this time, you’re witnessing them first-hand instead of through flashbacks. It adds a welcome new perspective to a familiar tale, and the early game teases some interesting developments to follow that could, potentially, recontextualise a lot of what we thought we knew about the Great Calamity.
This setup, coupled with the usual Warriors framework, means more of Breath of the Wild‘s cast get to take centre-stage as playable characters. The likes of Urbosa, Daruk, Revali, and Mipha bring their own weapons and fighting styles, allowing for wildly different styles of play. I’m especially partial to Impa, whose ability to summon shadow clones creates a mesmerising loop of tactical summoning, steadily increasing damage, and then sending the shadows out with a big, destructive bang before starting the whole cycle again.
Sheikah Slate abilities add another layer to that. Everyone has access to the Remote Bombs, Stasis, Cryonis, and Magnesis powers that Breath of the Wild players will recognise, but each character has a slightly different version of those powers. Link’s Remote Bomb throws three large bombs in succession that you can aim to some extent, while Revali’s is a cluster of smaller bombs in a spread pattern that suck in nearby enemies.
Where Age of Calamity deviates substantially from your typical Warriors game is in its Divine Beasts. Every now and then, you get to pilot one of these giant, lumbering, mechanical behemoths that can wipe out hundreds of foes in a single attack. There’s something incredibly satisfying about pressing a button and seeing your KO counter jump so dramatically. But the Divine Beasts aren’t just a free win button, either; they have their own setpiece levels with different challenges uniquely suited to their particular strengths and weaknesses.
But for all Age of Calamity‘s charms, I still can’t help but feel a little disappointed at move away from the universes-collide frivolity of Hyrule Warriors. For me, part of what makes Warriors work so well as a framework for licensed games is its ability to playfully bring beloved elements of a whole franchise together. It was neat to be able to play Ganon for a change, to enjoy the delightful misadventures of Linkle, and to delve into a fun throwback to the original Legend of Zelda in Adventure Mode. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is doing something different, and doing it well, but I can’t shake a little tinge of sadness at what it’s not.
But looked at purely as a follow-up to Breath of the Wild, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is turning out to be fantastic. Divine Beasts, Sheikah Slate abilities, and an ensemble cast all help Age of Calamity to forge close ties with Breath of the Wild, while opening a door to fun, creative twists on the Warriors formula. It’s shaping up to be a wonderful addition to this new chapter in Zelda history, and a nice way to tide folks over until we get more information about Breath of the Wild 2. Here’s hoping that as I spend more time with it, I’ll learn to better appreciate it for what it is, instead of lamenting what it’s not.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity launches 20 November 2020 for Nintendo Switch.