Koei Tecmo and Omega Force’s Musou (or Warriors) series has been in a difficult place for me as of late. While my most recent brush with the series, One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4, completely fell below expectations and turned out to be one of the worst games I’ve reviewed this year, my own personal encounters with the series through titles such as Berserk and the Band of the Hawk and Fire Emblem Warriors have found me appreciating the team’s approach to embracing each title’s source material and delivering me a near perfect execution of a video game adaptation of one of my favourite manga of all time. Needless to say, the surprise announcement of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity left me with mixed feelings.
Despite everything, I was quite excited for Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. Not only was the original Hyrule Warriors the first Musou game I ever experienced, introducing me to the empowering feeling of mindlessly slashing through hoards of enemies while taking control of their bases, but it also introduced me to how creatively and lovingly Omega Force approaches most crossovers they get their hands on (key word being “most”,) and you need only read the opening line of my The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild review to learn how much I completely adore the game, the only thing keeping me from crowning it with a perfect score being the technical faults of the Wii U port.
All this being, ultimately, why it frustrates me to no end that Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity does not live up to the genius of its concept – adapting the events leading up to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild through a sequel to 2014’s Hyrule Warriors. While the game does achieve these two goals, the road it travels to get there is one that is, unfortunately, marred by repetitive combat, major technical issues, and a slow story that feels redundant, likely holding no weight leading into the upcoming sequel to Breath of the Wild, contrary to what the marketing has lead fans to believe.
As you might have guessed, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a prequel set 100 years before the events of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, showcasing the war between Princess Zelda and the army of Hyrule (including Link) and Calamity Ganon. While this initially starts out as an exciting look into the events alluded to in Breath of the Wild, the game’s opening hours feel painfully slow as even after the player has rallied up the Four Champions to fight against Calamity Ganon, the main story still feels like it takes a long time to resemble the events referenced in the original game, made even more frustrating by the mindless, repetitive gameplay breaking up each story sequence. Thankfully, Breath of the Wild‘s lovable cast of heroes do keep even the slowest of story beats from feeling too mundane. Most frustratingly, however, the game ends off in an unsatisfying way given the connection to Breath of the Wild and potential of framing the events of its sequel, creating a Breath of the Wild trilogy. Anyone expecting a Halo: Reach-style ending, you will come out very disappointed.
Gameplay in Age of Calamity is exactly what you’ve come to expect from other games built from the Dynasty Warriors template, and while there are improvements over the original Hyrule Warriors, they feel wasted given that most of the objectives remain the exact same as what Omega Force has been recycling over the past decade. While some players who only play the Zelda spin-offs or have only played certain entries in the series may not find these as mundane, when you’ve played more than one entry in a single year, you begin to lose interest in the “capture base, defeat boss, capture base” structure of the entire franchise and wish the team would do something new for a change instead of slapping a Breath of the Wild or One Piece skin on top of it. Thankfully, combat in Hyrule Warriors does feel fleshed out enough so that the characters you’re controlling never begin to outstay their welcome. Each character manages to feel distinct down to clever ideas behind each of their movesets, especially Princess Zelda herself, who uses a Shiekah Slate to attack exclusively using its Rune abilities, giving her a more hands-off approach to combat.
Speaking of Rune abilities, each character can utilise a single Rune ability at a time before a cooldown period, all mimicking those found in the original game, and wielding them in unique ways. As Zelda uses the Runes for her base attacks, she summons a Remote Bomb Guardian to drop multiple bombs surrounding an enemy, as opposed to Link who throws multiple remote bombs directly in front of him. Then you have the likes of Mipha, who swims through the air and gracefully flies through enemies, to Daruk who slowly but powerfully mows down hoards, altogether leading to a distinct cast. Omega Force’s real creativity shows in the unlockable characters, but I’ll at least save you the surprise for those as some are very creative.
Characters are leveled up quite differently to previous titles from Omega Force as, unlike the overwhelmingly designed skill-tree of One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4, Hyrule Warriors sees you using Breath of the Wild‘s world map to provide the citizens of Hyrule with supplies and Rupees to unlock new combos for characters, new merchants to purchase weapons and items from, and more. While not the most visually engaging system in the world (an improvement over the convoluted menus of the past,) this system at least implies what the story never bothers to show: a connection between the citizens of Hyrule with the main cast, which many fans are likely to have an attachment to coming off of Breath of the Wild. It also uses Breath of the Wild‘s visual style in a unique way, such as how each of the items required to supply citizens with was previously used to craft items in the original game.
Finally, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity goes full power-fantasy in allowing players to control the Divine Beasts, which we finally get to see in action this time. While these sections are initially exciting and don’t last too long, the novelty wears off almost immediately, with the mechs feeling incredibly slow to control, the camera feeling very impractical, and the technical performance of the game either hindering the player from seeing what they are attacking due to a low draw-distance or dropping the frame-rate to the mid-teens, resulting in a very unsatisfying gameplay experience.
Speaking of frame-rate, while Age of Calamity manages to impressively recreate the visual style of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, right down to the game’s gorgeous cel-shaded art style, layering this visual style on top of Koei Tecmo’s already poor game engine leaves the resolution and frame-rate in an absolutely disastrous state for most of the game, feeling especially uncharacteristic for a game published by Nintendo. If you thought The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening’s frame-rate could be underwhelming at points, you are not prepared for Hyrule Warriors‘ frame-rate seemingly never reaching a consistent 30 frames-per-second, especially in handheld mode. While it is easy to take shots at Koei Tecmo’s game engine, which I admittedly already have, it is worth noting that most of the time other Musou games, including the Switch’s own Fire Emblem Warriors, struggle to hold 60 frames-per-second. Hyrule Warriors never feels responsive as a result of this, with combat constantly feel like it’s lagging behind button inputs.
While the game sports a mostly great soundtrack, with a lot of tracks matching the quality of the previous Hyrule Warriors in memorability, the English voice acting is somewhat underwhelming. While all of the cast of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild returns and is filled with a cast of great actors, like that game, the voice direction just sounds awkward at some points, with a lot of dead air and uncomfortable gaps similar to an early PlayStation 2-era Square Enix game. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the game’s narrated sequences, with an absolutely cringe-worthy performance from the game’s narrator that make the story beats not portrayed through cutscenes a chore to follow.
While improving upon the original in many areas and making clever use of the mechanics from Breath of the Wild, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is yet another disappointing outing from Omega Force with lazy game design, awful technical performance, and a story that fails to live up to its premise. The bump in effort from previous Musou titles manages to shine through once in a while, but ultimately the adventure feels redundant by the time the credits roll.
Developers: Omega Force, Koei Tecmo
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 20th November 2020
Gaming Rspawn’s copy of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity was provided by the publisher.