Few game announcements have gotten me as immediately hyped as the Age of Calamity announcement. The moment I saw the concept I knew this would be a day one purchase for me. I enjoyed the original Hyrule Warriors just fine but found the story to be a letdown. And while I loved Breath of the Wild’s story for what it was, I was hungry for more lore about that setting, particularly the lives of the four Champions who died during a period of time known as the Calamity. Age of Calamity seemed like the perfect solution to both of these problems. Breath of the Wild brings to the table the characters and lore needed to make a Warriors story compelling, while the musuo gameplay promised combat on a scale appropriate for a massive war.
Unfortunately from this place of unmatched anticipation for a game, my expectations were almost guaranteed not to be met. I was destined to be let down, and those let-downs happened in a slow but steady torrent leading up to the game’s release. When the demo was announced we learned that the figure on the box art that most players referred to colloquially as the “baby guardian” introduced time travel as a story element, a vague but almost certain threat to the idea that Age of Calamity would perfectly recreate what we know to be the canon outcome of the Calamity. This concern only worsened as reviewers began to receive their review copies. While Nintendo’s embargo kept them from sharing any specific details about the parts of the game following the recruitment of the Champions, reviewers still made a point of explaining that the story didn’t turn out how they anticipated. In particular, the very first review I read expressed such serious disappointment that – after confirming through other reviews that the story was lackluster – I attempted to cancel my preorder of the game.
As it turned out, Amazon wouldn’t allow me to cancel the preorder for some vague reason involving “special promotions.” So although I now wanted to wait for post-embargo reviews to make a decision about the game, I was locked in. I decided to reset my expectations concerning the game and from that point forward chose to approach it as if I would not enjoy the story of the game at all. Weirdly this reset allowed me to feel some excitement again, and when the package was delivered and I finally got to crack open the game’s case and begin my journey through Age of Calamity, that new game eagerness overwrote any hesitation that the worrisome reviews had introduced.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity tells the story of Hyrule’s battle to prevent the prophesied Calamity, an event in which Calamity Ganon would inhabit the guardians and divine beasts and plunge Hyrule into 100 years of ruin, held at bay only by Princess Zelda and her sealing magic. You play as a number of characters from Breath of the Wild including Link, Zelda, the four Champions, Impa, as well as others who I won’t spoil until later in this review. The core gameplay of Age of Calamity focuses on large scale battles where your heroes will singlehandedly face down hundreds of enemy mooks at a time, as well as chipping away at larger and more dangerous enemies who command those mooks. Between battles, you’ll spend earned materials on unlocking bonuses for your characters as well as participate in side missions for additional experience points, weapons, and materials to bolster your party. The game is chapter based with seven chapters total, but each chapter is divided into a number of sub-chapters (as few as two or as many as five).
Combat is key to Age of Calamity so understanding the battle system is important to knowing whether or not this game is for you. Each character in the game can perform a basic or “weak” attack with the Y button and then has a strong attack used with the X button. Stringing together weak and strong attacks in different combinations of button presses leads to different combo attacks. Link, for example, will perform an upward slash that makes him airborne if a strong attack is performed after a single weak attack, while a strong attack after two weak attacks will cause him to shield surf for a short distance and bash any enemies he meets along the way. For many characters, using the strong attack button by itself has a more unique effect than just a slow, heavy swing. Daruk for example throws up a barrier and prepares to roll forward in a fast bashing attack, while Mipha creates a swirling water point close by to use with her unique ability. As you land attacks, your characters build energy in a special gauge that, once full, allows for a powerful strike that hits a lot of enemies for tons of damage. While weak enemies can be quickly swatted away, stronger enemies have a weak point gauge that must be depleted with multiple attacks and is only exposed for short moments of time. Depleting a weak point gauge allows for a weak point smash that does a significant amount of damage to the miniboss or boss. Most of this is standard fare for Warriors games and should be familiar to anyone who has played a musuo before, particularly Hyrule Warriors. The thing is though, in Age of Calamity this is all just scratching the tip of the iceberg.
In addition to weak and strong attacks, each character has a unique ability they can use with ZR. This ability varies by both character and by weapon – so someone like Link who has multiple different main weapons to switch between also has a variety of unique abilities at their disposal. These abilities are a key piece in making each character feel unique and sets their playstyles apart from one another. Revali, for example, can use Revali’s Gale to launch into the air and fly around the battlefield, increasing his movement speed and changing his attack patterns compared to when he is fighting on the ground. Impa uses her ability to attach symbols to enemies and cause them to float helplessly in the air for a moment. Combine this with her strong attack to absorb the symbols and empower her special attack as well as creating clones which allow Impa to strike from multiple angles at once, quickly chipping away at enemies. Just this addition adds a layer of complexity to the gameplay that is a welcome improvement from the original Hyrule Warriors, doing an amazing job of making each character more distinct. Even so, there’s still more to the combat.
The presence of the little guardian on the battlefield allows the powers of the Sheikah Slate to be available to every character. Holding the R button and then pressing either A, B, X, or Y allows the character to use cryonis, magnesis, stasis, or remote bombs. These can be used anytime and then have a small cooldown, but they are generally most effective when utilized against an enemy who is clearly displaying a particular rune as their weak point. Using a rune in this circumstance will expose the enemy’s weak point gauge. What makes the Sheikah Runes truly special though is that similar to weak and strong attacks, they are a resource that every character shares but that works slightly differently for each one. While Link’s version of cryonis spawns beneath him and launches him upward, Zelda’s allows you to target enemies and drop sharp icicles down onto enemies from above. Mipha causes remote bombs to rain down from the sky while Urbosa tosses a single one forward and then uses the momentum of the explosion to toss herself into the air. Because each character’s runes work a little differently, they allow for different combos and like the unique abilities add to the distinct feeling of each playable character.
Another new tool in your arsenal in Age of Calamity is the magical rod. There are three rod types in the game but unlike everything else we’ve discussed to this point, this is the one mechanic that works identically for everyone who uses it. Spending one use of a rod strikes a small area with the associated element and against tougher enemies, temporarily makes their weak point gauge more vulnerable so you can quickly wear them down and get a weak point smash. These are mapped to holding the L button and pressing either A, X, or Y. Holding L and pressing B allows your character to snack on an apple, restoring a portion of their hearts and serving as the primary healing mechanic of the game. Weirdly, getting hit by a fire attack during the mission bakes all of your apples and makes them more effective. Apples are a resource available only on the battlefield, which means if you run out you’ll need to repeat a main mission or do a side mission in order to refill your stock.
If you’re coming into Age of Calamity from Breath of the Wild (and I do highly recommend you play Breath of the Wild first), you’ll already know lots of little tricks for getting a leg up against your enemies. When playing as a character with a shield such as Link or Urbosa, you can press Y with perfect timing while guarding to rebound an enemy’s attack against them. If you press the B button to dodge just before an enemy’s attack hits you, you’ll get a flurry rush and be able to take a few free shots at their weak point gauge. A direct headshot with a bow and arrow will temporarily reveal an enemy’s weak point gauge as well. When using an ability that makes your character airborne, you can bust out a paraglider (or other contextually-appropriate gliding tool) in order to float around the battlefield. Attacking from the air generally allows for a direct hit on the weak point gauge, and firing arrows from the air puts Link in suspended motion so you can aim. Since a lot of these more subtle advantages find their origins in Breath of the Wild, they map best to Link and make him the clear choice when you need a variety of combat options available to you. That said, the other characters still function well to varying degrees and most maps will require you to use other characters either by locking them in as a required character, or by placing objectives and enemies at distant points along the battlefield so you have to spread out and take advantage of each character you have.
Between battles, your heroes operate out of their home base at the central tower in Hyrule. Here you can interact with a number of services by visiting their locations on the map, choose to participate in a main mission or a side mission, or upgrade your characters by completing small side quests. Most services and upgrades are unlocked by spending materials you earn in battles. Materials vary in rarity with some being purchasable in large quantities from a store while others may only be bought one at a time or only available as a gathering material during missions. Accumulating enough of certain materials will likely require you to repeat certain missions or to put your focus on something else for awhile to replenish the stock at a store. What I like about this method of upgrading your characters is that all of the side quests can be quickly evaluated and completed without taking up too much of your time. The map displays incomplete quests in orange and the ones that you have the materials to complete flash to get your attention. Completed quests that don’t have to be activated again (like a one time bonus for a character) become an unobstrusive sort of beige that blends into the background, while missions that you can repeat to get resources will turn blue.
Character upgrades come in a few different forms. The most common upgrades are increases to the maximum number of hearts and additional combo attacks. Characters can also get additional special attack gauges and even a new facet to their unique ability, such as doubling Urbosa’s lightning meter or allowing Mipha to deal damage in a burst when she emerges from a whirlpool. Other upgrades can be purchased that apply to the whole party, such as improved heart recovery with healing items or damage reduction from enemies. Each of these upgrades is contextualized within the setting as some kind of small task performed by a character. A little boy needs a training dummy, or a professional chef needs a rare ingredient; each quest is a setup and resolution that expands on the lore of the setting in a small way. Honestly you can take or leave these based on your own personal taste; I skipped the text in these cases because I felt it added so little to the overall experience and I wanted to keep things moving, but if you’re hungry for even the smallest little glimpses into the characters then they should satisfy.
The map also allows access to important services like weapon upgrades, training for underleveled party members, and the cooking menu that precedes battles. Weapons don’t break in Age of Calamity; instead, you fuse them together to give them strength boosts and to unlock slots for special bonuses called seals. Seals are highly technical and give improved bonuses by combining together similar symbols; if you want to maximize the output of your weapons, you’ll have to keep seals in mind as you make choices about which weapons to fuse together to increase their power. I found weapon fusion to be the most annoying part of upgrading in this game; as your weapons get better, you’ll need to make secondary fused weapons to then fuse together into your main one to try and get significant bonuses. Fusing weapons takes time and costs money, and the payoff doesn’t feel as immediately tangible as a new combo or more hearts. On normal mode, the game isn’t hard enough to demand careful attention to how you are handling your fusions, so I ended up just kind of smashing everything together onto whatever had the highest base damage and calling it a day. Cooking is much more tolerable, giving you a bonus for the length of one mission that varies in scope from damage increases or reduction to temporary health to improved resource acquisition.
With so many great characters to play as who feel distinct and fun as well as a quest system that gets out of your way (for the most part) so you can focus on the main gameplay loop, Age of Calamity is the slickest musuo I have played. Mechanically it delivers a complex combat system that feels great to play almost all of the time (the camera and framerate both leave something to be desired but the times they get in the way are relatively uncommon). With such solid gameplay all that’s left to discuss is the story, but unfortunately the story is where Age of Calamity shows its weakness. To discuss why requires specificity that inevitably leads to spoilers, so this is likely where you will want to stop if you want a totally spoiler-free experience. That said, my time with the game ultimately benefitted from knowing in advance that the story was going to disappoint me, so this may be information you want to bring forward into the game with you.
The marketing leading up to this game focused on the idea that Age of Calamity is finally telling the story we only saw in flashbacks back in Breath of the Wild. With that comes the expectation that we will get to experience moments like the fall of the champions, Link’s final stand at Fort Hateno, and perhaps the moment when Zelda goes alone to seal Calamity Ganon. It’s important to understand going in that this is not the experience that Age of Calamity offers. This game might have been overseen by Nintendo but it is still ultimately developed by a third party, and the creative liberties taken with the story move it in a different direction than the Calamity you already know. I think the question of whether or not this retelling is canon is irrelevant for the moment, though that may become important later with the sequel. What’s important to understand going in is that Age of Calamity has its own story to tell.
Now as to whether or not this new story is of any quality, that’s a hard question to answer. There were moments when the interactions between specific characters – characters I met first in Breath of the Wild and came to love during the course of that game – really touched me and had me fully buying in to what Age of Calamity wants to do. However, those moments were a few standouts in the midst of a campaign that is otherwise significantly more generic than the story of Breath of the Wild. Many plot moments are simple reiterations of things we already saw through Link’s memories in the first game. Perhaps nothing is more generic than the new villain introduced in Age of Calamity, a character I truly do not hope to see incorporated into the sequel in any way. Calamity Ganon may not have a personality in the traditional sense but it is at least a creepy and compelling interpretation of the character; Age of Calamity’s driving villain is a figure who could be copy-pasted into any fantasy game and live comfortably there. The inclusion of the little guardian – which honestly feels like a pathetic attempt to lean into the trend of “baby” characters popularized by the baby Groot and baby Yoda memes – had me rolling my eyes constantly throughout the game and yanked any emotional investment I could have mustered for the finale right out. Too little emphasis is given to the champions, the characters you are likely here to see given their skewed popularity to screen time ratio in Breath of the Wild. In other words, there could have been a place for the story of Age of Calamity if it were treated with the same gravity as Breath of the Wild, but very few moments really sell the concept. Age of Calamity somehow accomplishes the feat of doing two seemingly contradictory things at once – not sticking to the established story of the Calamity while also doing little more than retreading familiar ground from Breath of the Wild.
My feelings about Age of Calamity are complicated. As a Warriors title, I love what it brings to the table mechanically and I hope that future musuo games learn from what makes this one so special. Distinct characters who provide unique gameplay elements while also feeling intuitive and fun make this game shine, and a system of upgrading characters and completing side missions that is more integral to the experience while being unobtrusive in its execution allows you to focus on the best parts of the game. But Age of Calamity isn’t just a Warriors game – it is a prequel to Breath of the Wild, and that brings with it an expectation of quality that Age of Calamity simply fails to meet. There are flashes of potential in the new story that this game tries to tell, but more often than not that potential remains unmet and instead the dark and compelling tragedy that this concept promised is replaced with a generic fantasy war. Where I wanted new information it retreaded old ground, and where I wanted it to focus on existing elements of the world it instead added new elements that feel cheap in their unearned narrative focus compared to the characters I really cared about.
As for whether or not I recommend the game to you, reader, it all boils down to why you are interested in Age of Calamity. If you like the Warriors style of game, a combat-heavy experience focused on lots of fun characters with distinct playstyles, Age of Calamity absolutely delivers and should be a satisfying experience for you. If you’re not someone who enjoys this genre of game but you are intrigued by the premise of experiencing the story of the Calamity from Breath of the Wild, Age of Calamity will not scratch your itch. Not only is this not the story that we know from Breath of the Wild, but the alternative that this game offers is more often than not disappointing even separated from those expectations. Age of Calamity fails to deliver on its promise of telling the story of the events that lead up to Breath of the Wild, but if you know that going in there’s still a pretty fun game to be found underneath.