Hyrule Warriors: Age Of Calamity (2020)

The Dynasty Warriors series has been around for quite a while, debuting in 1997 on the original Playstation, it was never a series that I paid attention to. With it focusing primarily on semi-historical versions of infamous Chinese battles from hundreds of years ago, it was barely a blip on my gaming radar. For a while, it seemed like it was on a yearly release schedule as well, garnering a near Sports like Roster Update status. To say I wasn’t interested in the series would be an understatement. That was until the developers were able to use Nintendo’s Zelda franchises characters and settings.

When the original Hyrule Warriors came out on the Wii U, a system that was more than just a mere failure of a console. It was looked at as basically another Virtual Boy disaster from pretty much everyone. I thought it was a neat, novel little console, but definitely felt more gimmicky than anything else, and it’s biggest selling point, the tablet really was relegated as a bit screen for a single button for games. But near its end of life, Nintendo allowed the developers at Koei Tecmo to basically make a skinswap of their Dynasty Warriors series, and toss some Legend of Zelda characters in the game.

In 2020 a sequel was quietly announced and released, and while it was nearing the end of the year, most barely noticed it was out or covered it. What caught my attention was that instead of just doing a normal sequel, keeping the same characters and locations and just expanding upon all of those things, They switched the theme up completely. Now the entire game was a prequel to Breath of the Wild, instead of a take on the entire series. Since Breath of the Wild is my favorite Zelda game now, and the time my wife and I spent playing through that entire game was just a blast, I decided to give it a shot,

It also helped as I was in the midst of moving across the country and the Switch was my only real way to game. During Thanksgiving week, I spent some time plowing through the first few levels, and as I kept going, I noticed that I was grinning from ear to ear the entire time. I was having so much fun with the game that I wanted to do absolutely everything I possibly could in the game, and that was sadly a mistake, but I learned and corrected it a few hours later.

For whatever reason, Nintendo allowed this game to be Breath of the Wild’s semi-official prequel, as the real sequel is being worked on, this came as a sort of stop-gap and reminder that Breath of the Wild is an amazing Zelda game, and one that people should want to spend more time in the Breath of the Wild universe. The Zelda overarching universe is already pretty messy, with Nintendo themselves even restoring to releasing an official timeline in their book “The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia '' and its various fractured timelines. It looks like Nintendo hasn’t learned anything with the release of it though, as this game muddies the waters of the timeline even further with some time travel.

But to keep things on track a little bit, this game basically focuses on the time period before Calamity Ganon takes over Hyrule. Zelda is 16-17 years old and Link is her sworn protector. King Rhoam is trying to help Zelda unlock her true power and awaken the Triforce of Wisdom. For whatever reason, Zelda just can’t seem to get her power to manifest, and Calamity Ganon is gaining power and closer to becoming real.

The game itself is a mixture of Breath of the Wild’s characters, locations and enemies, but combining it with Dynasty Warriors gameplay. To be honest, this actually is a great mix, as Zelda has always been a great adventure game, but missing those huge epic battles with thousands of enemies that the series seems to always allude to. Finally showing those crazy battles in full detail, and letting the player control Link and the other Champions is a great idea that meshes well with the gameplay format.

The story really does revolve around Zelda and trying to get her powers to work. The other Champions from the main game are all introduced and we see them interact and form relationships with everyone and it really does a great job expanding on the entire backstory from the 2017 Switch launch game. All the same voice actors reprise their roles, and even some new people show up and are given some voices. The main bad guy is obviously Calamity Ganon, but the Yiga Clan’s leader and his right hand man are given prominent roles as well. Pretty much any character you’d want to play becomes playable as well. Even special characters become unlockable at the end of the game too.

At the start, a map screen shows off the entire uncovered map of Breath of the Wild. You’ll get a couple icons to choose from, and these missions are a mixture of training, side quests, inventory quests and main missions. Training missions are small missions that will drop you into a battle and require you to kill X amount of enemies within the time limit. Completing these objectives will help level up your characters, give you more inventory items and build up your weapon list as well. The inventory quests are very small flavor text tasks, where you are given a sentence or two about a villager who needs some fish, or a tavern owner who needs more wheat. If you have the required inventory, you can just hit the A button and complete the task and you’ll be given a small reward.

The real story of the game is contained within the main missions. Here is where you’ll get all the cutscenes, which are fairly verbose and much longer than I expected. There is a lot of production value here, as the fully voiced, acted and throughout cutscenes give us the backstory of how Calamity Ganon took over Hyrule. As far as I can recall, there aren't many cutscenes and voice acting in the original Breath of the Wild, but here we get decently long cutscenes with frequency.

You get to select from various characters, and are able to bring a party of 2,3 or 4 members into each battle. Sometimes you are forced to bring certain party members, other times, you have to leave one sitting out, as they might be injured and need to heal. Whatever characters you bring into battle, you’ll level them up as you play with them, and at the end of the mission, you’ll gain XP, level boosts, and accrue weapons that only a specific character can. A blacksmith will unlock early in the game, and you can use rupees and duplicate weapons to level up your currently equipped weapon.  Like in many Collectable Card Games, you’ll get duplicates and “feed” those cards to other cards to power the original up more. The same thing happens here. You basically break down the multiple other weapons and fuse them to your current weapon. Each can hold additional buffs, but I never paid attention to those as well. Those sorts of systems always seem way more complicated than they need to be, and ignoring them never seems to cause an issue for me.

What I did was basically take my favorite weapon, and literally just use that and feed everything else I picked up along the game to that first weapon. Once I unlocked the Master Sword, I switched to that and fed everything to the Master Sword. About half of the way through the game I was overpowered enough that I really didn’t need to try much. Until near the end of the game where I would have had to grind a bit to really become overpowered again.

The battlefield is littered with thousands of enemies. Most are basic versions of the enemies. Bokoblins, Lizalfos, and Yiga Clan. When taking over an outpost, a larger version of those enemies with more power and armor show up to challenge you. These mini bosses can be brute forced enough to take down, but the Bosses are the only real difficulty when you must deal with them. Moblins, Wizrobes, Hinoxes, Lyonels and Guardians are much harder to take down, and take some strategy.

Just hacking and slashing away at these bosses will result in such little chip damage, it’s pretty pointless. Using your Sheika Slate to access your Breath of the Wild elemental powers are the keys to victory. Timing dodges will open up the bosses to break their shields. Using the Sheika Powers allow you to maximize the opportunity and break down the shield much faster. Once that happens, the enemy becomes fatigued and you can perform a massively powerful slash attack. It usually results in a fourth or even half of the boss's life bar being removed.

Special attacks can also be used, but require a meter bar to be filled up. You can accumulate up to three special bars per character, and to fill them up just requires you to take out foes. In the battlefield with the smaller groups of minions, you can fill up the special meter in a matter of seconds. It really depends on the combos. There is a combo flow chart for each character, but I found the few basic combos were enough for me to get the job done.

The main downfall of the game for me was that I wanted to do everything. Unlock every task, complete the entire map and find every Korok. That became too tall of an order as the game requires you to grind our for inventory items at some point. Even if I wanted to, you have to complete the game to be able to get access to missions that will drop the required inventory items for some of the smaller inventory tasks. Or in order to level up characters, you’ll have to do multiple missions where drops may or may not happen. Once I hit a wall, where I couldn’t complete any of those inventory missions, due to no missions dropping the items I needed, I moved on to the main missions. Once I finally unlocked the missions that had the appropriate drops, I no longer wanted to do them. And there are SO MANY of those types of missions, that it quickly became very overwhelming on the map. The map becomes such icon vomit that i just was disheartening to me, that I just ignored everything. There were even times where the map was just so covered with icons that I could have upgraded my character, but I didn’t see it because of all the icons pulsating and glowing and item recipes pinned.

I would have preferred a much more refined approach to the game’s smaller tasks. First would be to remove about half of the tasks, as they are relatively pointless and don’t do anything other than waste time. Secondly, allowing the player to purchase all the items if they had enough rupees would have been a much better way of upgrading. Forcing people to grind arbitrarily, for no reason, other than to pad out the length of gameplay for unimportant items is disrespectful of the player's time, and I hate grinding and fluff in games.

While the grinding is a fairly small part of the game, it really is the only major complaint I have. Overall, I think that Age of Calamity takes the best parts of the Zelda series, adds an unnecessary but welcomed backstory, and adds character depth and intrigue. It helps broaden the scope of the Breath of the Wild universe and gives everyone a smaller variation of a Zelda game, something that breaks the “formulatic” routine that Zelda games fall into. I think about it as a palette cleanser for the series. Then it uses this game to hold everyone over while Breath of the Wild 2 is still being worked on.