Joe Skrebels – Executive Editor of News, (Somewhat) Unapologetic Dynasty Warriors Fan
Some people say there shouldn’t be such a thing as a guilty pleasure, but those people aren’t Warriors fans. It’s a series that is so obviously a bit broken that, anytime I enthuse about it, I also make sure to tell people that it might just not be for them. That’s why I still can’t quite believe that, after Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, the early signs indicate that I might soon be able to recommend a Warriors game with my head held high.
As a committed player of Omega Force’s mainline series (Dynasty, Orochi, Samurai), I am more than happy to admit that they’re simplistic – run, slash, build special attack, use special attack, repeat. It’s a simplicity I find intesnely relaxing, in a strange way. The real wonder of the mainline games, to me, is how they combat that relaxation becoming boredom in one key way: by offering literally dozens of characters who all perform that simple cycle in slightly different ways. As soon as I get bored of one, I have the choice of far too many more.
Warriors spin-offs, on the other hand, have had a perennial issue – most of the licensed attempts to transplant that structure simply don’t have the character roster to keep up the fun for long enough. Age of Calamity should be the same old story – after two chapters and around five hours of play, I’ve unlocked 7 characters (Link, Impa, Zelda, Daruk, Revali, Mipha, and Urbosa). And despite that comparatively slim line-up, I’m surprised to say that not only has it avoided slipping into boredom, this is showing signs of actively bettering the mainline Warriors series I love.
The set-up is absolutely the same – run around a battlefield, murder / knock out literally thousands of enemies, fight some bosses, think very little. The look is the same, the UI is familiar, and (regrettably) the engine still regularly can’t quite handle the amount of action onscreen. But the key difference is in the options each of those characters comes with. Aside from standard, strong, and special attacks, each one has access to a wheel of Sheikah Slate abilities (each one subtly different depending on the fighter), and magic attacks gained by offing Wizzrobe mini-bosses.
Better still, each character has a unique ability tied to the ZR button. Revali can take off (with a full separate airborne moveset), Daruk can burst magma columns he leaves behind, Mipha can effectively teleport to fountains she creates, Urbosa can charge lightning and release it in extra strong attacks. These are wildly different powers, which effectively change not just what characters can do, but how you’ll play the game as a whole. I can’t fully explain how different that is to the vast majority of Warriors games, and how refreshing I’m finding it to discover here.
I will admit that I haven’t yet seen signs that these powers will change how I play through battles as a whole – options are still seemingly limited to running from objective to objective, with no sign (yet) of choices or secret encounters. Equally, the early characters – Link aside – are limited to a single weapon type, and thus moveset, each, which slightly reduces the weapon-based experimentation of later Dynasty Warriors entries.But that said, the game’s overall structure also lends to a feeling of a more varied Warriors game – small, Breath of the Wild-inspired elemental reactions (ice spells do more damage in water, electricity effects are boosted off of metal objects), and cooking buffs mean you can prepare more thoroughly for battles than in most Warriors games, adding a patina of strategy over the ludicrous action within each mission. I’d love to see that interactivity extend to elemental weapons, although I’ve not yet come across any in the early stages.
And it must reiterated that these are early stages. As part of this preview stage, Nintendo repeatedly told us this is a big game – I can’t yet see how big, but these first two chapters are multi-hour affairs with side-quests taken into account. There’s the possibility that the flow of new characters will slow, that those extra options will begin to feel limited. But I’m choosing to be hopeful – the very fact that I’m this surprised by a Warriors game is enough to have me desperate to see what’s beyond Chapter 2.
Age of Calamity is a game that feels designed for someone like me – I’m an enormous fan of both its parent series – but even I didn’t expect to come out of it thinking that it could actually improve Warriors games as a whole. It remains to be seen if it can keep up that feeling across the full length of the game, but I’m hugely encouraged so far.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity – Screenshots and Art
Alex Simmons – UK Studio Lead, Breath of the Wild Aficionado
There’s a moment four or so hours into Age of Calamity that made the hairs on my arms stand on end, and caused flashbacks to watching Avengers in the cinema. Hundreds of Yiga warriors were closing in around Zelda, a capable fighter herself but woefully outnumbered on this occasion. Already at half health and with a Yiga Blade Master bearing down, things were looking bleak. But then a huge ball of fiery rock rolled in and sent enemies flying like skittles in a bowling alley, followed by a torrent of hair and lightning, sending electrical blasts through the crowd. Daruk and Urbosa were not about to let their princess down.
Moments like this happen all the time in Age of Calamity, and as a Zelda fan who’s sunk hundreds of hours into Breath of the Wild, it’s a thrill I simply wasn’t expecting. While Zelda is a series dear to my heart, I’ve been cautious of anything other than its mainline games. I want a full-fat, authentic Zelda experience, not a dressed-up knock-off (I’m looking at you, Link’s Crossbow Training). The first Hyrule Warriors was okay, but as someone with only a passing knowledge of Dynasty Warriors it did nothing to scratch the itch either of those series’ provides.
Age of Calamity is different. For starters it’s set in a world I’m very familiar with. Long after I defeated Calamity Ganon and discovered all the shrines, I spent hours exploring every inch of the kingdom of Hyrule. Whether it was trekking over the freezing Tabantha Tundra or riding across the lush Faron grasslands, soaking up Hyrule’s world and everything in it is remains one of my favourite things to do to relax and pass the time. Age of Calamity nails Hyrule, and in the two chapters I’ve played so far I’ve been to Zora’s Domain, Death Mountain, Rito Village, Gerudo Desert and more. And while the moment-to-moment action of Age of Calamity is very different to Breath of the Wild, the world is exactly as I remember, albeit set 100 years before.
More importantly, Age of Calamity tells the story I’ve been yearning to see (with all the characters I adore) since Breath of the Wild came out three years ago. In the original game, flashbacks provided a glimpse of what Hyrule was like prior to Calamity Ganon, but here, watching it play out around you, it’s as authentic a Zelda experience you could wish for.
This is in no small part down to the little details, of which there are many. Every piece of fruit, every ingredient, even the recipes, are instantly familiar. And like Breath of the Wild, what you find depends on where you are. Chop down a tree on Hyrule Field and it’ll drop apples, which replenish health when eaten (baked apples are even more nutritious – sound familiar?); cut down a palm in Gerudo City and you’ll get a bunch of mighty bananas.
Ingredients are used either for cooking or to unlock new locations. The entirety of Breath of the Wild’s expansive map is in Age of Calamity, but that doesn’t actually mean you can explore it all. Stables, shops and other points of interest appear as you progress. Some you can play, like training missions and challenges, in which you have to defeat a certain number of enemies within a time limit, using specific weapons or skills. Others provide an instant rewards such as unlocking a new combo, or a recipe, or additional hearts for a particular champion.
The levels themselves are self-contained – it isn’t an open world – but they’re still sprawling, and all have familiar landmarks. Likewise, the enemies you encounter are instantly recognisable: moblins, lizalfos, keese, wizzrobes… They’re all here, but in far greater numbers than in Breath of the Wild. It’s not uncommon to face off against against hundreds of enemies and cutting through a pack of bokoblins is incredibly satisfying.Combat is simple – a combination of light and heavy attacks is enough to deal with basic enemies, plus there are special attacks, dash and dodge, and Sheikah abilities – and the gameplay loop of ‘fight grunts, face a boss and move on’ is straightforward, but I never once felt like it was boring or overly repetitive. Even though each hero has the same range of attacks, there are enough subtle differences to make one feel substantially different from the next, and playing as Revali is a very different experience than playing as Impa or Daruk.
Age of Calamity also does a fantastic job of continually introducing something new and interesting, be it a story beat or a fresh take on something familiar. Forget Baby Yoda, young Prince Sidon is this year’s adorably cute must-have, and in my five hours of playing so far I’ve also used Magnesis to pull buried chests from the sand (yay!), Flurry Rushed a Lynel (which is just as satisfying here as it is in BOTW), ran away from Molduga, the giant creature lurking beneath the sands of the Gerudo desert, and wreaked havoc in Divine Beasts. Truthfully, the Divine Beast sections, at least the two I’ve played, are more of a curious distraction than anything substantial, but seeing them in action is still a thrill in itself.
Frame-rate drops are an issue and the Switch sometimes struggles to keep things moving when you’re mowing down hundreds of enemies with an extravagant special attack. But it never bothered me too much, and Age of Calamity’s stylised aesthetic is as fresh now as it was three years ago.
When I first saw the trailer for Age of Calamity I was surprised how faithful it was to Breath of the Wild, but doubted it could fill the gap waiting for its sequel. Now, having played it, it not only surpassed my expectations as a Dynasty Warriors game, but is a bona fide Zelda experience I’m excited to see more of.