Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, it’s not Breath of the Wild
Nintendo promised to follow up one of the best games of our generation with a new prequel - Did they succeed?
December 1, 2020
Three years ago when Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, they took the world by storm. The game received rave reviews and has consistently topped sales charts, and why shouldn’t it? Breath of the Wild didn’t just reinvent the Zelda franchise, but reimagined what an open-world game could be, and is so near perfect in its execution that it has yet to be topped. If you have yet to play Breath of the Wild, you are truly missing out, and I recommend you track down a copy as soon as possible.
Breath of the Wild is a masterpiece, and the first playthrough was an unforgettable experience. The gameplay was varied, balancing slow and careful exploration with action-packed combat, and physics-based puzzles. The world was massive and visually stunning, and the game creates a genuine sense of mystery, as you unravel the events that lead to Link waking up alone and memoryless 100 years later. In some ways, the story-telling is brilliant. The world is well constructed, the character archetypes are compelling, and thanks to his memory loss, Link and the player
never have a knowledge imbalance, which helps draw the player into the story. However, it is held back from perfection by clunky dialogue and a tendency to rush the story, which leads to summary and ‘telling’ of traits, instead of real character development.
Age of Calamity, a new title in the Hyrule Warriors series, (a series of spin-off games in the Zelda franchise, that forgoes the traditional dungeon crawler type Zelda gameplay in favor of hack and slash battles, embellished with some basic real-time strategy mechanics) promised to do the story of Breath of the Wild justice, but it doesn’t deliver. In fact, I can’t help but feel that Age of Calamity was more a thrown-together cash grab so Nintendo would have a Zelda title for the holidays than anything else.
Almost every element of Age of Calamity is deeply flawed. The storytelling is no better than Breath of the Wild. The dialogue might be slightly better written, but it has less of a story to tell, leaving events unexplained, introducing new characters without providing any backstory, or simply reiterating the same character points while simultaneously diverging from the core story of Breath of the Wild so much that it can hardly be called a prequel. Nintendo may have marketed it as one simply to ride on Breath of the Wild’s excellent reputation.
Gameplay-wise, Age of Calamity is flawed as well. I have logged about 85 hours in Breath Of the Wild, and even after beating all of the main stories, I will still occasionally revisit to get a new shrine or simply wander the world. It took me under 10 hours to beat Age of Calamity (on normal mode), and I have no desire to replay or revisit any of the side quests. Age of Calamity’s gameplay can become repetitive and button mashy, because it relies solely on combat, it lacks the variation of Breath of the Wild. It also has issues with its difficulty curve. For most of the game, I was able to start missions well below the recommended level and beat them first try, but there were a few missions that were randomly difficult. During one mission, after dying several times, I felt the need to drop the game down to easy mode.
The ability to change the game mode to “hard” for some of the easier missions may allow the player to better balance the gameplay and provide a little extra challenge, but I saw no reason to do so, as the normal mode was what the developers envisioned as a standard experience. The developers should have made the default mode harder for most of the game while leaving the harder levels unaltered or at least minimize difficulty spikes.
Age of Calamity has technical issues as well. Unlike Breath of the Wild, which was developed internally by Nintendo EPD, Age of Calamity was contracted out to Koei Tecmo, the studio that developed the original Hyrule Warriors game back in 2014. Koei Tecmo is not known for their technical prowess and it shows. Breath of the Wild managed to effectively push the Switch hardware, creating a beautiful world, with a long render distance, and smooth gameplay (with the exception of the Korok Forest, where the game really chugs). Age of Calamity, however, drops frames frequently, and while I understand there is an inherent technical difficulty to having so many characters on screen at once, the cannon fodder type enemies are rendered with such low texture detail, and with such bad AI that you would think they would be able to at least hit a stable 30 FPS. The camera also has a tendency to get stuck in walls, which
became particularly annoying late in the game when you are fighting multiple powerful foes at once. Even artistically the game falls flat. The game was praised for adopting the cell-shaded graphics of Breath of the Wild, but the engine doesn’t handle the cell shading perfectly. In fact, there were some moments where it looked as if the game was being rendered with no cell shading applied. Additionally, the game relies on an overabundance of reused Breath of the Wild assets (presumably as a cost-cutting measure), leading the world to feel just as rundown and abandoned as it did in Breath of the Wild, despite the fact that this was meant to be Hyrule at its peak.
Despite all that, I couldn’t help but enjoy my time with Age of Calamity. There is no doubt that I disliked a lot about it, or that I feel tricked by Nintendo’s marketing, but the only thing worse than hate is indifference. Nintendo managed to get me invested in and protective of this world, and while I disagree with so many of the decisions made in Age of Calamity, I did enjoy seeing this world again. Learning more of the lore behind the Yiga Clan, and seeing young Impa, Robbie, and Purah, were highlights in an otherwise underwhelming story. Even some of the cheesy humor, or shear over the top silliness, put a smile on my face. I liked the playfulness of the Zelda universe and was glad to see that continued. Some moments of the game even bordered on emotional, which is surprising given just how little I cared for this story compared to that of Breath of the Wild. The gameplay isn’t all bad, as
much as it could be simple and repetitive, I enjoyed being able to play as a wide range of characters (some of the unexpected later ones were particularly fun – and funny) and the rush of power that came with timing a flurry rush, or finally whittling down a boss’s defense meter enough to do a weak point smash is undeniably cool. The soundtrack is a strength as well, taking everything good about the music in Breath of the Wild and turning it up a notch.
I think that many of the issues with this game ultimately came down to marketing, which makes it difficult to rate. If I am looking at it purely based on the game, then I would say that it is a perfectly enjoyable mediocre Zelda title to hold people over until the real sequel to Breath of the Wild was ready for release, but the way Nintendo sold it set my expectations so high, to the point where I felt betrayed by the actual game. Still, if you are a Zelda fan or someone who will enjoy the battles (I think Super Smash fans might enjoy them, as there was something about the boss fights that just reminded me of Smash) then it is probably still worth getting a copy this holiday season, just know that it’s not Breath of the Wild.
Screenshots used with permission under the terms detailed here: https://www.nintendo.co.jp/networkservice_guideline/en/index.html