Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity doesn't play like Breath of the Wild.
It fleshes out the story of 2017’s critically acclaimed The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, chronicling the events leading up to Calamity Ganon's century-long takeover of Hyrule for a century. Age of Calamity doesn’t feel like most mainline Zelda games. Like the first Hyrule Warriors from 2018, it's an action-packed experience that foregrounds large-scale battles. The demo released after Wednesday's Nintendo Direct Mini demonstrates this change makes a surprisingly brilliant fit for the game's action-packed story.
In Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, we follow Link as he first meets Zelda, the four Champions, and more familiar facecs, like Impa. The demo features the game’s first levels and reveals that the mysterious egg-shaped Sheikah Guardian seen in promotional art actually traveled back in time to try to prevent Calamity Ganon from taking over.
This adorable Sheikah creature ends up running into Link and Impa as they defend Hyrule Castle from Ganon’s forces, and they are tasked with protecting Zelda as she finds out more about that egg-shaped Sheikah creation and rounds up the Champions. Age of Calamity manages to tell a gripping story, even though we already know how this turns out.
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Breath of the Wild's open-ended approach to storytelling made it all the more memorable. Age of Calamity is more linear and narratively driven. Even the earliest cutscenes feel tragic because you know how this fight ends. One particularly memorable scene shows Zelda horrified when she discovers realizes that Calamity Ganon wins.
Breath of the Wild’s introduction of voice acting pays off here, as these scenes are much more effective than the text-only ones of the original Hyrule Warriors. If the full Age of Calamity has a script and gripping story this good, it could potentially hit the same heights as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. That film managed to make you feel for its characters, even when you knew that they’d ultimately die, and Age of Calamity is doing something similar. We know they're doomed to lose, but we're rooting for them nonetheless.
While the story will be the most gripping thing for The Legend of Zelda fans, gameplay is no slouch either. Age of Calamity uses the “Musou” system of combat seen in games like Dynasty Warriors. Basically, this formula boils down to players partaking in large-scale battles against hordes of enemies, all while completing specific objectives, capturing forts, and commanding troops.
Between major fights, players can upgrade their characters and complete side missions. All of that is present, but Age of Calamity differentiates itself from similar titles, even the original Hyrule Warriors by incorporating elements from Breath of the Wild both in an out of battle.
For example, the dodging and flurry attacks are present, as are all of the different Runes that players can use. Players also collect items during fights that can be used to cook in between battle. Most of the in-game men’s, including the main hub at a Sheikah Tower, look like the menus in Breath of the Wild.
Age of Calamity features multiple playable characters, with Link, Impa, and Zelda included in the demo. They each play differently. Link is a basic brawler, where Zelda and Impa rely more on magic. For newcomers, Link is the easiest to get the hang of — his attacks and combos are basic but powerful.
Age of Calamity's stages feel far more dynamic than the typical Musou game. The second stage of the demo is a highlight as a Guardian chases and attacks the players. They then have to damage it significantly by unearthing other damaged Guardians before going in for the kill.
While Koei Tecmo is handling the development of this game, it has that first-party Nintendo polish. The only worrying thing from this demo is the occasionally choppy framerate, which could become more of an issue as fights get bigger. Still, this demo suggests that seeing the story through will make Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity a worthy stopgap between Breath of the Wild and its sequel.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity will be released for Nintendo Switch on November 20, 2020.