Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 12/01/2020 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
As a big fan both of The Legend of Zelda as well as Koei Tecmo’s musou series, I was really excited for the original Hyrule Warriors for Wii U. When that game hit, it was straight up Dynasty Warriors but with Zelda characters and a Zelda theme. I loved that, but at the same time, it looked more Zelda than it felt. Age of Calamity is absolutely a different beast. This game is so much more than just “another Dynasty Warriors game” with a coat of Zelda paint slapped on it. From presentation to controls to gameplay, this feels like a true hybrid of the two.
Age of Calamity is a prequel to Breath of the Wild. It takes place 100 years before Breath of the Wild but in a separate timeline. In the opening cut scene, you see a tiny little Guardian get flung into a portal as Hyrule Castle falls to Calamity Ganon that sends it 100 years into the past, changing the timeline into an alternate universe in which Calamity Ganon was defeated. There are some other time travel shenanigans in the game, but I won’t divulge more than that.
As far as visuals go, the game looks pretty good despite the relatively low resolution. The game uses a variable frame rate. When docked, it hovers around 720p with a maximum of 810p and a minimum of 570p; handheld usually sits around the maximum of 540p but can dip as low as 380p. All things considered, it looks better than I would expect from a game that never hits full 1080p. The problem comes in with performance. The game targets 30 fps, but it frequently dips down to 20 with dips even lower during a handful of especially intense moments. Truthfully, the frame rate seemed to stay sub-30 more often than not. That was really disappointing for me, but it wasn’t terribly surprising given how relatively underpowered the Switch is compared to the PS4 and Xbox One. Thankfully the frame rate drops are rarely drastic and abrupt, so it’s pretty easy to get used to it, and after a while, I barely noticed that it hung around 25 fps.
As you go through the game, you’ll be given a handful of opportunities to do side quests and resource drop missions. In the side quests, you do some shorter battles in exchange for experience and resources. Some of these quests will have specific limits – time limits, restricted characters, no healing, auto-fail if you take a hit, etc. The resource drop missions involve collecting and donating a specific set of resources in exchange for an upgrade. Most of these are upgrades for your characters like extra hearts, extra combos, and an extra special attack gauge. Others will be more general upgrades like shorter cooldown on your rune attacks, lower shop prices, or even unlocking a couple of optional characters. You can blow straight through the 20 campaign missions if you want, but you’re missing out on the majority of the gameplay experience if you skip the optional quests.
When you finish the last story mission and beat Calamity Ganon, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the game is over. The last battle is epic, challenging, and it feels like the end of a long road. You’re not done yet, though. There are new side quests and a lot of them. If you want to 100% the game as I did, you’ve probably got another 8 to 10 hours’ worth of gameplay ahead of you. When I finally finished the game at 100%, my game time clocked in at exactly 60 hours. There are a couple of extra characters that can’t be unlocked until the post-game, and they’re absolutely worth the extra gameplay. You would expect from post-game content, the side quests that unlock after finishing the main game get pretty tough, and the last one is downright brutal. The feeling of accomplishment, though, was well worth the effort in my opinion, and I’m hoping that Nintendo and Tecmo will do some DLC for Age of Calamity down the line.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity took the core concept of Hyrule Warriors – a crossover between Dynasty Warriors and Legend of Zelda – and refined it into something brilliant. The original game was good, but this is truly great. It’s definitely a musou game at its core, but it feels different from any other musou game I’ve played. If you’re a Zelda fan but didn’t care for Hyrule Warriors, definitely give Age of Calamity a shot; it’s unique enough that it might pique your interest. If you loved the original Hyrule Warriors, then DEFINITELY check out Age of Calamity. In every way, this game is better than the first, and that’s not a knock against the first game. This one is just that good. It’s not perfect; the performance issues are a big let down and definitely a problem. With that said, the overall product is still amazing in spite of the performance issues, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you let the less-than-ideal frame rate dissuade you from playing this otherwise masterfully crafted game.