There are a lot of things that could be said about Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. There are also plenty of things better left unsaid. And since Nintendo hasn’t managed to quite master the ability to travel time, they haven’t quite figured out how to really make us relive those magical memories of video games and childhood many of us hold dear. The newest prequel in the Hyrule Warriors series is all about time travel though, and it’s damn determined to try and make you feel a lot of nostalgia. So let’s see what it manages to pull out of us.
The game has a very simple premise. The rise of Ganon once again threatens Hyrule. The game opens with an alternate future showing the destructive rise of Calamity Ganon and the destruction of Hyrule Castle. The player is then quickly thrust back in time into the shoes of a young Link as he thwarts another attack on the castle by an enemy monster army. The tutorial then quickly gives way to a story that seems to come out of nowhere about a time-traveling robot being hunted by deadly Guardians.
The enemies are as varied as they can be in a Musou game. There’s plenty of nostalgia as you chew through Chuchus and Moblins by the legion, you think, “hey, I remember the first time I encountered this little guy.” And you have to wonder if you should feel bad about slaughtering a countless mob of Moblins and their cousins. But with the fate of the world on the line, I’m sure Link and Zelda don’t mind blasting their way through a thousand more.
Speaking of blasting, the core concept of palling around with an army of heroes from the Zelda canon is a blast. You command your friends in battle, level them up, and give them new gear to boot. It’s all a very compelling setup for both fans and newcomers alike. If you’re into the genre, there might be something for you here.
Koei Tecmo obviously holds a lot of love for the Zelda canon and the concept of Musou games that has made them so famous. And it really shows in the combat and enemy encounter design. Each boss character feels unique and is a challenging fight, as much as it can be. You can only stomp a hole into a few Moblins before they start to just feel like the cannon fodder they’re supposed to be stronger than.
That’s one of the core problems of the approach though, if you’re a min-maxer, you’re going to cruise through most of this game. If you’re the kind of person to grind out easier battles to farm for certain items or easy Rupees, it could be a trap that you fall into of getting bored of fighting the same foes too soon. There is some repetition to be had in the later levels, but the story keeps those levels more compelling. There’s also plenty of new foes and friends to find and adventure with.
Despite that early repetition though, there’s nothing stopping me from getting sucked into the game. The levels that introduce new party members all hold some significance for Zelda fans, as many fan-favorite heroes join the fray. There’s a whole stable of villains to be had as well. I won’t spoil it here though as you will just have to play the game to find out. That trial of unlocking new fighters and grinding for their gear can feel like a chore, but you almost don’t notice it due to how much there is to do in the game. And you can go back and replay old missions anytime, which is great for the completionist in me who likes to be prepared by nailing every objective.
Age of Calamity’s scale is another double-edged sword, the game wants to hit so many notes that it can be either a blessing or a cause depending on who’s playing. If you’re a newcomer, you’re bound to feel lost as characters you might not know show up. But, if you’re coming from Breath of the Wild, you will be more than familiar with the matters
Another minor gripe I have is more to do with the level design. It’s a pretty common problem in the genre, but it’s just a bit annoying to see it here. On many levels, the game forces you to waste time taking a convoluted path around the level to reach a new objective, when a shorter path is one ledge away. I really have always hated invisible walls in this genre.
There’s another thing, despite the idea of time travel being frontloaded, it feels a little like an afterthought. The idea of magical and powerful technology is kind of just window dressing for the action, which mostly consists of kicking the snot out of endless legions of Moblins, Wizzrobes, and other iconic bad guys.
Being a Switch title, there are some compromises to be made. The map may be massive in terms of the totality of the lore, but you’re only going to see a few small areas within it. And there are a few technical hiccups that will come up over time. The slowdowns I did experience were uncommon and only in the scenes where a big attack wiped out dozens of foes.
Who this is for
A hardcore Zelda fan will absolutely get a kick out of both the story and the gameplay. If you wanted to see Link, Impa, Zelda and more be even more powerful, here’s your chance. The game even amped up the action from the previous entry to make some characters even cooler, well done. As someone who has put a lot of time into the Dynasty Warriors franchise over the years, this game is a very welcome breath of fresh air. The combat is fun and challenging, with enough meat on its bones to keep players coming back for more after they finish a mission.
Who this isn’t for
If you’re not a Switch fan, this might not be for you. The premise of having to dig your Switch out if you haven’t enjoyed playing it for months might make this game feel like a chore. If you’re not into the Musou genre, but are a Zelda fan, it’s a real maybe. There’s plenty to enjoy here, if you can deal with the conventions of the genre.
If you’re on a budget, this might be one to wait for a cheaper used copy. Or maybe borrow it from a friend. This is not the kind of game you rush out and buy if you have more important purchases to make, or it’s just something you’re passingly interested in. Would I recommend it over other Switch titles with similar gameplay? Sure.
Did I enjoy Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity? Yes, very much so. I really want to dive back in and continue the story where I left off, but I have to finish work and let my Switch charge. That’s likely the exact feeling Koei Tecmo and Nintendo wanted you to have when playing this game.