The makers of Dynasty Warriors return with a prequel to Zelda: Breath Of The Wild that shows what happened 100 years ago in Hyrule.
Age Of Calamity is the best Dynasty Warriors style video game we’ve ever played. Its largely skill-less gameplay doesn’t have an ounce of nuance, its storytelling is fragmented and underdeveloped, and on a technical level it’s scrappy and poorly made. Par for the course when it comes to Dynasty Warriors and yet all those issues are slightly less pronounced than usual and for the first time ever we did something we’ve never done in a Dynasty Warriors game before: we enjoyed it.
This isn’t literally a Dynasty Warriors game, although the basics of the gameplay are the same and, just like all the regular entries, it’s made by Koei Tecmo’s Omega Team. There have been a huge range of licensed spin-offs over the years though, ranging from anime licences One Piece and Gundam to other video game tie-ins such as Nintendo’s own Fire Emblem and the upcoming Persona 5 Scramble.
Age Of Calamity is the second time there’s been a Zelda tie-in, with the original being a bog standard reskin of standard Dynasty Warriors gameplay mixed with Zelda fan service. There wasn’t really a coherent story for the first Hyrule Warriors but the big difference with this follow-up is that it’s a prequel to Breath Of The Wild, set 100 years before the events of the game and with the same art style, enemies, and simplified versions of most of the gameplay mechanics.
Anyone that’s played Breath Of The Wild will already know the basics of what happened 100 years ago, during Ganon’s initial return to the world of Hyrule. However, Age Of Calamity immediately starts by introducing a time travel element, with a small BB-8 style Guardian travelling back in time to warn Princess Zelda of the oncoming disaster. Since it can’t talk it’s not a very effective warning and before you know it the events implied by the original game begin to get underway.
The time travel element does add an air of uncertainty to proceedings though, as it’s left ambiguous as to whether this is literally what happened before Breath Of The Wild or whether it’s some kind of alternate history version, which is actually kind of interesting.
Traditional Zelda games are always light on story and this was the perfect opportunity to introduce more complex characterisation and lore. And yet despite the large number of cut scenes (many of which seem to have been encoded in disappointingly low quality) most of the game events just mirror that of Breath Of The Wild, as you get the Divine Beasts ready for battle and recruit allies. Which means Zelda is still a wuss, Link doesn’t speak, and Revali is still an annoying braggart.
No matter what property is being licensed Omega Force’s games always work in the same basic way, with their long-standing gimmick being that you face off against hundreds of enemies at once on very large scale maps. Except for mini-boss characters (moblins and above in Age Of Calamity) most enemies are completely ineffectual on normal difficulty, and usually stand around doing nothing as you slaughter them by the dozens.
Combat involves nothing but a string of light attacks concluding with a heavy attack. The only choice is how many light attacks you do first, which affects the heavy finisher, although for much of the game you can just mash the light attack alone and it’s just as effective. Believe it or not that’s actually more complex than the majority of Dynasty Warriors games, especially as Link’s various weapons, such as spears and clubs, do work quite differently. More importantly, each of the other characters are even more unique.
You start off with just Link but soon add a young Impa to your party, then Zelda, the four champions, and a number of other less obvious characters. We’re not going to spoil who they are but most of the really odd ones can only be unlocked via optional side missions.
Some do work in similar ways, with the ability to manifest objects with your final heavy attack (rune constructs, chunks of magma, etc.) and then detonate them being shared across a number of characters. But others are completely unique, such as Impa’s ability to create clones by casting magic symbols or Revali’s ability to fly and mow down enemies with his bow and arrow, almost like a machinegun.
On top of this, each character has a unique special attack and everyone can use the four rune abilities from Breath Of The Wild (Stasis, Magnesis, Cryonis, and remote bombs ) in unique ways, as well as Wizzrobe rods. You can also choose to start a mission by eating a stat-improving recipe or dressing up Link in specialist clothing he earns from optional missions.
If there’s one thing Age Of Calamity is not short of it’s content, with a lengthy story campaign and a mountain of optional diversions. But while it is big it is certainly not clever, with the combat not only being simplistic but very sloppily implemented. There’s none of the precision of something like Devil May Cry and even encounters with larger enemies like the lynel and hinox play out essentially the same way as you try to dodge attacks until a weakness gauge appears that once whittled down allows you to perform a powerful finisher.
Considering how tense and unpredictable encounters with these creatures were in Breath Of The Wild the same battles in Age Of Calamity are dumbed down to a ridiculous degree. And yet… unlike most other Dynasty Warriors games, including the first Hyrule Warriors, we can’t pretend we hated it. That’s in large part due to the more serious tone and cohesive storytelling, which means the game no longer feels like a half-finished fan mod.
You also can’t deny the sheer level of enthusiasm at work, with Omega Force allowing you to control the Divine Beasts at several points, which again all handle differently and work like quasi on-rail shoot ‘em-up sections. Again, the controls are awkward and the visuals often unclear, but the sense of scale is impressive and the chance to cut loose with amusingly overpowered weapons is appreciated.
There’re dozens of ways every element of Age Of Calamity could be improved but there’s no denying what’s here is still good, dumb fun. Although it’s a shame that the tactical element that characterises the mainline games, where you have to keep your eye on the map and note where enemies are trying to invade your territory, has been deemphasised to the point of irrelevancy in most missions.
There is a split screen co-op mode though, which works surprisingly well even though the graphics in docked mode often seem on the verge of disaster when it comes to the frame rate. They always seem to avoid it though and at times the sight of you pummelling a hundred enemies at once can almost look quite impressive (although that depends largely on if and when you last played a next gen game).
Rather than the cloying fan service of the original Hyrule Warriors, Age Of Calamity feels like a complete and enjoyable adventure all of its own, just not a very sophisticated one. The irony is that while it’s probably the best Dynasty Warriors game its biggest failing is as a Breath Of The Wild prequel.
It’s great to see all the old enemies and landscapes again but this is not a story that needed to be told in this much detail. It does make the prospect of a proper Breath Of The Wild 2 all the more enticing though and while that is most definitely not what this is, we appreciated it all the same.
Hyrule Warriors: Age Of Calamity review summary
In Short: The best Dynasty Warriors style game ever made, which means it’s slightly north of mediocre, with simplistic combat, weak storytelling, and a whole lot of repetition.
Pros: Good variety of characters, most of which have interestingly unique powers. Fun co-op and mountains of content, with plenty of enjoyable fan service.
Cons: Everything, from the controls to the camera, is inelegant and overly simplistic. The storytelling is mostly dull and the graphics barely hold together most of the time.
Formats: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Omega Force
Release Date: 20th November 2020
Age Rating: 12
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