Nostalgia is a strange beast. It can distort and twist your view of something old and forgotten into cherishment and longing, as though you're desperately trying to revisit something from past years for some obscure reason. Through Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, I discovered it's possible to have nostalgia for something that's barely four years old.
That would be The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a prequel to the Nintendo Switch adventure, set 100 years before Link stumbles out of a cave to be greeted by a ruined world. There's major differences between the two games, the most pronounced being the musou hack-and-slash combat, popularised by Koei Tecmo’s long standing Dynasty Warriors series, used against hordes of enemies by Age of Calamity, but it still fills me with warmth, like I'm returning to something comforting that I've longed for.
Release date: November 20, 2020
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Remember the small jingle that would play in Breath of the Wild when a new icon would appear on your map? That's back in Age of Calamity. Remember the musical cue that sounded out when you obtained a new item in Link's 2017 adventure? That makes a return too. Age of Calamity is filled with these subtle but lovely notes from Breath of the Wild, like the development team at Koei Tecmo are deliberately trying to ground me back in the Hyrule I adored in 2017 by providing a very similar aesthetic for the prequel.
And it works, so well. Being welcomed back with the same sounds and art style in Age of Calamity gives a wondrous feeling of comfort, and it's a great onboarding process to brace you for the dynamic shift in gameplay. Gone is the relaxed tempo of Breath of the Wild, and in storms a frantic and energetic hack-and-slash game in Age of Calamity, where Link, Zelda, and their allies smack hundreds of Bokoblins and Lizalfos around a vast battlefield with gusto.
Hectic hack-and-slash heroism
It's a shift that could've been overwhelming, were it not for the fact that Age of Calamity's combat is so vastly improved from the likes of the original Hyrule Warriors. It's not just a case of whacking buttons until enemies disappear – there's a big emphasis on planning and adapting, depending on the enemies before you, and that's thanks to the Sheikah Slate Runes that make a triumphant return from Breath of the Wild.
The Cryonis, Stasis, Remote Bomb, and Magnesis Runes are all back in Age of Calamity, forming the backbone of gameplay for the Champions of Hyrule. Again with the emphasis on familiarity, the Runes all function just how they did in Breath of the Wild, but this time you're combining them for devastating effects on powerful enemies. If a Moblin is charging towards you with a spear, you can block its path with a Cryonis slab of ice, or if a strong Bokoblin is whirling around with a hammer, you can freeze it in place with the Stasis Rune.
To view Age of Calamity as nothing more than the countless other hack-and-slash games would be doing it a disservice. The Sheikah Runes mix things up, changing an otherwise straightforward experience into something of a more experimental nature. Breath of the Wild is partially famed for its player creativity, so it makes perfect sense that Age of Calamity plays into this with those same abilities. Despite its best efforts, Age of Calamity can get a little monotonous. I can vividly remember standout gameplay moments from Breath of the Wild, but I can’t say the same for Age of Calamity’s gameplay over the tens of hours of swinging my way through thousands of Bokoblins.
Man of the people
The familiar map of Hyrule returns from Breath of the Wild, but it doesn’t operate as an open world adventure, instead laying out dozens of missions before you on an interactive map. You'll embark on story missions from the map itself, rounding up the Champions of Hyrule in their respective regions and bringing all the allies you can muster together to square off against Calamity Ganon, but there are also the citizens of Hyrule that need your aid.
This is a Hyrule before the calamity, a different world entirely to the ruined planes and desecrated churches we knew in Breath of the Wild. It's towns are numerous, and their citizens weary of the blight before them, so naturally they're calling upon you to aid them. You'll need to source ingredients and crafting items from the various story missions to assist them in building fortifications and weapons. In turn, they'll reward you with delicious recipes, bonus life hearts, and increased combo attacks for the playable roster of characters. Age of Calamity might not take place in an open world, but Koei Tecmo still wants to push you into engaging with the population of Hyrule.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is largely story-driven, and it actually wouldn't be unfair to say that it's more story-based than Breath of the Wild. The new game fleshes out the brief flashback segments in Breath of the Wild, depicting Zelda's struggle to overcome Calamity Ganon in full. Prequel stories can often be risky business, especially when you know by nature what's going to occur, but Age of Calamity plays off this as a tragedy, showing characters like Link, Mipha, and Impa bonding and befriending one another against the backdrop of their inevitable failure. Although the story is somewhat predictable, it won't stop you basking in the time spent with characters that got relatively little screen time in Breath of the Wild.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a fantastic hack-and-slash romp, and it deserves to be referenced as more than just a spin-off. Age of Calamity wholeheartedly embraces Breath of the Wild, using familiar musical cues and the same charming art style to give players a key sense of welcomeness, before diving headlong into the frenetic combat. There's a surprisingly deep combat system in Age of Calamity, thanks in no small part to Breath of the Wild's Runes making a triumphant return. There's undoubtedly times over the tens of hours where the hectic combat can wear a little thin, and although you know how this story plays out, it's still lovely to spend more time with Breath of the Wild's stalwart companions.