Report Card: Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (Review)

The Legend of Zelda is my all-time favorite game series.  I own every console game, have the amiibos and other figures, and even a poster or two.  I even own the DVD of the 90’s cartoon.  I have Zelda shirts, socks, hats, and even pajama pants.  I love this series and need to consume every bit of it that I can.

The stories throughout the Zelda games have always been just a side note.  You play a boy who doesn’t know he will save Hyrule.  The real reason to play these games has always been the dungeons and the puzzles.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the lore.  I even own the Hyrule Historia, but it’s just not the main reason for playing these games.

There are two exceptions when it comes to stories in Zelda games.  The first is Skyward Sword.  The game was lacking but it told the story of how it all began.  The second exception is Breath of the Wild.  In this case, it’s not the story you play through as much as it is the story of the past that you learn about as playing the game.

The problem with Breath of the Wild is that you only get snippets of the story of the past.  It leaves you wanting to know more about how things could have gone so wrong 100 years ago, and now Nintendo says we get the rest of the story.  Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity allows us to play through the battles that left Hyrule and shamble and Link asleep for 100 years.

When the game was announced, I knew I need it for the story, but I was worried about how the game would actually play.  I had my fill of the Dynasty Warriors games back in the PS2 era.  The hack and slash fighting off hordes of enemies just gets old.  It often felt like all you do is mash the attack button.  I didn’t want to play a full game of this again, but I knew I wanted the story.

As I started to fight my way through the early stages of the game, I realized there is more to this combat than just mashing “attack” over and over again.  I was thoroughly impressed by the combos you can do.  As with many games, you have a light and heavy attack.  Using these properly will produce different combos that all feel incredibly satisfying. 

In Breath of the Wild, gamers were introduced to the Sheikah Slate and the powers that came with it.  These make a triumphant return in Age of Calamity, bringing remote bombs, magnesis, stasis, and cryonis.  Using these on hordes of enemies helps take out groups of them and often looks really cool.  Most bosses will show a symbol right before a major attack.  If you perform the matching Sheikah power, it will stop them in their tracks.

As fun as the combat is, it does get a bit old after a while.  Age of Calamity does a good job of having an array of different enemies, but it’s still the same fight.  You learn their moves, counter their moves, move on to the next encounter.  A satisfying combo attack only feels satisfying the first 100 times or so.  After a bit, it’s going to get old.  Maybe playing this game at a slower pace would help with this fatigue, but I’m not sure.

Further combat issues I believe are a result of the console this is on.  Often times, games made specifically for the Nintendo Switch will have the action large and up close.  This is required so that the game can comfortably be played in handheld.  I believe this is a major reason why close encounters, in tight areas, end up causing huge issues here.  I often found myself in situations where I could no longer see my character or know how to dodge the enemy attacks.  This was made even worse while playing split-screen.

The Switch adds to one other major problem with the game.  The lack of power of the Switch leads to times of major frame rate drops.  This happens in many games and often is something we have to just forgive.  The issue here is that the game is based on destroying hordes of enemies with smooth combat.  The times, and they weren’t often, where the frames would take a dive completely took me out of the experience. 

The game does try to give the player a break from the monotony of the hack and slash by putting them in the driver seat of the divine beasts.  For the most part, I enjoyed these levels.  Walking around and watching groups of enemies fly in the air gave me great joy.  Some of the beasts were more fun to control than others, but they were all a welcome change.

I knew going into Age of Calamity that I would be able to play as an array of characters.  As expected, Link, Zelda, and Impa.  I also figured that the heroes that pilot the Divine Beasts would also be playable.  What I didn’t count on were the other strange characters that would also become playable.  The weirdest of them is Hestu, the Korok with maracas.

The different characters allow the player to fight in a manner that suits them best.  Some characters, like Link and Mipha, use melee combat.  These were my favorite.  Other characters, like Zelda and Impa, use more of a magical attack.  I did not like these as much but that is not to say they are bad.

The two weirdest characters were Hestu, as previously mentioned, and The Great Ferries.  Honestly, I hated both of them.  Partially because they are just dumb, and partially because I hated how it felt to fight as them.  I feel like the developers had a specific number of characters they wanted in the game and just ran out of reasonable ones.  I have to know if it was really that important to have this many playable characters.  I think it wasn’t.

With this many playable characters, leveling them all up can be a chore.  Age of Calamity helps you do this in a few different ways.  The obvious one is using them in battles.  This works great for the characters you want to use but not so well for those you leave on the bench.  One option for them is to buy levels.  You just go to the training camp, select how far to level them, and pay up.

The other way to level up characters is by supplying items to spots on the map.  This doesn’t level them up as much as increase their attributes.  The items these places require are things you obtain while playing through battles or from shops.  The rewards are more hearts, extra combos, additional special moves, or just cosmetics for Link. 

I appreciate the ability to level up characters I didn’t use much because sometimes I was forced to fight with them.  The rest of it felt weak.  It just seemed like they were trying to make the player do more when there was plenty to do already.  At times, the supplies needed were only available in battles that had already been completed.  With so many battles to play, I had no intentions of going back to any.

Ok… Gameplay is important, but the story is what I bought the game for. I have a lot to say on this matter, but most of it would be spoilers.  Nintendo led everyone to believe that Age of Calamity will have you play through the events that took place 100 years before Breath of the Wild.  I was so curious to see how they would handle this because things didn’t go so well back then.  How can you beat a game where the good guys lose?

I’m not going to say that Nintendo lied, but I definitely feel betrayed.  The story isn’t bad.  You will learn how the war started, who was involved, how the Divine Beasts pilots were recruited, and how it all ends.  The story works for the game but doesn’t work as the prequel it was promised to be.  I can’t say more without spoilers, so I will leave it there. 

In the end, the combat was fun but grew old.  There were too many characters that were dumb and felt like filler.  I went into the game with low expectations for the gameplay and high hopes for the story.  I ended up pleasantly surprised by the fighting and very let down with the story.  The story was all I really cared about.  They made promises that I feel they didn’t fulfill.  For those reasons, I give Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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