Champions In Arms

HIGH The bombastic combat is deliciously satisfying.

LOW The framerate can dip to catastrophically low levels. 

WTF Voice acting for female NPC shop owners is… rather sensual.

Ever since 2017’s Breath of the Wild set a new bar for The Legend of Zelda franchise, fans of the series have been clamoring for a return to Hyrule. Three years later fans finally got what they wanted… kind of.

In September 2020, Nintendo announced Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity would act as the prequel to Breath of the Wild. I was delighted at the opportunity to revisit Hyrule in any capacity, but being unable to embrace the first Hyrule Warriors game for Wii U, my expectations were tempered. Luckily, AoC feels far more like an enrichment of the world BotW created rather than a fanservice spinoff.

Age of Calamity follows the struggles of Link, Zelda and the Champions in their battle against Calamity Gannon 100 years prior to Breath of the Wild. While fans might think they know how this tale ends, there are some interesting variations that will certainly throw them off balance.

Combat is the main course here. As opposed to the stealth and strategy of Breath of the Wild, Age of Calamity’s action is fast paced, aggressive, and thoroughly engaging. It’s a third-person actioner in musou style featuring Zelda characters mowing down thousands of enemies while accomplishing various objectives such as defeating bosses, defending bases or other characters, or escaping the battlefield in a limited amount of time.

Throughout the journey, players will have the opportunity to fight as nearly all the characters from the Breath of the Wild universe. As a relative newbie to Dynasty Warrior-style musou games, I did find the combat to be slightly button-mashy at first, but the more time I spent in battle, the more I grew to appreciate the variance of combos that could be pulled off with a deeper understanding of the controls. For example, the attacks and finishers can be equal parts cinematic and powerful, and I found myself experimenting with different characters to see what kind of wild moves awaited me.

While gameplay is based around using weak attacks to transition into strong attack finishers, unique actions are what make characters feel distinct. From Urbosa’s lighting to Mipha’s teleporting waterfalls, these trademark attacks keep combat varied and exciting, rather than endlessly stabbing hundreds of bokoblins with simple swords or spears.

Supporting this variety, the character design and development are top notch. Not only do personalities feel fleshed out and memorable despite how little screen time some have, they also feel unique on the battlefield. There is a plethora of playable characters, starting with the expected in Link, Impa, and the Champions, ranging to some unexpected picks that came as genuine shocks. (And no, I won’t spoil them here.)

However, not all characters are created equally, and some don’t feel as intuitive as others. A few characters felt clunky or too large, and their stature made it difficult to see enemies or squeeze through narrow passageways. Also, major framerate issues plague areas with high levels of enemies, especially noticeable in handheld mode.

While the story is beautifully told for the most part, I found certain cutscenes to end abruptly, or that major story points were communicated hastily through narration on loading screens. Following Breath of the Wild‘s non-linear storytelling and trailers that made AoC seem like more of a cinematic journey, I was left with a sour taste in my mouth. However, in a welcome change of pace, it’s exciting to see Zelda begin the story not as a damsel in distress, but as a child unsure how to lead her people before blossoming into a powerful and inspirational leader.

Putting those rough edges aside, what makes Age of Calamity special is its dedication to honoring the legacy of its predecessor.

On the surface, it’s the same cast of characters, enemies, weapons, and art style, but every design choice Age of Calamity makes draws from the successes of Breath of the Wild and adapts them into a different genre — instead of fighting three enemies at once, Link fights hundreds. However, it feels less like a new battle system, and more like an expanded, higher-octane version of Breath of the Wild’s action. Cooking makes a return as a way to up stats, weapons don’t technically break, but they will be regularly forged into stronger ones. Dodge an attack with perfect timing to perform a flurry rush. The Sheikah Slate allows access to special techniques, and yes, even those pesky Koroks are back.

Breath of the Wild succeeded because it instilled a sense of wonder in the player and inspired them to explore every inch of its landscape. While Age of Calamity doesn’t follow in those same footsteps, that sense of wonder and need to explore is present. This prequel is a love-letter to one of the greatest games of all time, and while it might not have been exactly what fans were expecting, it is a worthy addition to this storied franchise and a must-play for anyone itching to return to Hyrule. 

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

— Alex Prakken

Disclosures: This game was developed by Omega Force, published by Nintendo and Koei Tecmo, and is available exclusively on Switch. This review copy was obtained by retail purchase. The main campaign takes about 35 hours to complete, and roughly 60 hours to 99% complete (damn those pesky Koroks!) The entirety of the campaign has an option for split screen multiplayer, but I have not personally invested any time into it.

Parents: This game is rated by the ESRB for Fantasy Violence. There is obviously a lot of combat here, but it is all tasteful and minimally gory. 

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is subtitled, but subtitles are not resizable. I don’t believe sound cues are necessary for progression, making it fully accessible. 

Remappable Controls: This game’s controls are not remappable. 

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