This is Skeezix’s Brain on Gaming
Is Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity still worth playing?
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity had some awfully big shoes to fill. Coming (quite belatedly) on the heels of Nintendo’s uber-mega-smash-hit, the game had to both illuminate some of the backstory that didn’t appear in Breath of the Wild and be a decent game in its own right; not an easy task. Did it succeed, though? Well…you’re going to have to read the article to find out.
As a side note, I’m changing up the format of my Still Worth Playing articles. Instead of covering everything about a game, which leads to me spending a lot of time and space on things I don’t really have a lot to say about (like, say, graphics), I’m instead going to highlight the five most important points that informed my judgement. Without further ado, then, let’s get into the first one:
The game looks and sounds very Breath of the Wild.
Okay, I know what I said five seconds ago, but I really think graphics are relevant here. Nintendo has a long (and checkered, as the recent Morshu meme explosion on YouTube reminds us) history with farming out its IPs to third parties. But never before have they essentially sent the entirety of a game’s assets over to another company.
That changed with Age of Calamity. Almost everything that could be copy-and-pasted has been, and while some might call that lazy, I actually really appreciated it. Since most of the characters had their exact same models, except Impa (who is, of course, 100 years younger) and a couple of other new additions, they were instantly recognizable and gave me a lot of nostalgia for the first game, if one can really be nostalgic for a game experienced four years before. Also, this meant that Breath of the Wild’s clear, minimalist visuals were, of course, well-preserved. As they say, if it ain’t broke…
The music, on the other hand, does show some welcome innovation. Most of Breath of the Wild’s music isn’t suited to combat with masses of enemies, so while some songs have been carried over verbatim, like the Hinox and Talus themes, many others are brand new. They don’t feel that way, though; everything fits perfectly within the original BotW template, even the more unusual tracks — like the Divine Beast music, which happens to be some of my favorite in the game.
The roster is amazing.
One of the big disappointments of the mainline Legend of Zelda games has always been that you don’t get to play as anyone other than Link. Sure, Link is cool and all, but he can feel a little bland, especially compared to the colorful personalities that inevitably find their way into any Legend of Zelda title. Age of Calamity completely does away with this limitation. There are eighteen playable characters, and while it was pretty obvious that some of them would make it in — the Champions were a given, for instance — there are others that come completely out of nowhere.
But that’s not a bad thing! Gaping at the screen in astonishment that x character is actually playable is usually followed by doing their training mission and marveling at just how complete and fleshed-out their moveset is. The Warriors games have never had some Tekken level of complexity — most combos use two buttons, with ZR thrown into the mix if you want to get flashy — but even within those narrow bounds, different characters feel completely different. Some are giant, some are tiny; some are fast, some are slow; the list goes on, and honestly I think just trying out the different characters, watching their animations and using all of their special moves, is one of the highlights of the entire experience.
The gameplay can feel a little grindy.
Coming from the first Hyrule Warriors game, which I played on the Wii U along with all five other Wii U owners, I can definitely say that things improved dramatically in the grinding department with Age of Calamity. You don’t actually need to grind at all to finish the game — the XP you get from story missions and whatever sidequests you do choose to do is more than enough to meet the recommended level for all the missions, as long as you focus on fewer than three or four characters, which I did. There are even some nice anti-grind features, like being able to pay to level up characters to the level of your most experienced character, which is really nice.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t extend to every aspect of the game. I got a quest early on that required me to get ten ice lizalfos tails. Well, once I beat the story — completed the game, except for some side content that I’m still working on — I still didn’t have ten ice lizalfos tails. I had seven, three of which I’d gotten by grinding. It would probably take an hour or two just to get those other two tails, which isn’t awful by the standards of Japanese video games, but it is by the standard of whether I have anything better to do with my time, which I do.
Also, getting weapon seals is a pain in the rear. Essentially, you can add up to four “seals,” which are little stat boosts, to each of your weapons; there are four types of seals and probably thirty subtypes, each of which has a different effect. These increase in power if they’re all of the same type, and you generally want all the same subtype, too, since the boosts are little things like +3% Attack Range that don’t add up to a lot unless you stack them. But, since most weapons have no seals and those that do are, twenty-nine times out of thirty, going to have the wrong one, getting those weapons together is a real chore. I wish this aspect of the game had been looked at more.
There are some balancing issues.
While I loved the variety of characters, I have to admit that some of them felt a little bit underpowered. For example, Daruk is so large and unwieldy that he soaks up a lot of damage without being able to dish out any extra in return, and his magma-pillar ability is flashy without actually seeming to do all that much. But, honestly, every single character, even otherwise-reliable picks like Link and Mipha, pales in comparison to the Fifth Horsewoman of the Apocalypse herself: Impa.
Impa normally has a pretty underwhelming damage output, but her special ability allows her to summon blue spectral “clones” of herself that mirror her attacks. If you have all six clones up and running — not that hard to do, though you do have to refresh them sometimes — you’re already dishing out more pain than other heavy hitters like Link.
What’s really broken about Impa, though, is the fact that (and don’t quote me on this, but I believe it to be true) each individual hit delivered to an enemy counts towards your special attack gauge. When you have one character, filling up the gauge takes time; when you have seven, though, as Impa does, the gauge can fill in less than a second. Each full gauge represents something like ten percent of a boss’ health, on average, so you can lay the smackdown on your enemies much faster with Impa than with any other character, especially if you then abuse that by getting seals on your weapon to increase your special charge rate further — not that I would know anything about that.
Normally, I have to go on the Internet to learn about broken strategies and cheeses for my favorite video games, but Impa is so broken that I found out about her myself, then Googled to find that thousands of other people had already made the same discovery. After you realize that Impa is literally god-tier, no other character really feels worth playing. That’s a shame, because Age of Calamity’s character variety is, like I said, one of its strong points.
The story is…there.
Psst! The review will contain spoilers from here on out.
When Breath of the Wild came out, the biggest complaint from the community, besides the kvetching about weapon durability and sliding down walls in the rain, was about the story. The game was clearly trying to do something no other Zelda title had tried to do: Depicting a world in which the Hero and the Princess had been unsuccessful in sealing the darkness. Because of the relative lack of story content, though, we didn’t really get a full picture of that world, other than what we could see with our own two eyes, which was, admittedly, quite a bit. This was later partially fixed in a DLC, and now we get an even better view of the events leading up to the Great Calamity.
Except…we don’t, not really. The story content is really nothing new — just more of Zelda being a tortured soul and Link being awkwardly silent. Impa now completes the trio, but she doesn’t add much except prompting Zelda to complain more about the weight of her responsibilities, not that Zelda really needed much prompting. There’s a better view of the Champions as well, but we didn’t really see new sides to them or anything. Honestly, I think that the character who most benefited from Age of Calamity was, of all people, Master Kohga, who became much more sympathetic and honestly the most three-dimensional character in all of Breath of the Wild. Really, for all the cutscenes, we don’t get much new stuff.
I also wasn’t sure I liked the brand-new story content. I came into the game expecting to play a tragedy; after all, I knew that the Champions, Link, and Zelda were doomed to fail, and that that failure would lead to the events of the main game. As I played through the game and watched things happen differently — Link picking up the Master Sword before the calamity, the Champions being rescued, the battles of Akkala Citadel and Fort Hateno being won by the Hylians — I kept asking how the story could possibly lead back to the conclusion I knew was coming.
Well, the answer was that it didn’t. Instead, though some incredibly obvious deus ex machina, aka Terrako, the annoying little copyright-safe Aren’t2-D2, it turned out that the fact that the Champion’s successors had traveled back from the future to help them in their quest had turned the tide of battle, and that Age of Calamity takes place in an alternate universe where the Calamity never succeeds.
How lame is that? It would have been incredibly affecting to watch these characters fail, to do our best to save Hyrule but to come up short, and possibly to get to play as the bad guys and kill off some of those irritating Champions, specifically Revali. But no, instead we got a very safe ending that didn’t take any of those narrative risks, and which didn’t illuminate the most pivotal part of the story, when Zelda becomes trapped battling Calamity Ganon and Link nearly dies defending Fort Hateno. I feel like Koei Tecmo was handed something good and turned it into something pretty forgettable.
The verdict is:
Ultimately, I think Age of Calamity did more or less what it said on the tin. This is a good — not just decent, actively good — musou that took the story and characters of Breath of the Wild and expanded on them in a few small, timid ways. I can’t say it’s a masterpiece, and it hardly summoned the magic of my first playthrough of the main game, but it’s more than worth $60 — and, on Very Hard, it’ll kick your teeth in, which is exactly what I like from my action RPGs.
I give Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity four icy lizalfos tails out of five. Buckle up — only an hour of grinding to go until you have them all!
Originally published at http://skeezixblogs.wordpress.com on February 11, 2021.