I need to say something very important right up front: I’m not the biggest Zelda fan on the planet, and I’m not incredibly well-versed in the lore. I am, however, a pretty big musou nerd; I’ve played quite a few titles over the years, and I always seem to enjoy them – Dynasty Warriors 9 included. So, if you’re looking for a Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity review that approaches the game from a Zelda fan’s point of view, then I suggest seeking out a completely different write-up. I’ve played Breath of the Wild and know enough to understand where Age of Calamity fits in the scheme of things, but beyond that, I don’t have a lot of Link-related information to share with you. I apologize in advance for any trouble I may have caused you. I should also apologize for enjoying Dynasty Warriors 9, but I won’t.
As strictly a musou experience, Age of Calamity delivers everything you could want. You have a nice stable of colorful characters to equip and level up, there are tons of different enemies to smack around on the battlefield, and it all controls as well as you’d expect from a musou game. Everything about the experience fits together nicely, to the point that those who couldn’t really care less about Link and his adventures can still dive in and enjoy what the game has to offer. Sure, it helps to have spent time with Breath of the Wild to really sink your teeth into the narrative, but it’s by no means required. Again, I’m not a Zelda fanatic and I still had a blast clearing maps of monsters and retreating to the world map to equip my new weapons. The game loop satisfies regardless of how much you adore Link and his pals.
If you didn’t play through Hyrule Warriors (on either the Wii U or the Switch) and generally steer far away from musou games in general, you may have questions about the way Age of Calamity plays. So, here’s a very basic breakdown of the differences: Instead of embarking on a vast, open-world, Breath of the Wild-style adventure, you’ll control a handful of familiar characters as they move in a linear fashion from one stage to the next. Instead of solving physics puzzles, you’ll hack apart thousands of enemies who show up in huge clumps around the map. And while you can get fancy with the button combos to make combat more amazing, learning the inner workings of the mechanics isn’t necessarily required. While I do not condone button mashing, it’s still a very serviceable way to work your way through the levels. Want to master the Art of Musou? You can certainly achieve that goal with a little practice. Want to press buttons until you’re ready to quit? That’s viable as well.
Although you won’t be able to explore or do whatever you want in Age of Calamity’s chaotic world, you will see a lot of things associated with Breath of the Wild. For instance, you can still throw bombs, shoot arrows, cook meals that give you different buffs, and find hidden Korok seeds sprinkled around the world. The way that Omega Force incorporates elements from Breath of the Wild into this radically different “prequel” never feels forced or cheap; the developers clearly wanted to appeal to the Zelda crowd, and that means making sure they stay true to the series. It would be easy to go that route, but it’s a nice touch that actually adds depth and atmosphere to the adventure.
In the grand scheme of musou games, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity often feels a little light in content, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton of stuff to do. You can easily complete the campaign in about a dozen hours, though you’ll easily drop dozens more if you decide to level up the characters, complete side quests, or pay attention to the smaller side content the Omega Force team stuffs into the experience. Sadly, I don’t feel the urge to return to the game as much as I did Warriors Orochi 4, Samurai Warriors 4, and even Dragon Quest Heroes. Of course, this probably says more about my attitude toward the Zelda franchise than anything else. Your mileage will vary for sure, though I can see Link enthusiasts spending a lot of time in this world – especially if you absolutely love smacking around scores of moblins.
All of this praise comes with a word of warning: Age of Calamity isn’t the most polished game on the Nintendo Switch. Due to the hardware’s limitations, the experience tends to chug along at times. If you’re used to playing Omega Force’s releases on a hefty PC that can handle 60 fps without breaking a sweat, the difference can feel more than a little jarring. That said, the Switch does an admirable job keeping up with the action; although the frame rate suffers from time to time, you don’t notice it too much when you’re up against a horde of enemies or trying to take down an outpost. Handheld mode definitely suffers a bit more in this department, though I’ve yet to meet a musou game on the Switch that I genuinely enjoyed in handheld mode. As much as I love Fire Emblem Warriors, I can’t play it without a Pro Controller.
So what’s the verdict? As a musou fan, I enjoyed my time with Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. Omega Force knows what they’re doing (most of the time), and it’s clear that a lot of love went into their latest release. However, I’m not sure how hardcore Zelda fans will feel about the musou experience. The presentation and gameplay are so radically different from Breath of the Wild, so those who are expecting something more in line with that release may feel a little overwhelmed. Musou games won’t appeal to everyone, regardless of how many Zelda references are stuffed into the package. But if you like arcade beat-em-ups, mindless hack-and-slash adventures, or games that require nothing more than button mashing (again, I don’t condone it), Age of Calamity is a good way to burn through a weekend.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided by Nintendo.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity delivers a very top-notch musou experience, one that takes both franchises very seriously. However, Zelda fans expecting something along the lines of Breath of the Wild are in for a very rude awakening.