When the original Hyrule Warriors showed up on the Wii U, I was shocked. This wasn’t the first collaboration between Nintendo and Koei Tecmo, but I never would have expected Omega Force to be involved. Hyrule Warriors was full-on Dynasty Warriors, with a silly original story, over the top animations and the usual clumsy progression systems. I loved it. Now there’s a new Hyrule Warriors in town.

This one is super fascinating. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is connected to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and is presented as a straight-up, canon prequel. It’s nearly unbelievable that Nintendo would outsource canon material like this, especially with a game that’s one of the most notable contemporary Nintendo games yet. That said, it’s obvious playing Age of Calamity that Nintendo’s Zelda team(s) had hands all over this one.

The art direction, tone, cadence, and spirit of this game are one hundred-percent Breath of the Wild. This isn’t a spinoff, it’s a new part of the story with different gameplay mechanics. This is both a blessing and a curse for Age of Calamity, both in its context as a Zelda game and as a new Musou. The biggest problem, and one that this game may never be able to escape, is its performance.

I had concerns when I played the demo ahead of launch, which you can check out at the preview link here. Age of Calamity is an amazing-looking game; Musou games are often more visually straightforward, so having the watercolor-like Breath of the Wild aesthetic over every part of this game is striking. But Musou games historically struggle under their own weight, and like Breath of the Wild itself, Age of Calamity cannot maintain a steady frame rate. The final release does seem to run a bit more smoothly than the demo did, but in both TV and Handheld mode, you’re looking at sub-30 fps most of the time, with occasional bizarre jumps to around 60 in certain areas depending on the stage and where the camera is pointed. Frankly it’s odd to not see a performance/visuals toggle option available, which only seemed to appear in Fire Emblem Warriors for some reason. 

If frame rate issues aren’t a dealbreaker for you, there’s a ton of game available in Age of Calamity. But all of that is in service to the characters, from Link to the four Champions/pilots of the Divine Beasts. Perhaps more than anything else, what really makes Age of Calamity stand out is how distinct each character feels to play. Even Link, who clearly has some repeated moves from the first Hyrule Warriors, has things like shield surfing newly incorporated into his moveset. The Skeikah slate stuff is incorporated here as well, in different ways. Zelda's whole moveset is based on those abilities for one, but each character also has their own variants on the four main abilities from Breath of the Wild. You can also get things like a radar on the map for resource hunting help. 

The roster is smaller here for obvious reasons, but that really makes the way each character distinctly handles stand out. Each character has some sort of special ability, that’s usually connected to their standard attacks. Impa, for example, can attach symbols to enemies and absorb them, building up a number of shadow clones depending on her symbols. The clones join in on everything Impa does for a time, even altering the properties of her combo finishers and special attacks. Daruk is slower than anyone else, but he can leave trails of magma behind after his attacks, then detonate them for extra damage, crowd control, etc.

 

Age of Calamity’s progression system is also very character-focused. That sounds silly, but usually Musou games are all about pressing buttons in menus or simply leveling up to get stronger. Age of Calamity presents its whole world as the Breath of the Wild world map, and has you fill that in by beating levels and paying various resources to do things like establish shops or power up the characters. 

Each space on the map is presented with flavor text, with things like character or ability-specific training and things of that nature. It’s no different from grinding resources really, but since you’re dancing around a map and completing in-text tasks instead of clicking through a skill tree menu, it feels more like part of the game and story. There are also just fewer things to upgrade, which is nice compared to the multi-page resource-grinding demands of the first Hyrule Warriors.

 

As Omega Force and Koei Tecmo have taken its Warriors framework further and further down the IP adaptation rabbit hole, those teams have really been thriving. From Dragon Quest to Berserk, the expected Musou structure has been played with successfully, and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is a fantastic new example. If nothing else, the Musou developers are super good at finding ways to adapt themes and mechanics from totally different properties into their style. By being more hands-on and tying it directly to Breath of the Wild, we have a game with the level of care and polish put into the storytelling that usually isn’t present. We’re talking cutscenes, voice acting, visuals… everything on par with a AAA Nintendo game. The performance issues are a bummer, and I’d love to see any possible adjustments patched sooner rather than later. Or perhaps Age of Calamity will be a great use case for the fabled “Switch Pro.” 

Either way Age of Calamity has tons of crossover appeal, both for Zelda fans looking for more Breath of the Wild content, Musou fans looking for new stuff to do, and the cross-section of those fans who may also be trying to get their friends to finally play a Musou with them. If this is the kind of game that can happen with Nintendo and Omega Force both getting their proverbial hands dirty, then I hope this partnership only escalates from here.


Pros:

  • Breath of the Wild’s visual style in a Musou game setting looks amazing
  • Character focus leads to tons of nuance and distinct mechanics for each hero
  • High production values across the board

Cons:

  • Performance issues in either Switch mode
  • Pace can get oddly slow at times, especially without mounts to mitigate long-distance running
  • Kinda backpedals on the “prequel” thing unnecessarily

Score: 8.5

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review