November 20th is almost upon us. A day to remember for video game enthusiasts the world over. Fans across the globe will be getting their hands on one of the most hotly anticipated releases of 2020. No – not that. That one got delayed for the 2077th time. No – not that either. We’ll leave all PS5 coverage to those that love it most – we are a Nintendo enthusiast venture, after all.
That’s right. In oh so typical Nintendo fashion, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity will be gracing Switch consoles on the same day that the next gen makes it into homes throughout Europe. You couldn’t write the script (but, then again, when can we?). There were few who could have predicted that the closest we would get to a Breath of the Wild sequel was in fact a prequel; brought to us by the collective minds of the Koei Tecmo and Zelda Nintendo development teams.
Telling a story set 100 years before the events of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Age of Calamity opens to a cinematic that does more than just whet the appetite. Fire ravages Hyrule Castle, Guardian laser beams light up the night sky, and, lying dormant in a wooden box atop the tower, is the cutest baby Guardian. No sooner have we finished cooing over the little fella do we hear the distraught voice of Zelda desperately declaring that she must protect everyone.
As the cinematic closes, a new one begins, and we are treated to one of the finest views in all of video game history: Hyrule Castle. This time it’s intact, and a beautiful blue sky offers the perfect backdrop. Less than 5 minutes into Age of Calamity and expectations are high, feelings are being felt, and a strong link to the BOTW has been established. A rousing speech from King Rhoam gets us all fired up and we descend onto Hyrule Field to bash Bokoblins.
Bokoblin bashing will either feel faintly familiar or have you feigning familiarity, largely depending on what part of this franchise mashup has brought you here. Veterans of KOEI’s Warriors series will likely find this series entry natural to pick up and play, grappling the control system with relative ease to produce creative combos and stylish swordplay. For those among us who have turned up late to the party on a count of a serious case of the calamities, Link and the other legends won’t handle the way they ‘should’.
Often referred to as ‘Musou’ games, the Warriors franchise is an eclectic mix of hack-and-slash titles that tend to involve huge hordes of enemies descending upon your location. Equipped with weapons or abilities, you deal with wave after wave before moving on to the next location. In the short lead up to release, there have been concerns that the Warriors’ origins of Age of Calamity will lead to repetitive combat and a storyline that lacks depth. The eShop demo may compound those concerns, but if this preview achieves one thing and one thing only, this writer hopes it will reassure you that this isn’t just paying lip service to Breath of the Wild; this is a love letter.
In the five hours spent with the game so far, it is fair to say that the Daruk is in the detail. Cinematically speaking, Age of Calamity captures the very essence of Breath of the Wild and is evidence of how closely the two development teams worked together. Outside of that though, it’s the subtle sights and sounds and the modified mechanics from the original that play their role here.
Combat evolves organically through the introduction of core characters as the story progresses. The likes of Daruk, Revali, Urbosa, and Mipha make an appearance, and they all have their own unique skillset which players can experiment with. Each also has access to the Sheikah Slate powers to improve players chances in battle. Selecting party members for the next mission is important and switching between them in-game is done very easily.
Other mechanics have found a natural inclusion, and all help to highlight that this is as much a Zelda game as it is a Warriors one. Cooking, a fan favourite from Breath of the Wild, has been utilised in a way that makes sense. Collecting ingredients from missions then allows you to complete side quests, most of which require you to just hand over a list of items to a villager. Once shared, you then receive a recipe which can be used for status effects in your next battle. A simple but effective addition.
There is also the option to forge new weapons by combining weapons collected on the battlefield, and again this signifies the coming together of two very well-known franchises without serious compromise. These weapons can level up, as can the playable characters, resulting in new attack combinations, health increases, and other perks. Some of these can be achieved by accessing challenges from the map. A predetermined number of enemies must be defeated within the time limit, or all enemies defeated using the same weapon – these are just a couple of examples.
The map of Hyrule offers a wealth of options, with new locations and key events being unlocked all the time. It has been carefully recreated and many of the locations we know and love are here in all their glory. The early hours encourage exploration of them too, with a sequence of missions requiring you to venture into the likes of Zora’s Domain and Gerudo Town.
It wouldn’t be an ode to Breath of the Wild without mention of the Divine Beasts, and Age of Calamity does much more than just that. You can take control of them. We won’t say much more than that for now, but when we joked earlier about the 20th November being a day to remember, we’ll bet that most Nintendo fans would rather have a go on Vah Ruta than play a PlayStation 5…
*A copy of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity was provided by Nintendo UK for preview purposes. A full review of the game will be published in due course.*