The general premise of most games in The Legend of Zelda franchise is that there is a great evil afoot in the land and the hero plays through the story by questing through various dungeons found on an overall map, beating monsters, finding items, and solving puzzles, with a bit of side-quests and side-missions mixed in.
The premise of Breath of the Wild is to crank way down on quantity and cohesiveness of the story conent while cranking way up on the side-quests, as well as the size and detail of the map, including how the player interacts with it, as the hero tries to undo the tragedy of what has already been done.
The premise of Hyrule Warriors is to throw all the characters together, never mind the problems of time and space and continuity, and have them battle entire armies while also looking to fulfill certain mission objectives.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity mixes all three of these ideas together and sees what happens.
The premise of the story is that at the height of Breath of the Wild‘s backstory, in that scene where the Princess Zelda’s power truly awakens as the Calamity is fully underway, something else awakened as well. It’s a small, unusual Guardian-type creature, one which has some connection to her, and which somehow travels a slight ways back in time to try and thwart the return of Calamity Ganon. Thus, the missions which the player undertakes are done in the context of playing through the events that lead up to the impending tragedy. It bills itself as the backstory, at first, and I was somewhat resigned to getting to know and care about these characters just to have them ripped away by the tragic ending. In that, I was happily surprised, as something most unexpected happens – I am skating around spoilers here – to alter the course of events.
I am just going to say now, if Breath of the Wild had as much story as Age of Calamity, and especially if this had somehow been part of it’s story, like, some parallel or concluding grand finale or something like that, where the future influences the past in an effort to save the Champions and avert the Calamity while also ending it in the later timeline, then I would have been much more eager to play it. I very much liked this one, though leveling up the many characters over the course of just over two dozen levels involved playing through the whole thing a huge number of times.
The time traveling aspect actually reminds me of Ocarina of Time, which is the pivotal moment where the paths of time split into the three unique courses of events which follow. Thus, if one can take Age of Calamity to be cannon, it would seem that there is another split, one wherein the Calamity occurred, in all its destructive rampage, and one where we get to fight to nip the Calamity in the bud, so to speak.
In addition to the main story narrative, there is a huge number of challenges that offer numerous rewards which can be most useful. Most of these involve gathering specific materials, but a significant number are unique combat challenges, some of which can be peripheral to the main storyline, and some of which shed all pretense of such.
In terms of gameplay, I have to draw a certain comparison. In Hyrule Warriors, exactly what the characters do may be a bit nuanced, but how one pushes the buttons is basically the same. In contrast, Age of Calamity gives each and every character (even the Divine Beasts) an entirely unique style of button-pushing combat, complete with unique actions and abilities. One must adapt quite a bit from one character to the next, and some of the characters are… well, the later they are introduced, the more ungainly they are to wield, it would seem. Oh, and the styles evolve as new combos and enhancements are unlocked, so one has to adapt a number of times even to use the same characters, especially if they can use entirely different weapons.
One small, personal, particular disappointment in that count: I was looking forward to playing Sooga, but we never got to. Instead, we got the deranged Kohga.
By contrast, the various monsters that one faces are all enhanced in identical ways. There is the basic form of each monster, and most of them are enhanced with elemental magic, or enhanced with an undead version, or enhanced by being a turned into a blue, black, or silver version, or enhanced with the malicious energy of Calamity Ganon. After awhile, it just felt overdone. Especially when I had my characters extremely leveled up but the same old monster types were as trying as ever just because they had a different skin.
I have a particular bone to pick with whoever came up with Lynels, especially, being too fast to properly counter with the required ice wall when they charge, and packing a serious punch as well, in addition to a phenomenal amount of hit points. The things are blasted annoying!
But most of all, I hate how even the slightest graze from an enemy would interrupt whatever you are doing as if you were being hit by a train, yet the monsters’ combos are almost impossible to interrupt even when you’re unleashing an absolute storm of attacks on them. This is most aggravating when one is being hit from all sides and therefore can’t attack, defend, or evade effectively, but could if one were allowed to throw just one enemy off balance with a single, desperate blow, enough to open a window of opportunity to either counterattack or retreat and regroup. But, no, can’t do that. That would be too fair.
Obviously, you won’t hear me calling this game too easy, and I was playing on “Normal” difficulty.
And yet, I had a delightful time, and very much sated my desire to beat down the monsters that beat me down, no matter the overwhelming odds against me. I enjoyed the story and I appreciate the characters, even if some of them are impossible to use as effectively as I prefer. I was able to apply my mind to problems that left me feeling like a headless chicken, and I overcame. It took a great deal of time, effort, rupees, and resources, but I quite nearly finished even the most remote challenges and leveled up nearly half of my characters and their weapons to the max in the meantime.
Oh, and it did something that I have wondered about for a pretty long time: what it would be like to play the hero(es) during the actual apocalyptic battle, with armies of both sides clashing as far as the eye can see! It was quite hectic, especially with all the rules and time limits and such, but it was also glorious! I loved it!
I’m putting it aside to come back to and try and finish up those last details, and finish leveling up my characters, but I very much enjoyed the experience of this game, frustrations notwithstanding. I highly recommend it.
Rating: 8 stars out of 10.