This article dates from before the recent release of the title on November 20th.
Nintendo delighted Zelda fans earlier this year with its surprise announcement of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (2020).
The title is a prequel to Breath of the Wild (2017) and promises to expand on the backstory to that game. Like its predecessor Hyrule Warriors (2014) the game promises to bring the familiar faces and settings of the Zelda franchise to the spectacle-filled battles of the Dynasty Warriors gameplay. Recently, Nintendo released a demo, revealing a lot about the title.
Core Gameplay Refinements, Improvements
The core gameplay is nigh-identical to the last Hyrule Warriors title. The player takes control of a cast of characters—Link, Zelda, and Impa in the demo—to mow down droves of enemies. Along the way they will accomplish certain tasks like defeating a mini-boss or capturing an outpost. Already Age of Calamity shows a capacity for more complex objectives. One mission sees the player baiting a powerful Guardian to a specific location, then activating Guardians of your own to weaken its armor. The player is then able to engage the machine directly in a tough boss battle.
All three characters available in the demo play differently. Link is a bog-standard average speed, damage dealer. Impa is quick and lethal, with a cerebral system of creating clones. Zelda is, well, pretty weird honestly. She uses a smorgasbord of runes from her Sheikah Slate to fight but her combos felt hard to wrap your head around. All of the units also have access to temporary items—like health-restoring apples—and four runes with unique effects. These go a long way in making combat feel more involved and strategic than the original Hyrule Warriors.
A Link to the Past
The demo also gives players a glimpse into the story of Age of Calamity. Unfortunately this aspect of the demo turned me off of the game. Breath of the Wild is a post-apocalyptic game of sorts. Ganon destroyed Hyrule and Link, the protagonist, has been in suspended animation for 100 years. The story’s plot involves the hero recalling his friends who died a century ago, and grappling with his survivor’s guilt. A prequel game is poised to deliver a much darker and impactful story than is standard for Nintendo.
However, the first few moments of the game introduce the arch-nemesis of narrative stakes: time travel. The first cutscene sees a small robot leap through a portal to travel back in time and prevent the calamity-awaiting Hyrule. Now, the outcome of the game is thrown into question. This raises the stakes, true, but it also implies that the more somber, gut-punch ending fans were expecting is no more.
Since this game is implied to be canon, this plot point has ramifications for the series at large. Part of the beauty and sorrow of Breath of the Wild was seeing the ramifications of your past failures play out on a massive scale. It was this very despair that made the game’s moments of joy, love, and hope all the more impactful. The upcoming sequel to the game already seems to have a darker, chthonic tone. But now that time travel and the possibility of preventing disaster before it occurs is thrown into the mix, I worry that the emotional journey that floored me in 2017 and that I was looking forward to continuing in the next entry will be erased.
Still, Age of Calamity seems like a promising entry from its refinements of the Hyrule Warriors gameplay to its brand new perspective on the world of Breath of the Wild. The demo is more promising than not. Now we’ll just have to wait a few more weeks to see how the final product fares.
Thumbnail image from Inverse.
Did you pick up ‘Age of Calamity’ at launch?