Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is the latest joint project between Nintendo and Dynasty Warriors developer Koei Tecmo. In name, it's a sequel to the previous Hyrule Warriors from 2014, but it goes far beyond the reaches of its predecessor. While I can only talk about the initial two chapters in this preview, the limited section of the game does enough to establish Age of Calamity as a more ambitious entry in the hack and slash genre.
You begin the game as Link (surprise, surprise), fighting against hordes of enemies. The first thing you notice here is the level design: it's the same Hyrule Field as seen in Breath of the Wild, with a few tweaks to suit the new gameplay style. Using the same aesthetic as arguably the best game in The Legend of Zelda franchise shows early on that Age of Calamity isn't holding back.
Gameplay consists of tearing through hundreds of enemies, as you'd expect. Playing as Link, Impa, Zelda, Mipha, Daruk, Revali and Urbosa, you perform various combos while wielding your primary weapons. These range from Link's selection of blades, to Impa's righteous fists, but there's more to it than that. Each character can also use the powers of the Sheikah Slate (again from Breath of the Wild), letting you wield magnesis, stasis, cryonis and - best of all - bombs. These abilities are vital when dealing with tougher foes, breaking their guard and letting you viciously lay into them before finishing them off with a visually stunning set piece.
Another key element of Age of Calamity is switching between characters. Often, you'll be playing with three characters in your party, and the ability to fluidly jump between them makes for some epic takedowns. Saving up your charged attacks and then releasing them in sequence on the same moblin looks and feels epic. This mechanic is also hugely important for covering the expansive levels. You're able to assign commands to the characters you're not currently controlling, sending them to points on the map as and when necessary. Once you're done holding down one area as Link, switch to Mipha and wage war at the location where she just arrived. This time-saving strategy makes all the difference.
Age of Calamity isn't done impressing on the combat front. You can also pilot Divine Beasts, giant mechanical monsters capable of decimating thousands of opponents. These sections are among the most fun experiences I've had in a Zelda game, shattering enemy lines with godlike power. A game hasn't made me feel this strong since Wii Fit told me I had the health of a 21-year-old (I was 18).
Age of Calamity offers plenty of depth. There are various sidequests available through the game's hub, ranging from combat scenarios, to item exchanges. The additional missions can level up your characters or reward you with new combos, making the main quests easier. Also, all quests are replayable, letting you experience them with different characters or weapons. This is a great way to level up your characters more evenly.
There's also a blacksmith who can upgrade your various weapons. Weapons are collected by playing through missions, and your choice of weapon can affect your fighting style. If you're using a sword and shield as Link, then you can shield surf around the map, smashing through enemies as you go. However, change to a two-handed weapon, and Link sacrifices this mobility mechanic in favour of a fantastic sword attack.
While I don't want to say too much about the story of Age of Calamity yet, there's clearly something big here. Link and friends aren't just mindlessly massacring through bokoblins for the fun of it (although we are) - they're out to save Hyrule, and it shows.
Overall, my limited time with Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity suggests Nintendo and Koei Tecmo have done an excellent job with this game. The combat offers all the fun you could want of a hack and slash title, while still keeping the feel of a Zelda game by including the locations, characters, enemies and arsenal seen in Breath of the Wild. The game's hub and sidequests add welcome depth to the experience, and there's a sense that the game's story is far bigger than we're used to in games like this. I can't wait to play more.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity was played on Nintendo Switch with code provided by Nintendo. The game releases for Nintendo Switch 20/11/2020. Demo playable now.
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