Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity – A Gaming Masterpiece
January 2, 2021
Be aware that this article contains spoilers.
Over the course of a challenging 2020, the words on the lips of Zelda fans everywhere were simply: “Anyone remember Breath of the Wild 2?”. Since the bombshell teaser back in summer 2019 during E3, Nintendo has been tight-lipped about the status of both the development and prospective release of the much-anticipated sequel to the first entirely open-world venture of the Zelda series. So much so, some may have put the E3 teaser down to a collective hallucination.
However, over two months ago, Nintendo did something completely unprecedented. Yes, Aonuma gave us an update of sorts on BOTW 2, but accompanying this, he presented a rabbit out of the hat by showing us a teaser of a game no one saw coming. The events preceding Breath of the Wild left a lot to the imagination and provided healthy material for fan theories, but here, we got news of a game based entirely on those events, the gruelling battles which defined the fateful war known as the Great Calamity. But rather than a traditional Zelda game, this would be in the form of a Dynasty Warriors game, much in the same vein as the unorthodox, but much-loved Hyrule Warriors game of 2014.
In the weeks preceding its release, fans anticipated how the game would play out. What unknown plot points would we get? How would the gameplay differ from the original Hyrule Warriors? What new characters could we be introduced to? But most pertinent of these was the burning question of how would the beloved Champions of Hyrule meet their respective demise at the hands of the Blight Ganons and what exactly contributed to Hyrule’s brutal fall? But as soon as the demo dropped, some of these questions became more prominent and many of our thoughts on how the game would potentially play out were turned upside down.
The moment the “egg guardian” (now known as Terrako) jumped through the portal of time, some Zelda fans grimaced. They believed that instead of seeing the events before Link’s awakening (pun intended) in the Shrine of Resurrection play out, the game would tell a rather different story. This was indeed confirmed whilst playing through the game. Admittedly, such a move by Nintendo was always going to be polarising. Many would see this as “false advertising” by Nintendo, robbed of the dark, edgy ending they believed they were promised, and dare I say, thrown another Timeline split. However, I will be writing as a member of the other end of the spectrum. As someone who saw this as a work of genius and a delightful masterstroke by Nintendo and Koei Tecmo, I believe they combined to create arguably the greatest Zelda story to ever be told. This review will mainly be based on my experiences and perception of the story, so before you read on to see me explain myself, be warned that this review will contain FULL SPOILERS for the game, so if you haven’t completed the game, I would advise you do so before returning to read this.
Introduction to the Game
Before release, there was a plethora of speculation around how the story would be presented. Would it be Link and Zelda reminiscing on their memories of the events leading to Hyrule’s sad predicament following their defeat of Calamity Ganon? Or simply an orthodox retelling of those events? However, the opening scene very much heightened my excitement when it became apparent that Age of Calamity was to be a story of time travel. Of course, time travel has become a staple right across the Zelda series, but for the first time, time travel was being conducted and events being influenced by a character who didn’t involve any of the major players, in contrast to previous Zelda games (Link in Ocarina of Time and Demise in Skyward Sword).
With the majority of Zelda games, we are used to a sort of “bedding in” period where the player acclimatizes to the setting and game controls and subsequently, the story makes a calm and sedate start before we are thrown into the main dilemmas of the plot. Not so here. Hyrule is already under siege from an army of moblins and additionally, we are treated to an inspirational speech by the King, who spurs the forces of Hyrule onwards. To my memory, this is the first time a Zelda title throws us straight into the thick of the action without a settling in period for the player, and this is something I certainly wouldn’t mind being replicated in a future Zelda game.
Meeting the Champions
Following a solid introduction , we are now tasked with recruiting the Champions for the battle against Calamity Ganon.
As was the case in my playthrough of Breath of the Wild, I started with Zora’s Domain and Goron City. Those two segments went the way I expected, where the recruitment of Mipha and Daruk were simple affairs of fighting off some monsters and seeing them board their Divine Beasts to formally accept their roles as Champions. However, the recruitment of Urbosa and Revali were done in a very clever fashion.
In the case of the former, we were met with a hoard of hostile Gerudo, and although I knew that this would be the result of some misunderstanding, it was kind of a refreshing throwback to the days of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, where we faced the Gerudo as enemies. When the reveal of Master Kohga masquerading as Urbosa manifested, the game gave us a robust introduction to the Yiga Clan as one of the major threats to Link, Zelda and co, and this led to our first look at the main villain of the game (excluding Calamity Ganon), the mysterious figure in purple later to be revealed as Astor. This nefarious evildoer may have his detractors, but when he was first revealed, I cannot deny that the music and his creepy tone sent a shiver down my spine.
Speaking of detractors, the Rito Champion Revali has had more than a few, and it didn’t surprise me one bit that the game introduces him as a hostile character, however, actually making him the main boss of the level certainly drew a wry smile from me, given that I believe this was done in part as fan service for those who can’t stand the Rito warrior’s guts. It also served to further the animosity between Link and Revali, something I very much looked forward to before the release of the game.
As the story progressed, the game shows us more and more the impact the impending threat of Calamity Ganon was having upon the characters and the individual pressures they were feeling, particularly Princess Zelda. However, Age of Calamity did a superior job in getting the player to understand these pressures when compared to Breath of the Wild, where Zelda came across as fairly unlikeable, something I have made apparent over the years. Breath of the Wild was in a way trying too hard in making us feel sympathy for the young Princess, but in my opinion failed on many counts. In contrast, Age of Calamity genuinely made me feel for Zelda whilst portraying her as a far more likeable and relatable character. Feeling this way, my desire to see a different outcome to the tragedy of Breath of the Wild increased even further. Then came the crux of the story.
Given that the game was advertised as a prequel to Breath of the Wild, my perception was that the Calamity would kick start in the last act of the game. However, it came upon the characters in a most unexpected fashion. This happened when Link, Zelda and Impa were in the Castle, only just making sense of Terrako’s escape from Robbie’s Research Lab. The level of shock value here was quite high and combining it with a remix of the Calamity music from Breath of the Wild, there was a powerful air of tension whilst fighting against monsters and Guardians within the Castle. We then get to the supposed sacrifice of the King, who like Zelda, was given a more sympathetic character arc in the game, and it made me feel worse for Zelda, who literally had to leave her father at the mercy of the Guardians. When Link, Zelda and Impa escaped from the Castle, Zelda breaks down in Hyrule Field whilst Terrako plays Zelda’s Lullaby. I was sure the emotions the game would make me feel were at a pinnacle. Boy was I wrong…
Emotions All Over the Place
I’m not going to lie and say that I didn’t see this coming. It was strongly hinted to in the tapestry at the beginning of the game where each Divine Beast had two Champions standing on top of them. Also, the following quote from Yiga newcomer Sooga: “the future is fickle” very much led me to theorise this. But when that scene happened, I still wasn’t ready.
When Zelda’s tear dropped on Terrako, it shot a projection towards the four corners of Hyrule. This sparked a new mission where Link, Zelda and Impa believed the Champions could be saved from certain death and made haste towards the giant Sheikah machines. We then got a scene which all us Zelda fans before could only play out in our imaginations. Mipha and Daruk fighting and losing their battles against the Blight Ganons. But then it happened. A familiar figure jumped out of a portal and batted away Waterblight Ganon before it could put an end to Mipha’s life. It was the hugely popular and fan favourite Prince Sidon from Breath of the Wild. As a guy who wrote an entire fanfiction some time back on Sidon’s grief of losing his beloved sister and trying to move on, the moment he appeared bellowing the words: “I won’t allow you to take her again”, I jumped out of my seat. The Zelda series is littered with emotional moments, but none had ever hit me like this. I’m a person who is extremely hard to make tear up when it comes to games, shows, movies but damn, this brought me to the brink.
Yunobo’s saving of Daruk was a more light-hearted moment, but wholesome nonetheless. The main mission was to board the Divine Beasts and save the Champions from the vile clutches of the Blights in a limited amount of time. I genuinely had no idea whether this was a game where you had only one chance to succeed, so gone were my customary wisecracks whilst fighting enemies in my gaming endeavours, here, I was completely silent. My heart was thumping and it felt as if I was trying to save my own family members in Mipha and Sidon. And once I got inside Vah Ruta, I attacked Waterblight Ganon like a bull on steroids. Once he was defeated, I cheered in victory. For years, I yearned for a way I could save Mipha, knowing every time I re-fought Waterblight Ganon, it would never bring her back. But Age of Calamity enabled me to finally fulfil this ambition and actually save her alongside Sidon. Maybe I should just retire from gaming after this high…
The whole segment of fighting the Blights to save the Champions managed to address our collective curiosities of how the Champions would interact with their successors had they ever met. And in my eyes, the interactions went how I would have expected. Mipha and Sidon with their emotional sibling reunion and Daruk and Yunobo’s wholesome yet comical conversations. Breath of the Wild portrayed Riju as a rookie leader looking for inspiration from her predecessors. Albeit in their limited time together, Urbosa became an impeccable mentor to Riju, something which may prove to be of significance in the story of Breath of the Wild 2.
But Revali and Teba’s interactions were probably the most interesting. My expectation was that Revali would have a sense of hostility towards someone seen as his successor 100 years later, but he kind of treat him as an equal in many senses. On the other hand, Revali’s general pomposity towards other clearly came as a shock to his Rito compatriot, although his admiration for the Champion was plain to see. In such a short amount of time, Age of Calamity truly did a remarkable job to flesh out these interactions between the characters.
With Power Awakened
Getting to the home strait of the story, the battle of Akkala Citadel has been the talk of many lore-based videos by Youtubers, but we get to not only experience this epic battle, we are also shown in no uncertain terms that, had it not been for Divine beast Vah Ruta’s intervention in this new timeline, the battle was going to end in brutal defeat for the Hylian forces, given the Citadel was under overwhelming siege from a battalion of Guardians. This was an overall fun battle which, and this may sound strange, I saw as a calm before the storm of the final four battles of the game.
Preceding the battle of Fort Hateno, we are shown a scene where the evil Astor has, unsurprisingly, turned on the Yiga Clan and is absorbing their life forces to resurrect the Blight Ganons. For the time the player has known them, the Yiga had only been seen as comical and bothersome antagonists. However, for the first time, when Sooga expresses his intention to lay down his life to protect Master Kohga, we begin to sympathise with the leader of the defected Sheikah, seeing him in a much more human light.
Next, we arrive at the point which almost defined the story of Breath of the Wild. The awakening of Zelda’s power. And I have got to say, Age of Calamity executed this to perfection. Although Breath of the Wild’s portrayal of the scene was impactful, Age of Calamity did this to a superior level. When Link is fighting an impossible battle against all four resurrected Blight Ganons, a gorgeously cinematic scene in itself, we actually get to see what is going through Zelda’s mind as Impa drags her away to safety. While Breath of the Wild showed it as an act of spontaneity, Age of Calamity showed it as a culmination of all the stress and emotion Zelda had been through, and the moment she saves Link was far more epic than Breath of the Wild’s attempt could ever be. The Battle of Fort Hateno going forward in a way felt like a moment where we could actually save the whole of Hyrule and being able to play with this feeling only spurred me on.
Memory Links to the Past
The next battle took us to the Great Plateau and this was a pure nostalgia trip. I’m sure the memory of Link first waking up from the Shrine of Resurrection, and relearning his fighting skills on the Great Plateau is a fond memory for us all. To be back in the same setting once again brought back those fond memories. I actually took the opportunity to revisit some of the areas of the Great Plateau to fuel my nostalgic feelings. But what made this even more epic was the phenomenal music in the background, something which could be said throughout the game as a whole. But fittingly, we discover that the King is still alive in the Temple of Time, the same place where we discover he is a ghost in Breath of the Wild.
Although the reunion and reconciliation between the King and Zelda was extremely touching, the part which got me slightly emotional was when the King talks about the togetherness of the entire Kingdom, and the screen cuts to a tearful Master Kohga and his soldiers. Many will have seen this as a light-hearted moment, but not so myself. Breath of the Wild made the antagonism of the Yiga Clan very explicit and how it was a grudge spanning 10,000 years. Age of Calamity had in a subtle way demonstrated the ending of such a lengthy period of hostility and how in the emergence of certain circumstances, enmities can be broken down and avenues of togetherness and friendships can be created.
Assault on Hyrule Castle
The Kingdom had gathered its troops, the Divine Beasts were at the ready and the charge towards Hyrule Castle had begun. Straight away, anxiety and tension were in the air. The red sky and the music exacerbated this feeling. But what I loved was how when you think you have defeated all the enemies outside the Castle and are ready to begin the final assault, the game throws a huge curveball in the shape of the Blood Moon and resurrects the enemies you have just defeated. Of course, it was a curveball, but the moment you see the Blood Moon, you remember Breath of the Wild and realise: “Oh yeah, I forgot that this was a thing, damn!”. But to be honest, I was enjoying the game so much, I really didn’t mind fighting the monsters all over again.
Now we come to the battle within Hyrule Castle. I genuinely felt as if I was in the cinema watching something at the level of Avengers: Endgame or the finale of Harry Potter, except with a Switch controller in my hand. Say what you like about Astor as a villain, but I was glad we got an actual human villain who was making a maniac of himself in front of the heroes, something which I felt was severely lacking in Breath of the Wild. But not only was all of this incredibly cinematic, the battles and the music backed this up to boot. And I was so pleased we got to fight the Blights, Astor and Harbinger Ganon back-to-back to ramp up the challenge level for the player.
Then came the resurrection of Calamity Ganon. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in expressing my profound disappointment at the abomination Breath of the Wild served up, but the moment it first appeared, my jaw dropped. THIS was the Calamity Ganon I had always wanted, a demonic-looking and menacing powerhouse of a figure. But this was followed immediately with the emotional revolt and defeating of Terrako. And man did this hit hard in the feels. Over the course of the game, we had grown to love our “egg guardian”, but having to defeat it was heartbreaking, especially when Zelda finally remembers it as her childhood creation and comforter during the painful loss of her mother. But from the heartbreak, we get arguably one of the greatest moment seen from any iteration of Zelda, her speech swearing vengeance on Calamity Ganon. And thus, we get the final battle.
The Grand Finale
One thing I would like to point out is that in practically all Zelda games, the final battle has usually involved the three main characters of the story, Link, Zelda and Ganondorf/Demise or any other villain. Sure we had the King standing by in Wind Waker, the resistance offering some assistance in Twilight Princess and the infamous “Groosenator” in Skyward Sword, but in Age of Calamity, the Champions and their successors felt as much important and part of the battle as Link and Zelda, and that sense of togetherness during the battles felt like a huge gust of wind in my back as a player. This carried into the concluding battle of the game, where the game sprung another surprise making Calamity Ganon initially invincible, and if it weren’t for another intervention from Terrako, the entire cast would be toast.
Coming to the battle itself, it was a much more fulfilling experience than Breath of the Wild and even the final blow from Link was my personal favourite from any Zelda game, a view furthered by the novelty of Revali screaming: “Don’t screw this up!”, in the background followed by Link proceeding to giving Ganon the “Future Trunks on Frieza” treatment.
In the final scene of the game (excluding the secret ending scene), we see the Champions’ successors return to their timeline and sharing a final moment with their respective predecessors. These moments were both touching and inspiring, none more so than Sidon saying goodbye to Mipha, knowing that he is returning to life without her. Following this, the final shot of the game is Link, Zelda, and the Champions standing over a melancholic, but now safe Hyrule. This gave me such a massive sense of achievement and satisfaction, that ultimately, all those hours of playing through the game culminated in me getting what I truly wanted, and that was to save Hyrule and the Champions’ lives
Overall, the story of the game was an adventure of the highest order. It had thrills, moments of sheer excitement, moments which hit me in the feels and moments which shocked me. Although I chose not to go into the detail around the gameplay and mechanics, I felt these were slick, smooth and easy to get to grips with whilst eliminating some of the issues I had with combat around Breath of the Wild (yes I know both games are different in terms of genre). And although not perfect, being able to control the Divine Beasts and mashing hordes of enemies was thoroughly enjoyable. The game gave me everything that I felt I was sorely lacking in Breath of the Wild, deeper character arcs, higher levels of satisfaction with my achievements, beautiful and phenomenal music but most of all, a story which was a work of art and potentially, the finest a Zelda game has ever told. What are your thoughts? Hit me up on the TGPZ Gaming Discord server or Twitter to continue the conversation.