The Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity demo plays like a game that inherited more from its Zelda: Breath of the Wild parent than its hack-and-slash parent Hyrule Warriors. Developer Koei Tecmo repurposed major elements of Breath of the Wild’s gameplay — from the Sheikah slate, to cooking, crafting, and even Korok hunting — and integrated them into Warriors’ musou-style battle system. What results is a demo that has Warriors in the title but is a natural prequel for Breath of the Wild.
Age of Calamity is set one hundred years before the events of Breath of the Wild. All of your companions die tragically in a lost fight against Calamity Ganon. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity means to tell the story of that lost war, through battles all over Hyrule. You pilot one of the many characters — Link, Zelda, Impa, or any of the four Champions — though story missions that task you with beating back Calamity Ganon’s horde of bokoblins, wizzrobes, and lizalfos.
Battles in Age of Calamity are either story missions that advance the plot or challenge battles that power up your characters with new combos they can learn. Each battle takes place on a map populated with your allied forces and enemy forces. Players roam around the battlefield fighting clusters of enemies. Sometimes more powerful captains or bosses are present among these hordes that take a bit more effort to beat. There are conditions that must be met in order to win the battle, and conditions that, if met, cause the player to lose.
Every warrior you can play gets to use the powers of Breath of the Wild’s Sheikah slate. You can use the stasis rune to lock enemies in place and launch them away from you. The bomb rune is good for clearing out large swarms of enemies or finishing off higher health captains like Wizzrobes. The cryonis rune freezes enemies and can launch them into the air if placed correctly, while magnesis allows you to simply smash a big-arse metal box in bokoblin faces.
Each character also gets their own paraglider, allowing you to launch yourself into the air to deliver devastating attacks from above before gently sailing back to the ground. Breath of the Wild’s influence is also felt outside of combat, as cooking returns to provide special buffs before the start of each mission. There are koroks to find too, though hopefully not 900 of them.
From the Warriors side of things, the typical characteristics of musou games are present in Age of Calamity, even if they’re largely overshadowed by all the Breath of the Wild elements. There are still captains to fight and enemy bases to take over. In the first chapter of the demo, there’s even a rogue guardian enemy that the game warns you not to fight, reminiscent of how Dynasty Warriors would warn players of the super-strong Lu Bu (do not pursue!).
The combat is fun, as each character feels unique. Link is the typical hack-and-slash hero. Impa makes use of her ninja shadow clone no jutsu skills, turning her into a one-Sheikah army. Zelda uses more powerful versions of the Sheikah slate runes as her offensive weapon. You can switch between them mid-battle, which is useful for when you’re out of healing items and about to die. The death of a character, called “retreating,” usually means a failed mission — you can avoid that by jumping ship and letting the AI take over. I’ve swapped out characters at critical health and the AI seemed competent enough to keep that character alive while I completed the mission with another, healthier character.
I’m genuinely excited to play Age of Calamity, but there’s one thing that gives me pause as I play through the demo: I really hope the presence of time travel in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity doesn’t mess with Breath of the Wild’s story arc. With the introduction of a cheeky little guardian who can open portals through time, the fate of the guardians from 100 years ago is now in question. Will Age of Calamity allow you to pluck Urbosa, Mipha, Daruk, and Revali out of their timeline before their final moments? Or will it plop in the Champions from the future to offer aid where previously no help could be found?
I shouldn’t be surprised by time travel in Age of Calamity, since time travel (and dimension hopping) is what allowed the original Hyrule Warriors to happen. Still, time travel has been used to “fix” a lot of storylines and give them happy endings. Not that I don’t love the Champions of the past (especially the BAMF Lady Urbosa), but there’s a tragic appeal to experiencing a story you know doesn’t end well for its heroes.
I don’t want the presence of time travel in Age of Calamity to cheapen the sacrifice the Champions made in Breath of the Wild. I don’t want a happy ending to their tale, I want a satisfying one. Satisfying, in this case, means experiencing the heroism of their final moments without the deus ex machina of time travel getting in the way.
No matter how the final game turns out, I love me some musou games. Age of Calamity is a perfect union of Breath of the Wild’s storytelling and Dynasty Warriors’s combat. Timey wimey bullshit or not, I’m going to play the shit out of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity when it releases November 20th.