Koei Tecmo’s Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity demo went live yesterday, and I was excited to jump into things. However, the giddiness I initially felt slowly started to fade away just like the game’s frame rate. If things don’t change in the final product, the fun factor of Age of Calamity will heavily depend on how much you care about a game’s performance. Usually frame rate doesn’t bother me much, but with the Age of Calamity demo being a fast-paced hack-and-slash experience, it’s harder to ignore. Fortunately, the game itself is still a ton of fun, and Zelda fans will surely get a kick out of it.
New but familiar territory
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity presents itself in a similar way to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I’ll never forget loading up the game and seeing “Nintendo Presents: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.” This is a simple yet effective way of introducing a player to a game. Age of Calamity also does this but with higher stakes in the opening cutscenes.
The game begins right as Calamity Ganon starts his siege on Hyrule. A horde of monsters advances towards Hyrule Field, and Link is thrown straight into the action. Age of Calamity expects the player to have some knowledge of this era of Zelda but does not completely alienate newcomers. In-between missions, you will be given a clear rundown about what is going on via text and narration by various characters.
The demo does not delve too far into the game’s narrative, only showcasing the first chapter. This includes two playable missions as well as some extra challenges, but Age of Calamity tantalizes you with teases for four missions from Chapter 2.
More gameplay variety
Age of Calamity’s biggest strength is how it combines Breath of the Wild’s mechanics with the Warriors format. This was explored in the previous Hyrule Warriors game, but I feel like it did not reach its full potential. Most of the Zelda mechanics in Age of Calamity’s predecessor only consisted of small references to the series via items, music, and occasionally progression.
Age of Calamity feels like a true prequel to Breath of the Wild with various ideas and principles crossing over. For example, you can cook in-between missions to raise stats before a battle and so on. There are also more tools for you to play around with during battles with the addition of the Sheikah Slate.
The battles themselves feel more dynamic and not as repetitive as the ones seen in Hyrule Warriors. I played both main story missions and the extra challenges; they feel distinctively different from one another. Without giving too much away, one mission sees you fleeing from a Guardian while trying to protect Princess Zelda.
The battlefields have more to them this time around as well, with stronger enemies being a bigger threat. Encountering larger foes such as a Moblin feels exactly the same as in Breath of the Wild. They have a larger health pool and will require more strategy to defeat. The Age of Calamity demo suggests the game will require some level of mastery for the harder challenges that will probably appear later in the full release.
Engaging side content and playable characters
Downtime between missions is also engaging. In-between the hacking and slashing you’ll be thrown into an overworld map that acts as your hub for accessing the game’s variety of content. It’s a clever remixing of the map featured in Breath of the Wild.
Other activities are also available on the map including challenges, quests, and services. Challenges essentially allow you to fight a huge number of enemies to receive rewards that will enhance your skills. There are a couple of these in the demo that teach you how to use the Sheikah Slate more effectively. I’m expecting more interesting scenarios in the full game, but they essentially act as a tutorial with additional benefits, at least at the outset. The quests and services fall under the same category. Completing a quest will improve a character’s combos while services allow you to purchase materials to complete the game’s quests.
The biggest draw for any Warriors game is the variety of playable characters. I got to experiment with Link, Impa, and Princess Zelda. Each of them felt unique with their own strengths and weaknesses. Link plays how you would expect him to, utilizing his sword to wipe out enemies. I found Zelda and Impa to be the more interesting characters to play around with. Both of their abilities resulted in some of the most diverse gameplay I’ve seen in a Warriors game, which you should just check out yourself.
Enter the age of bad frame rate
Unfortunately, all of this is held back by some intense performance issues that occur too often. The pacing of a battle in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity can easily be skewed when the game’s frame rate begins to drop.
I tested both the docked and handheld modes in case that affected the performance. Although I noticed a slight difference, there were still frame drops no matter which mode I was playing in. This makes fighting larger waves of enemies tedious at times, and I often found myself getting hit by unexpected attacks.
Ultimately, Age of Calamity’s frame rate is its biggest threat, and that’s disheartening when the rest is shaping up to make the game a must-have for hardcore Zelda fans. The few hours that I’ve spent with the demo have left me excited to see more in spite of the performance issues. The gameplay was engaging and provided me with enough variety to want to carry on playing into the full release. And with a few more weeks until the full release hits store shelves, there is at least some hope that Nintendo and Koei Tecmo can iron out the technical problems.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity launches on Nov. 20.