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Review: 'Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity' a cut above in hack-and-slash genre

In the long-running and beloved "Legend of Zelda" franchise, "Breath of the Wild" has a comfortable place among its finest games. A launch title for the Nintendo Switch in 2017, "Breath of the Wild" had considerable critical and commercial success.

In the long-running and beloved "Legend of Zelda" franchise, "Breath of the Wild" has a comfortable place among its finest games.

A launch title for the Nintendo Switch in 2017, "Breath of the Wild" had considerable critical and commercial success. Gamers enjoyed guiding the main hero Link though the land of Hyrule and taking part in the game's rich storyline.

It's no surprise, then, that the planned sequel to "Breath of the Wild" is among the most anticipated games for Nintendo Switch owners. Nintendo announced last year that the sequel was in development, but further details have been hard to come by,

Still, gamers hungry for another trip to Hyrule won't have to wait. "Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity," out this week for the Switch, takes place 100 years before "Breath of the Wild" and chronicles the events leading up to the world's devastation at the hangs of the monster Calamity Ganon.

But does "Age of Calamity" fill the void for those craving Link's next big adventure? Not really, but that's not the point of this title. 

"Age of Calamity" is not a core "Legend of Zelda" game. It's the latest -- and arguably best -- instalment of the long-running "Warriors" series. Think of it as a bit of hack-and-slash mayhem that smartly integrates some of the characters and gameplay concepts from "Breath of the Wild."

Games in the "Warriors" series are built around a core gameplay concept of powerful heroes rampaging through a battlefield and running roughshod over a horde of inconsequential minions. 

If it sounds simple, it's because it is. Most enemies are simply fodder for the player-controlled heroes, giving the player the satisfaction of dispatching them with an arsenal of slick combos and cool abilities.

Players will hop between battlegrounds across Hyrule's map to advance the story, which sees Link and Princess Zelda recruit heroes to pilot the Great Beasts, huge mechanical constructs resembling animals, in an attempt to stop the dark forces threatening Hyrule. 

New controllable heroes are unlocked along the way. The affable Daruk can use his massive body to roll through enemies like a bowling ball, Urbosa adds lightning to her potent sword attacks. Still more will join up, giving players a lot of different fighting styles to experiment with.

While "Age of Calamity" still relies heavily on the simplistic gameplay that defines its genre, the "Breath of the Wild" flavour adds welcome depth to the combat.  

The characters can use runic powers found in "Breath of the Wild," including using magnetism to disarm enemies or hurl metallic objects at them, or creating blocks of ice to freeze foes or block their attacks.

You still don't need to be a tactical genius to master "Age of Calamity" as most enemies will fall to a single swipe of the sword. But this time around there are challenging enemies strewn in among the rabble that will allow players to make use of their expanded skillset. There are even a few challenging boss fights to keep things interesting.

Games in the "Warriors" series are not known for their depth in storytelling, with cut scenes linking together disparate battle missions. Accordingly, "Age of Calamity" has a thin story when compared to a core "Zelda" title. Still, Link's companions are an interesting crew, and "Breath of the Wild" veterans might get a kick out of seeing the characters that are part of that game's lore in action.

"Age of Calamity" runs smoothly for the most part, though performance can dip sometimes during particularly chaotic moments. Issues with the camera can cause problems as heroes can become obscured when fighting larger enemies in tight environments.

"Age of Calamity" may not be the game to tide over "Legend of Zelda" fans who are eagerly awaiting the next instalment of the series, but it's unfair to expect the game to do so. Those with the more realistic expectations of a "Warriors" experience with a "Breath of the Wild" theme should find that "Age of Calamity" serves its purpose well.

"Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity" has an ESRB rating of T (13 and up) and has a suggested retail price of around $80. A digital copy was provided for this review.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2020.

Curtis Withers, The Canadian Press

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