Switch owners are eagerly awaiting the direct follow-up to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, arrival date TBA.
Until then, we have Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity to sate our Zelda needs. While there's plenty of shiny fan service in this riotous hack-and-slasher, however, it's not the game you might think it is.
Back to the '90sThis is not a prequel to Breath of the Wild, though the story it tells is set 100 years prior. You'll find yourself wading into the battles that informed the events of BotW, flitting between the perspectives of Link, Zelda, Impa, and the four legendary Champions with a press of the D-pad.
While many of the game's assets appear to have been reused from Breath of the Wild (maps, character models, UI), this is a completely different game both mechanically and spiritually.
Hyrule Warriors owes its underpinnings to the Dynasty Warriors series of the late '90s and beyond. It's an epic third person hack-and-slasher that pitches you into widescreen scraps against hundreds of minions across various semi-open battlefields.
Forget tackling half a dozen Bokoblins simultaneously. Here you'll be ploughing through multiple groups of 40 or 50 in quick succession.
Hacky slashyBreath of the Wild's combat was notably weighty, considered, and open to creativity. Age of Calamity's is lightweight, brash, and one-dimensional.
That shouldn't be read as too much of a negative in itself. There's a lot to be said for quality button-mashing, particularly when there's such spectacle linked to it. Wading into a mob of identikit stooges, sending them careening into the air with repeated presses of the Y button, is a real power trip.
It does get rather repetitive rather quickly, though. Numerous combos, weapons, special moves and advanced techniques are gradually stirred into the mix, and the cast of playable characters each has their own unique move-set.
But much of it feels rather superfluous. You're still wailing on the same stooges in the same way, with only generals and the occasional boss capable of doing any real damage in return.
You'll need to lock on to these lumbering figures, circle and dodge repeatedly, and look for the cue to utilise a specific Sheikah Slate power that might unbalanced them. Meanwhile, wearing down their shield-like defence with a sustained assault will open the potential for a devastating finishing move.
Age of Calamity's combat rhythm is fun the first time. It's even fun the tenth and the twentieth time. In fact, it's never not fun. But is it ever truly engaging? To this long-time Zelda fan and relative Dynasty Warriors neophyte, not really.
Low and slowAs if to acknowledge this one-note flavour, the developer has stirred in a bunch of palette cleansers. At various points you'll get the opportunity to climb into one of BotW's divine weapons to unleash an even more unbalanced brand of terror on your opponents.
At other times, you'll get to employ a lightweight approximation of BotW's intricate cooking and crafting systems to brew stat-boosting recipes and enhanced weapons. But even these are a simple case of a couple of taps on an icon on BotW's beautiful world map, which has effectively been turned into an ornate level selection tool.
The final deceptive note comes from the game's performance. When a game looks so much like Breath of the Wild, you rather expect it to move like it. But the frame rate in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity can be horrendous, in both handheld and docked form.
Lore almightyFans of Breath of the Wild's world will find a lot to enjoy in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, which goes surprisingly deep on the lore of one of Nintendo's most splendid worlds.
If you simultaneously have a hankering for some uncomplicated, stress-relieving action into the bargain, then Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity can provide that in spades too.
What this is not is a top tier Zelda game, in either form or quality. It's a creaky, repetitive hack and slasher that compensates for its shortcomings through sheer weight of content and fan-pleasing asset recycling. And that will be more than enough for many. Just make sure you know what you're getting into.