Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, a Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild prequel in the mold of the classic Dynasty Warriors games, should be immediately familiar to anyone who hacked-and-slashed their way across the original Hyrule Warriors for the Wii U. Both games challenge Link to carve paths through hundreds of mooks while collecting neat stuff that makes him better and stronger.
Age of Calamity, which had a demo released following yesterday's surprise Nintendo Direct Parter Showcase, tells a different story than its predecessor. In fact, Age of Calamity is an intriguing vessel for supplemental The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild story material. Nintendo's busy making Breath of the Wild 2, so it's doubtful there are any hands available to make a Breath of the Wild prequel that plays like a traditional 3D Zelda game. But if my choices are "A fully-fledged Breath of the Wild story delivered through a Musou game" or "Nothing," I'll go ahead and take the Musou game even though I'm not a huge fan of the genre. From the feelings I garnered playing the demo, I'm making the best choice.
Age of Calamity takes place 100 years before the events of Breath of the Wild, i.e. 100 years before Ganon awakens and everything goes to hell. The demo that's currently available only offers a small slice of Age of Calamity's story, but as a major Breath of the Wild fan, it's already a blast to set foot in a Hyrule that's on the cusp of war and ruin. Grim? Maybe. But the Age of Calamity's looming doom adds a sense of tense anticipation that's similar to The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening ("You exist in a dream where nothing is real") and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask ("Your death is assured in three days").
I love watching these characters I know—Impa, Robbie, Princess Zelda, and the King of Hyrule—do their best to assemble their defenses against Ganon's attack. On one hand, I might just be getting a weird, twisted comfort out of witnessing a doomed endeavor. On the other hand, Age of Calamity throws a wildcard into the story by way of the small, highly marketable Guardian robot we see in the game's trailers. The 'bot, which is stored in Zelda's room, comes to life the instant Ganon is revived in Breath of the Wild's original timeline. It hops through a time portal and finds Link, Zelda, and Impa a century before the disaster, and shows them what inevitably awaits them when the clock stops ticking.
First of all, yes: We have yet another instance of time travel in a Zelda game, and yes, that means we might have yet another branching path for the tire fire that is the Zelda Timeline. Nintendo is working directly with Koei Tecmo on Age of Calamity, and the events depicted therein are meant to be canon. When the game was announced, I never really expected a time-traveling stone robot would offer Link and Zelda a glimpse of their doomed future and therefore a chance to change it.
Where will the story go, ultimately? Does the little Guardian's warning mean we can expect the opportunity to head Calamity Ganon's rampage off at the pass? What does that mean for the original Breath of the Wild's story? What does it mean for Breath of the Wild 2? We'll have to play the full game to find out, and rest assured, I want to play when it arrives on November 20. Nintendo is clever to load its next Hyrule Warriors game with Breath of the Wild lore; it makes the title irresistible to hopeless Zelda story fans, including me.
Age of Calamity isn't a new Zelda game, per se, but it's a satisfactory stopgap for those of us who can't wait to frolic in post-apocalyptic Hyrule again. It's not easy to make a Musou game, of course—it's not easy to make any game, period—but it takes less resources to make a story-filled hack-and-slash action game than an open-world action RPG filled with enemies and environments and puzzles. I think I can get used to mindlessly sending mobs of broken Bokoblins flying across the battlefield if it means I also get to watch Link and Zelda flail against the inevitable—or change their fate.