Saturday, November 13, 2021

Age of Calamity: Expansion Pass Review

Almost one year after the release of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity for the Nintendo Switch the game's Expansion Pass has been completed. It came in two waves: Pulse of the Ancients and Guardian of Remembrance, where the former was already released back in June and the latter at the end of last month, two weeks ago.

Now that the entire Expansion Pass has been released, it's the perfect time to evaluate it. How much does it really add to the base game? How does it compare to the DLCs from Hyrule Warriors and Hyrule Warriors: Legends? Well, let's find out. If you haven't played Age of Calamity yet, then keep in mind that this review might contain some spoilers, mainly about the playable characters!

No Freebies

One thing Koei Tecmo and Nintendo liked to do with the original Hyrule Warriors was giving free "samples" of the DLC that everyone would receive with the updates, which even included new playable characters. The villain trio of Cia, Volga and Wizzro were originally NPCs, but they became playable with version 1.3.0. And Hyrule Warriors: Legends added Medli for free as its first DLC character. There were also other additions and changes that came with the updates, like increased level caps for all the characters or new features for the weapon smithy.

Impa dodging an explosive barrel from one of the new Moblin variants

There is none of that in Age of Calamity. Well, there is, but it's all tied to the Expansion Pass and if you don't purchase it, then your game will stay exactly the same, except for some under-the-hood improvements. To be fair, most of these freebies in Hyrule Warriors were still tied to the paid DLC somehow and were essentially meant to lure you into buying the additional contents. For example the free characters didn't have any of their weapon upgrades or additional Heart Containers, unless you got the new Adventure Maps as well. Still, you were at least able to try these characters a bit and also to complete all their skills.

With Age of Calamity it's actually much easier to add a new character with the full package, because all they need are practice mission and a dozen of Quests for all their upgrades, which both can be placed anywhere on the map. No big extension of the game is needed and thus the game truly could have gotten some free character additions without any drawbacks at any time, but Koei Tecmo and Nintendo decided not to, which is somewhat disappointing... Of course this is not a big complaint, just an observation how things have changed since 2014.

However, a line needs to be drawn for any quality of life improvements, where those should not be locked behind paid DLC. The Expansion Pass offers you the possibility to store more weapons for all characters and to finally purchase apples, but both have to be unlocked via the new Royal Ancient Lab, while the original Hyrule Warriors had offered similar changes for free. This was already a bad trend in Breath of the Wild, where the paid DLC included items to make your life easier, like calling your horse from anywhere or getting help for finding Koroks. This was not okay back then and this is still not okay today.

Quality Before Quantity

Overall the Expansion Pass expands Age of Calamity on all fronts by adding new playable characters, new weapon types, additional Quests, Challenges, story scenarios, as well as even new enemies, music, stages, moveset additions, and more. It's as full-featured as it gets, but you also have to judge the Expansion Pass by the number of additions. Here is how much the Expansion Pass adds to your game, compared to how much of the same was already in the base game (in parenthesis):

  • New Characters: 3 (18)
  • Additional Weapon Types: 2 (3)
  • New Attire: 3 (69)
  • New Stages: 5 (21)
  • New Scenarios: 8 (20)
  • New Challenges: 36 (161)
  • New Quests: 112 (376)

Given the price of 19.99€ for the Expansion Pass, this doesn't really add all up. To be fair, the base game is quite extensive and can keep you entertained for over 60 hours (a lot more on the higher difficulties), where it also had an unusually large amount of characters for a new Warriors game. And getting three more characters and two new weapon types (movesets) for existing characters was essentially the standard with the similar DLC bundles for Hyrule Warriors, so this is absolutely decent.

The one thing that is mainly lacking is the number of additional Challenges, which was a strong suit of the DLC for Hyrule Warriors and Hyrule Warriors: Legends with the additional Adventure Maps. While arguably being quite repetitive, those could take many, many hours to complete, but the Expansion Pass for Age of Calamity doesn't really have anything comparable. The DLC itself aims at the late game, where its new Challenges are all above a recommended level of 50 and even go up into the 90s. But at this point all of it might feel like a drop in the bucket, where it won't take long for experienced players to overcome them.

At the same time you have praise that they were going for many new things with the additions. While the DLC Adventure Maps for Hyrule Warriors (Legends) offered a ton of new missions, those missions usually just recycled the existing contents. There were no new enemies, no new stages, and no new music (other than for the overlaying Adventure Maps themselves), where this always felt like a missed opportunity – not so with the Expansion Pass for Age of Calamity. It has all that, which is absolutely great and where Koei Tecmo really has put quality before quantity this time.

It's still a shame that they couldn't have done some more things to keep players busy. While the game now has a couple of new stages, those new stages rarely get even used by the DLC for additional Challenges. And this feels like a missed opportunity of its own.

However, there is a new type of Challenge, where you battle "Vicious Monsters", which keeps respawning and has some random elements to it. Those make use of all the new stages, as well as most of the enemy additions, where you can keep playing them for grinding. But of course this is not as exciting as completing a whole new set of Challenges.

One thing that is completely absent from the Expansion Pass are unlockable outfits, which could have served as a great reward for additional Challenges. The only new attire you get is the Prototype Ancient Gear set for Link as the purchase bonus, but otherwise there is nothing to find. Well, with the DLC for Hyrule Warriors (Legends) you didn't get many full costumes either, it was mostly just color swaps, which wouldn't be a good fit for this game's attire system. But in the very least they could have brought back some more of Link's many armor pieces from Breath of the Wild and maybe also offer that blue regal dress for Zelda.

Pulse of the Ancients

While the Expansion Pass is probably best enjoyed in its entirety, it originally was split into two halves with a very different focus. The first DLC wave was all about adding new Challenges and Quests to the game, where many of the latter take the form of "Research Quests" in the Royal Ancient Lab. This point on the map opens its own progression window, in which you will unlock the aforementioned quality of life improvements, as well as the new weapon types for Link and Zelda, the Flail and the Master Cycle Zero.

Hungry Hunches Research Quest

This is the part of the DLC that can already be started quite early in the game, right after the first chapter, where you can continuously work on clearing all the Research Quests. The ultimate goal is finding the Battle-Tested Guardian, but you really need to complete a whole series of Quests before that. These special Research Quests still work like any other Quest in the game, so you supply a number of materials to solve them. The catch is that some of the required materials are entirely new, like research papers that you obtain from certain actions, where you aren't able to get any of them before installing the DLC.

Some of the materials are also gotten as rewards from the new Challenges. Those start from Level 50 onward, so they are definitely not meant to be taken on in the early game. There aren't many new Challenges to find here, only 15 in total (ten more with the second DLC wave), but Koei Tecmo tried to offer some new things with them. For example there are Challenges where Robbie and Purah want to do some research and ask you to defeat your enemies in a specific way.

One of the new Challenges asks you to rack up a certain number of K.O.s within a time limit and there is another one about getting Rupees, which is reminiscent of similar missions from Hyrule Warriors (Legends). But these are kind of weird and don't work in the same way, because they keep shifting the goal post and it's not really clear how much you really have to get in the allotted time.

In "Survival of the Fittest" you're asked to simply survive for ten minutes, where the game keeps throwing tough enemies at you and it's really up to you how you do this. You can try and fight them all, or keep running in circles, or make good use of Daruk's shield. There is no wrong, as long as the clock keeps ticking down.

Other Challenges try to emulate some small stories, where there is even one which pitches the villains against the good guys. The game otherwise doesn't really have much in this direction, so it's a quite refreshing take.

Urbosa fighting one of the new Meteo Wizzrobes near Rito Village

But overall there isn't that much to play here, as already mentioned, where seasoned players will be done with all the new Challenges fairly quickly. So, if you're hoping to be kept busy on a similar level as the Adventure Maps in Hyrule Warriors (Legends), then you're out of luck.

As a slight compensation Koei Tecmo introduced "Vicious Monster Battles", called "EX Alerts" on your map, which keep re-appearing and offer different of these "Vicious Monsters" at the end. Those are your typical tough foes, ranging from Moblins to Lynels, which also includes most of the new enemy types introduced in the DLC. But they all have crazy modifiers to them, like lots of health, or insane attack powers, but rarely also beneficial things, like better drops.

What enemy or enemies you're getting is pretty much random, but it adds a certain replay value to these Challenges and makes them a nice place for grinding. You even have to grind these missions for a while, because they are the only place where you can obtain the Vicious Monster Reports, which are required to complete a variety of the Research Quests in the Royal Ancient Lab.

Luckily, they don't have any time limits, where they are relatively stress-free, save for the waves of elemental enemies it always keeps spawning at the end. Sadly, these missions don't make use of all the possible stages, not even half of them, and they don't provide the best possible outcome for weapons in the game. Otherwise this would have been perfect to keep the game going and the ideal way of farming good weapons without getting bored too quickly.

And you still might want to work on your weapons in case you're venturing into the new Apocalyptic difficulty mode. However, this mode is just another modification of the damage values, so it's not very exciting. While the damage you take is atrocious, you can at least compensate the tankier enemies with better weapons, especially now that you can upgrade them to Level 50 for some crazy good values. Unlike the other difficulty modes, Apocalyptic does even affect drops – weapon drops to be more specific –, where there is a slight incentive to play it, other than the for the challenge.

If this mode did more, it would have been much more interesting, however. This was the perfect opportunity for adding the golden enemies from Breath of the Wild's own DLC, where Koei Tecmo could have utilized the same system for upgrading the enemies. But there's nothing like that, where this new difficulty mode feels like a cheap addition, rather than something that adds true replay value.

Guardian of Remembrance

The second half of the paid DLC offers eight new scenarios, which take place all over the base game's storyline and come with a variety of new cutscenes. If you're in this game for the story, then this will be the heart of the Expansion Pass for you. Still, you shouldn't expect anything overly important, where similar to The Champions' Ballad it gives you some more fractured insights into what has happened, filling some of the gaps, but without offering a new story arc or something like that.

Rhoam meeting with Urbosa at the Great Plateau

Generally, this is all about giving most of the characters (that aren't optional) some more screen time. Half of the scenarios focuses on the Champions and their descendants, where they are put together on a mission and share some nice moment together. If you always wanted to see how Sidon interacts with himself as a little kid, then you might be in for treat.

Both King Rhoam and Master Kohga get their own scenarios as well, which is pretty awesome and makes the game feel overall more wholesome. Only Hestu is out of luck here and doesn't get much love, but in the least he shows up for some final montage that you can unlock by clearing all "Memory Quests".

These Memory Quests are special conditions that have to be fulfilled during the scenarios, where there is three of them for each. They are similar to the Hard Mode Gold Skulltulas in Hyrule Warriors and the third condition is always obscured as "???", where you have to figure out what to do for yourself. In some of the scenarios it's quite obvious what it wants you to do, in others not so much, where this can be quite frustrating if you don't want to look things up on the internet.

Half of the new scenarios also come with new battlefields: Goponga Village, Kakariko Village, Lanayru Road and Mount Daphnes, where the latter includes the Coliseum. Together with the Forgotten Temple, which gets used for some Challenges in the "Pulse of the Ancients" DLC, that's five new locations from Breath of the Wild for you to visit and they all look really great in action.

Vah Rudania above Kakariko Village

The big highlight is probably Kakariko, where Vah Rudania came for a visit. While the stage feels very cramped around the town center, it looks gorgeous and even comes with an amazing new music track. Sadly, they don't have any new Koroks on them, where the Memory Quests are kind of the replacement reason for you to explore the entire battlefield at all times.

The other half of the new scenario also reuses some of the old stages, where so far each new scenario got a unique battlefield for it. Even when the base game returned to previous locations, it heavily altered them in some form or explored new areas around the same stage. This doesn't happen here, which isn't too bad, but it would have been great if Koei Tecmo kept up the stage variety. In the very least they could have gone with different times of day or weather conditions to offer something more fresh. Imagine the Breach of Demise at night example.

But the new stages don't get used too much anyway. For the most part it's only two or three new Challenges for each of the new stages, which already includes the randomized Vicious Monster Battles, where they could have done a little bit more here.

The Challenges that got added with the second DLC also aren't as creative as the ones from "Pulse of the Ancients". For the most part it's the typical boss fights under time limits, where the base game already had one too many of those. So, some more Challenges that take place on the new stages and make use of some new ideas would have been really nice here.

New Weapons

Of course with every Warriors game the most important thing are the playable characters, where three new ones were added with the DLC and two of the old ones got new tools to play with. Let's first talk about the latter, because this is what you also can get the earliest in the DLC. The newly added weapon types are the Flail and the Master Cycle Zero, which go to Link and Zelda respectively. Now, these two happen to be the only characters who already had additional weapon types in the base game, where they really didn't need the extra attention...

Zelda driving the Master Cycle Zero

It still fits them best, however, where it's especially nice that Zelda was given the Master Cycle Zero – after all she is the one using the Sheikah Slate in this game and who is always very interested in technology. This moveset is as crazy as you would expect and actually even gives you a speed boost, which is something that normally doesn't happen in Hyrule Warriors. Even Link on Epona used to ride only as fast as everyone else was running in the previous title. So, this is a welcome change and can be quite useful.

The Flail let's you copy the basic weapons of your enemies, which leads to some interesting results and also different attack speeds. Overall this moveset feels reminiscent of Link's Gauntlet from Hyrule Warriors, just not as completely over-the-top.

Link in the Prototype Ancient Armor attacking some Bokoblins with the Flail at the Tabantha Frontier

Both the Master Cycle Zero and the Flail come in three different variants, which all have the same base attack values, but a different strong attack. This can be a dash attack, a shield or a laser, where it's really up to you what you like best. But it's certainly an interesting change from the usual three tiers that weapons get in this game and Hyrule Warriors in general.

Otherwise there are also new "skins" or specimens of existing weapon types for half of the original cast. There is the Prototype Ancient Short Sword, which you will get right away with the purchase bonus and you can also unlock a special weapon for each of the Champions and their descendants after their new story scenarios. Those all behave the same way, where they have the same starting base damage as the Master Sword and come with a free "Attack Speed++" seal pre-installed, which is favored by most players anyway. Their growth is much stronger than other weapons, however, where at the end their damage will go above 200. That's still not as good as tier 3 weapons with a high base damage, which is quite disappointing and feels somewhat pointless, but it's still a very solid alternative. And they look really cool.


New Characters

Moving on to the new characters, which are undoubtedly the true highlight of any DLC for a Hyrule Warriors game or Warriors games in general. All of the three newcomers play very differently and offer some interesting options over what the base game roster has already provided, where the additions are overall quite satisfying.

A Guardian firing a laser at a horde of Bokoblins in the canyons of the Breath of Demise

The first DLC wave offered the Battle-Tested Guardian, which is effectively your typical Guardian as a playable character, with a few extras to make the moveset more complete and a small story as to why this isn't just your typical Guardian after all. But they are the signature enemies of Breath of the Wild, where it's great to have one playable in Age of Calamity. Visually the Battle-Tested Guardian is heavily inspired by the first Guardian that we ever saw, the one from the first teaser for the game at E3 2014, which is a nice throwback to where it all started.

It's free from any malice and it feels right to finally use a Guardian for its intended purpose: defend Hyrule from evil. With its ZR ability you can actually lock on to foes and then fire the laser beam with your strong attack, just like you would expect, which feels absolutely great, but of course isn't as overpowered as when enemies are using it against you. The animations look fantastic as well, where it only turns its head whenever you steer it, but the body stays in position and the tentacle legs do the job.

The Battle-Tested Guardian also does some crazy things, where for example it turns basically into a U.F.O. whenever it needs to fly. And it has the usual problems of playable characters of its size, where the hitbox is quite big, which makes it very difficult to dodge various attacks.

Robbie slicing some Bokoblins at Akkala Citadel with Purah standing right next to him

Then we have Purah & Robbie, which is also a very unique character, because it's actually a character duo, where the two scientists are finally working together to battle some foes themselves. There is an argument to be made that they could have been two separate playable characters, where Purah kind of got the short end of the stick here, because Robbie does most of the work. But it's really their teamwork and their interaction that makes this character so special.

Robbie uses some sort of robot suit with two long blade arms, which has a huge range, one of the largest attack ranges in the game, but it's a little slow as a compensation. He even has his Ancient Blade Saws from Breath of the Wild installed in the best version of the weapon, which is a nice detail.

Purah on the other hand supports him by deploying machines based on the Divine Beasts, which you can call via the ZR button. Which of the four inventions you get is random, but like in Tetris it shows you the next one. And once deployed they unleash a powerful attack, which even depletes the weak points of enemies, which is very, very useful. You just have to be careful not be hit yourself, which can stun you or knock you down.

Overall these two characters are the real star of the DLC, where they are in charge of the Royal Ancient Lab, they narrate the new stories and then even become playable themselves at the end. The only downside is that they don't become playable as part of the new story scenarios, where there is an actual reason for them to fight or defend themselves. So, it feels more like an afterthought and at the point where you get these new characters there might not be anything left for you to do in the game... And that's a shame.

Sooga doing a ninja pose with an explosion behind him... he doesn't look at it, because he's a cool guy

There is one more DLC character, whose identity has been officially revealed by Nintendo and Koei Tecmo in the meantime, so it probably doesn't count as a spoiler any longer: Sooga. This character fills another obvious gap in the roster, where Master Kohga was already playable, but we didn't really know what has happened to his reliable right hand man. Now you can take control of his destiny and make him join the ranks of the playable fighters.

And it's really good to finally have him playable, where Sooga is one of Koei Tecmo's original characters for this game, who is essentially a unique Yiga Blademaster and a really cool guy. His moveset is a lot of fun and very strong in boss fights, because he comes with a new counter mechanic for his ZR move, which feels really good to land. So good in fact that you might want a similar mechanic for everyone. Three successful counters without getting hit also boosts his normal attacks significantly, but you will lose everything once you take damage.

The only complaint about this character is that his moveset doesn't contain everything that you would expect. The long-distance sword beams, those signature wind attacks used by the Yiga Blademasters and also Sooga himself, are completely absent. Some of his attacks have similar effects, but the reach is quite limited, so it's not the same thing... You are also not able to actively teleport around, like Yiga usually do. Considering that even Mipha can teleport herself for some reason, this feels like a weird omission.

New Enemies

Not only does the Expansion Pass add new stages to the game, there are also about a dozen new enemies as well. Of course most of these are simply new variants of existing enemies, like three new types of Moblins, but they are quite creative. The bomb barrel throwing Moblins for example, which already could be annoying during the Divine Beast missions, now face you actively on the battlefield. And there are new flying Moblins, who are using a backpack full of Octo Balloons as a funny sight.

But they shouldn't be underestimated, which also goes for the three enhanced types of Wizzrobes, who are returning from Breath of the Wild, but are much more deadlier in this game. The same is true for the Giant Chuchus, which can be surprisingly fast and almost feel like a new boss battle.

Daruk fighting a Giant Fire Chuchu

Speaking of boss battles, the DLC also adds two of them. The first is against one of the new characters, where this one can be quite tricky, because the fight goes cleverly against your expectations at some points. For example this boss knows how to actively dodge your rod attacks, so you can't just spam for some easy weak point attacks. But the fight still stays entirely fair, so it's an overall refreshing battle.

The same can't be said about the other new boss, which is part of the new story scenarios and also gets used in some of the new Challenges. This one is best described as an abomination and it completely goes against the rules of this game. Your rods and even Stasis have no effect on this boss at all and it can land some very cheap hits. Its weapon arms also get their own weak points to take them out, which is something new, but this feels more like a distraction at times. It's almost like Koei Tecmo wanted a little bit too much with this boss, where the whole story around it also feels very unnecessary.


The Expansion Pass for Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity really puts quality before quantity with its new story scenarios, new battlefields, new music, new enemies, and so on. It's a good change from the similar DLC seasons for Hyrule Warriors on Wii U and Hyrule Warriors: Legends on Nintendo 3DS, which lacked in some of these categories, while also providing the usual addition of three new characters and two new weapon types, which are fun as always.

However, some more quantity wouldn't have hurt, especially when it comes to the new Challenges, and the lack of more attire is disappointing. And while the game feels a lot more complete after the Expansion Pass, it's still not completely satisfying...

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