Thursday, January 28, 2021

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity vs Breath of the Wild

I just finished the latest Zelda game, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. 100% completion, >77 hours. And I need to tell somebody about it, even if it's just myself.

Game Comparison

How does Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (AOC) compare to the previous game in the series, Breath of the Wild (BOTW)? Let's look at my top three features that made BOTW so amazing, and see how AOC compares. (spoiler alert: there is no comparison)

Breath of the Wild Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
Huge open world! By far the largest designed game world at time of release - estimated at about 84 sq km (over 20,000 acres). And it was really open - Link could walk, run, or ride his horse anywhere in the overland world, without even so much as a loading screen. (the puzzle/dungeons did have loading screens, but still) Medium, fractured world... AOC is broken up into numerous missions, varying from sortof large to extremely tiny. You are bounded by invisible walls at every turn. That huge world is still there right? You can see the whole map! Maybe in some philosophical way, but if you can't see or interact with 99% of it, then it's not really there.
Open-ended gameplay! Link can follow the assigned missions to complete the game, or completely ignore them. While playing, several times I found myself setting my own goals that were not designed by the game creators. You can complete most tasks in any order; including going straight to the final boss (after the obligatory tutorial area). "Open-ended?" Like a hamster cage maybe, or possibly like subway tunnels. You can choose which (metaphorical) tunnels to go down, and new tunnels open up regularly to see other areas, but there is no real "freedom", or even the pretense of it. The only way you interact in the game is through predefined missions, which have predefined goals. If you enter a mission and exit without completing the goals, nothing you did counts - anything you picked up just disappears, including EXP.
Amazing physics engine! On the most primitive end, you will struggle to climb steep mountains, and have fun stacking boxes and barrels, but that's only the beginning. To get an idea of what I mean, search for "breath of the wild physics" and watch a few short videos. Physics, what's that? Link ignores all terrain, including moving through water like it was land. Invisible walls block you from attempting to cross any steep surface (and many not-so-steep ones). There are a few basic physics elements, like exploding barrels propelling characters backwards, but it is done at the same level as video games from the 90's. And while your cadre of 18 characters have some variances in their physical abilities, such as running speed, weapon reach, etc, these seem to have no effect on physics -- your largest characters can overlap monsters in space, and they don't fling enemies any farther than the smallest characters.

Those are only the top differences; but they go all the way from the heart of the game to almost every detail. While AOC looks like BOTW, and even has a well-connected storyline, the games themselves are completely dissimilar in almost every way.

Breath of the Wild Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
Full of puzzles, both explicit and implicit. The only "puzzles" are how to optimize leveling up your characters and their arsenals of weapons.
Full of weird, interesting things to look at and find. The only hidden items are chests and Korok seeds -- which later in the game you are given tools to find, should you wish to get 100%. (which of course I did)
Weapons are extremely constrained resources; the management of your collection of fragile weapons is like a perpetual mini-game.
(I actually have just two complaints about BOTW, and the fragility of all equipment is one of them - Link must be swinging, stabbing, and shield-smashing like his life depends on it, every single time. Because whether you are smacking a floppy bat or stabbing solid stone, they break like crazy either way, and you can't ever repair them.)
All weapons are indestructible, arrows are infinite, and you can dramatically upgrade any weapon, both with levels and seals (magical enchantments).
(I realize that breaking all your stuff is lame, but this is a wee bit of an over-correction)
Makes your variety of weapons extremely significant. While the durability goes down the same regardless of what you hit, the amount of damage you do depends on what weapon you choose, and how you use it. Hammers break rocks much better, axes cut down trees better, and "sneak attacks" do extra damage. All weapons do equal damage. So find the weapon/character that does the most damage, level up that weapon, learn the combinations, and repeat for the whole game. (With one exception - the Master Sword is improved against Malice/Hollows.)
Link's "level" is your skill level. While Link does get increases to hearts and stamina, this matters much less to his survival than does the player's ability to dodge and parry, and more importantly to be strategic about approaching each situation. Like Final Fantasy, "levels" are the trump-card. While player skill can boost your damage and reduce your injuries, dodging is made extremely easy, and simply repeating simple attack patterns can destroy hundreds of enemies per minute. Once you reach level 100, there are only a handful of missions which require any real skill or thought to overcome.
Makes real use of both recipes and clothing to affect the game. You can only have one food effect active at a time, and you carefully manage your food and clothing to survive and get significant benefits. Has a version of recipes, but they are all managed for you, and you can easily ignore them if you don't feel like selecting them; their effects are mostly mediocre, and often you only gain access to resources after you have demonstrated that you no longer need them. And while Link has an extensive wardrobe, they are merely costumes, which have no effect whatsoever in the game.
Link starts off with nothing; you will scrape to gain every item and ability, both in-game and in your own skills as a player. Link starts you out as a larger-than-life hero out of the gate, with slightly more abilities that Link has at the end of BOTW. Later in the game, the only phrase that describes Link's abilities is "power overwhelming" (said in the voice of the Protoss - which incidentally sounds a lot like Monk Maz Koshia).

What's AOC Got That BOTW Don't?

So that's what "missing" from Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity; but what does it have, that Breath of the Wild doesn't? That is, aside from being a (super)power-fantasy.
  1. The combat system in AOC is much more evolved/involved. In short, there are "combos" which remind me of Street Fighter, only vastly much easier to learn and perform. And you will practice combat endlessly, so you get pretty good at it.
  2. The single biggest new feature is multiple playable characters. The final count is 18, but they are distributed pretty evenly through the game, so you aren't likely to spend much time playing most of them. If you discount the two which you won't get until after you defeat Calamity Ganon, and the 6 that I really didn't enjoy playing at all, that's still 8 to choose from for a lot of the game, which is cool. Well... maybe, sometimes. I was burned on this by my own optimization, because if you want to level up as fast as possible (which the game really incentivizes), then you end up picking one main character (I choose Link if course), and using that one character whenever possible. Most missions allow/require selecting multiple characters, and you can direct them each around the map, but most of the time I just played Link and ignored the other characters. Although, AOC does force you to play specific characters at times. Each character has one or two "training" missions which that character must play solo, and some require two specific characters, or four. And there are a few time-constrained missions where you really do need to split up to beat the clock, forcing you to actually make use of at least two or three selected characters in combat. And even some missions where every character is locked into an area with their own monster to defeat. But most of the time you choose at least one character, so I played as Link probably 80% of the time. And any of your team who isn't played by you is really lame; they both take and receive minimal damage, and sometimes don't follow instructions. Unless, you are playing in...
  3. Multiplayer! You can play two-player co-op (split-screen). I did not actually do this, but I can see it being an important feature for some players. (I suspect that Nintendo decided to support multi-player first, and back-filled to get all the features of multiple characters that you can direct around the map.)

Know Before You Go (to Hyrule)

If you choose to play through Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, here is everything that I wish I had known before I had played for many hours. (Of course there's a lot more to learn, but you will learn all that in the course of normal gameplay.)

Most of this won't make sense, much less stick in your brain, until you have played the game, so come back and read this after you have played one or two missions.

  • From every menu screen, tap the R or L bumpers several times to cycle through the variety of menus. They aren't required, but they are super helpful, especially for browsing through objectives and missions.
  • You should always register as many items to the Sheikah Sensor as possible. For some seals, this will increase how many of them you will get. It adds visual noise to the map, but if you use the aforementioned menus, this shouldn't be a problem.
  • You should also register any Quests you are pursuing to the Sensor. This makes them visible even when zoomed-out on the map. And it also functions as a warning-light on a "Sell" screen, marking any items that you need more of to complete a flagged Quest. (but not if you already have enough, so be careful what you sell)
  • If you ever want to find all the Korok seeds, for Hyrule's sake hold on to the "Forest Dweller's Sword" when you get it (during "Freeing Korok Forest"). It doesn't have great stats so of course I just fused it, and only later learned that this is the only decent weapon that will (eventually) get "Detects Nearby Koroks". I did finally got another one by chance, probably 25 hours of gameplay later.
  • On any "Sell" screen, a yellow star icon means a "High-Resell" item. This will appear on individual weapons when selling to the Blacksmith. It can also appear in trading posts when on the Sell screen, where the yellow star appears in the category area, not on the individual items shown. Each trading post only "wants" a couple of categories of items, and at any given time it may not "want" any of them.
  • There are moderately good websites for most questions about the game, locations of Koroks, etc, but no "one best site". But there is one best google sheet! 😃

Lastly, you should learn at least the basics of weapon fusing ASAP; it is quite involved.
  • Weapons are leveled-up only by fusing, which sacrifices one weapon to make another stronger.
  • Each weapon has a hidden "quality", which affects how much damage it does. You can easily read that damage number, but you won't know if there is a better possible number without some googling. (and there always is a better possible number, because the absolute best values only come from Octo-polishing)
  • Weapons are also improved with Seals:
    • Every weapon can have up to four seals which you can affect.
    • Seals will only be applied in fusing when there is an open slot for a seal. The first four slots are opened at weapon levels 1, 5, 10, and 15.
    • Every weapon has two bonus seals, which apply automatically at level 25 and level 30. These two seals are totally pre-determined by the weapon type.
    • Each effect has a unique icon, but they are logically grouped by the outer shape of the seal:
      • Circle for resources and EXP
      • Square for aggressive-play
      • Hexagon for defensive
      • Star for specialized damage
    • When two or more seals on a weapon have the same shape, the effect of all of them is increased.
    • For each normal icon there is the normal version, or improved versions with one or two tiny blue plus-signs in the lower-right corner of the icon.
    • There are also seals with Golden outlines, which are extremely rare, and they have only one version of them.
      • note: This does not mean they are the best seals -- depending how you play, most of these will be less useful than seals you already have on your weapons.
    • There are static increases to a weapon's damage based on having 4-of-a-kind of seals, and 2-of-a-kind seals. So for maximum damage you need 4 of one shape and 2 of another shape. To do this without wasting many resources, you need to know what that weapon's hidden seals will be (revealed only at level 25 and level 30).
    • Bonuses that have a % will stack. So if a seal does not have a % on it, do not apply more than one of it to a single weapon.
  • Use weapons with the "Fusion Material EXP" seal as an in-between step to level up good weapons; that is, fuse other weapons to them first, and then fuse them to an actually good weapon.
    • Early on, you should probably just use this weapon for a while, then when you find an actually good weapon fuse it into that one for a fast level-boost.
  • Never apply a really good seal to a weapon that you aren't planning to keep forever. When you fuse a weapon onto another one, only the first seal is available to be transferred, so to transfer the 2nd/3rd/4th seal, you would have to remove the preceding seals from it first.
  • You will never level up all your weapons to the "best" optimal version. Between all my characters, I have about 6 weapons which are close to what I was optimizing for, and none of them is quite perfect. I expect that I could get all 18 characters with at least one perfect weapon by playing blood-moon missions for another 20-50 hours, but I really have no interest in doing that.
  • The Blacksmith will gain several abilities through completing specific missions in the game. These are:
    • Raise Weapon-Level Limit: this ain't free, but it's well worth it. You will unlock the ability to raise to level 25 and level 30 with two separate Quests
    • Remove Seals: and this ain't cheap! There are two separate Quests, one to let you remove one seal, and the other to let you remove all four seals (for the price of two).
    • Octo-Polish: Will convert a rusty weapon to a good weapon. There is a separate Quest for improving the results of polishing.

Good luck, and happy Korok hunting!

Thursday, January 7, 2021

PowerShell makes it easier

Change the "Date Created" and "Date Modified" of a file in Windows:

  • (Get-Item "C:\file1.txt").CreationTime=("3 August 2019 17:00:00")
  • (Get-Item "C:\file1.txt").LastWriteTime=("3 August 2019 17:10:00")

Much easier than changing your system clock!