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I've spent at least a thousand hours on open world games, from Daggerfall to Far Cry: Primal (underrated!). I appreciate the freeform, often rambling structures these games afford: the freedom to play at my own pace and interact with the world on my own terms, the wandering for the sake of wandering, the emergent storytelling borne of my aimless adventures. Bot W excels at delivering this experience.
It starts with the movement system. Bot W offers a diverse set of ways to traverse its sprawling overworld. Link can sprint, glide, climb, swim, warp, ride, surf, and occasionally rocket his way across the soft pastel landscape of post-apocalyptic Hyrule with hardly a hitch between travel modes. Different terrain affects his speed and style, with mountain snow and desert sand slowing him down but providing ideal turf to shield surf. The freedom of movement is essential in making the experience itself inherently pleasant — traveling is just a fun thing to do. The journey is a reward unto itself, and the destinations are there to accentuate it.
Here enter shrine and beast alike. They are a series of climaxes large and small: the crowns atop the peaks, the secrets of the springs, and the hidden depths within the caves. Each region's shrine has a loose theme to it — the Gerudo deal with electricity, the Goron fire, the Rito wind/flight, and the Zora ice/water. Their beasts are a unification of these themes — the Zora beast features a giant water wheel, the Rito beast must be regularly glid across, the Goron beast is a spicy lizard, and the Gerudo beast has you power a sprawling circuit across its body.
These elements combine to create a world-as-dungeon where each region serves as its own gauntlet of interconnected trials. This is a marked improvement from the typical Zelda formula where overworld and dungeon occupy separate spaces. The Divine Beasts highlight this philosophical shift: they are open air structures that traverse the landscape, menacing the horizon during your approach and offering a fantastic view of it when you board.
The Champions' Ballad further reinforces this, as it requires you undergo region-specific challenges to progress and expects you to find out where these challenges are based only on an overhead picture. You will either master the land itself or
be rewarded for having done so previously. They also extend the difficulty curve by pitting you against a slew of more climactic boss monsters.
And because all of this can be tackled at your own pace, in varying degrees of completion, it is entirely possible to curate a playthrough that suits your exact preferences. Hate the Tabantha Frontier? Don't go there! Hate the Korok? Fuck them and their special sword! Memories? Who needs them?!
It's an open world unafraid to let you explore or ignore it.
The Zelda franchise has changed a great deal over the years, and as you might imagine, change can be difficult to accept. The latest entry, Breath of the Wild, is well-made, but is it for you? That's a difficult question...
Breath of the W Ild involves Link awakening after 100 years to find Hyrule in ruins, destroyed by Calamity Ganon, whom Link must defeat before he finishes the job. The story is largely told through unlockable flashbacks that reveal more about Link and Zelda's past, and while said flashbacks help players learn more about what happened, the overall story isn't very deep or engaging.
While your goal is clear, after completing the introductory area, you're able to tackle it however you wish, which is the game's greatest strength and weakness. On the one hand, you have a great deal of freedom to decide where to go next, since the four main Divine Beasts (i.e. dungeons) can be completed in any order, and there's no shortage of things to do in Hyrule. On the other hand, this approach hinders the game from telling a story and establishing a good difficulty curve.
The latter is especially important, since Breath of the Wild can be brutally hard in the early game. While having Link start out with three hearts is a series tradition, he's especially frail here, and some foes can one-shot him in the early game. It's possible to purchase additional Heart Containers with Spirit Orbs, earned by completing the Shrines (mini-dungeons), but Link will be quite weak for the first few hours, making exploring too dangerous to be much fun.
Speaking of the Shrines, they present a variety of fun challenges, even if they can be a bit difficult to find in the large, sparsely populated world.
Breath of the Wild also has a heavy emphasis on item crafting, and Rupees are relatively uncommon finds (but you will need a lot of them). The cooking system is well-made, and encourages you to combine ingredients with various effects and potencies to create the dish you want. Unfortunately, upgrading armor takes a lot of difficult-to-find materials, which can be tedious to gather.
The game also is surprisingly realistic. Wooden equipment catches fire, metal equipment draws lightning and your various physics-based abilities can be used in many unconventional ways (for example, freeze a puddle to raise a metal portcullis with an ice pillar). Not only is this good game design, but it also gives many options to players who think outside the box. Your weapons break after enough uses, which forces you to choose weapons wisely, but it's frustrating to lose your best weapons so easily, and fights with weak or unarmed enemies can feel unrewarding.
While Breath of the Wild is an excellent game, it's difficult to recommend to those who don't have much tolerance for frustration (I nearly gave up early on), or who would prefer a more conventional Zelda experience. If you can keep an open mind and are willing to stick with it, though, you'll probably come to enjoy it, as I did.
After buying myself a Nintendo Switch I was absolutely proud of myself. I enjoyed many of the games such as Super Mario Odyssey, Undertale, and Doom. But one game I could absolutely not enjoy was Breath of the Wild.
I found the combat to be awkward, especially as you progress further through the game. I would awkwardly flail around trying to hit enemies and die repeatedly. The few times I would win, I ended breaking through all my useful weapons. Eventually I would just run away upon seeing enemies.
Most of the items of the game where pointless. I would blow my way through of of my healing items, and the rest had very strange uses that I never ended up using. I couldnít figure out how to use the cooking mechanic.
Progress through the game was awkward and slow. The shrines were a chore to find, with all the various times I died from the terrain. Especially the absolutely dreadful cold zone which killed my so many times before I succeeded from pure luck. The shrines themselves were no better, with puzzles relying on very strange logic. Itís the one with the scooping balls out of the water using the bowl that made me finally quit the game for good.
In essence I donít understand why the game could be so well liked. I found the entire experience to be bland at best, and infuriating at worst. If you really liked, good for you, but I donít understand why. Please note that I am not reviewing this game poorly because it is well liked. I am doing so because it legitimately pissed me off.
With the delays of the game being released and Nintendo saying they wanted to really bring this game out polished to a gleam, I was of course looking forward to it.
Unfortunately, this has caused a lot of the game's issues to come across as worse to me. The desire to have the game return to the main aspect of exploration was not a bad one. Sad to say, I find this game's world of Hyrule to be too large to actually be fun to traverse for the sake of exploration. A lot of the interesting locations are far and few between, resulting in most of your time being spent walking around bare environment.
That last part is not too bad, as the graphics and artstyle are lovely to look at. Several of the character designs are quite neat, too, with the Zoras getting redesigns to make them more varied into various fish-types and the Rito are now very much birds and not bird-men things as in Wind Waker.
The game really fails in the plot department. Zelda games were never that big on plot (Go save the world, Link), but they all had their plotline to follow and you got to know the world, the characters you were interacting with and a sense of dread, anxiety or purpose, as you traversed through the game and got closer to the goal of encountering the final boss.
Breath of the Wild's plot is separated into tiny pieces strewn around, with barely a mention of any development in a character, except for Zelda herself. Unfortunately, since Zelda is once again not present for majority of the game, her development does not leave as much of an impact, given that it all occurs in short memory-flashbacks. The game has no actual sense of dread that it will soon be engulfed by Calamity Ganon, because nothing in the game even forces you to head towards Hyrule Castle. It's up to the player when they go there, which means you can spend hours upon hours upon hours scavenging for food or insects; doing sidequests or finding Shrines to increase your hearts or stamina. And not once does anything in the game indicate that Hyrule is in any actual danger. The danger happened 100 years ago. And that's a problem. What happened 100 years ago sounds much more interesting than what the player is given in this game.
Nintendo decided to pretty much sacrifice everything of the game, for the sake of putting exploration to the foreground. Which can, and does, alienate players who may not be interested in the Zelda games for the sake of exploration, but more for the dungeons; the solving of puzzles to proceed or, yes, even the weak plotline the games presented.
I ended up being disappointed by this game. All the hype they gave this game; all the time they spent polishing it and this is what they delivered: a game that seems to be more about its pretty-looking nature, rather than anything one actually expects in an Action Adventure game. A letdown for a much-hyped 30th Anniversary game.
So here, we are then. Zelda inevitably goes open world. Could Nintendo possibly do it? Transport the tried-and-true patented Zelda formula to a massive sandbox without sacrificing any of the series' soul? Could they aim this remarkable momentum and create One Legend to Rule Them All?
As sad as I am to have to make this statement... it couldn't have failed to achieve this harder if it had tried.
To be fair, the first few hours of the game were everything I could hope for and more; gone was the 3D games' increasingly arduous "prologues" (for lack of a better word) stringing you along for literal hours with breadcrumbs of gameplay before finally letting you roam "free", though more often than not, still tied to linear and predetermined progression. Finding shrines and using cute physics-based psychokinetic powers were great training for the real meat of any self-respecting Zelda's gameplay: extensive dungeons, and the awesome multi-purpose equipment they hold! Let's go, man! The world's my oyster and I am the bloody Walrus; goo goo g'joob, motherfucker!
...The horror... THE HORROR...!
In only a scant few hours of extended game play, I came to the slow realization that—bloody hell— they really do mean for some repetitive few hundred puzzle rooms and some barely-extended versions of the same to, like, be the game, don't they? What's more, its focus on item crafting and boilerplate "fetch X number of troll sphincters to get an item that'll be worthless in a few hours" quests turn the game into nothing more than an endless grind for better equipment that will break at the most inopportune moment with little chance for recourse, because that was just so much fun in earlier games, roight?
Yep, all Breath of the Wild is, is 100+ hours of gathering resources so you can upgrade your weapons to get better resources to make better weapons to get better resources to realize that you deeply question your life choices. This approach, ultimately, renders every thing the game does right, things of infinitesimal inconsequence. They don't as much create a new direction for Zelda by incorporating recent trends, as they do their hardest to make Breath fit that often unimaginative and rote mold by cutting off parts so they can fit a square peg into a round hole. At what cost, Nintendo? At what cost?
How can a flame that burned so brightly suddenly burn so pale...?
Needless to say, Breath of the Wild is the biggest disappointment of my life as a video game connoisseur this side of the millennium, and that's even before the damage it will cause to a continuing series can be assessed in full. I sincerely wish it had never been made at all. If future games are to model themselves on its profound, singular mediocrity, then we two are no more.
All legends must have an end.
Let's get the complaints out of the way first. The weapons should not break quite so quickly. The divine beasts are too similar to each other and don't live up to the great dungeons of past 3d Zeldas. The music lacks the catchiness of past Zeldas. The ending is disappointing. The enemy variety is lacking. At launch the framerate wasn't consistent. The lack of an option for motion-based swordplay is a big step back in my opinion.
And yet almost none of that matters.
Breath of the Wild still deserves much of the praise it gets despite its many flaws, because the world it creates is just that engrossing. A huge, open, gorgeous Hyrule combines with spectacular weather and physics systems to create an experience like no other.
This is a game that forces experimentation - perhaps too much with the weapon degradation system. But the trade-off is worth it. Combat, while not as good as Skyward Sword, is still very satisfying and shows how far we've come since Ocarina of time.
Exploration and experimentation are almost always rewarded-sometimes to hilarious results with the physics.
The Divine Beasts would be a bigger issue if they were the meat of the game, like the dungeons have been for past Zelda games. However, for this time since the original Zelda the meat of the game is the world itself. And what a world it is. The various systems come together perfectly to create a sense of wonder and discovery for dozens of hours without even touching the main quest.
It's not the best game ever made. It's not even my favorite Zelda game - sitting second after Skyward Sword. But Breath of the Wild is still an amazing game every gamer needs to experience.
In a beautiful breaking of convention for the series, the standard linear stories (that can admittedly get stale at times) is replaced with an open world adventure. In addition, anything can be bypassed with the right tools and enough skill. While the weapon degradation system can be pesky at times, it admittedly adds a sense of variety even if forced.
The scenery is absolutely breathtaking with an enormous amount of different environments, ranging from deserts to birch forests to deep tropical jungles. Everything about the scenery with the new graphics is wonderful, with lighting and (mostly) subtle shifts in the environment that lead to a seamless interplay between every environment the game has to offer.
In addition, the story has a unique approach as well. This time, it includes voice acting and genuinely heartrending dialogue that makes this incarnation Zelda much more relatable and tragic rather than the stoic, easily distressed, or comedic pollyannas of the earlier games. It shows the princess in moments of weakness, which make her the most human Zelda of them all.
Finally there are a few complaints. There's no way to check the weapon degradation system, some shrines are too difficult to seek out even WITH the censor, and the world is mostly empty save for a few enemies. There's also the fact that a few enemies such as Lynels can not be killed with skill alone (weapons tend to break before they are killed), which makes them an exception to the otherwise flawless "ability over brute force" approach given by the rest of the game. But overall, despite the shortcomings of the game, they are infinitely outweighed by the fantastic story, beautiful environment, fluid gameplay, and creative dungeons.
Youíre wandering through Hyrule. You come across a mountainous wall blocking your path, and a guard demanding you show some kind of proof that youíre allowed in. Sorry, you canít go here until you get the next quest item. And if you wanted to go up there, you needed the hookshot. Sorry.
Breath of the Wild finally throws that in the trash. You can climb anything and go anywhere. Some limits exist, but there are ways around them. Donít have clothes that allow you to survive low temperatures? Rather than search for the place that sells them, why not cook some body temperature-raising foods and eat those, then plow through? Canít climb a particular structure because your stamina meter hasnít been increased yet? Eat some temporary stamina-increasing foods. If youíre willing to search for workarounds, theyíre there.
This applies to many of the gameís puzzles. In one of the shrines, there was a puzzle involving spiked balls on chains. Was I supposed to make them swing back and forth and then run past them when itís safe? Too bad. I instead wrapped the chain around a pole on the ceiling and hung them out of the way. Problem solved.
Likewise, I visited some of the gameís major areas before story elements showed me why they were important, all because I was exploring so much. And thatís just fine. The game is designed around this kind of freedom.
Distractions are everywhere. I keep seeing fascinating looking places everywhere I go, and wondering what theyíre like to visit. A ruin covered by a heavy fog. Giant mushroom-like plants under a heavy, never-ending lightning storm. A labyrinth. All of the world feels designed by a human level designer, and none of it feels random or algorithmically generated.
The world feels very alive. Sneak up on a deer and start riding it to the nearest stable, whose owner tells you that only horses are accepted. Then jump off and kill the deer for meat, if youíre feeling mean. Rescue some traveling townspeople who got accosted by monsters. Watch people rush for shelter when a lightning storm shows up.
Every little gameplay element feels like a game in itself. Unlike in Skyrim, cooking is now a minigame. Pick the ingredients, toss them in, and see what happens. I even cooked one of my favorite meals in real life! (Eggs and rice) Climbing is more involved than it was in the Uncharted games, and now has you seeking safe spots to recover stamina before you set out again. Riding horses now involves dealing with each horseís own personality and stubbornness.
The game still has structure, but in a very freeform way. Find locations shown in photos and try to recover forgotten memories of the past. Complete the dungeons (not shrines; those are different). Fulfill the requirement for obtaining the Master Sword.
Unlike Super Mario 64, which was something no-one had ever seen before, Breath of the Wild is something weíve seen before. Just not done nearly this well.
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