Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild… review?
There it is, potentially the biggest game of the year. In a year of a surprisingly decent amount of really cool games games coming out, Zelda still ends up being at the top of the list for GotY contenders (and that was even before anyone had played it).
So as I was playing this game, and even after being done, I was wondering… how are you supposed to review this game? I feel any reviewer that talked in-depth about gameplay is doing it wrong, because the gameplay itself is something that is… spoilable. Basically, Breath of the Wild is a game that should be played “blind”. The less you know about it, the better the experience (at least in the first couple hours).
So what I’m attempting here, rather than an actual review, is a sort of… discussion of my thoughts on the game. I’ll include a big spoiler warning in before elements that I consider spoilers.
Date of Release: March 3rd 2017
Platform: Switch, Wii U (Switch version played)
Genre: Action Adventure
Rated E10+ for Everyone over 10
Yeah I’m starting with this, instead of putting my overall thoughts at the end. If you haven’t played the game I don’t recommend reading/watching anything about it before playing it, that’s how it becomes a lot more interesting
Breath of the Wild is very unique as far as the Zelda series goes. Even as far as most open world games go, but more on that later. It has a feel to it that no other Zelda has. Some of the conventions of the series are here but they’re not as straightforward as before.
So is this game good? Obviously. It’s fun to play, there’s tons of content, it’s very freeform (and I mean extremely freeform in most aspects), it tries different things. Even after finishing it, it’s a game that continues to blow my mind. I’ll see a part of the game I already did, being done in a completely different way. It’s really cool.
Is the game the best Zelda game out there? I’d say no personally, but it’s up there. Objectively I’d say it’s pretty close to the top, but I don’t really know how to rank it. Definitely above OoT, TP and SS. My top choices remain the original and LttP. It’s a lot more interesting than most 3D Zelda games, though hard to say if it’s “better” in pure game design, since it’s so unique and different.
I don’t know if it’s a paradigm shift for Zelda, or if it’s just another experiment. But it’s a really interesting take on both Zelda and on open world gaming as a whole. It does make a better use of an open world than most games that use one. Definitely a must-play game, and one that will live on to as a really strong showing in the industry.
So yeah, play this game. The least you know about this game before playing it, the better. That’s why I recommend to anyone who hasn’t played it not to watch people playing it, or to read anything about it.
I do have complaints, but they’re not MASSIVE. Mostly annoyances, and things that exist because of the nature of the game, really. Still worth complaining about.
Zelda as an experimental series
So my thing with Zelda is that it started out as an experimental series, and it kinda stopped around the time OoT came out. Some spin-offs still experimented like Four Swords and the not-really-good Triforce Heroes, but OoT kinda became the norm. The first game was basically a whole new thing. Zelda 2 took ideas from the original but changed the gameplay style by going side-scrolling, focusing on combat and adding RPG elements. Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening did much the same thing, taking ideas from both past games, going back to the original’s perspective but streamlined a bit and smoothed out the combat, trying new ideas with different equipment. OoT basically put LttP in 3D and showed that this kind of game worked that way. Afterwards… well MM was experimental in its own way with its focus on sidequests and not much else, but it literally was OoT with masks. WW was OoT with a boat (and slightly better gameplay). TP was OoT with a wolf. SS was OoT streamlined to the extreme and featuring motion controls for everything and also a bird. Even the handheld ones just kinda adhered to the previous games pretty much exactly.
Breath of the Wild though changes almost everything. From shrines to dungeons to the big open world that gives you little direction to giving you everything you need to finish the game right at the start to letting you do whatever you want to breakable weapons to RPG stats… it does a lot of really unique things. It really does experiment a lot, mostly ditching the formula that has kept Zelda running since OoT.
I hope this marks the return to Zelda being a more experimental series. Yes this game has a lot of parallels to the original, but how it handles everything is not as you’d expect from a Zelda game.
Oh and there’s a jump button.
The Great Plateau and why it’s great
So the game starts out on the Great Plateau. It’s a fairly large area that is basically a tutorial for the rest of the game. There’s an old guy who gives you direction, and some prompts so you at least know how the game controls, and off you go. The goal of the Great Plateau is to get an arsenal of powers. These powers are what you need for almost everything else in the game. You get a bunch of features for your Shiekah Slate (basically an iPad that summons bombs), learn how to find shrines, learn about the towers, how to fight, and how to go to different areas. There’s a specific area where just being in it damages you, but the way the area is set up you can basically find out partly how to get in yourself.
Once you’re done with all the shrines on the Plateau the old man tells you one place you can go and gives you a paraglider. At this point… you can follow the direction you’re given, but at this point, go anywhere. You basically pick a direction and have fun.
So the Plateau is basically really cool because of how it teaches how the game works. It doesn’t say much, but it gives you all the tools to progress through everything else, but in actuality and in how you have to think about all the different elements. Once you get off the plateau you know exactly how you’re supposed to act in the environment, may it be going into dangerous weather or finding towers and shrines.
Weapon durability and combat
So combat is fairly similar to most other 3D Zelda games. Lock-on which also puts your shield up (unless you have a 2-handed weapon equipped), jump attacks, normal attacks and charged attacks. You can use your bow (which is a regular pickup now and not a special item), which deal critical hits if you hit enemies in their weak spots (usually their head). You can backflip and parry with your shield as well. If you time a side-step or a backflip at just the right moment time slows down, then you can do a flurry attack (where Link just bashes the enemy for a full combo). Combat is really simple but it’s not easy. Enemies tend to hit really hard, even when you have strong defensive equipment.
Also, your weapons break in this game. A lot. This makes sense, because you get to pick up weapons from any enemy you defeat (or you can steal something from an enemy you knocked out). Plus you get an inventory of weapons, so you can switch any time. It may feel like you might want to avoid combat as time goes on, because sometimes you just don’t want to waste weapons on stuff you don’t need to waste it on. You start with a very small amount of equipment slots for weapons, but eventually you get a lot so even losing good stuff… doesn’t matter.
There’s a few things in the weapon system I don’t like (some weapons can be fixed by at really high cost), but in general I think it’s fine. Yes your bows break too, most of them suck so whatever.
What I don’t like about combat is that there’s very little reason to do it, outside of getting materials. Enemies don’t drop hearts or rupees anymore. Some enemy “bases” give you a treasure chest to open, but that’s about it. There’s not too many moments where you HAVE to fight. And I wish there was, because I do find the combat to be fairly enjoyable.
This is the first entry in the series with voice acting. There’s… not much of it. What’s there is pretty good though, even if Link never does end up talking. There’s so little of it I wonder why they even bothered.
Rain is the worst thing ever and Nintendo should fire everyone who recommended it to be in the game
So randomly during an in-game day it might rain for some time. Rain is stupid, and comes at the worst possible times. You can climb anything in the game (something I didn’t really mention), but when it’s raining FUCK YOU. In the middle of climbing a big mountain? Well if it’s raining you’ll have to fucking wait. Oh, you’re in a mission that asks you to bring blue fire to turn on a furnace? Well guess that has to way because it’s fucking raining again! And it rains WAY too much. It happens several times per in-game day, and it’s JUST a time-waster. Stupid.
The Open World
This game is really big. By FAR the biggest Zelda world, and not too shabby compared to other open-world games either. You can spend a LOT of time just walking around, climbing around and exploring. Just spending time messing around is a huge portion of this game. You can spend lots of times making little to no ground, just like you can spend not too much time going halfway across the map. It largely depends on terrain and how thorough you want to be in your search.
I have an aversion to open worlds in general because most games use them fairly… shitily (that’s a word now). This game uses it fine, as it’s basically all about exploration… but I feel it could’ve been very easily compressed just a bit and not lost too much. I figured a large percentage of my playthrough was largely pointless walking around I could’ve avoided.
Thankfully there’s a fast-travel system with TONS of points you can warp to (around 130), so it’s never too bad.
As far as design though this game is very pretty. Colorful, lots of really cool geography and areas. Character design is in line with other recent Zelda games. I’d say the visuals feel like somewhere between Skyward Sword and Wind Waker. A bit between semi-realism and cartoony, with the same style of shading as Wind Waker. You can see really far away in this game, though it’s pretty clear that when you’re far from something you don’t really see the whole picture. Enemies only really appear if you get close to them, for example. But looking at things far away is still really awesome in this game. I’m sure if you look too much into it you’ll notice low-poly environments and bad textures but you’re so far away it doesn’t matter. You can look at something, say “hey, I’ll go visit that”, and there’s nothing to stop you.
Well technically this game won’t impress you. There’s framerate issues if there’s lots of cuttable grass on the screen, the textures aren’t terribly high-quality (not bad but don’t zoom into it too much) and it’s 30 FPS and 900p (so I guess PS4 and Xbone owners should be fine with that). Playing on the Switch handheld mode though removes all the performance issues and doesn’t seem to reduce the graphical quality much, if at all (outside of displaying at 720p), so that’s pretty impressive. My biggest annoyance with the graphics is that it feels like there’s a weird filter on it all the time, like it’s always slightly foggy/washed-out directly around you. I don’t know if that’s a performance thing or if it’s intended stylistically but I’m not a fan.
One thing that disappointed me was the music. It’s very… modern game-like. And by that I mean there’s no fucking music. You’ll be walking around Hyrule, there’s gonna be, like, atmospheric stuff, sometimes a bit of piano… very subdued and not too interesting. When there’s enemies around and such there’s a bit more, and some areas have actual music, and boss battles have music. But most of the time there’s not really much there. Zelda usually has some pretty classic music, but this one, not so much. When I do hear music, it’s always like “hey it’s a small bit of that one tune from that other Zelda game!” What music is there is good, but there’s not much there.
Money is useful and you will use it all on arrows
You need lots and lots of rupees on specific things, but you also need arrows. And arrow drops are extremely rare and hard to get. And also grinding for cash isn’t exactly easy since most enemies don’t drop it. So yeah, you gotta decide, equipment, or arrows. Not always an easy choice.
I saw a lot of people claiming this to be the toughest Zelda game ever. More on that in the spoilers section about a specific element, but it really isn’t. What’s hard about it is that enemies hit you really hard and you tend to not have terribly damaging weaponry, especially if you end up going to an area you really shouldn’t early on. So be careful I guess. Most parts that gave me issues were taken care of by me… running away, and coming back later. Hey, whatever works.
Also no hearts are gotten from enemy drops like in other Zelda games, but your survivability is much higher than any other Zelda game because it’s based on items you have in your inventory (whether you make it or find it), so just pause and recover all your hearts.
Spoilers follow in that weird-looking box below
So yeah, there’s a few things I didn’t talk about here, but I can’t just spoil everything, even in the spoiler section.
All this to say, this is a cool game and check it out. It’s not perfect (hopefully I exclaimed my complaints well enough), but it’s really solid nonetheless. I’m happy I don’t score games, because I have no idea what I’d do here.
… 2/10 LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL