Boy oh boy, where to begin with this one. A couple weeks ago, the Nintendo Switch launched with really its only prominent launch title, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Fans of The Legend of Zelda have been waiting years for this game, which was originally intended as a major release on WiiU. Unsurprisingly, Breath of the Wild has received heaps of praise from media and fans alike; some going so far as defining it as one of gaming’s all time greats. Let’s take a look into that claim.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Platform: *Switch, WiiU
Developer: Nintendo EPD
Release Date: March 3, 2017
Let’s start right from the top with the world. Coming into this game, the anticipation is that you are about to play the biggest Zelda game that has ever been made and it delivers. The open world of Hyrule is vast and gorgeous. You start off in a small tutorial area of the game where you learn the basics of how the game works, what your overall objective is and what kinds of tools will be available to you on your adventure. Breath of the Wild offers one of the most open worlds that you’ll ever find in gaming.
Once you’ve completed the beginning section of the game you are told that your objective is to go to Hyrule Castle to stop Ganon and you’re given general directions on where you should go for the next step. From that point on, you are completely on your own. If you want to go straight to the castle and defeat Ganon, you can. If you want to follow the directions you’re given and play out the main quest line, you can. If you just want to roam around and do whatever, you can. You can scale mountains, run through fields, ride on horseback, glide over long distances, swim up waterfalls and use just about any other method you can think of to traverse the land. There are no restrictions to where you can go in Breath of the Wild; if you see something that you want to go check out, you can.
Breath of the Wild is a bit of a throwback to older games when it comes to direction. There is little to no hand holding to be found here. When an NPC tells you about a location or some sort of puzzle, you’ll have to take the hints from the dialogue and figure it out on your own. While some quests will give you an indicator on the map, more often than not you won’t be given an explicit explanation for what you have to do. This is something that I wish more games did because there’s a certain charm to working your way through a game on your own as opposed to the game just straight up telling you what’s next.
As you explore Hyrule, a neat little feature in Breath of the Wild is adapting to new conditions. As you go to different climates and areas of the world, you’ll need to adjust accordingly. If you head up into the mountains or you start to climb too high, you’ll need warmer clothes. If you’re heading out into the desert, you’ll start to get too hot and need to wear heat resistant clothes. If you don’t adapt to your current environment, you’ll slowly take damage so you want to make sure that you’re always prepared to venture into all corners of the world.
But as great as Breath of the Wild’s world is, it’s incredibly shallow. Breath of the Wild is really nothing more than a cookie cutter open world RPG. Nintendo effectively took the traditional Zelda format of dungeons, shattered it to a bunch of pieces and spread it out across the map. Instead of having several themed and intricate dungeons, there are 120 shrines spread across Hyrule, each consisting of a small puzzle or a brief combat challenge. These shrines effectively amount to busy work that exist just to put things to do in the open world. Combine this with Ubisoft towers that you climb to open up the map, an endless supply of fetch quests and 900 freakin’ Korok seeds and you’ve got the barebones formula for your basic open world RPG. Not to mention you’ll fight the exact same handful of enemies in every corner of the world throughout the entire game with the only changes being their color or type of damage. Exploring the world was a lot of fun for a while but ultimately grew to be incredibly repetitive and the lack of serious rewards made most of the game’s content amount to nothing more than busy work.
For me personally, the dungeons are my favorite part of any Zelda game. I love going to a new area of the world and finding a big, themed dungeon where I have to solve a number of different puzzles to reach the boss at the end. Zelda’s traditional dungeon format is perfect and each dungeon generally presents you with unique challenges specific to that dungeon.
In Breath of the Wild, the dungeons have been reduced to four mini dungeons that each hold different mechanics but are relatively similar overall. While each of the four dungeons have their own unique spin, the relative appearance and feel is the same across all of them. But these dungeons are also well executed and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge that each of them brought to the table. The puzzles in Breath of the Wild can be solved in many different ways, allowing for players to get really creative with them. However, minimizing the dungeons and scattering individual puzzles to the far corners of the world in shrines just to populate the world with something to do was a huge mistake.
Another great little feature in Breath of the Wild is that enemies will react to your actions and the world around them. You can disarm a bokoblin by knocking them back, steal their weapon and they will throw a hissy fit while you blow them back with their own club. If you light a bokoblin on fire, they’ll panic for a second before realizing that they still have to fight you with their now torched wooden club. You can find enemies hunting in the world or dancing around their campfires. The actions of enemies throughout the world are a small feature but it adds a certain level of charm to the game as you explore the world and helps create an engaging experience that has the potential to be unique to the person that’s playing.
The combat in Breath of the Wild is really just your basic Zelda combat system. It’s fairly straightforward and simple. You have your traditional tools at hand as well some new little tricks that you’ll be able to pull out. Breath of the Wild also offers you situations where you can get creative with how you fight enemies, like rolling boulders over moblins, lighting fields on fire to burn up bokoblin camps, baiting an enemy to be smothered by a bunch of cuccos or even using natural lightning as a weapon. There’s really not too much to say about the combat but there is an elephant in the room that needs addressing.
Breath of the Wild added an atrocious weapon durability system to the combat. The weapons in this game might as well be made of glass because they’ll break after you use them for about five minutes. This is generally not a problem in terms of having weapons at your disposal because you’re constantly provided with new weapons so your inventory will always be shuffling weapons in and out. However, the system itself is still bad. You get into a fight, use your weapon for a few swings, it breaks and then you have to pause the game midbattle so that you can select a new weapon to use and you repeat this process nonstop. Aside from the natural level of annoyance here, forcing the player to constantly pause the game and select new weapons completely disrupts the flow of combat.
My biggest gripe with the weapon durability is that when you find a cool weapon, you want to use it. If I find a sweet looking shield or a flaming greatsword, I want to use those weapons and look badass while I’m wiping enemies out. Instead, I ended up hoarding these cool weapons and avoiding combat in the open world altogether because I didn’t want to lose my weapons in a fight with some random bokoblins for a nothing reward like a cooked steak or five arrows. This was a problem for me throughout the game. Any time I found something cool, I didn’t feel any sense of a reward because it was just a temporary item.
Arguably my favorite weapon in any game is the Master Sword because it just has this aura around it that makes it feel special. While it’s significantly more durable than any other weapons, I only used it three times in the entire game because I was afraid that I would lose it. While there are ways to reforge a handful of the weapons found in the game, it doesn’t stop the fact that you then have to go out of your way to find a specific base weapon to craft a brand new one rather than just repairing the one you already own. I feel that the weapon durability system really robbed me of the full Zelda experience that I enjoy. Forced variety is never a good thing; I want to use the cool stuff that I find without having it taken away from me after two fights. The weapon durability system feels more like a punishment than anything else and that sucks.
Outside of some legendary weapons that you will earn throughout the main quest, Breath of the Wild doesn’t feature much in the way of crafting but it does have a heavy focus on cooking. Eating food is how you regain health and to do so means you’re going to have to take breaks to sit at a cooking pot for a few minutes just chucking random food into the pot. There are all sorts of recipes in the game and the food you cook will heal more depending on how much you put into it. You can also cook food that provides bonuses such as increased defenses or refilling stamina. You’ll have to hunt and gather as you play to make sure that you have enough food to cook your meals otherwise you’ll have to take even longer breaks just to go farm up some food or buy some more at the shops. Cooking is really just a tedious process that you’ll have to do throughout the game unless you’re good and just decide to never get hit by anything.
There are two kinds of difficulty. There’s the kind that presents an actual challenge to the player, in which failings are likely the result of a mistake on the player’s part and can be learned from. And then there is the kind that is more artificial than anything else and is only hard for the sake of being hard. Breath of the Wild is somewhere in the middle, with a bit of a lean towards the latter.
All of the bosses in Breath of the Wild are fair. They each have their own little unique flare and if you’re paying attention, you can read their actions and dodge their attacks with relative easy. The bosses aren’t too difficult but if you aren’t in command of the situation then they can present a challenge. There wasn’t a single boss fight that I thought was cheap or unfair.
Open world combat is a different story. Breath of the Wild is loaded with nonsense just for the sake of adding difficulty. While the combat system is fairly basic, weapon durability and increased enemy damage exist for the sole purpose of manufacturing some level of difficulty. There are times where you’ll be able to take two or three hits reasonably fine but then there are times where you’ll be one-shot by an enemy out of nowhere. Add in having your weapons break mid-fight and it just adds a level of frustration and annoyance that doesn’t need to be there. It’s more so a problem in the early game than it is in the late game but it’s still incredibly annoying and unnecessary. That’s not actual difficulty, that’s throwing in garbage to try and manufacture some level of challenge.
Look, the story is pretty much the exact same as any other Zelda game. Ganon is a threat to Hyrule and you need to complete challenges, get the Master Sword and rescue Princess Zelda to stop him. It’s fairly basic. The mystery surrounding what happened to Hyrule and the adventure to recover Link’s memory was interesting enough but the overall story of Breath of the Wild was nothing all that special. I thought the ending sequence to the game was very cool but that was really about it.
This was also the first Zelda game to feature voice acting and it should probably be the last one to do so, because it was not good.
Breath of the Wild was absolutely an immersive experience. Very rarely is it a true statement when a developer says that you can go anywhere that you can see in the distance but it is in Breath of the Wild. After completing the prologue/tutorial area, you can literally go anywhere you want. It’s one of those games where you’ll see something off in the distance, head off in that direction and then before you know it you’re halfway across the map and nowhere near where you intended to go when you started up the game a couple hours ago. Breath of the Wild is one of those games where it’s incredibly easy to get lost in the world… to a point.
I did my fair share of adventuring as I played through Breath of the Wild. I don’t really know how long my playthrough was, but it was a fair chunk of time. But eventually, I ran into a brick wall where the immersion completely fell apart. When I play an open world game, I will almost always start to feel some fatigue from exploring the world but it’s more related to play time than anything else. With Breath of the Wild, it was because the world got stale. As gorgeously crafted as the world is, the content within the world was just way too repetitive and shallow for me to maintain immersion. By the time I reached the halfway point of the main quest line I pretty much gave up on exploring.
Graphics & Visual Design
Breath of the Wild is gorgeous, no two ways about it. The world looks beautiful and the art style is perfect. When you first emerge from the cave Link is sleeping in and you get that first shot of Hyrule from a hilltop, it’s a breathtaking sight. The world is colorful and vibrant without being over saturated and the art style of the game was terrific. My only complaint here really is that it rains way too damn much, which makes the game too dark to for the world to really pop.
The sound design in Breath of the Wild is excellent. I’m generally not a fan of a real lack of music but Breath of the Wild found a great balance between music and more of an ambient sound. When you come across a village or a stable, you’ll hear a classic little Zelda song that’ll make you want to stop and listen for a minute. The stables are kind of like Hyrule’s truck stops where all sorts of travelers come together and the music really makes them worth stopping by more than anything else. Then when you’re out in the open world, you’ll hear the more natural sounds of the environment. And the music inside Hyrule Castle at the end of the game? Tremendous. The blend between music and natural sounds helps create an immersive experience and Nintendo found a superb balance between the two.
I absolutely hate the controls in this game. The button layout wasn’t the most intuitive thing I’ve ever encountered but you are provided with an option to flip a few of the buttons which certainly helped. It took some work but I eventually grew comfortable with the button layout. I played with both the Switch pro controller and the joy-cons and I would recommend the pro controller every time. The joy-cons were just too small and with the button layout, it felt clunky to play. Ultimately, I ran into a few too many instances where I felt like the controls resulted in frustration due to poor button mapping or not the greatest response time.
When riding on horseback, Breath of the Wild contains the glorious feature that is finally starting to take over where your horse will automatically follow the path you’re on. Perfect. Except for no reason at all, my horse would eventually start drifting off to the left. Then when I would try to steer my horse back on track, it was almost always unresponsive to the controls. Generally resulting in me ending up in a situation where my horse was repeatedly running and coming to a complete stop against a rock or a tree or whatever, leaving me unable to move for a few seconds. I eventually started fast traveling and just traveling on foot because horseback became more annoying than anything else. If I needed a horse for a big open area where controls didn’t really matter, I would just rent a wild horse for a couple minutes and that was that.
This might be my biggest gripe with Breath of the Wild and it blows me away that the game has received as much praise as it has without almost any mention for performance. The very first bokoblin I encountered dropped my frame rate down to single digits, turning the game into stop motion. I was floored. While generally not quite as bad, I regularly encountered instances where the frame rate would drop below 20 fps while my Nintendo Switch was docked. When playing in the portable mode, I never once encountered this issue. Resulting in me playing in the portable mode much more often than I would have liked. I’ve also read that there is a similar problem on the WiiU version of the game.
This is an inexcusable problem to have with games in 2017. Games should be running at a minimum of 60 fps in 2017 and Breath of the Wild regularly drops below 20 fps. And aside from the dropped frames, the fact that the game doesn’t perform consistently between docked and portable modes on the Switch is unacceptable. That’s just not good enough and it’s something that should receive more attention than it does.
Breath of the Wild is one of those games that, if you’re a completionist, you’ll probably never want to replay. There is so much to do and collect in this game that you’ll probably blow right by the 100 hour mark to reach 100% completion. I finished the game probably around the 30-40 hour mark and only had 12% completion without fast traveling for about two thirds of the game. Zelda fans will likely play the hell out of this game and replay it to their heart’s content but the amount of time it will take just to complete this game once will be more than enough to justify the purchase without ever having to play it again.
I’m fairly critical of Breath of the Wild but I liked it and I enjoyed playing it. When I have more time, I would like to go back through and 100% it. That’s my disclaimer for my next statement.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is in no way, shape or form one of the best games I’ve ever played. This game was destined for the reviews it got solely because it’s Zelda in what I have dubbed the Bethesda Effect. If you changed the name of this game to Assassin’s Creed, those same people would give it mediocre scores and people would be ripping it for its flaws. But because it’s Zelda, everyone is wetting themselves over it.
Breath of the Wild doesn’t do anything innovative and it doesn’t do anything to the genre that hasn’t already been done a million times. If I asked you to outline the basic format of any open world RPG, you would describe this game. Breath of the Wild has your traditional Zelda charm and it’s good, but there’s just not enough depth to the overall experience. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just doesn’t mean it’s the greatest game ever made either.
Breath of the Wild is a good game and I would recommend it to anyone. You’re going to get a ton of playing time out of it and you are certainly going to get your money’s worth. It’s a great game for gamers of all ages and if you’re a fan of the series or someone interested in trying the series out, I would absolutely tell you to play it. Overall, I think Breath of the Wild is pretty good but there are way too many flaws there for me to say it’s great, let alone the greatest game ever made. This game will inevitably win game of the year, and it’s still early, but I’m not sure it will deserve it (especially since I think that the game that came out the same week as this did is better).