Ahoy there! Today’s a new day! Stop thinking about something you want to do and just do it! Whatever you end up doing, I hope you have a fantastic time.
It’s been almost six years since Skyward Sword was released, which has been more than enough time for me to get over my dislike for that game. I remember enjoying Twilight Princess (almost 11 years ago now), but it’s been so long I can’t talk specifics. I should have enjoyed Skyward Sword just as well, especially with its novel idea of being an origin story, but by that point I was fed up with the traditional Zelda game structure which Skyward Sword embraced to a fault. It was mired with a heavy reliance on repetition, back-tracking, and poor level design that completely soured my experience.
Image courtesy of Nintendo
Breath of the Wild (BotW) completely eschews that tradition by utilizing an open-world without any player hand-holding. It’s a bit surprising to see coming from Nintendo: that they would be willing to drastically change one of their core franchises and do it in such a antithetical way to the current open-world game structure.
And it seems like it’s worked out pretty well for them. BotW has gotten incredibly high-scoring reviews across the board, with many people placing BotW among the ranks of the best games they’ve ever played. Such consistently high praise made me quite skeptical, but from what I could parse for how I might enjoy the game (not to mention I was buying a Switch anyway), I knew I had to play the game regardless.
Unfortunately I didn’t have the stellar experience so many other people have have had with BotW. BotW is definitely a good game, but it’s marred by too many issues that when taken altogether, really brought down the experience for me.
I shouldn’t be too surprised, but my biggest disappointment was the lack of a story. Zelda hasn’t traditionally done well with storytelling, but I thought maybe after Skyward Sword, Nintendo would continue with something on par in substance, but BotW only ever amounts to the bare minimum: Ganon is evil because he is evil and Link must destroy him. That’s it. Flashbacks try to flesh out the world and its characters, but it falls flat with shallow characters, poor voice acting, inconsistencies in its own fiction, and a reliance on the idea of the one true hero. I should also mention that Link remains voiceless, which adds an incredibly baffling aspect to the cut-scenes, especially in those moments when he is directly asked a question.
Image courtesy of Nintendo
At least Nintendo put in some effort on the gameplay side. Nintendo’s approach to an open-world game structure is a breath of (the wild) fresh air. I just started playing Horizon Zero Dawn and the philosophies between both games are complete opposites. Horizon tells the player exactly where and what is important in the world. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that, but every other open-world game does this: here are your collectibles, this is a quest, you can do this, you can’t do that. It’s very rigid and there’s no room for discovery. It also induces a collector’s mentality in me — gotta get and do everything!
BotW, on the other hand, gives the player barely anything. The map initially has nothing on it (eventually only gaining towers and shrines, fast travel points). If you want any other icons, you have to add them yourself. Items in the environment aren’t highlighted. Besides the main quest (kill Ganon), quests are unmarked, only found by talking to people. Travelers tell you of rumors they’ve heard. You’re encouraged to go anywhere at anytime. You see a mountain in the distance. You can go there. And you do go there because you wonder what’s waiting for you at the summit. The possibility space ends up feeling massive.
There are also a lot of little touches in BotW that you’ll keep discovering or hear about other people discovering that also help make good on that feeling of endless possibilities. My favorite one of those moments was when I was mining ore at the bottom of one of the towers. This tower happened to be covered in dry bramble. When my hammer struck the ore deposit, there was an explosion and the bramble next to me caught fire. As I looked down at the ore I obtained, flint, I realized I just accidentally started a fire because the ore deposit contained flint. Iron + friction + flint = fire. It was incredible!
Unfortunately the sense of discovery over my 65 hour journey started to diminish around the halfway mark. Once I had a solid grasp on what BotW was capable of, its magic was lost. I progressively cared less about exploring the unknown because I knew all I would find were shrines, equipment, or Korok seeds. Sure, there are the small things I’ll miss like one-off mechanics, special NPCs, or quests; but I reached a point where the hours it takes to naturally find those things was longer than the price I was willing to pay. I just wanted to beat the game and get it over with by that point.
Image courtesy of Nintendo
The staleness of the combat certainly didn’t help with that feeling either. Most of the game I felt pretty weak (dying in only a couple hits), a symptom of always making main quest progress being my observation. There’s also the issue of weapons being an important determining factor in the success of battles. There are cases where that would make sense, but in BotW your weapons break constantly. The fragility itself didn’t bother me, but combat situations rarely result in obtaining better weapons; you mainly lose weapons and get the enemies’ worse replacements. Some of the battles have reward chests that unlock after killing all the enemies in the vicinity, which could have been nice, but it’s usually only ore. Ore has its uses (mainly as a way to make money in the game’s unforgiving economy), but it’s just not enough. I wanted more from BotW.
That being said, I generally enjoyed my time with BotW. If the next Zelda game retains this open-world game structure, hopefully Nintendo profoundly expands on it. Or I’d at least like to see other developers take some of BotW’s better ideas and build on top of them.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild earns a 3 out of 5.
I may have several criticisms, but I still think you should definitely play Breath of the Wild if you have a Switch or Wii U, just so you can experience it for yourself. Also, don’t ever forget that you’re wonderful!