Now, we realise this review of The Breath of the Wild is a little late (don’t arrow us).
We actually wanted to play the game out and give a review based on a full experience of the game, and not just thrashing through it so we could write about it before anyone else does. And it’s a monster of a game.
If you have even the vaguest interest in video games, even if you have none at all (which would make it kinda weird that you’re reading this), then you would be familiar with the Legend of Zelda franchise. It’s one of the most beloved series out there and has produced some of the greatest games ever made.
Each entry has offered something new and unique whilst keeping the familiar hallmarks that make the series so incredible and familiar (as detailed in my article here). Unlike other gaming franchises, there is never any rush to release new games and whilst the wait came seem excruciating to diehard fans (7 fucking years!), it’s enabled the series to maintain a high level of excellence.
Which brings us to the latest entry into the series, Breath of the Wild.
We were warned by legendary video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto (creator of well known franchises such as Zelda, Mario, Donkey Kong, Star Fox, basically everything good in the Nintendo universe) that the new Zelda game would be the most ambitious of the lot. Rather than sticking to what has worked so well for so long, he believed it was time to start ‘gradually changing the structure’ of the Legend of Zelda series in order to let it evolve into a new gaming experience for fans.
Does this new type of Zelda game work?
Well, IGN called it a ‘masterclass in open-world design and a watershed game that reinvents a 30-year-old franchise – 10/10. Gamespot called it the ‘defining moment for the Legend of Zelda series, and the most impressive game Nintendo has ever created’ – 10/10 again!
That’s pretty positive stuff right there and you can find plenty more laudatory reviews of the game online. But I wanted to delve a little bit deeper and see if this really is the best Zelda game ever made or has everyone just been caught up in the hype? After all, I’ve been let down by overly positive reviews before (La La Land anyone?).
So let’s look at what the major changes in Breath of the Wild are. The most obvious and most significant change is that this is by far the most ‘open world’ Zelda game ever created. In fact, it’s one of the most ‘open world’ games ever created period! After a very brief initial section, the entire map is opened up for you to explore at your own whim. And boy, is it one giant map, maybe 4-5 times bigger than any previous Zelda game!
Players can take on any mission they want at any time. You can even try to take on the final boss straight away if you’re game (and spectacularly fail like I did!). Very little is explained to you and you are generally encouraged to explore and craft your own experience instead of following a linear structure.
At first, in The Breath of the Wild this can actually feel quite overwhelming.
There’s so much you can do and so much ground to cover and so very little direction that you can be left feeling helpless and directionless. Breath of the Wild demands that you create your own adventure and once you get used to this, it becomes apparent what an amazing game it actually is.
You can tackle this game however you want and whatever you choose, it’s not going to punish you for it. You can just focus on the main quests or you can spend hours exploring and seeing all the fascinating details the game is populated with (nothing quite like taking a break to do some shield surfing). I spent an hour just trying to climb a mountain, and even though reward was minimal, I had a great time doing it! There’s no doubt that the sheer volume of things to do and the hours of entertainment it creates is a big plus for the ‘open world’ design.
The one major issue with all of this is that as you progress through the game and acquire new powers, more health, better weapons and better armour, the game starts to become easier. I had a lot of respect (and a little bit of love) for the various enemies you encounter throughout the world early on in the game but as I become an overpowered beast, it all just started becoming too easy.
Without any sort of linear structure, the game difficulty didn’t increase the way you would expect in a normal video game, and the challenge and fun I was having earlier on gradually diminished. In previous Zelda games, the baddies, bosses and dungeons keep getting tougher so you really need all your upgrades to keep progressing. As much fun as the open world in Breath of the Wild is to explore, it lacked the natural difficulty progression that is so crucial to successful video games.
Another major change that came with the new ‘open world’ structure was the elimination of typical Zelda dungeons, replaced by 120 shrines that populate the map and 4 Great Beast dungeons. The shrines are one of the better parts of the game, and serve as some of the better rewards for exploration. They’re kinda like mini-dungeons that typically have a few really clever puzzles to solve that might take you 10-15 minutes (or even less, smart ass). Sometimes they have a battle instead which would have been pretty cool if it wasn’t the same damn guy you fight every time (with a few variations in weapons and health levels)!
The Great Beast dungeons are kinda neat but they’re still pretty short compared to what we used to expect from Zelda dungeons.
And that’s a damn shame, because dungeons were probably the best and most memorable part of the previous Zelda games. Dungeons used to be huge complex structures with heaps of puzzles and bad guys to fight. You would typically get a new weapon and then have to use in creative ways to get through the dungeon and finally take down the big bad boss waiting for you at the end.
Instead, each Great Beast dungeon requires you to find 5 checkpoints and then take on bosses that are all different versions of Gannon? What the fuck? You couldn’t even give them individual names and characteristics?? The bosses in this game were seriously disappointing, especially the final boss which was so easy, it’s a fucking joke! Maybe I’m going overboard, but I used to love fighting the various bosses in Zelda games. They were always so terrifying and I had to really think it through to work out how to beat them. And then the last boss would be so damn hard that I would really feel a sense of accomplishment beating them and actually feel like some sort of hero!
Some people might say ‘well, this Zelda game isn’t really about the dungeons and bosses, it’s about the exploration!’
Well, fuck that, I play Zelda games for the dungeons and bosses and if they aren’t up to scratch, which they clearly aren’t in this game, that’s just not good enough! It’s probably the most disappointing element of the game and it’s outrageous how many critics and reviewers managed to overlook this.
Moving on (doing my best to calm myself down now), let’s talk about the storyline in The Breath of the Wild.
What storyline, you say? Well, that’s kinda the point isn’t it? There is no storyline in this game. Very early on, you’re told that you need to save the 4 divine beasts and stop Calamity Gannon….and then that’s exactly what you do. And that’s it. That’s the story of the game. There’s plenty of history of the game, and you get told about how the world used to be and how it came to be in the awful shape it is now, but very little actually happens in the time you play the game.
There are a set of memories you can uncover which, again, gives you more details about what happened in the past but I really would have liked for more to happen in the game. When I think of Zelda games like Majora’s Mask or Twilight Princess, the storylines and mysteries of those games really engages you and drives the game along. Breath of the Wild has plenty of small stories about the various people you meet in your journeys (including some really weird and bizarre ones) and these really help flesh out the world.
The game tries to make some of the main characters more interesting by showing us scenes with Zelda, her father and the 4 guardians, but I have to say, I found Zelda to be quite whiney and annoying. Maybe this was because she has a mute Link to work with, which is how it’s always been with Link to be fair. I am kinda getting sick of the passiveness of his character (say something Link!) and it makes it hard to develop the characters around him when he just says nothing all the time. But anyway, it would have been nice to have some storylines and characters that actually engaged me in the game and made me care more about the awesome world I spent so much time exploring.
Finally, let’s talk about some of the other elements brought into The Breath of the Wild to give it more of an ‘RPG’ type of feel.
Namely, food, potions and weapons. Cooking and brewing are new elements of the game, which some people just absolutely love to do. Whilst I’ve never been a huge fan, I do appreciate the fun of trying to get the right elements together and then exploring how you mix them together to create new dishes and potions.
The only problem in this game is that I didn’t really need it all that much. And when I did, I had so much food, that I was, more or less, invincible. I could pause at any time and consume one of the many meals I had and just get on with it. This was, unfortunately, one of the contributing elements to making the game too easy as it went on.
When it comes to weapons, I just have to ask: Did anyone enjoy the fact that they would break all the time? Anyone at all?? Look, I appreciate making us use a variety of different weapons but it just became really annoying to have to keep swapping them out all the time. And then I got the Master Sword and it just negated the entire purpose of weapons breaking in the first place. I don’t think this was entirely a bad idea, I had some really awesome moments like when I beat an enemy and pick up his weapon to beat the others I was fighting, I just think it needs a little tweaking and it could work really well.
When it came to the permanent weapons and abilities I had, like using the bomb or magnetism, this was actually quite cool as when I got into a shrine, I had to try all my different powers out to work out the puzzles. It was very different to have all of these from the very start of the game as opposed to old Zelda games where you gradually get new weapons as you progress through the game and the one you most recently acquired is probably the one you need to solve the current problem (duh!). Still, I did miss the excitement of finding out what the new weapon I would get in each dungeon would turn out to be.
In conclusion, let me be clear on one thing. I don’t think Breath of the Wild is a bad game.
It’s a really amazing game that still has quite a few serious flaws. It’s just that when it comes to reviewing Legend of Zelda games, we’re working with a whole different standard of excellence.
Nintendo should still be credited with trying a new concept instead of just sitting on a working formula and when it comes to the exploration side of things, it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had with a video game. The game looks and sounds amazing and is an absolute blast to play.
Still, I would say that Ocarina of Time is the most memorable Zelda game, Majorca’s Mask is the most interesting and Twilight Princess is overall, probably the best. Breath of the Wild is definitely the most ambitious and has changed the idea of what a Zelda game can be. Let’s just hope that Nintendo continues to build on this and bring back some of the things we loved from old Zelda games.