My Breath Of The Wild Review: Stellar Heights With Diminishing Returns

Before it came out I was apathetic, when I started it I was amazed, but after the credits roll I am… conflicted. Here’s my Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review.

Breath of the Wild Review

I am a massive Legend of Zelda fan. Most people who come over my house will comment on the giant Ocarina of Time poster on my back wall, as well as the large number of Zelda games in my collection. A few Zelda games made it into my top 10 favourite games of all time, and I’ve replayed all the games extensively (well, most of them).

And so you may already know that I’m not a huge fan of the Nintendo Switch. I had some concerns before its launch that seem to be true so far from what people have been saying, and I wasn’t going to spend $470 AUD for a console to play one game. I picked the game up on release day for the Wii U, although it was more out of “3D Zelda Fan” obligation more than anything – the game didn’t really look that great to me, even in anything I saw of it.

The game is getting perfect scores across the board. 10 out of 10, 5 stars out of 5, the best Zelda game ever, the best game ever made… so on and so forth.

And don’t get me wrong, I had a blast playing it… up to a certain point. It’s a very good game. I suppose I can’t really qualify that much more in the opening sentences, so here we go: My Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild review.

Stellar presentation values

For a company that continually touts as of late that they aren’t interested in playing the graphics game, Breath of the Wild sure is a sight to behold. The promise of the game was that if you saw anywhere in Hyrule’s massive open world, you could go there. This promise is true for the most part (except for the limits of the map). You’ll see a giant volcano, a set of twin peaks or a frozen tundra off in the distance, and if you can see it, you can get there. Granted you may not be able to survive when you get there, but you can. But all of it looks amazing. I have the game on Wii U and have watched extensive footage of the game being played on the Switch, and I saw no real noticeable difference between the game on both platforms. The weather effects are very pleasant, the cel-shaded art style makes you feel like you’re playing an anime, and the sound design is ridiculously on point. I live on a nature reserve, and sometimes I was getting confused between the sounds outside and the sounds in the game – it blends so well.

Also, voice acting! For the most part, pretty good. Welcome to 2017 Nintendo. Well, almost. The voice acting only really kicks in when key cutscenes or moments take place in the game, which was disappointing to hear the performances add some much needed immersion in terms of character interaction and then have the game then go back to text scrolls. Oh well.

But you won’t be disappointed with the stellar way this game looks on either platform.

Part of your (open) world

The last few Zelda games have been criticized of forcing the player in a certain direction. Breath of the Wild is not like this at all. In fact, the game rarely tells you what to do except for some main quests around the place. You wanna fight the final boss in the first 5 minutes? If you can survive getting to him, go right ahead. If you want to go jump in that lake, you go jump in that lake. If you want to go hunt and cook up some great recipes, go do that. If you want to tackle some of the main quests, go for your life.

I’ve never been much of a fan of open world games. I don’t usually enjoy the “do whatever you want” sort of gameplay, I like some direction. I’ve never really enjoyed games like Skyrim or the like, but Breath of the Wild I sure did. Mostly. More on that later.

The way I went about playing the game, I went and tried to unlock as much of the map as I possibly could, then I looked at the locations and said “Oooh I remember that from that Zelda game!” and went there. Mainly I was trying to advance the story without doing the major quests, getting the most information and making Link stronger. Lather rinse repeat. For about 30 hours. Once I’d exhausted those I finished the main campaign.

The main story is good but optional

Because of the open world, Zelda has had to change its story telling format. Some of the most major plot points have to be avidly searched for, and I mean avidly. All you know from the start of the game is that Link has been “dead” for 100 years, and has awoken from a deep sleep after a calamity known as Calamity Ganon ravaged the races of Hyrule. Each race of Hyrule presented a champion to try to defeat the Calamity, but all but one died in the original fight. The princess Zelda is still alive and fighting Ganon all these years later.

The Link-Zelda-Ganon thing is every single Zelda. I was disappointed by a lack of other villains, but there you go. As part of finding out more about what happened 100 years ago, you visit these locations that Zelda had been with Link and taken photos of on her camera. Finding the location unlocks some of Link’s memories and shows us what happened 100 years ago.

And you know, I really enjoyed these. Especially Zelda and Link’s relationship. It has a very similar vein to the one in Skyward Sword, where romance is actually strongly implied. I think this sort of connection drives a player forward.

Plus it was great finally seeing some of the other races of Hyrule contributing in the fight towards evil, and there are hundreds of different characters to meet, new and old.

Now you’re playing with portals

One of the main changes to Breath of the Wild is the dungeon designs. Instead of being 2 hour ordeals, they are now divided into hundreds of individual challenges called shrines scattered all around Hyrule. After playing a few of these, I thought, hey wait a minute, I feel like I’m in Aperture Science, playing the Portal games.

The puzzle designs in this new Zelda are very much like puzzles from the Portal games. This isn’t a bad thing. Link has a number of new powers called runes that let him enact a lot of physics-based attacks and maneuvers, and these shrines use them abundantly.

The “main” 4 dungeons also feel the same way, and are bigger than these shrines, but not by a significant amount. They’re still fairly small, even compared to some of the dungeons in the Gameboy Zelda games.

Everything breaks

Not the game, don’t worry. But throughout the game, Link will be constantly collecting equipment. There aren’t many permanent sort of weapons or items, and you’ll find yourself constantly picking up swords, bows, shields, lances, boomerangs, magical rods and so on to fight evil. Except after using the items about 15-20 times, they will snap on the enemy you’re fighting, or even on the wall you accidentally hit instead.

It’s certainly a startling change. You can’t carry unlimited weapons, and so you’re constantly fighting or raiding enemy camps to find them. It’s a thing. Drives you towards the survival aspect of the game, and it’s pretty fun.

Well, up until a point. More on that later.

A weaker ending (no spoilers)

No spoilers here, but since the main story of Breath of the Wild is optional, the ending clearly reflects this. You may have uncovered all the mysteries of the land of Hyrule and all that happened 100 years prior, but it really makes no bearing on the ending at all as it turns out. The game will end and resolve without addressing any of the really significant moments you may have discovered.

I was somewhat disappointed by that. There were some moments of the game I thought, wow, really, a Zelda game is exploring this stuff, that’s wonderful. Alas. There was a really, really great plot point I had unlocked after finding all the story related things, and I was so excited to see how that would be used. Boooooo.

The first part of the final boss was a true joy though. Truly. The second part not so much.

The fan service is strong with this one

Okay, I have to comment on probably my favourite part of the game. It wasn’t the combat or the new open world. It was all the old returning locations and characters.

Especially from Skyward Sword, Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, you will be finding yourself running into literally some of the same dungeon areas, or what remains of them, from previous games. I was stoked when I found the Forest Temple boss room and the Arbiters Grounds from Twilight Princess, and some of the remains of dungeons from Skyloft. There are some large flying creatures in the game I also recognized from previous games, and when I first saw one flying over a lake, I put the controller down and just watched in awe. Content indeed.

There are also entire regions dedicated to the Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons games, places from Zelda 1 and 2, tributes and characters from Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker… yes, very good. But if you’re not a fan, you’d probably miss all of it.

Also, I would’ve loved to have had Majora as the main villain in this game. Seems like a better fit for the world that this game is in. Ganon again… meh. Oh well. Or Ghiriham. A few options.

10/10 Better than Horizon… Really?

If you’re a PS4 owner (which I’m not) or follow the game release calendar, you will be aware that a little game called Horizon was recently released on the PS4. And all the reviews of Zelda are leaving this game in the dust.

But when I have a look at how much more involved and layered Horizon is as a game, I can’t at all say that it’s better than a game like that. I’m a big Zelda fan so I enjoy the world and the lore, but the gameplay and production values are nowhere near those of other open world games. Even as a Zelda fan I can easily say that. I’m not too phased because I’m not a huge fan of completely open world games anyway, but there definitely is a reviewer bias just because the Princess is in the game. Seriously, look at how crazy Metacritic scores are.

Link is so slow

Okay, so I have two main complaints about the game that started to wear me down towards the end. Link is able to get different mounts (horses, deer etc.) throughout the game to increase his movement speed, and you’re able to buff up Link’s stamina so he can run further and climb higher.

But after combing over a lot of the world map, you start to get overwhelmed by just how slow Link does everything.

The climbing mechanic in the game is similar to games like Assassin’s Creed or Shadow Of Mordor, only about 8 times slower. And because Link has stamina for everything, it’s not uncommon to get almost to the very top of a location, only to drop all the way back down (after a 10 minute climb). There is a power that unlocks later in the game that will resurrect Link, and when this happens after a massive fall, you will wish you just saw the Game Over screen instead, or that you were running around .with the parkour skills of the AC games… or playing one of those games instead.

I know the point is to enjoy the open world of Hyrule, and Link’s speed and physical limitations do help you do that. But you never really ever get fast enough to overcome these limitations, and it really does start to get old. Sure, you get lots of fast travel locations, and you can own a group of horses (that permanently die all the time in one hit from a lot of enemies), but it doesn’t change how slow Link really does move. When you realize you’ve actually spent half the game waiting for a climbing animation to finish (if you make it to the top)… there’s a bit of disdain there.

Diminishing returns

I think the thought I had once I obtained a few of the unbreakable weapons in the game and had a decently powerful Link was the feeling of diminishing returns. Once you hit a certain point, the rewards you receive just don’t seem worth it.

There are lots of side quests in the game, and even in some of the main quests, you get some awesome weapons and items, but since even they will break after a few hits, you really don’t want to use them. So it almost renders all the significant quests kinda not worth it.

Even when you do find some unbreakable weapons and some great skills (like really cool), they all have a 10 minute timer after a certain number of uses. This was almost a deal breaker for me. 10 minutes is just too long without them. Link feels nerfed in a game with so much potential for him to feel like the champion the story says he could be, especially with all the extra help he eventually receives. The game finally gives you some things you think have been worth all the effort, but then doesn’t let you use them as freely as the game’s mechanics suggest that you should be able to.

And once you get say 13 hearts, you kinda realize that all those hundreds of shrines around Hyrule are only giving you a quarter of a potential increase in your abilities. It’s a lot of effort for not a lot of a reward after a while, especially since several enemies will kill you in one shot no matter how many hearts you have. Towards the start it feels great, but once I reached a certain point where I saw the limitations in the use of items and powers and just went, meh I’m done now, and proceeded to finish the last 3 dungeons and fight the final boss (which were enjoyable).

Even the best mounts you can get can still be killed. It just doesn’t make you want to spend hours and hours tracking down the glowing moose thing or Ganondorf’s horse if they’re just gonna permanently die and be lost when that Guardian shoots you once.

Every review I’ve read talks so much about how good the game is, but I’m surprised that no one else seems to have experienced the same feeling I had with these rewards. In every other Zelda game, Link’s powerups continually get better and give Link a more permanent state of competence. I just didn’t feel Link’s progression mattered all that much. I guess that’s the casualty of open world game design – you can’t expect the player to have progressed to a certain point, so you have to design a game that can be solved after any amount of play and exploration.

So, what would I say in summary? It’s a good game. A very good one. I really enjoyed it. I couldn’t put it down… until my point of diminishing returns. But it sure is a stellar game. I am concerned though that I will not replay this one as much as I have say Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess, Wind Waker, or even Oracles of Ages/Seasons. It seems like the time investment is massive with a comparatively minimal payoff in terms of progression.

But while I was enjoying it, I was really enjoying it.

I guess all this to say, it’s The Legend of Zelda. You know it’ll be a good game. Even the weaker entries are still fantastic games. I really had fun and I’m glad I bought it. But now I think back after the end credits and think, yeah okay cool I’ve experienced that, and I don’t really have a desire to do it again.

But I’m probably a minority there.

What about you? Have you picked up Zelda in the Wii U or the Switch? What are your experiences with the game?

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