The Legend of Zelda series is one of my favourite gaming series of all time. Its use of adventure, story, puzzles, combat and overall exploratory feel is what draws me to it. I love the world of Hyrule, the lore behind the characters and items, the chronology that tells the tale of various heroes called Link and the evil known as Ganon that meet in a battle over time. The other aspects from the Twilight Realm, the Great Sea, The Ocarina of Time to Majoras Mask and the characters of fate that are Zelda, Link and Ganon makes it an amazing series. Majoras Mask was the first new Zelda game I was bought and I loved it, and each release is a day one purchase for me, buying the special edition of Breath of the Wild, even though I didn’t own a Switch at the time. When Breath of the Wild was teased, I was excited, not massively hyped but it was good to hear that Nintendo was taking cues from Elder Scrolls and Witcher to make a more open world. Then the trailer dropped during the Switch conference and it looked to be perfect. This was the Zelda game I had waited years for. A huge proper open world to explore, lots of new major characters – all with voice acting, and a real emphasis on character building because of this new direction for The Legend of Zelda. I couldn’t wait and counted down every single day, watching the trailer over and over picking up hints until I had figured out the base story. As I said previously, I didn’t own a Switch, so I bought the Wii U version and a pro controller as it was cheaper, and then got lost in this new world of Hyrule. I won’t go into massive detail but I thought the game was amazing first time around, I said it was the best game Nintendo had ever made, but not THE best game ever made. It was a triumph for Nintendo and a real step into what the Zelda franchise could become, But although I knew it at the time, I didn’t want to admit it to myself -This game was not the game I had hoped for, but it was still amazingly good so I overlooked its problems.
Breath of the Wild came out 2 years ago, and since it got released I’ve seen a lot of articles and videos about places and items I missed when I played it the first time. I had a long flight coming up also and needed something to play, so I figured it was time to buy the game again (this time for the Switch) and play it through again, going all in to explore every corner of Hyrule. So off I went on my adventure, I knew where to go and what to do, but I still played it as I did before, going where I needed to until I was at a decent enough place to go and explore the world on my own. But the more I played it, the more I realized I didn’t want to explore, and this game has a lot of problems that are overlooked because it’s a Zelda game – and because its Nintendo. This game is extremely good, and it’s still a massive achievement and a step forward for Nintendo. But it’s average score on Metacritic of 97 and an average of 97.33% on GameRankings (making it the 9th best game of all time) are overhyped scores that it doesn’t deserve.
There’s lots of little things that make the general gameplay annoying, and then there’s the stuff that I really have an issue with. So lets start out small. For starters, health now works differently to how it did in other Zelda games. In other zelda games you collect hearts to get your health back. Hearts can be obtained from pots, bushes, grass, enemies, basically anything you can hit with a sword, or you can use potions, but overall you get by just by playing the game and regaining health when you can. BOTW moves to using food to regain health, and it’s not this I have a problem with, its that you need to make the food every single time. You go to a cooking pot, select the items from your inventory you want to cook, throw them and then depending on the ingredients you use will depends how good the meal is. But the problem is you need to do with several times to get several meals and it just gets boring. There’s no just ‘throw everything in to make a longer lasting stew’. You need to make several meals to get several health replenishing items back, it’s tedious, annoying, and is a chore. The change with inventory also changes with weapons and items. Instead of a number of gadgets and tools, you are now limited to swords, shields and bows, and honestly, I didn’t mind the simplification of this, I like how fights come down to pure combat, very Dark Souls style. What’s worse is that all these items now degrade and can break, so if you find a nice sword, better not use it too much because it’s going to break one day – and not ‘break repair it later’, once it breaks, it’s broken forever and can’t be used. The only weapon that doesn’t break is the Master Sword, well it does, but it ‘recharges’ after 10 mins so it’s not so bad, just annoying.
Lets knock it a notch to the story, not the worst part of the game, but possibly one of the most autopilot Zelda stories that has ever been. I do give credit to Nintendo for changing up the formula but overall it just falls flat. For a game that introduced voice acting, cut scenes and more character interaction than ever, there’s hardly a lot going on. In fact after the initial 2-3 hours of the game everything else that happens is filler. It is worth exploring a bit to regain the ‘memories’ for the extra bits of story, but the cutscenes are so short and unmemorable there’s really no point in doing so. What’s more the voice acting in this game is sub par. Most characters are very in the middle, they do their job and it exists. The only 2 good ones are Daruk and Urbosa, the Goran and Gerudo champions, as they feel genuine and that they actually cared, but are balanced out by the terrible Zelda and Mipha (zora champion) who both sound brain dead to the point that Miphas cutscenes I skipped second time round. The only thing can that can be said overall is that it’s a Zelda game that has voice acting, and that’s it. With anyone else you could let this go, but this is Nintendo, one of the biggest gaming companies in the world, they’ve seen other people make games with voice acting so what was their excuse for this subpar result? To make this worse the story is extremely short. Remember earlier when I said I missed a lot of the secrets and content this game had to offer? I did plan to explore the rest of the map after what I through was going to be the half way point. Turns out that half way point was actually the end of the game, and there’s a huge chunk of map you don’t need to explore to complete the story. So of course these areas are for you to go explore on your own, and make the most of Breath of the Wild, but this leads into my biggest problem.
So lets get to the main event, and oddly what was considered Breath of the Wilds biggest selling point. That huge open world it throws you into with free roam to go back to the days of the original Zelda, go explore the world and find all it secrets? Well, it’s not that fun to explore, in fact there’s very little reason to explore or do anything in this game.
You see while this Zelda wanted to go back to the basics of what made the original Zelda so great with its totally open-ended gameplay and the world, they seemed to have done that, but not think why the game world was fun to explore in the first place, and that games have evolved since then. To put it simply the map and world of Breath of the Wild is very boring, and the exploration factor has no massive rewards. Each area will have its own biome and theme but apart from some exceptions such as Death Mountain and the Gerudo desert most of the map is largely the same. cliffs, trees, hills with some apple trees here and there. There wasn’t a single point in the game where I saw something in the distance and was like ‘hey what’s that? let’s go explore’ because there is nothing drastically different from place to place. Of course other games do this, in The Witcher 3 most of Velen is the same horrid wooded area with a swamp here and there, and even then there was rarely a time I saw a place in the distance that I saw was worth exploring. But that game rewards the player for their curiosity, whether it be an item, a note about some basic lore or clues on a quest, a new quest entirely, or items that can be used for crafting later on. BOTW rewards players with very basic items that are not worth the exploration in the first place. You’ll get rupees, items or a shiny weapon. On a rare occasion, you might stumble across a shrine, and they are important to the game, but not a big deal. They provide you with health and stamina upgrades, but you can get by just by doing the ones that pop up on your main quest. Rupees are not a massive necessity as the rupees you stumble across on your adventure are adequate to get the things you need, and even then there’s not much you can buy. Most shops will sell basic provisions such as arrows and health, but again, you can just find this on the main quest anyway. Items dropped are usually gemstones or animal parts and when on my first playthrough I kept all of them as I thought some crafting for fancy weapons would come along later. But it didn’t. You get all these gemstones and all you can do is sell them for profit, which goes back to the rupees you don’t really need. Finally, weapons you can gain are just not worth the effort. As previously mentioned weapons degrade, so any weapon you do find is going to break at some point. There was a time I climbed a mountain and found a Lynel (A hench centaur) that I thought I could take. After a long battle, I defeated him and he dropped a shield, a bow and a weapon along with some monster parts. But in the process, I had lost 3-4 weapons, and a shield, so why bother? The items I got in return weren’t worth the effort – and that’s the problem with BOTW. The exploration is not worth the effort because the items you get do no help you on your quest, nor are they fun to obtain. This is only exemplified by the awful quests the game offers with most boiling down to ‘Go here and kill these monsters’ or ‘collect X of this item’ with the rewards being so useless it’s not worth the time. One quest had me travel down to a beach to kill some monsters, where I died several times and lost several weapons and in return, she gave me some milk, again – not worth it. Quests are as basic as the map is and while I’ve tried to make a real attempt into this just go explore the world idea this time around, I don’t want to.
So to sum up. The health system is a chore. The story line is lifeless and dull with terrible voice acting. The game is short and relies on it’s ‘explore the world idea’ to lengthen the game but doesn’t work because exploring isn’t fun. Exploring is downright boring due to a very simplified map with nothing of notable interest to explore, and even when you do explore the rewards of your curiosity are never fulfilled as there is nothing of value out there to obtain. I’m glad Nintendo revamped the formula for this game, but they seem to have ignored why things like this are implemented in the first place.
Nintendo have never followed the crowd, they’ve always done what they wanted to do, and its always worked in their favor making them one of the greatest games companies in the world. But with this game it appears they’ve taken ques from other games to advance the Zelda formula without thinking why. It seems they wanted to up the formula without changing the base game too much. But too much emphasis on weapons, character armor and quests and they might be worried they’re making it too complicated for the younger audiences who aren’t used to a more complex type of game, so they made a more basic game. But what you’re left with is a weird mash of RPG style gameplay, and a generic Zelda adventure, with all the tropes of an RPG game, but none of the rewards, so why bother with the RPG parts in the first place?
This doesn’t make Breath of the Wild a bad game in any way, it’s still a fantastic game and everyone at some point should play it. Playing through a second time really has made me realize it is far from perfect and it’s a real shame for a game I had such high hopes for initially. I’d like to think that Nintendo would go all on on their next adventure, but I doubt it. They can’t go back to the old gameplay type, but they also can’t go full RPG for the sake of younger players. Whatever they decide to do though, I will always be a fan of the Zelda series, and it it will forever be one of my favorite gaming series of all time.