PlatformOVERALL
Nintendo Switch9.30
Overall 9.30
Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild is a bold new direction to a classic franchise which has garnered unprecedented praise from the gaming media. When Aunoma stated no zelda convention would be sacred he wasn't joking, this is as big a departure from past games as I have ever seen for a big series. BOTW takes a rocket launcher to the formula and creates a new kind of open world that may set new standards for years to come. All this change comes at a price though, improvements were made in many areas that were needed but with nearly every improvement comes a loss of what worked before.

This series needed a gameplay overhaul, anyone can see it. We have been playing upgrades of the same structure since ocarina of time, combat has been too easy, each game following the same general outline. BOTW makes huge improvements to the gameplay systems, changes that should be kept for future zelda games. Nintendo created a physics based wonderland, a game where nearly every single object can be interacted with and has some gameplay purpose. For example an apple in most games would just be some throw away consumable but in Zelda an apple can be a part of a puzzle, used to create valuable food that heals, it can be used to feed a horse for better stamina. Never before have I experienced a world that felt as alive as it does in BOTW, every element makes logical sense in a natural kind of way that makes puzzles work with normal logic not zelda video game logic.

Unlike past games, Link acquires all the major items/powers he needs for the entire journey right at the start. These are gathered in the first area of the game and are found in the first four shrines you must access before being let loose in the world. They are magnesis, stasis, bombs and ice; with those four powers you can solve every puzzle and beat every boss. This is a positive and a negative as on one hand the instant access to all the gameplay mechanics allows the entire game to be filled with creative scenarios making use of all powers. On the other hand the excitement of finding a new item that introduces new concepts as the game goes on it's gone. Before you leave the plateau you are also given one more item, the paraglider which is the key to traversal in BOTW and like everything in this game has multiple uses.

These skills create incredibly fun gameplay situations as the use of physics don't just work for puzzles and explorations but combat. Finally Zelda combat is challenging, many enemies do massive damage which can kill Link in one hit. The world is dangerous in a way zelda has not been since Zelda 2 which is a huge welcome change that makes combat thrilling. Combat shines with how open any combat scenario can be, Link can attack in the traditional way with a sword and shield which has the usual dodge moves and perfect parries. Or you can get creative and use the living world to your advantage. Shoot a lantern down so that the grass below catches fire which may ignite enemies and their wooden weapons, then use the updraft of wind created by the heat to lift into the air and slow down time while aiming with the bow for perfect head shots. You can use your magnesis ability to grab metal objects and fling them at enemies, this is especially useful during a thunderstorm where lightning will electrocute anyone near metal.  

Enemy AI is dynamic, they will improvise if you take their weapons away, they will search for anything on the ground to use against you. Large enemies will grab smaller enemies and throw them at you. Enemies with wooden weapons will dip them in fire so they becoming flaming weapons. I couldn't believe this kind of stuff was happening in a zelda game, finally the combat and core gameplay mechanics feel like something fresh, something that belongs in the modern era. This game has the creative spirit found in MGS games where even the smallest of objects can be used in interesting ways that make sense but still amaze because so few games would never attempt to have this level of detail. The absolute best moments I had in BOTW was when I jumped into a battle outmatched, outnumbered and used unconventional methods to survive.


I have to talk about the insanely huge world Nintendo created here, it's ridiculously big, too big. What sets this world apart from most is that literally everything you see you can reach. This is not skyrim where there are a bunch of impassable mountains, you see ANYTHING, you can climb it. The world is so beautiful, hand crafted in subtle ways that put boring flat worlds like witcher 3 to shame. This is a game that encourages players to climb to great heights just to have a bird’s eye view of the land in order to glide to anything that seems interesting. Hyrule has every kind of climate possible from frozen mountain peaks, to a gigantic volcano to tropical rainforests. Each area has their own challenges that come naturally from the weather which can cause damage if you are too cold or hot. Say it's freezing and you don't have a potion or warm clothing, well why not equip your flame sword, now you are heated up. It's that level of integration of all game systems working together, sometimes in unique interesting ways that makes the gameplay in BOTW so compelling. Discovering the effect of an action in the world is part of the exploration.

I love how every gameplay system feeds another to keep a loop of constant progression going. At the heart of this is the loot system which might bother some players but I think it leads to fun experimentation. Every piece of gear you use, basically all non armor stuff, breaks after a short amount of time. Somehow this does not feel the same as weapon segregation you find in some RPGs where it simply feels like a crappy distraction. Here weapons are treated almost like ammo, almost every enemy or treasure you find is giving you a new weapon or shield. As soon as you break one weapon you should have two or three more to replace it. The variety of these weapons are pretty great, coming in large slow swords, smaller daggers, elemental weapons and so on. The classic Zelda boomerang is now just another weapon enemies carry which can be used as a melee weapon or thrown classic style, only this time you need to to catch it. Even the Master Sword has limited uses before it “breaks”, wait a few minutes and the sword is ready to be used again.

There are no real stats outside the damage a weapon does, so leveling up happens naturally from simply playing the game. Fighting enemies leads to better gear, which allows you to challenge tougher enemies which drop even more high level gear. Exploration leads to rewards that give you more hearts, making you more durable in battles leading to more exploration of tougher regions. After every few days the moon will turn blood red which indicates all fallen enemies will respawn but they return stronger than before, this is how the game scales with your character. As you kill enemies the world gets tough and tougher thus making gear better and better. I think it's an elegant way to handle leveling up and scaling difficulty without any of the heavy handed RPG stat systems.

The stamina gauge is another important mechanic as it governs your ability to explore in a major way. The only restrictions to Link’s freedom comes in the form of having limited stamina while climbing. To scale massive mountains you either upgrade the stamina, carefully look for paths that allow Link to take breaks regularly or just make a potion to refill stamina. The climbing is a bit too slow but it is so essential to the exploration in BOTW that I liked having some limitations placed on it even if they could easily be circumvented. Like everything in BOTW there are multiple ways to approach anything including climbing.

After the opening tutorial section the entire world is open to you, I have never seen freedom like this. Practically the entire game is optional, the player is in complete control of the experience in a way I have never seen in an action adventure game before. Even the story is optional, you get to choose the order you see it or if you see it at all. The only thing you actually have to do is go kill Ganon which if you feel like it you can do right away skipping every side quest and dungeons.

True freedom has its drawbacks, for one finding interesting things to do can be a mission of its own. Previous zelda games always had scripted content waiting for you in very specific steps, that's not the case here. You can go to the major cities and tackle the side missions they provide or just run around a forest, climb a mountain, search islands off the coast, generally do anything you want. A world this big is difficult to populate with interesting varied things to do, while Zelda has more variety than most of its genre it's spread so far that the repetition is seen more than the unique content. For instance the korok seeds, which are small puzzles found everywhere, have about 15 variations of them even though there are 900 of them to be found. These are literally copy pasted “puzzles” all over the world. Many times climbing a large mountain only offers the reward of finding a lone rock at the peak which if lifted reveals a korok, just like the 50 other times you saw a rock.

There are enemy encampments that can be cleared for a treasure prize. At first this is a fun goal as combat is a blast and the need for new items and gear is ever present. Play the game for 30 hours and you notice the exact same encampments all over the place. Play the game 80 hours and by now you have max weapons and armor, any reward gained from these camps are useless and the combat has gotten repetitive. There are mini bosses to battle around the world as well; about 4 types repeated many times. Once again the first few times battling them is thrilling, the 20th time not so much.

As much as the repetition is seen eventually you will find a shrine with a brand new puzzle. Or an outpost with a new mini game. Or see some strange structure and be rewarded with a trial of some sort that tests your skills. These are the best moments of the game. Finding a dark forest and being trapped in total darkness needing to use fire as your only source of light to escape. Finding a gigantic maze in the middle of the desert. Seeing a dragon flying above a snow capped mountain and scaling that mountain to grab a special armor. These are the kinds of activities that occur naturally from the player's basic want to explore, that makes all the difference from going to some dumb pre set marker on a map.

The greatest of these exploration moments for me came from me sailing to a giant island at the edge of the world and being sucked into a test of survival unlike anything in the rest of the game. For an hour I was using every skill I could think of in unique ways just to survive. After completing this trial I went online and read the crazy different ways others solved the island, no one story was the same. That's what's so special about this game. But why are moments like this island the exception and not the norm, why is the repetition far far more common.

The usual assortment of mini games and fun diversions are found all over hyrule, but like everything else its spread very far and wide. Link has the ability to ride his shield legolas style downhill. This fun action has a few mini games tied to it, like the almost obligatory snowboarding down a giant mountain game. The stasis power allows Link to launch large objects into the air which is used in puzzles and mini games resembling a game of golf or bowling. I found sneaking up on horses to tame them a fun activity; of course there are horseback riding mini games as well, one in particular is a nightmare to control, not sure what happened there as past horse mini games aren't as finicky. The gameplay variety and fun activities are there but because this game is so open instead of finding new mini games ever few hours, it maybe 10-20 hours before you discover a new one, which is over in 15 minutes. The balance between the content they provide and the size of the game is way out of proportion. It’s not like there are way more mini games, I would say BOTW has about the same amount found in any 3D zelda, which is an issue when this game is about five times as large as any Zelda.

This sense of openness is extended to the puzzles and divine beasts which serve as the game's dungeons. Zelda games usually had strict puzzles where items were almost used as keys to gate progress. Now puzzles play out more like Portal than zelda, they are usually physics based and allow for experimentation and multiple solutions. I remember spending 10 minutes trying to build a bridge from a platform to a hidden chest high in a wall, it was a really intricate contraption I was making when I realized I was an idiot because the chest was made of metal so I could just control it with magnesis. Still those 10 minutes were my experience, my creativity being allowed to shine and I love that. I just wish the shrines that house all these puzzles weren't so short and simple. The puzzles never get too complex mostly because they are presented in a bite sized portions rather than a long continuing puzzle as seen in traditional dungeons. Still every time I found a shrine with a puzzle it felt like a reward in of itself and the sheer variety of puzzles is super impressive. It absolutely beats randomly generated crap caves found in so many games of this size.

Non linearity even finds its ways to BOTWs “dungeons” or divine beasts as they are known. Gone are dungeons specific items. Instead these beasts serve as complex puzzle structures where Link must activate 5 pedestals in order to activate the boss battle. The beast itself is a mechanical structure which Link gains the ability to manipulate in different ways according to the beast. On one hand this means every beast offers freedom on how to tackle each puzzle leading to the pedestals. On the other hand it means that in general all beasts have essentially the same structure. The magic of discovering a unique themed dungeon is now gone, replaced by generic copper toned walls with yellow gears and bland architecture. No more finding a brand new item which leads to new gameplay mechanics used in new kinds of puzzles and ultimately used against a giant boss. Instead you use the same four abilities you have been using since the start, granted the puzzles in the beasts are generally better than the ones in the shrines but it's nowhere near the complexity of past Zelda dungeons. The boss battles are not as memorable either because they all take the form of Ganon and are fought in the same way you battle every other foe in this game. They are not bad, they are great fights but not memorable in the way previous Zelda bosses were as they tied into the very fabric of the dungeon themselves.

The only required goal in BOTW is to infiltrate Hyrule Castle and kill Ganon. Now this can be done at any time and approached a ton of different ways from stealth, to simply flying over everything and landing at the final door. Or the way I did it, become a total overpowered badass and storm the gates. Finally epic music starts to play, the castle is a huge labyrinth filled with enemies, secrets, traps and great loot. It is like a Zelda location of old; there is purpose and drive, it’s exciting. It’s what should be found all over the world, why is there not more of this? Hyrule Castle and most of the end game (except for the terrible final form of Ganon, which is more of a cutscene than it is an actual fight) is great.

Nintendo took the criticism of Zelda having too much of a predictable pattern to heart, I bit too much for my liking. I get that for some players they want to be in total control of their experience. They don't want to go through a forced mini game, a forced stealth section, some don't even want to go through a dungeon. Some gamers value the minecraft style of sandbox gameplay with no direction more than a developer guided experience, for them this game is probably the greatest achievement in open world design. I can appreciate the freedom but I value more focused, well designed sections more than giant open spaces.

The lack of proper dungeons greatly hurts the experience for me as the dungeon was always the culmination of all the gameplay ideas and mechanics that came before. They were landmarks that clearly marked progression through the game. Without that I feel this Zelda loses those high marks where the gameplay and level design shine in ways that most games never reach. I hate to judge a game on what's not there rather than what is there, review the game not your expectation of the game, but I cannot properly explain my feelings on this game without detailing how important dungeons were to my zelda experience. Beasts are clearly not a worthy replacement as I never felt the magic I normally do in a good Zelda dungeon. It's almost ironic that the Zelda game that is most about exploration and discovery is the one where the dungeons, items and puzzles are the most repetitive.

There is a huge give and take going on with this game that I am shocked most reviews never even mentioned. Yes the gameplay is a massive improvement, it has modernized the Zelda formula in ways that other contemporaries will try to emulate. At the same time it removed the best designed moments the series is known for. The enemies are finally a danger with impressive AI that reacts and uses the physics system in neat ways. But this game might have the least enemy variety in a Zelda game in years. You will be fighting the same kinds of enemies (they change color to indicate they are tougher) over and over and over wondering where did all the classic Zelda enemies disappear to? The world is truly open and gargantuan in ways I never dreamed of. Yet it's filled with fun small diversions but not the meaty meaningful Zelda moments I am used too.

On the technical side we have a Zelda game that doesn’t run as smoothly as we are used to from Nintendo games. There is noticeable slowdown in any densely populated areas, now this has been alleviated with some patches but it’s not gone entirely. Strangely the game runs better in handheld mode where there is much less slowdown. Other than that it’s pretty much perfect, it's a game about the same size of a Bethesda game without any bad glitches. The graphics aren’t modern area great, there are some really poor textures but the artistry on display is magnificent. I was in awe of some of the vistas when standing at the peak of a large mountain. It’s a beautiful game with locations that are way more visually stimulating than most games of its kind.

I wish I could commend the music, I mean the actual orchestrated tracks are wonderful, when they play which is rare. This is a game where you will wander around for a hundred hours of mostly silence. The only ambient music comes in the form of a simple piano and inexplicably some xylophone sounding thing as you ride a horse. No catchy epic overworld theme. The battle music is not great and gets very repetitive. Each major town and region does have its own theme song, most are takes on classic songs and are well done. My favorite was hearing a remix of the final ganon dungeon from Zelda 1 as I climbed Death Mountain. I wish there was more of that all over. Oh I almost forget there is voice acting! The voice acting is only done in major story moments so most of the game is still the usual dialogue bubbles. The acting is serviceable, fine for what it sets out to accomplish which is to add some emotional weight to a rather dark Zelda story.


This is a tough game for me to judge because my expectations of what I expect from a Zelda game and what this game delivered are very far apart but that isn’t necessarily a negative, yet I can’t help but be disappointed. Still I played this game for 150 hours and after a month of playing it daily I was never bored. I never felt I was forcing myself to finish it. I never felt like taking a break, never had the urge to start playing something different. Breath of the Wild’s open world is compelling in a way no other open world is, where gameplay is everywhere, every single action you do affects something or leads to some random moment of gameplay that’s yours alone. This is so much more compelling to me than a big open world RPG focused mostly on story where you feel you are simply chasing points on a map to hear the next sob story from a peasant. There are no waypoints, no quest markers; exploration is all on you, the game is what you make of it and that is a beautiful thing.

The foundations for a new contemporary Zelda formula is now set, Nintendo can do great things going forward. But for me personally they have to get back to creating complex well designed dungeons and gameplay spaces. They need to cut back on the repetition and create a game which always has something new to do every hour or so. Breath of the Wild is a fantastic game not named Zelda, as a Zelda game it is a disappointment because this game does not focus on the aspects I love most about this series. The universal praise this game has gotten has confused me and quite frankly it's scary to me as I now see most people do not care about the aspects I do. Or are willing to ignore the glaring flaws this game has because of all the improvements to other areas. Breath of the Wild is the game this franchise needed in the context of its place in modern gaming, Zelda is back to being a leader in the genre. It's a great game but it's not the game I specifically wanted.

Posted by Dvader Sat, 06 May 2017 23:32:19
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Sun, 07 May 2017 06:40:07
I find your review 0.7 deficient!

A thoughtful and somewhat sad review. It's like you are letting someone leave you to go on to be happier.
 
Sun, 07 May 2017 09:03:33
Jesus Dvad, this review is bigger than the game. Lol
I really hope they go back to Metroid and try the same kind of bold direction shift as they did here. That would make the Switch worth buying for me.
 
Sun, 07 May 2017 13:50:50
9.3?! This is sac religious! Nyaa
 
Sun, 07 May 2017 15:22:23
So the take away is Horizon Zero Dawn is the better game.
 
Sun, 07 May 2017 17:06:10
Yeah to me. Horizon gets a lot more right even if it's not as ambitious.
 
Sun, 07 May 2017 19:48:15
Traaaaaiiiiiiiiitttoooooooorrr!!!!!!!!!!
 
Mon, 08 May 2017 16:00:20
This thread on gaf is fantastic.

http://m.neogaf.com/showthread.php?t=1370293&page=1

It has a bunch of opinions on the game now that time has passed. It's beloved by a ton but there are plenty of people with my point of view. It's healthy to see such debate on the game. I'm all over the thread countering those that say this is the best zelda.
 
Wed, 10 May 2017 19:29:14
I'm half half on it. I see it as Nu Zelda vs classic Zelda. It's still a great game regardless of convention. It could be better with normal dungeons but I can't imagine the amount of work that would take.
 
Wed, 10 May 2017 20:34:03
I need to get back to this.
 
Wed, 10 May 2017 22:53:54
I read your review a couple of days ago, but forgot most of it by now.

I really loved the basic gameplay, but the game needed more dungeons like the Yiga clan hideout.  Linear environments that culminate in a boss fight.  What I'd like to see for the next game is a similar template, but with true Zelda dungeons where there's a specific item in each dungeon like in traditional Zelda games, but where it's maybe restricted to that dungeon only as to not influence how you experience the overworld.

I think there's a strong argument for this not being the best Zelda game, but you've got to take in consideration that on average you'll spend 2-3 times as long with this game, and not a single moment of that time is unenjoyable.
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