Video Game Review: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

 

Details: Released by Nintendo in 2017 for the Switch and Wii U. Played the base game without any of the downloadable content. Played for around fifty hours on the Switch.

I’ve seen a lot of reviews for Breath of the Wild and the majority give it a perfect score. I think this game definitely does not deserve a perfect score. However, I do think it’s really, really fun. Breath of the Wild is an open world game that adopts many of the mechanics already well established in other popular open world games while making a few new additions of its own. Many of those additions are great. Some of them are not.

There won’t be any discussion of the story except whether it’s good or bad, but there will be discussion of game mechanics. I guess that’s sort of a spoiler in a game like Zelda.

Breath of the Wild takes place in Hyrule. You play as Link, a young hero who wakes up in a cave with no memory of who he is. From that cave you enter and explore the Kingdom of Hyrule and learn about your role in protecting the kingdom. It’s standard Zelda fare.

The strongest part about Breath of the Wild is the sense of wonder you get from discovery and exploration. The last time I felt this way was when I played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Like Skyrim, from the very beginning, you are given the freedom to go anywhere and do anything… after you complete the beginning tutorial area. After that though, you really do get to go anywhere and do anything.

There’s this sense of mystery the game conveys. Breath of the Wild never tells you too much about its world. It’s left for you to discover. For example, Breath of the Wild uses Assassin’s Creed’s patented exploration towers. That’s when you have to climb to a high point in order to reveal a portion of your map. Unlike Assassin’s Creed though, revealing a portion of the map in Breath of the Wild only reveals the topography of the area. It does not suddenly reveal dozens of icons symbolizing points of interest. Instead, you have to either look for points of interest visually from a distance and/or explore the areas up close yourself. The world is designed with this in mind. I appreciated this very much as it helped to maintain that sense of discovery that defines this game.

Furthermore, part of what makes the open world experience in Breath of the Wild unique is due largely to two unique game mechanics: climbing and how objects interact with each other within the game (or the chemistry system if you’ve been watching developer interviews).

Breath of the Wild allows the player to climb just about any surface. The freedom this allows in the game is extraordinary. See a random tree? You can climb it. See that mountain in the distance? You can climb it. See that castle in the middle of the map where the final boss lives? You can climb it right now. It’s a mechanic that is so freeing I wish other open world games would implement it. The freedom of the Batman Arkham games come close, but it’s more grappling than climbing. Assassin’s Creed also allows climbing, but it’s only permitted in certain place. Breath of the Wild allows it in almost every place. Just not the Shrines (which I’ll go into later). Additionally, there’s also a glider which makes traveling from high points fast and easy.

The system controlling physics and how certain objects interact with each other is unique in the depth that it provides. For example, almost anything made out of wood can burn. Grass can also burn, and when you burn grass you create an updraft which you can use to glide on and gain altitude. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Throughout the game, I kept discovering more and more fascinating ways to interact with the world. With that said, many of the game’s mechanics are largely unnecessary unless forced onto the player through solving Shrines or dungeons.

While discovery and exploration was the best part of the game, there are many parts which were not as great. Firstly, let’s talk about the dungeons and Shrines. A staple of the Zelda franchise is the dungeons. These are challenging areas filled with enemies and puzzles with some sort of unique artistic theme to them. Not counting downloadable content, there are only four main dungeons in the game. This is far less than in prior Zelda games and a bit of a disappointment. The existing four dungeons are fun, but also short and visually unexciting.

To help buttress this lack of dungeons, the game has around one hundred and twenty Shrines instead. Shrines are a sort of mini-dungeon. They’re very short in duration. Most either require solving a series of short puzzles or fighting a mini-boss. While the mini-boss shrines are not that difficult or unique, the puzzle shrines each have a unique puzzle that plays on a different game mechanic present in the game. The puzzles are great. However, I would’ve much preferred actual dungeons with themes and stories to them than over a hundred mini-puzzles. Furthermore, the Shrines all look the same. There’s no visual creativity or artistic uniqueness to any of them. That also detracts from the experience.

Another not so great part of the game is the new weapons system. All weapons in Breath of the Wild have a finite durability and will eventually shatter. You cannot repair any of them. The result is a system in which you are constantly swapping out broken weapons for new weapons that are in your inventory. It’s not as bad as it sounds since you’re constantly finding new weapons and I get why they would try something like this. In most open world/role-playing games your inventory fills up with weapons you don’t use and they clutter your menu. I can see Nintendo was possibly trying to address that. However, constantly looking for and swapping out weapons is needlessly annoying. Additionally, it takes the fun out of finding some mythical/unique weapon  because none of the weapons are special. They all inevitably break and disappear. Further, having to constantly go into menus is annoying. I rather spend more time exploring the world.

The weakest part of the game by far is the story… or should I say the lack of story. I won’t go into the plot, but there’s not much there. No twists or character development. It’s clear this game was made with gameplay in mind first, story a distant second. This is unfortunate for me because I value a good story about as much (if not more) than good gameplay.

In regards to visuals, the game looks great. It’s sort of cartoon-y yet realistc. It look like a mix of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. Unfortunately, I don’t think it looks as good as current generation games like Horizon: Zero Dawn, Assassin’s Creed: Origins, or even Witcher 3 which came out years ago. The fact of the matter is that Breath of the Wild was developed for the Wii U (a console about as powerful as the PS3 and Xbox 360) and then ported over to the Switch. Stylistically, the game looks good. On a technical level, the game is clearly inferior to the current generation of big budget open world games.

The game is also lacking in the audio department. I would characterize the music as deliberately forgettable. Most of my time in the game was spent wandering  around and, accordingly, most of my time in the game was without music. You only get some music when you’re in a town, dungeon, or in battle. Even when there is music, it’s very subtle with a heavy reliance on piano. It’s not something I’d listen to outside of the game. Further, there’s barely any voice acting in the game and when there is, it’s mostly during cut scenes. In this day and age, voice acting has become standard in video games and the lack of voice acting in Breath of the Wild hurts the immersion.

Something that needs to be said is about the size of the world and how empty much of it is. A big problem for open world games is the ratio at which you fill it with stuff. Too much stuff causes clutter and too little causes boredom. There are vast swaths of Breath of the Wild where there is either nothing to do or there is nothing meaningful to do (except collect a few of the nine hundred Korok seeds, ugh). The map could definitely have been smaller.

Also worth mentioning is that I ran into no bugs while playing this game, which is unheard of for an open world game of this size. I did have a lot of issues with the frame rate slowing down and stuttering.

Even with all these complaints, Breath of the Wild was a game I enjoyed very much. Most of these complaints were not meant to say that Breath of the Wild was a bad game, just that it was far from being a game deserving of a perfect score. If I were to come up with reasons why people are so in love with this game, it would probably be nostalgia and bias. Lots of people grew up loving Nintendo and Zelda and the idea of a decent Zelda game is enough to send them into the stratosphere. However, as someone who does not feel the need to get on my knees and perform fellatio on anything with a Nintendo logo on it, I can say that Breath of the Wild is a really fun game with a lot of flaws. I think if you took everything that is in this game and removed all the branding associated with Zelda and Nintendo, most people would feel the same way.

If you own a Switch, then buying this game is a no brainer. If you own a Wii U, you should know the Switch version looks better. If you don’t own a Switch, I’m not sure Breath of the Wild is worth the three hundred dollars for the Switch on top of the sixty dollar price tag for the game itself. I borrowed the game from someone I knew and played it on my roommate’s Switch. I probably wouldn’t have played the game otherwise.

In conclusion, Breath of the Wild has many cute dogs in it, but does not allow you to pet them. That’s why I give this game a 0/10. Just kidding.

Score: 8.4/10

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