OMG, you guys, did you see? Did you see the trailer for Breath of the Wild at the Nintendo Switch presentation? It looks so beautiful! The graphics look great and the music is soaring and the game actually has voice-acted characters now and Zelda’s design is sooooo good!!
Okay, yes. All of that is true. But I have some concerns.
Call me a pessimist here, but it’s been so long since we’ve had an open world Zelda game that I’m not entirely sure the devs know how to make it happen anymore. The past several games in the series, from Link to the Past to now, have had a semblance of open world, but overall they’ve been very guided experiences. Starting with Link’s Awakening, the design of the series has been pretty keenly focused on making a game with a linear path that has some meager sidequests sprinkled about.
That’s the sort of experience Zelda has become, sharpened to a keen edge and refined over the course of years, though with some occasionally mixed results.
The problem with open world games is that they tend to be overwhelming, and not in the “surmountable challenge” way. They usually are absolutely littered with icons or markers or notes of things that can be done, but make almost no effort in letting you know what should be done. It all ends up being a bit stressful. Tie that together with the length of time its taken to see a “true” Zelda game, and it all sounds like a recipe for an explosion.
This concern is further heightened by footage I’ve watched, which seems to shore up my worries about a lack of direction. I’m not exactly asking to be hand-held all the time, and I’m certainly not asking for the game to be a hallway, but a little more sense of what and where is important would go a long way towards shushing up that worry. Nothing I’ve seen so far appears to provide that.
It also seems like the activities themselves aren’t particularly deep, with the exception of the dungeons. Admittedly, the dungeons in other Zelda games are always the most memorable part as well, but I keep thinking back to the length of time it took me to sail to anywhere interesting in Wind Waker and end up groaning inwardly.
In fact, if people consider the Wind Waker’s chief gameplay, it pretty much affirms this stance. A forest is just an ocean of trees, after all, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to have to suffer through another quest where I have to track down a bunch of freaking shards.
There is a very compelling narrative possible in this game. Perhaps the most compelling the series has ever been capable of producing. But if that’s buried under a pile of sidequests, busywork and area unlock requirements, then I can’t be interested.
I can blame any number of games for this assumption. Skyrim; Final Fantasy XV; Just Cause 3; Dragon Age: Inquisition. All strong enough games, but all totally stuffed under gobs and gobs of repetitive sidequesting. If Final Fantasy XV has demonstrated anything, it’s that sometimes totally breaking the gameplay mold doesn’t work to your benefit. I will admit, though, a strong enough story is enough for me to see through that nonsense.
Of course, the proof is in the pudding, and I promise that I’m not trying to be a contrarian here. I’m just not seeing a lot of things that make me feel like Breath of the Wild is going to become a genuinely memorable game, and this is a series that tends to be held to a higher standard. In other words, this series always gets judged more harshly. Considering that this is, in my opinion, the only really large game the Switch has at launch, then that all adds up.
Do these concerns bother me enough to not play the game? Not really. I have, however, avoided Skyward Sword on the strength of greater assumption, and I’ll admit that I’m pretty gun-shy about what Breath of the Wild has shown. It’s not a killer enough app for me to get a Switch, and it’s release on Wii-U means I can eventually get to the game anyway.
I can’t say I’m not excited, but I also can’t say that I’m invested in the game’s launch either. Perhaps the better description is “very cautiously optimistic”. Perhaps I’m even overthinking this matter. I just desperately want Breath of the Wild to be really, really good and nothing that’s out now is convincing me it will be.