This article is incredibly spoiler heavy. Read at your own risk
When rumors that the next Zelda game would be an open world experience, I really had mixed feelings. While I was a big fan of previous open world games, the concept has been growing a bit stale over the last few years. Every popular game series seems to have been trending the way of the sandbox style open world experience. The Elder Scrolls and Grand Theft Auto games, which were already traditionally open world, started to enjoy company from Metal Gear Solid, Witcher, and Dragon Age. With open world games apparently becoming the standard in popular AAA titles, Nintendo decided to throw their floppy green hat into the ring with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
The mixed feelings were strong. On one hand, I’m a big Zelda fan, and I do love open world games when they’re done right. On the other hand, I’ve really grown tired of the objective based exploration where every task is “Go get me this item or kill this monster, follow this map marker, and come back to me.” After seeing E3 footage though, I was sure Nintendo was going to do a great job with a fresh take on the open world formula. And I wasn’t wrong. Breath of the Wild is the first game I’ve pre-ordered in years (other than Smash on 3DS, but that was a whim and wasn’t something I was REALLY looking forward to…so I don’t count it. Shut up, don’t judge me.) This was the first time I NEEDED a game on release since 2011’s Skyrim. I even went to the midnight release on a work night just to secure the game so I could get right to playing when I got home on Friday. And other than work, for nearly two weeks all I did was sleep and play Zelda.
This game hooked me like I haven’t been hooked on a game since the aforementioned Skyrim. The game has been out for more than two weeks at the time of this writing, so likely if you’re at all interested in Breath of the Wild, you will probably know most of the specifics. You play as Link, climb towers to fill in his map, mark distant locations when you’re scanning the landscape from a high vantage point, complete a few side quests and main missions, and generally explore to your heart’s content. This game is huge and one of the best games in the Zelda franchise. Breath of the Wild feels like a new experience, because Nintendo wanted to deviate from the older formulas that made up most console Zelda games, but at the same time, it still feels like a Zelda game. The quirky characters, enemies, art style, and world building all feel very familiar, while the gameplay is the aspect that makes the greatest change.
For the first time since the NES original, you’re essentially thrown into the world with only a small handful of hints to get you where you need to go and how to do things. No in game tutorials or hand holding here, you have to experiment and learn how to survive on your own. Sure, there are characters and quests that will teach you how to take certain actions or which way to go, but you usually have to seek these out on your own. It’s a BREATH of fresh air compared to other modern popular games.
The thing is, the game isn’t perfect. Upon launch day, review scores started trickling out and claiming things like “The best Zelda game ever.” Or “The best game of all time.” At one point, it was the top rated game on Metacritic. I don’t really know what goes into scoring on Metacritic other than a round up of big name review site scores. Eventually though, someone scored Breath of the Wild LOWER than everyone else, effectively RUINING it’s spot at the top of the heap. Games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 were now rated HIGHER, or something. I’ll be honest, I haven’t paid that much attention to that, because honestly I think review scores are basically bunk. Everyone is going to have a different experience and a different opinion on what is considered “good.” So, what if Breath of the Wild is the best rated game of all time? You liked it, right? And the thing is, it’s NOT perfect. No game ever is.
Where Breath of the Wild Could Have Improved
Breath of the Wild has several flaws, and some of these flaws are completely opinion based. Again, everyone has a different experience and a different opinion, and some of my flaws aren’t going to be what you may consider a flaw.
Frame Rate Issues
Breath of the Wild has frame rate issues. That being said, I am NOT usually a person that gets all up in arms about poor frame rate, if a game dips a few times, it’s usually something I can overlook. For whatever reason though, Breath of the Wild’s frame rate issues really bug me (I played through on Wii U, just as a point of importance I guess). If you’re in the thick of a battle in a forest, forget getting a normal 30 FPS out of the game. It gets choppy and jars you out of the immersion that the game is so good at drawing you into. The good thing about it though is that it rarely affects gameplay. You’re still able to input commands and the controls are still responsive despite the choppy visuals. Otherwise, the game looks fantastic. And even after briefly messing around on my buddy Derik Moore’s Switch, the Wii U version doesn’t look any worse than it’s bigger and better console cousin. The frame rate seems to be the only real issue between versions.
Lack of Enemy Types
The spread of enemies in Breath of the Wild seems weirdly lacking. Everywhere you go across the massively diverse landscapes, you are pretty much always fighting the same enemy types. Octoroks, Lizalfos, Bokoblins, Moblins, Chuchus, and Keese. Sure, the occasional miniboss will pop up, and even the Yiga Clan crazies will appear from time to time, but for the most part, you’re seeing the same enemy types throughout the entire journey.
What I loved about previous Zelda games was the differing enemy types based on the landscape. You’d run into leevers, moldorms, or lanmolas in desert like locations, tektikes in mountainous areas, redeads, gibdos, or like likes in a graveyard or wasteland. The only real region specific enemies in Breath of the Wild are the different elemental Keese and Chuchus. Fire on death mountain, ice in snow areas, and electric during storms or in the desert. I do understand, though. This is a huge game, and the way combat works, it may throw some imbalance into combat or just extra things the developers would have to consider in this already huge game.
But why not more boss enemies? In each of the four divine beast dungeons, you end up fighting some variation on a Ganon form. They’re really fun and inventive fights, but come on, Nintendo couldn’t have stuck in a Horsehead or a Gleeok or some other underused boss from previous games? Maybe some of these could have been included as “world bosses.” Bigger bosses than the mini bosses that already dot the landscape, and entirely optional. How cool would it be if every 4th day a Gleeok appears somewhere in Hyrule and defeating him gives you an extra heart container or an exclusive armor piece? A boy can dream, and hey, there is still DLC to come. Make it happen, Nintendo.
The dungeons in Breath of the Wild come in the form of four gigantic ancient mechanical beasts and 120 short Sheikah shrines. The four divine beasts are mostly puzzle based dungeons and are a lot of fun to complete. The 120 Sheikah shrines are also mostly puzzle based, but with some combat trials mixed in. The shrines are also very well put together and fun to figure out. You don’t feel like any of the shrines, save for the combat trials, are complete copies of one another. The developers did an amazing job coming up with so many unique puzzles with the toolset that Link has at his disposal. But there are no sprawling underground labyrinths like in previous Zelda games.
I get it, Nintendo wanted the exploration to be focused on the “wild” of Breath of the Wild. The great outdoors is the main focus of this game, and the included micro dungeons are there to break up the exploration and give the player more to see. But dammit, I really do miss getting lost in an ancient dungeon underground, fighting battles with tons of enemies and solving puzzles along the way. There are a few giant mazes to explore, however, and those do scratch the dungeon itch to a degree, but they don’t have a lot of personality, and they’re largely kind of boring to trek through after a bit.
Where Breath of the Wild Excelled
The point is that if a game is going to be “PERFECT”, there can be no flaws. And because one aspect of a game can be a failure to one person and strength to another, “perfect” is not really attainable. Despite these perceived flaws, this game is still amazing and I’ve still had an incredible time playing. But I don’t want to just write an article about Breath of the Wild without raving about some of my favorite aspects. So no, I’m not just here to bitch about some minor issues I have with the game. I’m here to talk about some of the stuff I loved too.
Weapon System and Combat
I love how weapons break in this game. Wait. What? Everyone is constantly griping about how weapons break so quickly in this game. I think it works great. The weapon system works in such a way that it never lets you get too powerful early, and also doesn’t allow you to lag behind for too long. There are weapons EVERYWHERE, and they’re usually scaled appropriately to the enemies you are facing. So you shouldn’t ever feel like you need to save a weapon for a special occasion. If I find myself in an enemy encampment and my weapon is about to break, I throw that thing at the closest enemy, which usually knocks them down and dislodges their own weapon. I then grab the dropped enemy weapon, be it something decent like a broadsword, or something kinda crappy like a boat oar or a mop, and just go to town. It’s fun! It makes things a bit more chaotic in a good way. And if I can’t scramble after an enemy’s weapon, I always have at least SOMETHING in my inventory to help out.
Now, early on, it can be a little hard to keep a weapon inventory when all you really have at your disposal are tree branches and bokoblin clubs. But I found that after adventuring around a bit and killing off enemies with Sheikah Slate powers or by using environmental hazards, I could stock up a bit. That way I wouldn’t be short a weapon when I really needed it. Additionally, the ability to “perfect dodge” and use your weapons to the maximum potential works wonders as well. You need to learn how to fight without tearing up your weapons too quickly. The weapon system adds an extra element of planning and combat tactics to Breath of the Wild that hadn’t been seen in previous Zelda games. I absolutely love it.
References to Old Games
One of the most fun parts about Breath of the Wild to me was filling in the map, and in filling in the map, I’d find geographic areas named after regions, people, or even monsters from the older Zelda games. There are town ruins all over the map. Mabe village was a thing in Hyrule prior to the calamity? That’s awesome! Mabe village was the village where Link starts his adventure in Link’s Awakening. You can even travel to Koholit Point, Toronbo Beach, and Ukuku Plains, all locations in the original Game Boy title. Linebeck Island also appears, which is a reference to the character from Phantom Hourglass. There are bridges named after a few of the boss monsters from the very first Zelda game, Manhandla, Dodongo, and Gleeok.
Beyond map names, the Sheikah shrine music sounds strangely similar to some of the recurring dungeon themes from Link’s Awakening. When you travel through Death Mountain, the ominous piano music is lifted directly from Level 9’s theme from the original Legend of Zelda. You may say “So What? Zelda games use old music all the time.” Yeah, but when was the last time you heard the Level 9 Death Mountain music?
Also, while I complained about the lack of enemy types earlier, I will say that I was incredibly surprised at the types of enemies they tagged as mini boss characters. Lynel and Hinox? Really? I was so excited to see these two in a 3D game. I may be mistaken, but neither has really shown up in a traditional 3D Zelda game to date, and wow, they were executed perfectly. During the first Hinox battle, I was stunned. I started creeping up on this giant moblin looking character, and then when he rose from his slumber and started lumbering toward me, I knew what he was, even before his name appeared onscreen. The giant one eyed monster was even more imposing than he was in his first appearance in Link to the Past.
The fight with the Lynel was even more surprising. These guys were scary as hell during my first trek through Hyrule as a kid. What I found interesting was that the first Lynel I encountered in Breath of the Wild required me to climb a waterfall, and the task was to get an upgraded weapon by defeating or sneaking around him. In most player’s first experience with the Lynel in the original Legend of Zelda, this is pretty damn close to the same experience. You climb a staircase next to a waterfall and must defeat the Lynel or sneak around it to get to the cave with the White Sword. Coincidence? No. Throwback to the original game? VERY likely.
The best part about Breath of the Wild is the exploration. Well, yeah. It has to be. That’s what the entire game is built around. While some players have mentioned the game feels barren, I can kinda see that. The thing is, the game isn’t really for EVERYONE. I like the long walks in the countryside. Just when things start to look like you’re not getting anywhere, you find something. The ability to use higher vantage points to scan the landscape for important landmarks is important and more fulfilling. The way that the game doesn’t mark waypoints for you in side quests and shrine missions give you a better sense of accomplishment when you find your objective.
The different regions within Breath of the Wild all mesh together very well. Travelling from one biome to another never feels jarring. The transition from a green plain melds into a vast desert without much issue. The use of mountain ranges to split these up helps a lot too, and the fact that you can climb each of these mountains and find things on top is amazing as well. You’ll almost always find a hiding Korok or a treasure chest or some other secret at the peaks of the mountains. Everywhere you go can and will reward you.
Breath of the Wild is probably the best game I’ve played in years. It’s the most excited I’ve gotten about a new game since Skyrim was released, as I mentioned earlier. Nintendo really knocked it out of the park. If you have a Wii U, go out and get it. If you don’t have a Wii U, go grab one or a new Nintendo Switch and play away. You won’t regret it.