A lot has been said about Breath of the Wild these last few weeks. Some call it one of the best games to ever release, others say it's a game that doesn't live up to its inflated hype, making what is otherwise a standard open-world game into something greater than it actually is. Regardless of which stance I took, I don't think I'd be able to say anything truly different about the game. Regardless of your personal opinion on the game (and at this point, everyone most likely already has one), the latest Zelda title has more than secured its spot in the history books as one of the most critically acclaimed titles of all time. I'm just another voice adding to the dialogue.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an open world Zelda game. More importantly, Breath of the Wild is a free-form adventure. From the very first moments of stepping out of the game's opening cave, player's are given almost unparalleled freedom to do what they please. Besides being locked to the Great Plateau until completing enough of its challenges that the game considers you ready to embark, Breath of the Wild features almost no tutorials. Even when the game does try and goad you along the right path, it just subtly guides you rather than spelling things out.
Everything you need to know in order to progress anywhere in the game is taught in the beginning hours. From that point onward, you're free to explore the world to your heart's content. With all the powers of the Shiekah Slate, players are tasked with solving puzzles found throughout both the world proper and various puzzle or combat-filled Shiekah Shrines in order to progress as a character. There is a story in Breath of the Wild, but unless players want to actively go out of their way to search for it, its impact on the gameplay is minimal at best. Heck, players can skip out on the majority of the game's story by heading directly to the final boss after leaving the Great Plateau. It's not something I'd personally recommend since you're almost certain to get your butt handed to you, but it's an option nonetheless.
I mentioned that players have access to all the tools that they need to complete the game's myriad puzzles from the get-go, and this may initially be jarring for longtime fans of the series. Two types of bombs, the ability to move metallic items, the ability to freeze water and other liquid substances into pillars of ice, and the ability to freeze objects in place for a period of time as well as charging said objects with energy, to propel them one way or another once they start moving again are all the constant items that Link has at his disposal. Between these, uses of Link's bow skills, and some specific weapons, players can clear every puzzle in the game. It's worth noting that for puzzles that require auxiliary items (such as a torch, or a Deku leaf, or even a bow and arrows) both shrines and environmental puzzles tend to provide whatever you might need.
As a result, Breath of the Wild's limiting factor for the majority of its puzzles isn't so much what you can do, but rather what you think/know you can do. Even if you've been using your toolset for thirty hours, you'll still be discovering things that you can with each of your tools even that far into the game if my experience was anything to go by. To that end arriving at many shrines is a puzzle, with a good portion of them locked behind a "shrine quest" with either a puzzle or some riddle guiding your way. Now shrines aren't truly a new concept - Zelda has always had puzzles in the overworld hiding things like Pieces of Heart - but the variety of different challenges that they offer, as well as their uses as fast-travel points, help make them feel unique. Outside of shrines players are constantly finding Korok's and their seeds in the overworld, which - while not quite as varied as the puzzles found inside of or while searching for shrines, still help populate the world with things to do and see. Besides just puzzles, Link can also gather a variety of materials and mount wild animals such as horses, deer, and even bears. Horses you especially like can be brought to one of the world's many stables for safe keeping and then customized to the heart's content.
Similar to Link's tools, Breath of the Wild's combat takes the approach of being simple on the surface but also having plenty of depth for players that are wont to search for it. Weapon degradation has been one of the primary complaints against Breath of the Wild as a whole, and I can certainly see the concerns. However, I can also see the merits of the equally common defense of the system, that being that the mechanic forces players to look at combat encounters outside of the box, and only use weapons when completely necessary. For most encounters, you absolutely do not need to charge into a situation "guns blazing" and attempt to take on a group of enemies with your sword and shield. Little wrinkles such as metal equipment attracting lightning in a thunderstorm, or wooden weapons catching fire near Death Mountain also help make sure that combat in this world feels dynamic.
I'd like to take this moment to stress just how fantastic Breath of the Wild is when you can lose yourself in its world. I'd recommend to everyone playing the game to turn on the Pro HUD options if they haven't already, and for new players to turn it on once leaving the Great Plateau. The attention to detail that Breath of the Wild has is absolutely staggering. At the best of times, the game feels less like a game and more like a gigantic, immersive adventure. It's absolutely best to tackle the game, just exploring the world. For the first half of the game, traveling across Hyrule consisted of some of my favorite memories of playing a video game. Not sure of what I was going to find, and always having to be on edge since I wasn't quite sure if I was ready to tackle the next challenge, Zelda's game world led to some amazing adventure's that would be rude for me to spoil for anyone that has yet to play the game.
However, between a lack of enemy variety and a flatlining difficulty, the game does rapidly begin to lose steam near the halfway point of the story. It got to the point where I originally decided to tackle Hyrule Castle and beat the game after only having cleared 3 of the game's 4 dungeons and collecting the Master Sword. I did end up clearing the last remaining dungeon in the end, but I feel like it's worth mentioning the fact that Zelda's magic does begin to wear thin after a while. I suppose it is almost impossible to design an open-world game so it is always difficult, but also allows for players to tackle it in almost any direction. Thinking about it, I can't help but feel that this realization is the biggest reason why weapon degradation was a thing. If it wasn't, the game would lose almost any semblance of difficulty after only the first dungeon.
It's not only the difficulty that begins to feel a bit stale around the halfway point as well. Between 100+ shrines and 900 Korok seeds, some puzzles were going to be repeated, though I really wish they hadn't. Once your inventory has been upgraded a certain amount of times, gathering Korok seeds becomes nothing more than a chore. The combination of shrines repeating their challenges and every shrine having a very similar aesthetic meant that after a while, exploration loses some of its luster. Thankfully, it feels like Nintendo realized that shrines would eventually lose their luster if all they gave were spirit orbs, so a good portion of shrines also have chests containing other useful items. I just wish that Nintendo hadn't made it nearly as obvious that every stable in the game had a corresponding shrine nearby. For making travel easier, I can see the reason, but the game is at its best when it doesn't feel like you're playing a game, and as much of a nitpick as it might seem this definitely "took me out" of the game every time I noticed it.
With all that being said, even if Breath of the Wild's magic begins to wear off halfway through I can't truly say that it loses the magic entirely. Even at its worst, Breath of the Wild is a fantastic game, albeit with some flaws of its own. At it's best? The latest Zelda is the best game that I've played in years. I feel like many of my problems with the game will be fixed as the game's DLC releases throughout the year, but even then Breath of the Wild doesn't in any way feel incomplete. If you have either a Wii U or a Switch, you absolutely owe it to yourself to play this game.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a copy purchased by the reviewer. It is also available on Wii U.
- Absurd Attention to Detail
- Filled with Reasons to Explore
- Loads of Content
- Inconsistent Difficulty
- Lack of Enemy Variety