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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch) artwork

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch) review


"Longer lasting flavor"


The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch) image

Take a franchise like Zelda and strip its set order of progression. Gone is the requisite sequence dungeons must be completed. Gone is the involved mathematical equation that must be applied for gathering tools and accumulating skills. Remember how you had to engage in global trade to snag the Biggoron sword in Ocarina of Time or the boomerang in Linkís Awakening? We donít need any of that here, and itís because that formulaic system of experiencing events in pre-defined succession has gotten quite frankly cumbersome. If you want a bastard sword or a boomerang to toss around, you should be able to look for one as it suits you, happily nabbing whatever worthwhile loot you happen to stumble upon across the way.

Challenges should also be open for attempting at any point in time. What I wouldnít give to turn back the clock like it was 1998 but apply modern open-world gaming conventions to experience the Forest Temple without ever having to leave the Lost Woods. To me that would have been more than a matter of personal convenience, it would have been striking off the beaten path despite everyoneís warning that perhaps this would be a challenge too great for kid Link. But at least I could know what heís made of before having to wait for him to grow up.

Link comes of age . . . a hundred years later.

So letís talk about Breath of the Wild and why itís such a breath of fresh air for a series that has felt stagnant for a while. After being in a deep sleep for a hundred years, Link awakens with little more than the shirt on his back. Not the most auspicious start for a hero whose reputation precedes him. It would be reasonable to believe that he wonít be able to do much thanks to his perceived lack of abilities and implied muscular atrophy.

Looks are deceiving! Link can go just about anywhere at once. See those mountains off in the distance? Link can go there. Big rocky wall staring him in the face? No big deal, scale its edifice by pushing up on the L-stick. A stamina wheel will clearly display how much grip remains, providing a visual aid to strategically scale even the most seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Oh sure, there are more hazardous environs that will punish Link for stepping foot in their confines unprepared. He will need the help of elemental armor or potions if he hopes to stay on the livelier side of dead, but then no one ever said adventuring is easy. Thereís a risk to reward ratio that Breath of the Wild employs masterfully.

Nintendo seems to have taken a page out of their playbook and realized there is value to taking the Zelda series back to its beginning, at least as far as open world freedom goes. Do away with the linearity, the clever though limiting barriers to exploration, and put it in one vast and varied world. There are so many treasures to collect and corners to explore. Link can deploy an arsenal. From swords to axes to spears to bows to boomerangs to magic wands. These weapons break down over time Ė it seems almost unfair at first Ė but fallen foes often drop new armaments and weapons are never that hard to find.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch) image

Itís so nice being required to use multiple different weapon sets, each of which have their own feel and finesse. Iím not one to prefer donning heavy-hitting hammers, but there were times in Breath of the Wild where I had to have Link use them if he had any hope of besting the foes at hand. On my file, Link has a nice assortment of flaming swords, electrical tridents, punishing cudgels, and soft-glowing electric blue blades. He can choose from a bow that can fire three shots at once at 20 damage each or one that can fire five shots at once for 15 damage each. Itís nice to have so much variety on how to kill things.

Of course, combat isnít what makes Zelda games as fun as they are. Breath of the Wildís crown achievement is exploration and this is no more apparent than in the 120 mini dungeons scattered across the land. Toting a special ďSheikah SlateĒ that allows him to unlock these shrines (it also doubles as a compendium / inventory management interface), Link is compelled to delve into trials of puzzle-solving and combat in order to gain spiritual orbs that can be cashed in for permanent increases to his stamina meter and heart containers.

At first it seemed a little disappointing that, in a franchise known for its dungeons, the shrines here are relatively short. Most can be bested in a few minutes. But thatís OK because, again, Breath of the Wild is all about pacing and fulfilling a sense of wonder. And when there are 120 of these mini-dungeons to potentially explore, you begin to understand why you donít want each one to take an hour or more to get through.

The very first shrines Link must tackle offer up some of the most important loot available in the form of runes, handy techniques that can be employed at any time in almost any type of situation. Link is no longer bound to a finite supply of bombs or limiting magic meter. Conjure up as many bombs as you want (they come in round and square sizes, joy!). Canít move the pesky rubble blocking your path with a well-placed explosion? Try to move the debris with magnetism or build-up kinetic energy by stopping time. Freeze water if youíd rather stand than swim.

And then of course there are vast and varied healing items, buffs, and raw materials used for cooking and crafting. None of these inclusions are complex. Link cannot fish in Breath of the Wild, a fact that initially surprised me. Well, he can fish with bombs or by running up to a fish and pressing a button fast enough before the fish swims away. But he is given no rod to use. Thatís fine. This Zelda isnít trying to ape Final Fantasy XVís excellent fishing mini-game, and it doesnít want you to stand around waiting for the fish to bite anyway. Instead, it wants you to collect fish as streamlined as possible, forage for mushrooms and veggies, slay game for meat, and collect an assortment of monster parts and minerals to fulfill all sorts of recipes and elixirs.

As a whole, Breath of the Wild is vast, varied, and quite a joy to behold. It lets you do whatever you want however you want! Thatís great!

Now letís talk about why all this is a problem.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch) image

In Breath of the Wild, the focus is really wherever you deem appropriate. If you want to go across the land and devote Linkís time and energy to finding all 900 Korok seeds to max out Linkís inventory slots, by all means, scour the land. Or, if you want to farm rare components for making powerful arrows or to upgrade Linkís unique armor sets to max stats, then by all means, do that! Maybe you just want to take a leisurely stroll and take on challenges as you stumble upon them. Itís nice to do what you want when you want how you want. But it also takes the prerogative off of paying attention to the main questís storyline. Scarcely has a Zelda gameís main game ever felt like such a chore.

Zelda games rarely deviate from their tried and true formula of ďbad guy rises, go save the landĒ. Itís no different in Breath of the Wild, but it is disappointing that the storyline can be neglected to the point of irrelevance. Hyrule is supposed to be amok with danger, and I suppose it is, but Link has to go to the danger. The danger doesnít come to him, and donít let the random bat migration or ninja bandit try and convince you otherwise.

Ganon is once more the center of all the problems in Hyrule. This time is so-called calamitous form! But he doesnít do anything other than menacingly swirl around Hyrule Castle. Heís such an after-thought that there are still inns in operation within sight of his gaze and wandering merchants crisscrossing the land. Thereís an economy still at work, a society still functioning, and an array of cultures still living in their own lands relatively unscathed from all the action channeled on the center of the map. Here, thereís no rush to fight against the evil plaguing the land. Go at it at your own pace, Link, and get to it when it suits you.

Contrast that to a game like Far Cry 5 that forces you to progress through the main game, even if you are having too much fun liberating outposts and exploring wild Montana. Periodically, the main quest will interrupt what youíre doing to remind you that there is a sense of urgency to experiencing the plot unfold. Hereís a story sequence and a mission you must complete. This is something that Breath of the Wild should have employed somehow, some way, to give actual context to whatís happening behind the scenes while Linkís busy paragliding from one scenic vista to another.

Is it a crippling fault to the game? Not at all. But I shouldnít have to play a game a certain way to max out its potential. I had droves of enjoyment doing all the things that Breath of the Wild allows Link to experience. There would be more value to have if the main quest wasnít so lackluster. Compare the open world shown here to the ones presented in other franchises. Zelda should be able to employ the imaginative mythological fantasy of a Skyrim, the complex historical context of an Assassinís Creed, and the ruthless back and forth struggle of a Far Cry 5. It succeeds as a comparison to one, does an OK job at another, and totally fails on the last.

Instead of simply throwing more! more! more! into Breath of the Wild, Nintendo should have looked to include meaningful content to its main game rather than the shoehorned effort seen here. I wonít remember Link collecting more than a handful of the first 322 Korok seeds he finds. And youíre telling me Iím barely a third of the way there? On the flip side, the supporting characters, their atrocious script and lackluster voice acting, the ham-handed plot progression, and criminally short main dungeons are strikes to keep Breath of the Wild from being the absolute best Zelda game in the franchise. As it stands, itís merely very good thanks to its sound mechanics, gorgeous graphics, and compelling world exploration in spite of its uninspired primary campaign.

Give Link a quest worthy of his time, Nintendo. A hundred years is a long time to wait.

4/5

Fiddlesticks's avatar
Featured community review by Fiddlesticks (April 18, 2018)

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honestgamer posted April 18, 2018:

Your review makes it sound like your concerns with the narrative aren't addressed within the game, but they are with exemplary efficiency. So here's a spoiler warning and a summary of the salient plot points, in case you or anyone else finds it helpful.

As the game opens, Link awakens from a 100-years slumber in a regenerative pool in a remote cave known as the Shrine of Resurrection. He has no real memory of what brought him to that point, but soon learns Ganon and Zelda are locked in a battle at Hyrule Castle that has been waging since Link was defeated decades ago and carried to his resting place. The fact that this intense struggle has been going on for literally generations is the only reason Hyrule isn't in far worse shape, and yet the battle can't continue indefinitely. The expectation is that eventually Ganon will persevere and the freedom that wins him will spell the end for everyone. At the moment, Ganon is otherwise occupied and at his most vulnerable. But he's still not nearly vulnerable enough. With the four heroes defeated during the same battle that felled Link, there's literally nothing any other individual or army is equipped to do about the situation until Link powers up significantly. Faced with that potentially hopeless situation, the common people of Hyrule do the only thing that makes sense: they live their lives, despite the figurative--and if they're close enough, literal--cloud hanging over their heads for a period of multiple generations. When Link revives, he COULD go right to Gannon, where the virtually guaranteed outcome is that he will lose (he doesn't even have the Master Sword, which is usually an ingredient for success, though it wasn't enough to save him in the previous duel)... or he could take advantage of Zelda's continuing struggle and use the relative leisure it provides to explore the world and power up (chiefly by meeting with spirits at a slew of shrines, but also by meeting with the spirits of the four slain guardians, who have gone on the rampage because of Ganon's corruption) so he can finally defeat Ganon. Since Link is not the world's biggest moron (except maybe when he's being controlled by daring speed runners), he goes with the sensible latter option.

All of this is addressed in-game, without requiring players to look to outside context such as an instruction manual or some random online forum. This plot facilitates Breath of the Wild's ability to be the beautiful, liberating experience it is, while remaining true to the spirit of Zelda. I have a devil of a time faulting it.
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Fiddlesticks posted April 18, 2018:

I'm sorry we don't agree on the merit of the game's main quest. Breath of the Wild is pretty awesome, as evidenced by the rating I gave it. If you want me to give it a higher score and not point out the issues I had with the game, I don't know what to tell you.
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EmP posted April 18, 2018:

I don't know why, but I can just picture Jason sitting bolt upright in the middle of a family meal and yelling "Someone's badmouthing Nintendo!" before running towards the nearest computer.
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honestgamer posted April 18, 2018:

If you want me to give it a higher score and not point out the issues I had with the game, I don't know what to tell you.

I want neither of those things because: 1) the score you awarded the game seems to match your honest impressions; 2) it would be absurd to argue that reviews shouldn't point out issues within the games they critique.

My goal isn't to quash subjectivity, which I view as the lifeblood of critical analysis. Your review makes a pretty big deal out of the notion that the game doesn't address a key point when it memorably does address that point on multiple occasions. Because of how the game's plot is structured and key points are revealed, though, I wasn't certain you experienced some of the relevant content. I was more than 100 hours into my own adventure before I did, as I recall.

I typed my post up on a lunch break and that meant I was in too much of a hurry as I tried to point out some of the pieces you might have missed and how they fit together. I probably should have done so later, and privately rather than in public. That way, you could have decided whether you wanted to take any of that information on board without the whole affair feeling like a confrontation.

I apologize both for my lack of tact, and for not mentioning something that was also on my mind at the time I composed my post: though I disagree with parts of it, there's a lot about your review that I think is very good indeed. Thank you for sharing it, and I'm sorry for any behavior of mine that in this case soured what I earnestly hope is usually a positive experience.
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hastypixels posted April 18, 2018:

I can see what you mean about the lack of mythology in a game rife with it. There are a couple of journals, but BotW is exceedingly light in the reading department. I'll give you that, and while you may not have enjoyed the cutscenes, I'll also agree I wanted to see more of the characters, and not just Zelda.

I'll agree with Jason, though, that using a short story style presentation, they gave the player all the necessary information to play and didn't overwhelm them. That is a fine are in and of itself that most developers fail to achieve. Half Life 2 was a seminal experience for me in that regard, and it is a rare event to see it pulled off so seamlessly.

Nintendo had one purpose with BotW, though they probably didn't realize that until late in development: Prop up the Switch. It was the system seller it needed to be, and accessible to larger audience than the franchise has enjoyed in decades. The last time I enjoyed a LoZ game was Wind Waker, and... no, I won't be punning there.

The point is that it may not have satisfied everyone, it did what it needed to, and now Nintendo has the chance to give us the game they want to, instead of figuring out how to save their gaming platform. I'm glad you have nitpicks with BotW, it means the franchise has expansion room.

Let's just hope it doesn't take them ten years to produce the next one.
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Fiddlesticks posted April 19, 2018:

Honestgamer, thanks for the follow-up and apology, though it's not necessary as long as I know you're not trying to give me a hard time for having a different experience with a game you really like. Let's talk about Breath of the Wild. And of course, spoilers will abound.

So, I don't really have an issue with the plot premise. I think it's endearing and appropriate that such a complex game employ a simple set-up. I don't want a convoluted storyline for a Zelda title either, and I don't require it to make explicit all its lore. I love Dark Souls 3 because how well it builds its world and invites me to learn more about it through its secrets and minor touches. BotW's lore wasn't quite as interesting for me.

I would like Calamity Ganon, or his agents, and the supporting army of darkness to be given a task. I get King Rhoam's introduction and all the various memories and monologues that characters such as Impa and the champions and their live counterparts employ. But ultimately, I began to get pretty tired of hearing people introducing themselves to Link as so-and-so from a hundred years ago, or "hey, you have a Sheikah Slate, you must be important." The game's writing just didn't enthuse me. I thought that the voice acting was terrible.

I also feel there was a missed opportunity in how the Divine Beasts were utilized. Outside of the salamander on Death Mountain who occasionally rains lava balls on Link as he's traveling around Goron City, I didn't think they posed much of a threat despite the locals claiming contrary.

I'm not even sure how the bird was a danger, as it just seemed to fly lackadaisically over Rito Village. Did I miss some piece of monologue from a character explaining why this is a problem? Probably, because that was the last Divine Beast I attempted and at that point in the game I was pressing through the text as quickly as possible to get to something more interesting.

As for the other beasts, I thought their abilities to commit problems was sorely under-utilized. The camel was far off in the desert and only conjured lightning strikes if Link ventured near, and the elephant with its threat of bursting the dam that would flood out the Zora seemed genuine until, from my assessment of the in-game situation, came to realize that it didnít matter how long I took in boarding it because this game isnít on a time limit.

Thatís really my biggest issue with the game. There are so many wonderfully realized and extensive areas to explore, so many things to do, see, and collect, that they truly crowd out the real reason why Link is exploring them in the first place Ė to save the land and the princess.

Thereís no sense of urgency. No threat that if Link doesnít do Task X by Moment Y that it will have genuine consequences on someone or something in the context of the game. Even without employing game-changing consequences, it would have been nice for the gameís pacing to portray that more effectively than it did for me. All the enemies idly wait for Link to come to them. I suppose itís nice knowing I can take my time in how I approach going through the game, but whereís the genuine danger if there is no real consequence for me deciding that for the next couple in-game weeks, Iím going to whip out a guide and focus on finding koroks. How can I rationalize walking away from the task of saving Zelda as having a consequence when at no point my experience proved otherwise?

Between all the things going on in my life, I will admit it takes a lot for me to be invested in a video game's story, so it better intrigue me up front. Unfortunately BotW didn't do that for me in spite of all the other wonderful things it so expertly manages to provide. Itís a great game, but I felt it could have been better.

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