Breath of the Wild
A revolutionary modern masterpiece that sets the bar for open-world games.
4th April 2017
Despite my ongoing love with The Legend of Zelda series, there is no denying that the series had become just a little formulaic. I may have bit a little harsh when I reviewed Skyward Sword, but that's simply because I overhyped myself for it and it wasn't the game I wanted it to be.
Nintendo does have a tendency to "over-correct" criticisms of the last Zelda game - Majora's Mask was seen as "too dark", so they made Wind Waker bright, colourful and cartoony. When this was criticised, they went the opposite direction and made Twilight Princess rather muddy and brown. This too, was seen as too far, and then they managed to get the graphical balance right in Skyward Sword. But, Twilight Princess was also criticised for having a large but featureless world, which was a very valid criticism. So they overcompensated with Skyward Sword and made a very interesting world, but it was really far too small, and made the second half of the game a disappointing trek across a world you had already seen.
With Breath of the Wild, they have kept everything that Skyward Sword did right and blown it up a thousand times. Breath of the Wild's world is huge. Like, absolutely enormous. But, unlike Twilight Princess, almost every nook and cranny has a secret, whether it's a shrine, a boss enemy, or simply a small puzzle that rewards you with a Korok seed - everything in this enormous world is beautifully handcrafted, and it knocks all previous iterations out of the park. Breath of the Wild's Hyrule is the definitive Hyrule.
Skyward Sword also introduced some new gameplay elements that enhanced the traditional Zelda experience, and they've been built and improved in Breath of the Wild too. Stamina, crafting and survival and now much more important and fleshed out than ever before and they mesh into the game world perfectly.
Additionally it carries over the excellent characterisation from Skyward Sword. Whilst it is true in all Zelda games that the narrative is driven by the characters rather than the plot - which is all too often tropey and clichéd - nowhere is this more true than Breath of the Wild, the entire plot of which takes place in the past, told through memories, and the current day plot being pretty much "Link dicks about in Hyrule for months instead of fighting Ganon". The voice acting is... mixed, to say the least, but it doesn't detract from the dialogue.
Despite all of the improvements over Skyward Sword, there are a lot of flaws. And I do mean a lot. The absolute worst offender is the framerate. Although it is mostly fine and smooth, the second you enter a town - Kakariko being the main offender - and it's pretty distrcting and takes you out of what is otherwise an incredibly immersive experience. Others online have also complained of excessive lag when attacking a certain enemy, which in the ~70 hours I have played I have not experienced, but I've only explored around half the map, so it could still happen.
And speaking of enemies, they are very limited. There are basically three main types of standard enemy - Bokoblins, Moblins and Lizalflos - plus the occasional ChuChu, Keese and Octorok, but they're so irrelevant it seems hardly worth mentioning. Oh, and there are about three Wizzrobes floating around, but they're incredibly rare. Where are the great variety of Zelda enemies we've seen in the past, like Poes, Wolfos (they would fit in perfectly in the wilderness!), Darknuts and Iron Knuckles, Deku Babas, Redeads, Wallmasters...? I could go on. That being said, the enemy AI is hugely improved, and just watching them interact with each other is fun - they hunt sheep, get into fights and arguments with eachother, and have what look like deep and meaningful conversation, right before you storm their camp. They even get upset when you steal their weapons.
There are, however, four types of miniboss that scatter around the map. The first are the destructive and terrifying Guardians, which take rather a long time to beat until you obtain a certain item or just really stick at it. The second and third - Hinox and Talus - are classic Zelda enemies that you have to defeat by exploiting their obvious weak points. And then you come to the god damned Lynels. These bastards are an absolute pain to kill. I've taken down one so far, and it took all of my weapons with it. My reward was good; a lot of money, very strong weapons and a decent shield, but the game makes you work HARD for them.
And that's not the only thing you have to work hard for. In yet another baffling Nintendo design decision, you have to open the menu to find your cooking ingredients, hold them all and drop them in a pot to do any cooking. Why you can't just press 'A' next to a pot to do this is beyond confusing and it took me far, far longer than it should to figure out how to perform one of the most basic tasks in the game. And furthermore, surely you should be able to carry a pot around with you? You have the ability to create fires using wood and striking flint with a metal weapon next to it, which is a really neat touch, but then you can only use it to pass time - surely it would make sense for you to collect pots and carry them round with you? Give them a usage limit, and once they're placed on a fire they can't be picked up, but it just doesn't make sense. I also wish that you could forge weapons, armour and arrows on a fire. I kind of get why they didn't allow for this, but if they made it possible but expensive I'd be a very happy man.
The UI in general also leaves some to be desired. Switching weapons - particularly bows - feels clunky and slows down the game a bit, especially in the heat of battle. It's also kind of confusing the way that the menus are split out underneath the + and - menus.
By far the biggest gripe I have personally is the lack of music, though. It's a design decision that I completely understand, but it's just a bit... disconcerting. Music has traditionally been a pivotal theme to all of the Zelda games and - although I do completely appreciate that a big, booming Hyrule Field theme wouldn't work in this world - there should be more than there is, in my opinion. It makes the game feel very... un-Zelda like. Which for some may be a positive, I understand that, but for me it's a negative.
But the thing is, all of these flaws are so minor compared to the sheer joy the game brings. It's not perfect for stupid little reasons but Nintendo have already made efforts to fix the framerate problems with the patch so hopefully some of my other gripes will disappear too, even if it's when the DLC comes out later in the year. Breath of the Wild is a truly special game, it's a game which we haven't seen for a very long time. It's a game which simply playing - without winning, without completion or even objective - is its own reward. No game has kept me as immersed and captivated so closely for so long, probably since Ocarina of Time.
I'm not saying that Breath of the Wild is the best game of all time. But I'm not not saying that either.