A Nostalgia-Free Look at Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was praised by video game journalists everywhere as a phenomenal, nearly flawless game. After spending almost one hundred hours with the game I can say with certainty, those journalists were blinded by nostalgia.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of fun playing this game. I’m not sure if I have ever played a game where the world had such breadth and diversity, but other than that, Zelda does not have much going for it. The story is discombobulated, boring, and has some of the worst voice acting I have ever heard. And any side quests that you do will be so poorly written it is almost laughable. Breath of the Wild is a good game, but don’t expect the story to stay with you. The world definitely takes center stage during this adventure.

The Good

During my time in Breath of the Wild, my favorite experiences were when I was removed from the story completely. Finding shrines and climbing towers, while navigating the expansive map is where this game thrives.

The map is huge, but it is also very diverse, putting you in mountainous terrain, green plains, arid deserts, and frozen tundra to name a few. Each zone has it’s own challenges and enemies, and Link has to prepare differently depending on where he goes. Link may have to put on warmer clothes when exploring the colder regions, bring his climbing boots to more easily navigate any mountainous terrain, or remove any metal weapons and gear during a lightning storm. Learning how to navigate the different areas to best find shrines was what kept me coming back to this game every day.

There are no boundaries when it comes to exploring this world. You can go anywhere you want with complete freedom. With the right equipment, you can scale the highest mountains, swim across the widest rivers, and fly over the deepest gorges. Nothing was more satisfying than making it to the highest point in an area, and marking all the shrines that you can see, so that you can go back and get them later (As long as you don’t get distracted by the immense beauty, or the Korok seed puzzles.)

After you have braved the elements, and spotted the shrines, the next step is solving their puzzles. The shrines are small enclosed spaces that you need to complete to get upgrades to your health, or stamina. Each shrine will have a different challenge that Link has to overcome. Sometimes it will be fighting a guardian, sometimes it will require memorization, and sometimes it will require good old fashioned problem solving. The shrines are fun, albeit a bit simple for a franchise that is historically known as for its tricky temples.

The game does include larger puzzles in the form of the Divine Beasts (the only good thing involving the story.) There are for divine beasts, one located with each of the games factions: The Zora, the Gorons, the Rito, and the Gerudo. After you have gained the factions trust you must lower the beasts defenses, with a 90’s style boss battle that includes dodging patterned attacks and getting close enough to hit the beast with your arrows, then once you are inside you must find 5 terminals using each beast’ s unique puzzles, and remove the corruption. The puzzles can be a bit tricky at times, but it is never too hard to figure out. Then you must beat boss battles that range in difficulty from easy, to harder than the final fight. The Divine Beasts gave me an appropriate challenge, and level of excitement.

If you spend your entire time exploring and solving puzzles, Breath of the Wild is a fun game, but when you play the story, you are likely to find yourself disappointed.

The Bad

Breath of the Wild’s main story line is told in two ways: Interacting with the 4 factions, and helping them defeat the Divine Beasts, and through random snippets of flashbacks found scattered throughout the map. While the interactions the the factions are poorly written, the flashbacks are a disorganized mess that should have been left out of the game entirely.

For a game with so much freedom in world exploration, it is strange how much it limits you in player choice during the story. During each of the Divine Beast quests, you are forced to look on as the factions squabble and work their way into a corner, making it so you are the only choice left to try and stop the Divine Beast that is ruining their lives. There is no way to let them know that you are the princesses champion, the only person alive that can stop the Divine Beasts, you just have to wait until they figure it out themselves. They scream and plead for help, but don’t let you do anything until you have done some obnoxious side quests. And even then, they usually don’t want your help, they just don’t have any other options. And as annoying as these quests are, they get much worse.

The flashbacks are points on your map that have to be found using pictures that Princess Zelda left you. They are meant to give you insight on what happened before the events of the game. There is no order to when you have to find them, so they appear out of order, and sometimes make no sense. On top of that, these cutscenes are poorly written, forcing tutorial hints into what is said, giving lore that doesn’t matter, and have dreadful voice acting. Zelda, with her weird semi-British accent will tell you that you can cook things, or give you useless tips on how to ride a horse when she isn’t complaining about her general uselessness, in her squeaky whiny voice. And worse than the voice acting, is the lack of voice acting from our protagonist, Link. Nintendo made the conscious decision to never give link a voice, so the players can project themselves on to the character. While it is a good idea, it counters itself out when you give that character a predefined backstory, and use them in cutscenes. Instead of feeling like I was Link, as the designers intended, it made Link seem bland, and sometimes he just seemed like a jerk. And as bad as these flashbacks are, the side quests are even worse.

The side quests in Breath of the Wild consist entirely of uninspired and poorly written quests. The characters have absurd reasons to get you to do things, and worse reasons for why they aren’t doing them themselves, and how they say things is the worst part about it. The lengthy dialog lacks personality, and reads like a text book. And most of the quests that you are given make little to no sense. I found myself searching for people that weren’t lost, gathering ingredients that are readily available, even getting an apple in an attempt to save someone’s marriage (don’t ask me how that helps). I skipped most of the dialog, and went straight to finding the materials, that often were already in my inventory.

The Ugly

There are many things that Breath of the Wild includes that are strange and archaic that are personal gripes. Others may not be bothered by them like I was.

The first of many annoyances that pestered me during my adventure in Hyrule was the control scheme. Nintendo has never conformed to what any one else was doing, and it took me a while to get use to the controls that are not very customizable. If it didn’t tell me, I would have never thought to Sprint with the X button. And as I started to get the hang of controlling Link, other annoyances started popping up. Breath of the Wild often confuses complexity with interesting gameplay. The game has a lot of systems and subsystems that the player has to interact with that cause unnecessary difficulties. Having to change clothes every five minutes to fit your frequently changing situation is mildly obnoxious. Having to find new weapons constantly because the swords are irreparably damaged after only a few hits made me try to avoid fighting things if I had the option. And I could never get horses to go where I wanted them to.

Another odd thing about the game, is that it uses archaic game design. Nintendo used game design principals from the 90’s and puts them in a modern game world. The constant pausing of the entire world so it could tell me that i had completed an objective was a bit jarring at first. The odd requirement of beating all of the enemies in a location for a chest to magically unlock seems outdated. Modern games have moved past this, and improved them to make the worlds feel more alive. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. It might spark nostalgia for some people, but it didn’t for me. It just made it seem a little strange.

And when the game is over, you are done. There is no option to continue. If you want to go back and get any shrines you missed, or finish restoring Links memories, you have to load a previous save. This is something that people have been complaining about in open world games since the first one that cut off their progress. Why can’t I see a world where the castle isn’t shrouded in darkness? Few people will complete everything before trying to take on Calamity Gannon, and the fact that I had reload a save discourages me from even trying to get 100% completion. I spent time and resources taking him out, I want to be done with it.

The Verdict

Fortunately for Zelda, the story, and the micromanaging are not what most of my time was spent on in this game. I spent most of my time exploring, and conquering shrines, so my overall experience was good. If you have a switch, or a Wii u, and are looking to put them to good use, you will enjoy yourself with Breath of the Wild. My review may seem harsh, but that is because everyone in the world seems to think this game is perfect, and it is honestly quite baffling to me how it has received the scores it has. There are obvious flaws with the game, and everyone just wants to ignore them because it has the word Zelda on the title.

7/10

The world is fun to explore, but the game is seriously lacking in good storytelling. There are many small annoyances involving item management, but the world makes up for it.

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