Let’s cut the fluff and have some real talk. I’m not gonna gush about how I’ve been drooling over Zelda since 1996 or how important this series is to me or all the #feels I got while playing this game (okay maybe a little). Breath of the Wild is a masterpiece. The wait to get this game was agonizing but oh so worth it. Playing has been like being at the reins of a great orchestra, everywhere you look and listen there are new melodies and beauty to experience. Every movement brings palpable wonder. I caught myself holding my breath when cresting a huge peak; staring off into the sublime landscape, seeing pockets of color, distant mountains, and general gorgeousness. I got a rush of adrenaline after taking down my first Lynel, Divine Beast, solving a difficult shrine puzzle – you name it. Every Link’s memory I recalled triggered nostalgia and immediate and deep seeded emotions. Fuck, I said no fluff but… I guess I was lying.
Let’s start with the good:
The combat is super fluid and feels so right. I’m very thankful that Nintendo did not rely on motion controls too heavily – you even have the option of turning it off completely if you’d like. Pretty much the only time that the motion controls come into effect are when it makes sense and feels intuitive, namely when aiming an arrow or preparing to throw your weapon. Everything else feels like classic Zelda when it comes to combat: the targeting, the jumping and avoiding, and even the attacks themselves. The combat experience has expanded on previous Zelda games and given us different fighting styles based on the type of weapon you’re wielding. There’s a huge difference with how a spear will handle vs a two handed claymore when it comes to speed, avoidance, and even damage dealt. This is great in terms of finding an edge over a certain enemy type or just finding a way you like to play best. I will say that at first when I was playing, a huge pain point for me was how quickly weapons broke. Here’s the thing though, after playing 90+ hours of BoTW, I’m glad and completely understand why that was the case. If I hadn’t felt like I had to use every weapon I picked up out of necessity, I would have never gotten exposure to the different combat styles or have gotten as creative in my combat as I did. It was also really freeing (after being frustrated for so long) to basically just say FUCK IT and just go HAM (which was WAY more fun).
The world is downright MASSIVE, and is actually filled with worthwhile stuff. Going into this game I was really skeptical about how large the map was and wondering how much they could really pack in between point A and point B. With an open world map 7 times as large as Skyrim, Breath of the Wild is fucking huge, but peppered very well with little things to do or to see. Shrines act as your waypoints and fast travel locations, and they are sprinkled in at interesting and efficient spots. The density of how much “stuff” is in the world also makes sense with the world building, the desert for example seems empty and desolate – until you start encountering enemies or reach a fort of enemies made from animal bones. Throughout the map are also hundreds of Korok Seeds, an in game currency obtained by solving various tiny puzzles or discovering something out of place. Literally everywhere you look there are Korok seeds. EVERYWHERE. No matter where you look there is something interesting to find or a cool looking area to explore, and, even now as I’m combing through areas I’ve been to before, there are still new things to discover.
Moving on to what was GREAT~
Where to even start. The overarching story of the game was incredible. Sure, having the main character wake up with all his memories gone was a bit cliché, but after that point WOW. The game feeds you little teasers of what has happened in the past 100 years you’ve been asleep, and incredibly satisfying morsels of scenes when Link is recalling individual memories. The world is scattered with different characters that once knew link or know of legends that also fill the gaps of your knowledge. The sense of actively being able to discover your past is super nice too. It doesn’t force feed you story and it all feels at home in the open world setting. Without getting too far into the content of the memories, I can definitely say (as someone who has consumed a lot of TLoZ content), the story itself is powerful and emotional – just plain goofy and silly at times – very true to games of the past. With so many new features and changes to the gameplay style, everything still feels well-grounded in a well told, classic Zelda feeling story.
The world-building and survival aspect of the game were also stellar. Like I mentioned before, the map is gigantic, bigger than the island of Manhattan. Building off what was said before; the world itself is very dynamic and is incredibly gorgeous. One minute you’re in snow peaked mountains filled with wild berries and ice (and shield sledding) and then you might jump and glide for a bit and be able to see a desert in the distance, complete with a ravaging sandstorm on the horizon. Looking the other way, you see Hyrule Castle, where Zelda has been for the past 100 years and where, because Zelda is a complete badass, she’s been keeping Ganon from obliterating the entire world. The world itself is built super well – which is where the survival aspect of the game comes into play. I thought they did a PERFECT job of balancing out exactly how much of a survival feel they wanted the game to have. A lot of other survival games rely too heavily on things that can really limit the way you interact with a game, like needing to drink/eat constantly, becoming over-encumbered; you name it (looking at you, ARK). I’d definitely say that Zelda has achieved a really good Survival-lite feeling, where you definitely feel like you have to live off the land and respect the laws of nature (fuck thunderstorms). You’ve got a stamina wheel so you can’t just climb whole mountains without having your feet touching soil. There are no hearts that pop out of enemies or after breaking pots or cutting grass, only by cooking meals or eating fruits can you regain health (or sleeping at an inn). Being in an extreme environment will start to drain your health, until you eat something or wear something that will help you weather the extreme hot or cold. Hell, getting anywhere close to the volcano will cause you to burst into flames without the proper protection. Here’s what makes it perfect though – all of these things make sense and don’t feel like it’s getting in the way of what you’re trying to accomplish. You really feel like you are conquering the elements, or becoming a victim of them.
OMFG cooking! What a beautiful and perfect system they’ve introduced in this game. There is basically no tutorial or introduction to cooking whatsoever, you just kinda… figure it out. Like, the whole time. Each ingredient you forage from the wild will have some sort of description, giving you an idea of what that element in a dish will do. Different food can raise any of your stats, from sneaking to defense to cold resistance. The real beauty and charm of the cooking for me was that it was a complete surprise, I knew it was something that would be in the game from watching the trailers, but you’re really allowed to discover what you can do with it all on your own. There are very few recipes that are seen in books or posters, so cooking really did become this super fun almost mini game where I was discovering how this system worked and what I could make with it. The mechanic is super charming, well thought out, and the most practical thing to do in the game to keep you alive.
By now, most of you reading this have seen screen grabs of the game, or are looking at the images attached to this review. Lemme dish out the truth for just a moment – I’ve never seen a screen grab that has truest captured how gorgeous this game looks, especially on Switch. The colors are rich and vibrant, the color palette is straight up orgasmic, and the character models are gorgeous. Graphically, it’s like Skyward Sword and Wind Waker had a “more gorgeous than both of its parents” baby. Depending on what area of the map you are in, there are going to be graphical elements that really make you feel even more immersed, like being near lava sending hot soot and embers onto the forefront of your screen. Little details in that vein really beautifully wrapped the entire package with a bow on top.
SPEAKING OF BOWS – not the shooting one – LETS TALK FASHIONNNNNNNNNNNNNN!!! Definitely one of the most exciting surprise for me was discovering how many different armor sets there were (and how many color combos I could find for them). The upgrade system for the armor is also super smart and well implemented and DAMN getting any armor maxed out is tough. On top of that, the bonuses you can get for wearing a 2 star or higher complete set are super cool and very useful. I’ve played plenty of games where I’m just wearing the best stated armor the whole time and replacing it when a better piece comes along, so it’s exciting to be playing a game where even now I’m using every armor set at different times. BoTW gives you the flexibility to be able to eat and change clothes anytime you’re in your inventory, even in combat, which makes strategically switching clothes a palpable reality. Honestly, there was just so much satisfaction in getting to a specific place where the elements were literally killing you, and then exploring/solving a quest/completing a shrine and getting a piece of clothing that would make the world more survivable. Plus, Link looks fresh as hell in all his sweet, sweet threads.
Alright folks. Let’s talk about the BAD~
Just kidding. There really isn’t anything that I would consider “bad” in this game. It’s really fantastic and well put together and honestly one of the best games I have played in a very long time. If you guys have been listening to our Podcast, you know that even my girlfriend is playing this game (bought her a switch because she kept asking to play BoTW on mine). It really says a lot about the quality of this game, that even folks who wouldn’t consider themselves gamers have been excited about immersing themselves in this world. Anyway – instead of talking about the bad, since they’re really isn’t any, there are a few things that are more like wishes I have that would make this game a perfect game.
- Let me craft arrows. I’m able to gather and create food, and there was nothing more frustrating to me than running out of arrows knowing that in my inventory I had wood and flint. Let feathers drop off of the birds I’m able to kill, and let me combine those three things to make one or two arrows. For a game that utilizes different survival game elements very well, I was surprised that this wasn’t something you could do.
More meaty side quests (that I pick up in more locations than just a town or stable). Don’t get me wrong, the side quests in this game are charming and are for the most part more than just “kill 8 things and come back to me.” BUT, as someone who played this game really enjoying the exploration aspect, I was really hoping for more quests that are coming from people that I would find out and about (looking at you, truffle girls). In addition to that, I’d say about 90% of the side quests that you can get end after one completion with an NPC. That’s to say that after completing a quest, that’s it. There’s no follow up quest or new quests that were unlocked because of it. For me, and this is being really nitpicky, what I’ve really enjoyed from open world games is that sense of ever expanding side quests to complete. For example, how you can do things like the Thieves Guild in the Elder Scrolls games. Those sprawling side quests are really exciting and help you get super immersed in other characters that aren’t in the main storyline and I wish we saw more or any of that in Breath of the Wild.
More difficult shrine puzzles/dungeons. After about 20 hours into the game, I was surprised that the shrine puzzles weren’t getting increasingly difficult. After doing the Divine Beasts, I really wish that they had the intensity and difficulty of the dungeons in almost any other Zelda title beforehand. I just found that there was never any complexity to the dungeon crawling, which has been historically one of my favorite parts of a Zelda game. Granted, BoTW is uncharted territory for the LoZ series, and so I’m not mad about it. If they wanted the focus to be more on exploration and discovery of their world I totally get that, and they overwhelmingly succeeded. From a lore standpoint, other than having the Sheikah Slate, there wasn’t anything terribly difficult about the Divine Beasts that I would say a different competent adventurer wouldn’t be able to solve (again, truffle girls y’all got this). But a bit more complexity to the puzzles would have been nice. Again, more of a wish list kind of thing instead of a heavy criticism. Nintendo does plan on releasing the Cave of Trials DLC this summer that will add additional dungeon content, and so I’m hoping that satisfies me in this category.
Lastly, and honestly most importantly, I really wish there was a New Game Plus for BoTW. Give me a more difficult time playing it through a second, third, or twentieth time with more things to do or something special for coming around again. As it stands now, you aren’t even able to create another game on a single user, you will have to create a new user on your Switch or Wii U to even have “multiple” games of BoTW on your system (saying new game if you have an existing game in the same user WILL overwrite your old game). Definitely something that would be doable to come in a DLC, but it’s sad to not see it in the base game so far.
AND THAT’S IT. There’s a lot more that could be said, but I tried to stay as spoiler free as possible. If you’re still on the fence about trying this game out, scroll back up to the top and read this review again. Seriously though, this is one of the most immersive and truly outstanding games that has released within the past 10 years, and ABSOLUTELY DO NOT MISS OUT ON IT. I really can’t say enough great things about this game. It is the closest thing to a perfect game I’ve played in a very long time.