Sponsored By: A dangerously expensive whim
Time Played: Hours and hours and…
Take one copy of the original Legend of Zelda. Add one cup of crushed Far Cry 2 and blend until smooth. Season with Monster Hunter to taste. Serve immediately.
Here’s a pro-tip for you publishers out there. If you have a long-standing franchise that you can’t figure out how to sell to me, just make it open world. Seriously, it worked for Metal Gear, it worked for Hitman, and now it’s working for The Legend of Zelda.
I have never given the Legend of Zelda series more than a passing glance in my near-forty years as a gamer. I played a little of the first one at a friend’s house (yes, I had friends once), but it didn’t click with me. My wife tried to hook me on A Link to the Past and, later, a Link Between Worlds, but I couldn’t get into either of them. Always in the back of my mind was the little nagging voice saying “and after you finish this you have to do it three more times, so you can unlock the next thing that you’ll have to do nine times, and the final boss will have twenty seven forms… .”
The mere thought of a typical Legend of Zelda game made me feel exhausted and put upon.
But throw me into an open world with no guidance at all, and I’m happy as a pig in slop. Sure, there are probably more things to do in Breath of the Wild than in Link to the Past, but the thing is that I get to decide when they get done. If I’m having trouble with a dungeon, I can go to a different one, and depending upon the dungeon I may not even have to do it at all.
In short, forcing me to do a lot of aggravating things will turn me off faster than a squirrel in a municipal transformer, but letting me choose my own pace for doing a bunch of aggravating things will grab me, like a remora, and never let go, like a remora, until one of us is sucked completely dry of any life or value.
Sorry, that metaphor kind of ran away from me. The point is that Breath of the Wild is a modern, open-world game, and it’s finally gotten me actually enjoying a Legend of Zelda title.
Not having played any of the 3D Legend of Zelda games before, I couldn’t tell you how similar the mechanics are in Breath of the Wild to its antecedents. All I can say is it feels a lot like Monster Hunter in the patience required to wait for an opening and counterattack. There’s a much bigger emphasis on stealth, too, and you’ll get a damage boost if you attack something unawares. As in Monster Hunter, your character level is nonexistent; it’s all about the gear you own. The better gear you have, the more survivable you are and the more damage you do. In the absence of good gear, you can cook recipes and potions that give you boosts to things like stealth, strength, stamina, and other things that don’t even start with "st." For example, there are some areas in Hyrule that are very cold. You have three options that I know of to deal with this situation. One of them is eating something cooked with peppers. I’ll let you figure out the other two, because discovery is the main goal of Breath of the Wild.
Let me explain how important discovery is to this game. As a modern, open-world game, Breath of the Wild has towers that you have to climb to reveal regions of the map. However, those towers don’t unveil points of interest on the map; only topographical features like lakes, rivers and roads. If there’s a quest in there somewhere, you have to find it yourself and put your own map marker on it. It’s a simple touch, but it makes the player truly feel like they’re exploring a wide open world instead of just ordering a TripTik Travel Plan from AAA ("Check out these diamond-rated armor shops! Don’t forget to show the Zora your card to get a discount on all your water-related needs!")
There’s so much to do, and I know I haven’t seen but a fraction of it. What I have seen includes resource gathering, cooking, taming and training horses, hunting, dungeon-crawling (there are literally dozens of mini-dungeons scattered across the map), stronghold clearing, fairy hunting and general exploration. Combat has its own options, as you can use a bow (that can shoot standard, fire, lightning, bomb and ice arrows) or a sword, or an axe, or a spear, or a mop. You also have an unlimited supply of bombs, the ability to freeze certain objects in time, the ability to move magnetic objects, and the ability to freeze water into climbable blocks of ice.
I could go on, but this is a review (or, more accurately, a “review”), not a laundry list, and I don’t want to bore you further. Trite though it is to say, if you think of something you might be able to do with the tools you have to hand, chances are very good that you can actually do it.
There are a few blemishes that I feel compelled to point out, if only for fairness’ sake. The weapon durability, for example, feels a little too unforgiving. Anything that takes more than four hits to kill is probably going to destroy whatever weapon you’re killing it with. I don’t hate weapon durability as a general rule, but it would be nice to get the hang of using a sword before it shatters. Also, tools (like the ax for chopping wood) wear out far too quickly. The result feels like it’s stifling the very open-ended, experimental sensibility the rest of the game is succeeding so handily in creating. There are puzzles, for example, that require using a hammer, but trying to solve the puzzle might result in a failed solution and a busted hammer. If the idea is to make the stakes feel high, then boy howdy did they succeed. However, that’s not always fun.
Also, for the most part the game does a fantastic job of not telling you things. What I mean by that is that the manner in which the game doesn’t tell you how to do something also serves to encourage you to figure it out on your own. The exception to that rule is world exploration. Breath of the Wild will tell you in the most brutally blunt terms possible whether you’re strong enough to explore a given area yet, but the only way to find out is to die a bunch of times. On the upside, checkpoints are automatic and generous. On the downside, since the world is so big, even frequent checkpoints mean quite a trek to get back to where you were trying to go.
Finally, there’s rain. Rain actually matters in Breath of the Wild. It makes climbing surfaces slippery, so you can’t climb them. Climbing is hugely important to exploration, so if it’s raining you almost can’t explore. The sound of rain masks your footsteps, making stealth kills against monsters easier, but most of the time you have to climb something to get behind the monsters, so it’s a wash. The natural inclination, then, is to use the rainy weather productively, perhaps using it as an opportunity to cook some food to replenish your store of healing items. Except that the rain puts out the cooking fires, so you can’t do that either.
And it seems to rain a lot. I’ve had entire, real-time days of gameplay go by where I can’t climb any towers, and can’t cook, just because the in-game weather was bad. What was that quote that used to be on the masthead around here? When reality gets in the way of fun, fun wins? Fun didn’t necessarily win this one.
Those are pretty minor complaints, though, in the grand scheme of things. The weapon durability question is mostly solved by the fact that you’re constantly finding new weapons, so it really only becomes a problem if you have a weapon that is uncommon, such as the woodcutter’s ax or sledgehammer. Anyway, here’s a pro-tip for preserving your wood ax: Use bombs to chop down trees instead. Louder, but much more efficient.
The rain thing probably has a solution anyway, I just haven’t found it yet. Maybe there’s a special Master Umbrella somewhere.
On balance, though, Breath of the Wild is an excellent game, and I can recommend it to both fans of Legend of Zelda games and to fans of the Open World genre. If you have a Switch, you probably already own it. If you have a WiiU, you… probably already own it too.
Who am I writing these for again?
Will I Keep Playing?
Heavens to betsy, a million times yes. Any complaints I have are miniscule compared to the overall quality of the game. Everything you can do in the game is, at worst, interesting, and you can do a lot of things.
It is among the best games I’ve played recently, and it’s certainly the best one I’ve played this year. All I want to do is see more of the world. In fact, I think I’ll stop writing this and go do that right now.
Is it Zelda for Grownups?
There’s a lot of Dark Souls in Breath of the Wild. Nintendo seemed to go out of its way to not tell the player things. Weapons have durability, but no health meter. Regions of the map have powerful enemies and no clues on how powerful they are, nor on how to beat them; with the result that you spend a lot of time respawning because something you didn’t know was there killed you in one hit. You have to learn and do everything for yourself. How much you enjoy Breath of the Wild depends wholly on how much you enjoy manual operation of absolutely everything that most games have taught us were done automatically.
It’s not unwelcome, but it is very Dark Souls like.
Three out of four souls. A tri-fours, if you will.