Title: The Legend of Zelda -
Platform: Switch, Wii U
Reviewed on: Wii U
Genre: Action, Adventure
Players: Single player
Written by Whistler 25th March 2017
Few video game franchises carry with them such lofty legacies as The legend of Zelda series, a classic tale of one hero’s journey to save the Kingdom of Hyrule is almost as old as video gaming itself. It’s almost poetic then that in an age where the open world genre is all the rage, that the arguable progenitor of the genre (well Hydlide came first but we don’t talk about that) should finally make its home console return since the Wii.
But considering how polarizing comparing each Zelda title to the other can be does The Breath of the Wild breath new life into franchise or does it fall short of it’s legacy?
In an interesting twist to the formulaic story, our tale picks up in a scenario akin to loading up your mate’s save file when he finished the child Link segment in Ocarina of Time. Link awakens in the Shrine of Resurrection only to find out his memories have been lost to him after a grueling defeat at the hands of Ganon. This time the antagonist has not only dispensed with the lurking in the shadows charade, but also taken your princess and conquered the land already, well, kinda. All of Link’s comrades were decimated and most of Hyrule lies in ruins, thankfully Zelda has since kept Ganon contained in the castle in a last ditch effort to hold him off till the hero can finish the job. Set 100 years later, Link must now regain his memories, his strength and the fabled Master Sword all whilst surviving Hyrule’s harsh landscapes then prepare for his rematch with Calamity Ganon.
Key items for solving puzzles this time around have seen rather dramatic change; instead of locating the signature Hook Shot or Power Bracelet players gain access to all items within the first area. In a downright Kojima fashion, Link can utilize a handful of magical runes via a Nintendo Switch-
It’s all down to your inative on how you tackle Ganon, in fact you could march straight into Hyrule castle should you feel your first beating wasn’t swift enough. Hyrule granted can feel a little vacant given the scale of its expanse but I would dare argue Breath of the Wild serves as a prime example of some of the most organic and absorbing exploration I’ve experienced in gaming (hell, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to having played it for several days straight). Now it does have infamous Ubisoft towers but luckily it doesn’t just simply flood your map with a gargantuan shopping list of collectables to find. Climbing to the top then activating them reveals the layout of the region and serves as both a fast travel spot and vantage point in order to scope out new locations of interest, namely the Sheikah shrines. How the world is opened up to the player makes for great exploration, making the journey itself all the more rewarding as you uncover the many secrets hidden throughout Hyrule.
The shrines themselves serve the bulk of this game’s equivalent to the old school puzzle solving the series is known for. You’ll find plenty dotted around the overworld whilst others require coaxing out via shrine quests and much like the towers provide helpful fast travel points on the map. These puzzles tend to revolve around simple themes requiring the use of one or more of Link’s rune collection while others tend to be a challenge of strength. There’s enough variety between each shrine that it doesn’t become quite as tedious as one would presume after completing 50 of them myself and finding out there’s as much as 140 of them. While I did enjoy them, many of the trials are patronisingly easy in what I presume was either a case of running out of ideas or accommodating to a universal audience. Unique weapons and such can also be found during these shrine trials but the real reward upon completing them is a Spirit Orb, bestowed upon you by the shrine’s Shikah monk. Collect four and you can obtain a single heart container or segment of stamina, boosting your maximum gauge of either attribute. The shrines however feel somewhat duct taped in as an attempt to fill the need for traditional Zelda dungeons but lacking the forethought to make them more meaningful in the grand narrative or gameplay structure.
The world is yours to tackle how you wish, however your main tasks revolve around regaining your memories and control of four Divine Beasts as well as resolving the woes of the recurring races: Zora, Rito, Gorons and Gerudo. Each of the races are facing hardships like torrential flooding or a raging volcano due to the previously mentioned Divine Beasts, large mechanical weapons meant for vanquishing Ganon, who now obey his evil whims. These four machinations are tied to their own quest lines involving key characters in the story that cultivate in this game’s closest comparison to series’ signature temples or main dungeons. That being said while there’s some great moments to be had, these dungeons pale in comparison to their predecessors often relying on simple or underutilized themes. Getting onboard has its highlights, like how you team up with a Zora prince for some water combat or sand surfing in a thunderstorm, but the dungeon’s feel like single large puzzle rooms rather than a highlight in your epic quest.
Zelda continues to excel in presentation, sporting a visual aesthetic blending smooth cell shading, fantastic lighting and lively environments to create a living world that is pleasing to look at while working within the hardware’s limitations. While Breath of the Wild does lag behind others in terms of graphical prowess, it feels like the best mix of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess’s aesthetics. Excluding Wind Waker this is the first time Hyrule has felt like such a vast expanse rather than a slight touch up of it’s N64 rendition. As the last Zelda title to release on the Wii U it’s a fantastic send off and runs decently compared to its Nintendo Switch successor. That being said the Wii U port suffers heavily from framerate drops when a lot of action gets going onscreen or when you move around the more populated locales. Thankfully you can attain a smoother experience in handheld mode that reduces a lot of the lag while still being enjoyable to look at (and pretty much eliminates slow down all together on the Switch). While a small complaint, one can’t help but notice how lacking BotW’s soundtrack is in comparison to its predecessors. There’s some nice piano pieces and of course some recognizable tunes make a return in areas, but overall it feels too sparse, unmemorable and empty when exploring the vast overworld.
As much as exploration is enjoyable though it can often feel like the game world relies too heavily on the player’s want to explore rather than give much in terms of incentive to do so. Breath of the Wild more often than not, makes you work far harder for it, in regards to exploring, combat and overall progression. The aforementioned Spirit Orbs may be optional to collect but you’ll quickly find how much you’ll need them to feel remotely capable of traveling the expansive map. Link’s stamina gauge is pitiful often making scaling large mountain or simply traversing water painfully sluggish, there are items to elevate the stamina drain but that doesn’t excuse how much unnecessary effort can be needed at times.
Breath of the Wild’s combat is certainly a step up though, battles are far more engaging than they have been previously (excluding boss fights) often requiring you to have an understanding of your environment and what enemies you're facing. Each fight is engaging and satisfying as you develop your own personal choice of weapon types or strategies, like favouring two handed weapons or using magnetism to send objects flying at your foes. While there aren’t that much in terms of variety when it comes to enemies (with palette swaps aplenty), most if not all monsters have their own little quirks and behaviours. While being on guard for meddlesome Link’s to tribal dancing, sitting by campfires to hunting on horseback or even pestering local wildlife, each creature is vividly expressive in what they do. Their personalities can be further played on as they behave accordingly to the player’s actions such as reacting with horror upon being disarmed or when they curiously play with a strange glowing round object (that’s about to be detonated in their face). Taking notes from the likes of MGS V, there’s a breathtaking amount of hidden game mechanics and elements for the player to take full advantage of when creatively playing and experimenting. I’ll refrain from divulging further, as that’s part of the fun to find out yourself. But believe me when I say there’s a feast’s worth of creativity and imagination put into BotW’s world making many play sessions a memorable experience.
Breath of the Wild is not without it’s issues however, plenty of the adversaries you face are capable of utterly destroying Link in as little as two hits. Even as you finally complete enough shrines and upgrade your gear you’ll be surprised how easily one hit kills are still persistent. This goes hand in hand with arguably Zelda’s worst offender, and we all know that is, the weapon degradation system. While I’m sure everyone’s sick to death of the song this issue has been harped to death on, but the weapon degradation is indeed, incredibly flawed and often conflicts with it’s purpose. As a sort of spiritual successor to one of Wind Waker’s mechanics, Link is fully capable of equipping all if not most of the weapons to be found in Hyrule, be it a sword, a wood cutting axe or a bone fashioned mallet used by a Moblin. In fact there is no default weapon and shield for Link to use, a massive change to the formula no less, which is meant to encourage experimentation and variety. However it rarely works out that way as almost every weapon feels made out cardboard and wishful thinking. Weapons can easily break within the same fight and even though there’s no shortage of weapons to be found, this then quickly devolves into Diablo levels of hoarding and shoveling through weapons.
Weapon degradation can be an enjoyable mechanic in gaming, but BotW often feels like it takes it to the unnecessary extremes, with but a few end game weapons lasting any longer than brittle glass. A simple way to perhaps spend some form of currency or perform a trade off to repair the player’s favourite weapons would easily remedy this issue. Instead specific weapons like the Champions’ can be repaired via certain NPCs but only at an exorbitant cost of rare resources that feels completely non worthwhile given how quickly they’ll break again. Even the Master Sword can be broken, but thankfully only needs a relatively small amount of time to recharge (a small consent for what is needed to acquire it).
Zelda even hosts a plethora of sudo survival mechanics, namely environmental effects and cooking. Throughout your journey in Hyrule you’ll come across a dynamic weather system that will throw a wrench into your travels. Rain for example will render climbing next to impossible as the terrain becomes too slippery but also helps you go flying while shield surfing in grassy plains (a useful and dare I say, radical method of transportation). Thunderstorms on the other hand make trekking through fields fraught with danger should you be careless enough to have any metal objects equipped.
If the weather isn’t trying to kill you, then the varied landscape certainly is. Once you travel outside of central Hyrule you’ll need to traverse through snowy tundras, blistering deserts and volcanic rockscapes each carrying with them their own set of challenges. These heighten each venture and make exploration all the more challenging and exciting as you discover new land and face new hardships. Nothing beats the one time I decided out of stubbornness to race across the frozen wasteland, activating shrines as I went occasionally burning trees or sneaking into enemy camps for warmth.
You can combat these effects by equipping gear typically found in each of the main villages or by consuming certain foods or elixirs. Gathering resources and cooking foods is a vital component to surviving the often harsh environment, whether it be for the temperature changing effects, sizable stat buffs and most importantly, health regeneration. As opposed to traditional Zelda mechanics, hearts no longer drop from enemies nor can they be harvested from patches of grass. That being said though not only is the manner in which you cook food incredibly clunky (done by selecting items in your inventory to ‘hold’ then dropping them onto an open fire or cooking pot) but is also increasingly tedious when you need to cook several food items.
It’s a shame also that so many armour sets and weapons are locked off behind an Amiibo shaped paywall. Almost all of Link’s signature wardrobe from different incarnations are locked to specific Zelda figures. Where upon placing your plastic DLC onto the spot you’re granted some random loot and a chest containing a random piece of specific gear which can be used once per day (placing the hero of time Amiibo for example gives a piece of the tunic or the the biggoron sword). You can even gain a fully fledged wolf companion or the legendary Epona as a permanent mount with excellent stats. This was actually a feature I thought was really cool when Amiibos were announced (as it makes them more than just DLC) but honestly it just feels sh**** for those not willing to further empty their wallets.
All in all The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is in no way a perfect game, but as casual fan who has a nasty habit of getting so far in each Zelda title and then playing something else, BotW is a fantastic game nonetheless.It’ll likely have hardcore fans and newcomers divided (but let’s be honest the whole franchise does that), but at it’s best the game offers superb amounts of organic exploration and is arguably the most absorbing Zelda title to date. While there’s aspects I feel need to be brought back into title (notably the dungeons and a more traditional item system), there’s so many new or evolved mechanics that really makes it feel like an adventure akin to its progenitor. There are plenty of minor annoyances that eventually build up to bigger inconveniences when they make the player work harder for little reward, and without spoiling I wish the we got to experience the story before Link’s 100 year nap. It’ll likely not be the game for everyone and there’s another open world game that I’ve been told is the second coming of Christ, but nonetheless Zelda:Botw is a fresh entry in the series and open world genre.
Organic and rich exploration elements,
Expansive and varied environments,
Plenty of content,
Ripe with creative and interesting mechanics.
Story is somewhat lacking,
Sparse and yet underwhelming voice acting,
Weapon degradation harms rather than promotes variety,
Can occasionally feel like a chore for how little you’re rewarded,
Abundant frame rate drops on the Wii U,
Waters down or outright does away with aspects key to the Zelda formula.
A new direction and a new breath of life in this seemingly unyielding franchise, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild scores a 7.5/10.