After six years since the last console version of Zelda, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, the new adventure is finally here and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is well worth the wait. It’s taking all of my will power right now to write this instead of playing more of it. I’m helplessly addicted! That’s not to say the game doesn’t have any downfalls. Frequently I’m torn between really loving the game and cursing its name. Breath of the Wild is like an amalgamation of everything Nintendo has learned from the past thirty years of making the series combined with some of the biggest franchises that came out on the first wave of HD consoles aka the PS3 and Xbox 360.
It has towers and stealth elements like in Assassin’s Creed, tough enemies and an emphasis on precise combat like in Dark Souls, a vast open world akin to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and the list goes on. That said, parts of it feel like half steps like Nintendo heard what these games were doing and took elements from them without knowing if these things were well loved, or detested mechanics. I’m being rather vague at the moment here, so I guess we should just get this list started. To those worried about spoilers fear not. I think I did a rather thorough job without bringing up specifics, especially regarding the story. These are just some general reactions in my thirty plus hours with Breath of the Wild so far. Let’s get to it!
15 Best: No Lengthy Tutorials
Even though I knew Nintendo was emphasizing an open world without any hand holding, I didn’t believe them until I turned the game on. I couldn’t believe it. Link wakes up, is instructed how to use his tablet device, or Sheikah Slate, and then that’s it. The Sheikah Slate is kind of like a companion, but doesn’t constantly squawk at you like Navi, or any of the other constant companions that have plagued the console games since The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It’s just a tool, but a cool one at that. Yes, there are guiding elements to point you toward the next story beat and even with the open environment, the beginning plateau area is sort of tutorial-like, but again it’s nothing compared to the other console games especially The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. That tutorial can go straight to whatever the underworld in Zelda is called.
14 Worst: The Difficulty
While having a vastly open world to explore with little direction is great, there are some boundaries to scare you away due to strong monsters, but they appear in a confusing method. It’s weird because most open worlds either don’t have that or RPGs like Skyrim have levels. In order to make it through some of the rougher areas, you need to level up, which is an easy enough thing to wrap your mind around. However, Breath of the Wild doesn’t have levels. Instead weapons have attack power and the weapons you use are the same as an opponents, so a weak monster, which you may have killed dozens of before, could suddenly become death incarnate as a single strike could end Link’s life and there’s no real way of knowing that due to a lack of communication in the design. They took the wrong idea away from Dark Souls here. It’s baffling and frustrating quite honestly.
13 Best: Weapon Variety
Speaking of weapons, there’s a lot to collect in the game. By my account, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was the first game to introduce disposable weapons dropped from enemies. You couldn’t add them to your inventory, but they made combat more interesting at times. This game takes it to a whole new level. There are one-handed and two-handed weapons that come in the form of swords, axes, clubs, spears, boomerangs, and more. One of my favorite weapons is using the discarded hand of a skeleton. They may not be strong, but beating enemies senseless with a bone that is still moving its hand is priceless. Not only that, but certain weapon types have different charged special moves. Normal swords perform the standard spin attack, while a spear jabs rapidly at an opponent. There’s a lot to love, but…
12 Worst: Weapon Durability
Weapon and armor durability is one of the worst ideas ever implemented in videos games. However, most games have a good balance to them and gear usually doesn’t break in a matter of seconds. It takes time and can usually be repaired like in Fallout 3, and doesn’t just shatter like it was made out of glass. Unfortunately, Breath of the Wild is nothing like that. Melee weapons, shields, and bows can break in a single confrontation. Equipment doesn’t even have a meter to indicate how durable it is other than vague descriptive text until it’s on the verge of breaking when it turns red. It’s like if your car only told you it’s about to run out of gas with a mile left. Not really helpful there. Some weapons are more durable than others, but even the strongest equipment seems to only last a matter of a few scraps. Constantly juggling between weapons not because I wanted to, but because I had to defeated any sort of enjoyment I got from combat. It’s the worst part of Breath of the Wild and makes those tough encounters infinitely more irritating. Seriously, what were you thinking Nintendo?
11 Best: Diverse Environments
Let’s talk about exploring Hyrule itself. It’s simply fantastic and there are so many different places and styles found within the world. Traversing through lush forests and open fields sprinkled with ruins are all well and good, and fit with Zelda’s fantasy motif, but on some of the outer edges, there are actual tropical regions as well with different colored water and temperatures. Plus, there is dynamic weather. It’s a world that feels alive and actually inhabited by a good group of survivors. Even though it takes place in a ruined Hyrule, it’s still beautiful and everyone isn’t overly dark about it. Every turn you take will have something worth investigating and I often found myself way off course from my intended destination. It rewards curiosity and that’s always good in my book.
10 Worst: Limited Inventory
Now, it’d be one thing if I had a near limitless amount of weapons I could store and pick up at my leisure, but at the start you have less than ten slots. A single fight alone could dwindle that number down considerably, especially in monster camps or during boss fights. Plus, there are certain tool like weapons you can acquire throughout the game like axes, or sledgehammers that are not necessary to keep, but make the game easier in acquiring useful materials, but that takes up valuable weapon spot though. See the dilemma? The worst part of all this is treasure chests, which used to be one of the most magical things that happened in a Zelda game, have lost their allure. Sometimes useful items can be acquired like money, or materials, but I usually got gear. Some cool equipment yes, but when those items break, it just made those acquisitions feel meaningless. Admittedly inventory can be upgraded, but it’s one slot at a time and it’s an arduous process.
9 Best: Cooking
While weapon space is critically limited, your food supply is not. Yes, there is a finite space for ingredients and dishes you prepare, but they’re within reasonable limits. Space aside, there are many dishes to prepare and a good reason to do so. First of all almost any kind of food or herb source can restore life, so even though the game is hard, at least you can heal easily enough. Not only that, but you can boost your stats with a variety of tonics and recipes. Stuff like cold resistance to warm you up as your trudge through snowy areas or something that can boost armor when you need a good defense for a boss. These effects only last for a limited time, but they’re necessary in surviving the wilds and there’s nothing complicated about the process. Simply grab what you want, throw it in a pot, and bam! You can even sell dishes, which is a cheap and fast way to gain Rupees. Hot tip!
8 Worst: Horseback Riding
In open world games, traveling can become tedious if you have to go everywhere on foot. Thankfully cars, or in this case horses, are there to make your trips quicker. That’s the idea anyway, but horses are more cumbersome than they are helpful. Not only are they difficult to control, but also taking them on trips gets in the way of exploring. Yes you can reach destinations faster if you’re actually trying to just follow a road, but in that process you’re missing little adventures out there or you’re stopping the momentum of your horseback riding every few yards to hop off, check something out, get back on your horse again and repeat. For the first time in Zelda since Ocarina of Time, horses are practically useless, which is surprising, again, for an open world game.
7 Best: Portal-like Puzzles
Most Zelda puzzles are logic based in nature, but a lot of the tricks in Breath of the Wild are more akin to Portal, which uses both logic and physics based mind teasers. As a drawback, there are only four main dungeons, but the one hundred mini dungeons all have unique puzzles to them that test the brain in one way or another, whether it's finding out how to raise a beam with ice or tilting your pad in order to guide a ball through a maze via the controller’s gyroscope. They’re never that hard either and good ways to recharge the brain after long bouts of exploring and/or fighting monsters. In this way, I find them a lot like going through a Sudoku.
6 Worst: Lack of Proper Dungeons
While these puzzles are fun to tinker around with, it diminishes what dungeons mean in the Zelda franchise. Putting a hundred mini dungeons in the game feels like an attempt to pad things out, which is how I view the inventory expansion quests too and, like those, finding these minis dungeons are a must in order to increase stamina and health. Look, I’m not against how dungeons are placed in the Zelda world, or how you level up as it were, but a hundred feels like too many and while good a lot of them are, many feel the same. They’re clever puzzles, but that’s all they are. I never felt engrossed in a dungeon’s design. No, these are just puzzles for the sake of being puzzles.
5 Best: Saving Anywhere
Most Zelda games allow you to save anywhere, but they usually send you back to certain located checkpoints in the process. Not here. Where you save manually is exactly where you’ll start up again, even in the middle of a battle. There are set backs, namely that you can only have one save for whatever Wii U or Nintendo Switch profile you’re using and dungeons don’t save your exact place, but these drawbacks are minor when it comes to exploring the open world. Plus there are a lot of good auto-save features as well, just incase you need to back track in your data for some reason. In a way, this can help damper the burden of difficulty. It may be cheap, but hey, the game throws a lot at you, so it’s balanced in my opinion.
4 Worst: Stealth
I’m not sure if Nintendo was inspired by the Metal Gear or Assassin’s Creed franchises with stealth, but I hate when non-stealth games implement these mechanics. It almost made me break Wind Waker on that beginning prison island. Sneaking around was so hard! At the very least, it’s not required for most of Breath of the Wild, but in order to makes things easier, it is. You can sneak up on prey in order to get meat from animals for cooking, stalk into camps and execute sleeping enemies, catch wandering horses, or even snag fairies, but all of this requires stealth and quick movement. Concocting certain meals or elixirs will help prevent you from being seen, but that said, it still feels wonky. Some sleeping enemies won’t even die in a single strike rendering this whole process meaningless. It’s sloppy all around.
3 Best: Climbing Everything
I can’t believe it, but Link can actually climb everything in the game, although there are some limitations. Like saves, dungeon walls are apparently more resilient to hands, but climbing would completely ruin certain puzzles, so I get it. Also the stamina gauge will limit how much you can climb, so in order to reach certain areas you need to either upgrade that gauge or plan more strategic entry points. He looks silly doing it and the speed can be nauseatingly slow, but kudos to the devs for actually implementing something like this. It made me even more eager to explore. The best feeling in the world is reaching a hard destination within seconds of running out of breath to be rewarded with something amazing at your destination. You look like an idiot Link, but good job!
2 Worst: The Story
This is not necessarily a direct dig at the game’s narrative, although it is sparse. However, due to the openness of the game, the story didn’t make me feel engaged, but that’s more of a problem with most open world narratives. Specifically, my issue is with the voice acting and not the actual acting involved. This is one of the most half steps about the product. The voice acting only appears during in-game cut-scenes and during special events like the main dungeons or bosses. I feel Nintendo should have chosen to either go all the way or not at all, as these limitations reminded me of the PS1 era of brief CG or animated cut-scenes. There’s no excuse in this day and age to not feature a game with mostly spoken dialogue. Why even try at all? They’re Nintendo for crying out loud and this is Zelda! Perhaps it was a time, budget, or size issue, but it still felt annoying.
1 Best: Character Design
The environments are gorgeous in Breath of the Wild, as I’ve stated, but the characters and monster designs are probably my favorite in the series. The redesign of the Zoras alone makes them feel more like a diverse race, instead of blue alien-like, fish humanoids. Plus most open worlds reuse generic NPCs to save on space, but I have rarely seen this limitation in it so far and I think I’ve been to most towns by now. It’s not like there aren’t repeats, but again it’s a small number, which made the world feel more real. As for the monsters, I wish there was more variety in terms of how many populate Hyrule, but what’s there is fantastic, especially the bosses. I think the characters are truly my favorite part about Breath of the Wild, but then again there’s just so much to love about the game that it’s hard to pin down. Flaws and all, it’s a fantastic experience and a breath of fresh air that the series desperately needed.