Review In Short
Ben says: "I got off to a rocky start with Breath of the Wild and hated the lack of music and the whole weapon durability thing. Over 90 hours later and I'm still exploring. The joy of this game is in the slow discovery which is very different to previous games. The DLC has its good moments but it is also full of annoyances. One thing is for sure; Nintendo are going to have a hard time outdoing this."
John says: "While the story and setting are better than average, it's the life and soul behind the world that make it a pure joy to explore. At first it feels similar to other open-world RPGs, but it soon becomes obvious that the sheer number of mechanics and systems at play will give you hours and hours of entertainment. All in all, Breath of the Wild is probably the best launch title ever to come out with a new console."
I don’t usually write reviews of AAA titles as you can generally find something more in-depth from one of the bigger sites that have spent tons of hours playing the game before launch. I’m making an exception for the latest game in the Zelda series, Breath of the Wild, as it has taken such a dramatic turn from the previous games in the series and has attracted a very high overall review score currently ranking as the fourth best video game of all time. I’m not going to go in-depth into every aspect of the game having only played for around 20 hours, but instead pick out a few areas in which it has changed the series. I’ve tried to keep spoilers to a minimum and for that reason will not mention specifics about the story nor discuss how you solve certain shrines, find certain weapons, or anything else like that.
The most obvious change is that Breath of the Wild is a truly “open world” game complete with all the trappings that entails; towers you must climb to unlock the map, inventory management, stamina meters, side quests, fast travel, etc. Where previous games played more like a metroid-vania with gated areas that required specific items — i.e. needing bombs from Dodongo’s Cavern before you could get into Zora’s Domain — Breath of the Wild has no such limitation giving you the full freedom to go anywhere in the world including climbing up nearly any surface (subject to your stamina). Instead, you are limited by powerful enemies who will kill you in one fell swoop should you enter an area you are not suited for. This can be massively frustrating as some play sessions may leave you spending an hour travelling in one direction only to find that you have no hope of making it much further.
There is a full day and night cycle with differences in enemies such as the traditional skeleton fighters emerging out of the ground at night. There is also a weather system which alternates between sunny and cloudy weather along with rain and thunderstorms. These are particularly interesting as rain will make climbing much harder and prevent you using things like fire arrows. Thunderstorms, on the other hand, will kill you if you have anything metallic equipped. Many times you’ll need to just sit out and wait for bad weather to pass; this would make for an interesting challenge but it is all too easy to simply fast travel back to a village where you can sit out the storm by a fire pit.
I have several horses all named Epona
One of the interesting design choices is that you get pretty much all of the things you would generally unlock by completing a dungeon in previous Zelda games right at the start of the game. You have a “Shiekah Slate” that gives you the power to stop time on a single object temporarily, produce unlimited bombs (with a cooldown timer), move metallic objects around with a magnet, and create ice pillars out of water. As is traditional for an open world game, these powers can be upgraded with collectibles you’ll find around the place.
Later on you receive some more abilities but these are tied to cooldown timers based on the real world; for example, you might have to wait 20 minutes before you can use it again. This frustrates me as it kills the immersion; it isn’t that Link can’t use the item again but that the player can’t. I understand why this is the case (as otherwise sitting by a fire pit for 5 seconds could reset the timer) but it still doesn’t feel right.
Weaponry has also seen a change with an inventory management system and breakable items. Every weapon has a damage statistic and you’ll pick up and switch out hundreds of melee weapons and bows throughout the course of a game. When it comes to melee weapons, there are a whole host of choices from swords, lances, and hammers, and then things required for puzzle solving such as torches and Korok leaves (which allows you to generate blasts of air similar to Wind Waker). Once you’ve used an item a certain amount, you’ll get a warning that it is going to break soon and then using it further will cause it to smash and disappear. You can throw melee weapons for additional damage so a good tactic is to throw a breaking sword at someone before switching to a new weapon.
There is no crafting system that I’ve found nor a way to stop items from breaking. Whilst this can be slightly annoying, it does lend itself to exploration and adaptability as you are constantly using new weapons and trying new tactics in fights. Your initial inventory slots for melee weapons, bows, and shields are limited but early on in the game you’ll find a helpful chap with “the power of inventory expansion” who will give you more slots if you bring him some collectibles.
Some ingredients just don’t mix well
Cooking is a new addition to Breath of the Wild and basically allows you to mix items you find to try and generate something better than the sum of its parts. You will find plenty of ingredients in the wild such as apples you can pluck from trees or meat that you can collect by killing the wild animals and these will restore a certain number of hearts. Cooking them on their own will generally boost this restorative power in order to make you plan ahead slightly. The big boost comes from mixing ingredients together, especially with plants or critters that will then not only give you a heart restoration but also other abilities such as improved movement speed, sneaking, or temporary boosts to attack or defence.
You’ll have to discover recipes for yourself although a few sidequests will point you in the right direction for some decent staple foods. You can also investigate the recipe for any cooked food or elixir you purchase from the various traders in the world. A minor annoyance is that there is no recipe book functionality that logs the recipes you’ve uncovered so it feels like constant trial and error is required. It also leads to a fair amount of gameplay time dedicated to sitting and cooking; not necessarily a bad thing, but not what springs to mind when you think of taking on Ganon!
Yes, there are Great Fairies. Yes, they still look like elderly prostitutes.
My major concern with the new direction of Breath of the Wild is in an area where it has removed something from the traditional Zelda experience rather than adding to it; music. Previous games in the series would see you learning some form of song in order to access certain abilities; Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask had the ocarina, Wind Waker had the baton, Twilight Princess had wolf howling, and Skyward Sword had a harp.
Breath of the Wild has nothing.
To make this worse, there is actually very little music throughout the game. There is background music whilst riding a horse and when fighting enemies but the rest of the time is pretty much incidental or atmospheric background (like the Dodongo’s Cavern track from Ocarina of Time). An exception is at Great Fairy fountains which retain there regular music and in Zora’s Domain where they nearly committed to the normal soundtrack but didn’t quite make it.
Conversely, more audio has been added to the game in the form of voice acting. Terrible voice acting. Link still doesn’t speak which is good but is at the same time rather awkward, especially when voice-acted characters are responding to a text option you’ve selected. The voice acting also isn’t consistent with only cut scenes and some bits of dialogue voiced; at other times you’ll just get grunts and gurgles from the person whilst their dialogue is shown. I don’t really have an issue with voice acting in general but if you are going to add it then it should be of a high quality and it should be used throughout rather than intermittently.
Everyone loves a motion control challenge…
The aspect where Breath of the Wild feels the most like a traditional Zelda game is in its many “Shrine Challenges”, miniature dungeons that feel almost like Portal testing chambers. The first challenge is in finding these shrines which are sometimes well hidden or require something specific to access; you might need fire and if you haven’t got any fire arrows or flint on you then you’ll need to come back. Once inside, you’ll then have either a puzzle to solve or some form of enemy to defeat in combat. At the end of the shrine, you’ll be granted a Spirit Orb which can be used to upgrade either your health or your stamina at certain locations in the world.
The majority of these trials are incredibly well laid out and give you a good mental workout as you put to use the abilities of your Shiekah Slate to manipulate the room you are in. Most of the shrines will have a few treasure chests littered around and accessing some of these is generally a harder challenge than completing the shrine itself. Being able to solve a more complex puzzle to access rarer loot is a great mechanic and makes you feel great when you crack it.
Unfortunately there are some trials which are not so great; combat-based trials which you have no chance of beating without significantly better equipment and gyroscope trials which rely on wonky motion controls to manipulate the room you are in. You can disable motion controls for aiming with your bow and arrow in the game, but you can’t turn them off for the trials which is a real shame.
Without venturing too far into spoiler territory, there are some much bigger dungeon-like areas within the main quest line that are absolutely fantastic. I was feeling a little deflated around 15 hours into the game until I got to the first of these areas which took around 45 minutes to solve. It was the first time it felt like a proper Zelda experience and really got me back into the game. My advice if you feel the same is to keep pressing on until you hit one of those areas.
There are a lot of amusingly weird interactions as one would expect
In the end, does Breath of the Wild feel like a Zelda game and does it deserve the high praise and almost universal 10/10 review scores it has garnered? In my opinion, the answer to both is no. I’m enjoying the game and it does deserve praise for some of the ways it has moved the series forward, but there are too many things that just don’t sit right with me to give it anything above an 8/10. The weird motion controls in some of the shrines, the frustration when you enter an area that is too overpowered for you, the way in which some boss fights are too easy if you lucked out and got a good weapon, the inventory management in terms of both cooking and constant weapon replacement, the massive framerate drops whilst in console mode; these are all concerns. The biggest one for me though is that the music has taken such a back seat. Music was without a doubt my favourite thing of the Zelda franchise since Ocarina of Time and it kills me that this game is mostly ambient noise. I can cope with Nintendo taking music out of the eShop; I can’t cope with them taking it from Zelda.