The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

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Tonight, I have the monumental task of reviewing a truly monumental game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The game has been out officially for a week, and I think it’s time to discuss why Breath of the Wild is good, and what the game does well, and what it doesn’t particularly excel in. Breath of the Wild is the main reason I purchased a Switch day one. I could’ve gotten the Wii U version (and I will eventually), but I felt that the Switch version would be superior, and the portable aspect of the Switch sold me. I’ve played Breath of the Wild for over forty hours, completed 36 shrines, and completed most of the story. I will discuss some things that some may consider spoilers. I’ve hidden those comments behind a spoiler box, out of respect for those people.

The Good:

One of the things I really appreciate with the Zelda series as a whole is the fact that the subtitles are all extremely appropriate for their game. Ocarina of Time focuses on the aging aspect, Link to the Past was the first Zelda game to really focus on the story and exploring the lore of the series. When players’ hear subtitles like Majora’s Mask or Wind Waker, the connection to the game is clear if they have played it. Breath of the Wild follows that tradition. The subtitle is perfect. Absolutely perfect.

As the subtitle reflects, the game is about the world. Link may be the main character, but the game is really about Hyrule, and Hyrule alone. Players are given abilities that allow them to interact and change their world. Extensive combat mechanics, items tied to particular dungeons — those are gone. The game has truly gone back and revisited the non-linear adventure that the first Legend of Zelda achieved.

The game allows players to explore its’ rich landscapes almost immediately. Players are initially confined to the The Great Plateau, as the game has a short tutorial. However, in that tutorial, there isn’t a lot of hand holding that Zelda fans may have grown accustomed to. I must admit, it was a little overwhelming for me at first. After climbing the first Sheikah Tower, the Old Man told me to find the first four shrines. I expected that he would mark them on my map or something. Instead he told me to find them myself. That’s the general attitude of the game as a whole. The game has a lot of tools to your disposal. How player’s use them is entirely up to them.

I think that’s why Breath of the Wild is so monumental. It successfully challenges the conventions of what makes a Zelda and really breathes fresh air into a series that (depending on who you asked) peaked over a decade ago. When looking back, I can see some hints of this revelation in Link Between Worlds, and even in Skyward Sword. However, Breath of the Wild really does take that extra step and makes something great.

Let me give you an example. There was one Sheikah Tower that I was trying to activate. It was the edge of the map, but one of the first things I wanted to achieve was to at least map out the entire region. Being ill equipped, I couldn’t handle the monsters at the base of the tower. So instead, I climbed a mountain, jumped off and approached the tower. I was able to skip the monsters entirely, but still achieve my objective. The game is all about giving players’ options.

Frankly, it took me a long time before I even wanted to progress through the story. I had a lot of fun exploring the world, making marks on my map, finding shrines and documenting things in the Hyrule Compendium — probably the most engaging part of the game for me. The Hyrule Compendium is a database that players fill out with various creatures, materials, monsters, weapons and treasure chests that are found in the world (who knew I’d enjoy documenting and filling out databases of information?).  In order to add to the database, players have to take pictures. The best part is the database uses your own pictures. It’s a small addition, but it’s another way to bring players into the world, and really helps build the game’s atmosphere. I mentioned in the short impressions article I was ⅓ finished with the database — I’m closer to ½ now. So even after spending well over 40 hours in the game, there’s still quite a bit that I need to see.

The potion/food “crafting” system is pretty enjoyable, and really rewards players for exploring. I didn’t mind the weapons breaking, as it adds slightly to strategy. Since combat was drastically simplified, I think if the weapons didn’t broke, it would feel a lot less engaging. Now I have to consider using a certain weapon or not as it may break when I actually need it. Inventory space could be a bit more forgiving (yes, I know you can upgrade it).

I enjoyed the atmospheric music of the Breath of the Wild. It really adds to the enjoyment of exploring and doesn’t overpower certain locations. I’ve listened to the Breath of the Wild CD that came with the Collector’s Edition several times, and there aren’t really any tracks that I dislike.

There are so many hidden dialogue trees and events. NPCs feel really robust this time around. For example, a lady asked me to light some torches with a fire arrow. Instead, I used a fire rod and lit them that way. She then berated me and compared me to her disappointment of a husband. The game is filled with scenarios and events like that, and it’s very impressive and really helps build the world.

I could keep gushing about the game, but I’d like to discuss some of the issues I have with Breath of the Wild. Breath of the Wild is not a perfect game, and there are some obvious flaws. Some could be adjusted in patches (Like they did with Triforce Heroes), others can not be adjusted.

The Bad:

The first issue is that Breath of the Wild was initially designed with the Wii U in mind. Since the Wii U and the Switch are very different consoles, a lot of the initial ideas the team had to be reworked. Touchscreen controls in particular was cut midway through development. This is probably the biggest issue with Breath of the Wild. Sometimes the controls just don’t make sense. Press B to run. However, if you want to swim faster, or climb quicker, press X. Why? Trying to get a running start to jump is very difficult.

The menus are split among the + and – buttons, and that doesn’t make any sense.

The + has Adventure Log, Inventory and System Controls. – has the Rune Selection Screen, Map, Album, and Hyrule Compendium. Adventure Log should be right next to the map, as players might want to check to see if they are near a Quest. Hyrule Compendium should be next to Inventory so players can see if they have anything they need to take a picture of. Or better yet…just combine the two menu sets. Why do the two menus need to be separated anyway? If the developers wanted a button to show the whole map easily, they could have delegated -’s sole purpose for that.

In addition to that, players are essentially forced to the button configuration the developers decided. The jump button (x) can be swapped with run button (b), but that’s it. SL/SR on either JoyCon goes unused. I guess they figured that most players would use either the JoyCon grip, or the Pro Controller, but the option would’ve been nice. The four directional buttons on the left JoyCon act as a hot swap for Runes, Shields, Weapons and a Whistle for your horse. In order to change your bow or arrow, you need to draw the string, which then changes the shield and weapons hot swap buttons to arrows and bows, respectively. I’ve accidentally shot off a couple of arrows because I was trying to change the arrow type quickly (Here’s the command to do it: ZR + Left + Joystick to pick one). If the bow breaks, players have no choice but to enter the menu and select a new bow. This kills the flow of combat. A way around this is if the developers patch in an option to automatically pick the next weapon in line if one breaks. At least then, players can keep fighting.

One issue with that solution is that inventory sorting is not really allowed. The game does have one sorting option, and I think it just sorts based on the internal number of the items. I’m not really sure, as I have three shields (Knight’s Shield – 40, Daybreaker – 48 and Steel Lizal Shield – 35) and clicking the sort option only switches the first two.

An issue that again, is related to controls, is not having a designated camera button. There’s been several times where the creature ran away as I was trying to take a damn photo of it. Sometimes I’ll forget that I’ve changed Runes, and pull out a bomb instead of a camera. These are all minor annoyances, but they definitely detract and pull players out of the experience.

Another flaw of Breath of the Wild is its’ “dungeon” design. There’s plenty of content whether it be puzzles or short battles in the 120 shrines. However, they aren’t very different. Here’s a picture from a random shrine to prove my point.

Get used to this design. Players will see it everywhere. I wish the shrines had some sort of regional design. It’d be nice to see a picture of a shrine and say “Oh! That looks like it’s from the Lanayru region!” With all of them essentially looking the same, it makes them feel very, very generic.

Going off that, the four Divine Beasts “dungeons” are lackluster. Since the game can be played in any order, they too feel a little generic. Less generic than the shrines, as they are truly a part of the overworld (an impressive feat), but they feel like they are sticking too much to a predetermined script. Here’s the script for every single Divine Beast.

Spoiler

The first time was a blast. Then, the second, third and fourth time it reminded me that I was playing a game. It took me out of the experience with every spirit telling me exactly what to do. For a game that doesn’t do a lot of hand holding, it really stands out when it does.

Lastly, the last boss is super disappointing. It’s not the worst last fight, but it’s pretty forgettable. It just feels very anti-climatic.

Spoiler

As other reviews have noted, there is some performance issues in docked mode as the game works harder to render in 900p. It’s especially noticeable in grassy area.

Spoiler

I have some gripes with the stamina meter, but since it can be upgraded or enhanced with potions/food, it’s not a huge deal. Despite my criticism of the game, I still think this is the best Zelda, ever. It deserves every single piece of praise it has gotten. Despite its’ flaws, I’m giving Breath of the Wild a perfect score.

5/5

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PushDustIn

Founder at Source Gaming
PushDustIn is the founder and administrator of Source Gaming. Being obsessed with the history and development of games isn’t easy. Building a reputation on his research, translations, and article write ups, PushDustIn fully encapsulates the meaning of a 'data-miner'. PushDustIn has studied Japanese for over six years, and has lived in Japan for over four. The name PushDustIn comes from a garbage can in Osaka (Push Dust In). He lives with a very spoiled cat named Kuma.

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One comment

  1. While it is undoubtedly a good game, I wouldn’t call it the best Zelda. For one, it is so far removed from what Zelda has become. Sure, it may be going back to the roots of the first game, but that was some thirty years ago and things have changed. It also distances itself from so many series symbols like making the green tunic so hard to come by.

    It also perpetuates the lore problems that SS started, but it doesn’t have the benefit of being at the beginning of the timeline. Why is Hylia so prominent while the three goddesses are never mentioned? How is Fi still there, and why did she never appear before now? The Triforce is also never even mentioned. Ganon was also a disappointment largely due to the lack of Ganondorf who I think is more intimidating than his beast form.

    Some people say gameplay before story, but why not have both? Especially with a series so rich in lore as Zelda. I realize I’m in the minority here, but this game-while good-makes me concerned that this will be the route that future installments take. Maybe they can fix the dungeons and the plot, but it still seems to be missing what Zelda has been known for for years. Guess I just don’t find climbing mountain after mountain as fun as most people.

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