The Breath of the Wild Critique: The Honeymoon Phase (part 1/4)

Note: After writing this over the course of several days, I decided that it was far too long for any mortal to sit still long enough to read. I’ll be breaking this up into a four-parter, because rather than overwhelm with 10 opinions on 10 topics, I’d rather inspire some discussion on one or two at a time. Carry on!

First, the big news!

im-finished
It’s 2017: inline reaction GIFs aren’t just for clickbait sites anymore!

Total playtime was around 60 hours. Now, I realize 60 hours doesn’t seem like much for a game of this scale, but I hope to explain and backup my biggest complaints about the newest Zelda installment, when and why I burned out, and what I think should have been done differently.

The Honeymoon Phase

The beginning ~30 hours of Breath of the Wild were amazing. That alone says leagues about the quality of this game, since that’s about the maximum amount of time I spend on any game. I eagerly picked up my Switch and played with what can only be described as pure bliss for dozens of hours. Exploring the environments, role-playing a photographer to fill out my Compendium, discovering shrines, Korok seeds, catching horses, and making some light progress.

Then, something happened – I realized how much time I had spent playing, but how little content I had actually completed. Sure I was still having some fun, but I ended up getting so distracted that I never ended up really doing anything. When was I planning on ending this game? 5 hours from now or 50 – I needed to have some light at the end of the tunnel. With Skyrim I completed all of the guild storylines and found all the landmarks. With Fallout: New Vegas I sided with all the different factions and experienced all the endings.

I decided to set some goals for myself before I would confront Ganon in The Final Fight to complete the playthrough. The purpose of this was purpose, otherwise what was my incentive to complete the main quest to Destroy Ganon? There didn’t seem to be any rush to do so, and I needed goals. Speaking of which, the goals I set were simple:

  • Find all the Shrines
  • Find the Master Sword
  • Get all the gear sets
  • Complete Eventide Island
  • Complete all the Divine Beasts

Pretty modest, right? And to add to that, I had a handy limited edition collector’s guide with a full walkthrough, as well as a detailed poster map with all of the shrine locations. Each night I’d sit down and knock out 4 or 5. But I got up to 86 shrines, and then realized I just didn’t want to do it anymore. Had I performed the classic game playing error? The one where you turn a game into a part time job? Possibly. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that while Breath of the Wild may be one of the best games of all time, it has a lot of flaws. And those flaws sting.

Before I get into my issues in more detail, let me just get this out of the way: while this article might sound very negative, I’m writing it immediately after finishing the game. There were hundreds of moments that made me think “this game is amazing” and maybe two dozen where I thought “this game has issues.” With this article, I want to bring these issues to light, and in some cases offer suggestions of how they could be improved.

Overall, I believe Breath of the Wild to be one of the best gaming experiences released in recent years. Perhaps I wish I had the time to fully experience it. I spent over 200 hours in Skyrim and I’ll never touch that game again because I did everything in it, but I can assure you I could never do that now, in 2017. You don’t go to an expensive buffet so you can stand in front of the bacon tray all night. I have a lot of options and not enough time for all of them – so the long epics just burn me out too much. But while Fallout 4 and Elder Scrolls games managed to keep me entertained for 100+ hours, Breath of the Wild was incapable of doing the same.

When you have limited time to play games ,you start to hate when games waste you time, and the inverse is true. When time is in abundance, you don’t mind as much. In the same way someone who doesn’t have a lot of money will be far angrier about losing $5 than someone with deeper pockets.

Let’s Talk about the Map

While Breath of the Wild was making its rounds all over media and details were being revealed daily, gameplay videos going viral, and interviews about the game being mistranslated and misinterpreted, I was hiding in a closet waiting for it all to go away. I wanted to experience this with a clean mind! And closets are depressing!

But you can’t ignore the headlines forever. And the one headline that first got me nervous about the switch to open-world was when Nintendo got to bragging about the size of the game world. “Oh hell, not this again..” was about all I could come up with in response. Then there were the obligatory comparisons to other games, mostly from Bethesda titles.

Why do game developers insist on a massive world? Why does big = better? We’re not farmers bragging about our grapefruits or watermelons here. You don’t need a huge world to tell a story. Zero times, ZERO TIMES, have I see an open world that I found to be the appropriate size, with The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion being my only exception. I even thought Morrowind was far too large given how slow your character moved and how much stuff was actually out there to find.

I’ll just come out and say it – the map of Breath of the Wild is too big. It doesn’t need to be even 50% of the size it ended up being. Is it beautiful? Totally. Is it super cool that anything you can see can be reached by simply running in a straight line? Absolutely. I have no idea how Nintendo made this game: it simply blows my mind to think about all the little details that went into it.

These are great things, but after playing for a while, I realized that there is a lot of fluff in the map to keep things interesting. Once you’ve moved through the same area a few times, you realize there isn’t really much going on. Clear a few Korok seeds and that area is merely fodder to burn in the fireplace of your spare time.

Horses sounded cool on paper, but in practice you can really only use them on a few parts of the map, as most of the map is broken up with rocks, cliffs, dramatic elevation changes, water, and all other manner of obstacles that the horse cannot traverse. In fact, I think I rode a horse 10 times in total, including the final boss fight. Your best bet to move quickly on land is a combination of running, paragliding, and shield surfing.

Exploring was amazing at first but got me tired quickly. Again – the fact that “quickly” in this context is 30 hours is, quite frankly, amazing. While I liked getting sidetracked initially, making absolutely no progress burned me out. I wanted to get there but kept needing to go over here. Shrines as teleporters makes perfect sense and they are more than abundant enough, but actually running around felt like a chore after ~30 hours.

What Could Have Been Done Differently?

Well at this point, nothing. But in a followup Zelda game, I think they should be very wary of sticking to this same engine. Or at least reconsider the scale. For me, Breath of the Wild didn’t have enough Zelda characteristics in it to be called a Zelda game. On its own? As a standalone game re-skinned in a brand new IP, I think this would have gone over much better for me. But the vibe I got after 30 hours was too close to the “empty and depressing” side of the scale, and not fun and charming like I expect from a Zelda game.

Not to imply a Zelda game always needs to be cheery, and I’ve gotten into that discussion before. But this one left me feeling like I was alone in this huge world, and it didn’t click with me like the other solemn Zelda games did. There is still the charm associated with those titles, and Breath of the Wild is not one that I’ll keep in the “happy” part of my brain.

Do I think it’s a perfect 10/10? No, I don’t. I think like the game itself, the reviews were rushed to meet deadlines and make ad revenue, and as people like to read extreme opinions, getting readers hyped by raving about the game was the best option. I wonder how many reviewers actually spend 50+ hours on the game…

That being said, and I already mentioned this at the beginning, but I think Breath of the Wild is a great game and recommend everyone play it, because it is a fantastic experience and one of the best games to come out in some time. The fact that I keep bringing this up is probably my inner Zelda fan firing off its automatic defense mechanism, but I consider that a testament to how much I really love this franchise. It will definitely hit the older fans differently, depending on their memories of Zelda.


In the next part of The Breath of the Wild Critique, we’ll talk a bit about the “day-to-day” gameplay and where it started to get repetitive for me.

I never thought I’d be writing a harsh critique of a Zelda game, especially one that sank its hooks on me immediately. High standards yield harsh criticisms! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the critique so far – let me know what you think in the comments!

12 thoughts on “The Breath of the Wild Critique: The Honeymoon Phase (part 1/4)

  1. Pingback: The Breath of the Wild Critique: The Burnout Phase (part 3/4) – nostalgia trigger

  2. Pingback: The Breath of the Wild Critique: The Exhaustion Phase (part 2/4) – nostalgia trigger

  3. It doesn’t seem too harsh to me, especially since you’re writing from a very honest perspective taking your life situation in account. Though I do think that the exploration works in small bursts even though it’s so large. I attribute this to the fast warps and shrines. In BotW, you can always warp somewhere else if wherever you’re going isn’t fruitful. Likewise, the small shrines gave me a constant sense of progression that I don’t usually get unless I’m sitting down playing other Zelda games for long periods of time. I don’t think the map necessarily had to be big, but there are lots of people that enjoy that. There’s that sense of getting bang for your buck. With the fast warps, I don’t think the large world is that much of an issue. Both sides can be pleased. Finding some shrines can get tiresome though, I will admit. I haven’t gotten every shrine yet, but I will be using a guide to pick off those last few.

    As I was saying, I appreciate reading your perspective and look forward to more of your critique! Great job on this so far Geddy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Panda! Appreciate the kind words, as always 🙂 This has been weirdly taxing or me to write – coming out against certain traits that mere weeks ago I was in love with is tough, but I keep saying to myself “every single other review out there says it’s perfect,” which is actually more true than not.

      Like you said, both sides can be pleased – the fact that you don’t have to take your time with this game is what makes it OK – I think my biggest issues stem from the fact that it’s a Zelda game. If this were some other new property, I wouldn’t have minded it all, but with my beloved Zelda.. well, I’m a little more harsh.

      That being said, this review will be _nowhere_ near as harsh as if I wrote about Phantom Hourglass/Spirit Tracks! Reeeaally didn’t like those games at all.

      Looking forward to posting Part 2! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Haha it’s important to share your honest opinions. I don’t think the game is perfect, and I don’t think any other 10/10 reviewer said it either, but it comes closest to that pinnacle of what games should strive to be that led a lot of us to give it such high scores. But it’s just as important to call the game out where it’s needed, so I definitely like what you’re doing! And as for Phantom Hourglass, it’s my least favorite Zelda, so no problem there! I liked Spirit Tracks, but PH is horrible…

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Really interesting article. I must praise your objectivity there, because you didn’t let your love for Nintendo cloud your judgment. Although I didn’t touch the game myself, I had an inkling ever since the publication of the very first BOTW review that the game’s virtues were blown out of proportions and that reviews were way too stellar to be fair and honest. I can’t wait to read your subsequent posts about the matter and learn more about your experience with the Switch’s flagship!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Isleif! I remember seeing all those perfect 10s rolling in and I rolled my eyes like any pessimist would. While it had it’s issues for me, don’t cross it off your list when you inevitably get a Switch! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Imtiaz Ahmed

    For me I found it to be one of my favourite games ever. I could see how big open world games can burn you out, and how hard it is to play such games with limited time. I’m in the same boat. The only way I can play BOTW and other huge games like it is to play that game and that game ONLY. Balancing between work, family time and general house chores, it’s quite daunting to complete even a 40 hr game these days. Let alone 80 hours.

    I used to try and juggle several titles at a time, but it never worked out, they are just too many big open world games now. Sticking to just BOTW worked wonders for me. And I loved every minute of it, but I can see how it burns people out. I personally think with the amount of big games out now, I want to step away from this craziness for a bit and play more linear games. I don’t agree it’s necessarily a problem with BOTW, but just now that I’m done Zelda, I have mass effect andromeda, xenoblade chronicles x and witcher 3 to complete. Just say those games in one sentence together makes my head explode. It’ll take me years to do all this! There are so many of them.

    I agree needlessly walking from place to place can get boring, but I felt BOTW provided many fast travel points from a few towns, to towers, to 100s of shrines. Combined with a paraglider, going from place to place to me was pretty easy. I’m not always for fast travel though, there are times when I do want to walk from place to place. So i was able to do this at my liesure depending if i wanted to quickly knock out some discoveries, or just do some sight seeing and see what I could find. I found some cool stuff all over the place by walking and fast travelling.

    I also believe, not every game needs to be a big open world. As I said, sometimes I do want to play some more linear games at times. I do feel for Zelda, this was a step in the right direction and has made Zelda that much better. It will be very interesting to see what they do for the next major release and what they’ll add to it

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Nice reply!! And great points. The fast travel system worked really well having 120 shrines to find, and one of my favorite ways to get around was to warp to the nearest tower and paraglide to wherever I needed to go. In fact, I think that was one of my favorite parts of the game and the method by which I found most shrines and spent the first 30 hours or so.

      Uncovering the whole map was a joy in itself and the paraglider was my favorite addition to the Zelda repertoire in years, even though we had something kind of similar to that in Wind Waker.

      You’re certainly got a lot of games to get through man! The open world games are definitely the biggest burnout machines out there so breaking them up with some small, linear games is definitely the way to go. Good luck on those!

      After I finish Exist Archive on the Vita, I’m taking a long break from long games. Ever Oasis is the next and probably last long game I’ll be playing this year!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Imtiaz Ahmed

        yea i’m basically trying to pair 1 big game with 1 small game, so i can some more linear stuff when i need it.

        I can’t wait for ever oasis, i think you ran some article on it, i’ve been interested since

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ever Oasis is going to be incredible! I can’t wait for that one. Until then, it’s all 10-12 hour games for me. Just gotta finish Exist Archive which is seriously going into overtime at this rate…

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Robert Ian Shepard

    Your thoughts immediately after the game echo what I have seen other folks saying a month or so after they beat it – Breath of the Wild isn’t this amazingly perfect game it was blown up to be. I definitely agree, and this definitely will not be my favorite Zelda (although it is certainly excellent). I look forward to seeing your other articles!

    Liked by 1 person

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