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!
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!