Welcome back to the Nostalgia Trigger Breath of the Wild Critique! Here’s your host Geddy, who is speaking in the third person for some reason.
If you missed the first part, the context may get lost here since this is a continuation of the first part. In that event, please click below to check out part 1 before reading onward.
The Exhaustion Phase
I briefly touched upon the first 30 or so hours of the game in part 1, how I enjoyed it thoroughly, looked forward to playing it, and overall enjoyed what I called the “honeymoon phase.” But I never went into too many specifics of what I found so fun. In an effort to stay balanced and convey my actual opinion about the game, as opposed to turning this into a rant, I think I should go back into the gameplay elements that really worked for me.
Exploration is obviously a huge part of what Breath of the Wild prides itself on, and it can be argued that it is the defining feature. The world cultivated by Nintendo is both mind-blowingly large and an absolute blast to explore. While over time these areas got repetitive, which is what the focus of part two will be, the initial discovery phase lasted so long because it was so damn interesting to move around. That alone is enough to deserve a high degree of praise – even though my playtime is lighter than most, people have spent 100-200+ hours here.
The game has one of the best and most entertaining physics engines I’ve ever played around in, second only to maybe the Source engine (Portal 2, anyone?), and that alone kept me occupied for many late nights. Galavanting around with my newfound Magnesis ability, dropping stuff on enemies, putting objects in stasis, and blasting them with a bomb before climbing atop them to launch me across the map and coast for miles – these activities by themselves make the game worthy of its $60 price tag and at least 30 hours of your time. Having fun – that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
My typical gameplay session went something like this:
- Pick an undiscovered part of the map.
- Find the tower.
- Find all the shrines around it.
This could last anywhere from 3-5 hours, per each part of the map. Since you can use your viewfinder and mark locations literal kilometers away, there was always something interesting to explore, and always a great starting point: atop the Sheikah Towers. Simply warp to the tower, spin around and mark some areas to explore, and jump. Gliding through the air yielded immense satisfaction and was rewarding every single time until the very end.
After uncovering the entire map, which was probably around the 25 hour mark, I set my sights on finding shrines. Using the Shrine Radar, it makes it pretty easy to do so. And this worked for a few more hours. Where it fell apart for me was a culmination of several things. One of them is the lack of diversity of the enemies.
There was a certain point early on in the game where I stopped seeking out enemies to fight with. The simple reason behind this is that there are only a handful of enemy unit types and reasons to engage enemies in the first place. Sure the colors and their attack powers change, but that’s about it. This lack of a diversity of enemy types became evident to me very quickly in the game, and I thought Nintendo could have done a lot more with them. This to me is evidence of rushing the game out before it was totally ready, and on a long enough timeline for the game being developed, I think we would have seen more varied trash mobs.
One of the times when this is most evident is the “Test of Strength” challenge shrines where you must defeat an enemy guardian of variable difficulty. I found these to be very repetitive and after encountering the fifth or sixth one, I let out an audible sigh at the thought of ripping one of these apart again. I’ll go more into this in a later point, however, but it stands as a point: the very diverse land of Breath of the Wild has a strangely limited set of enemies.
Once you’ve made your rounds and uncovered the map, there’s rarely any place that is worth re-visiting. It’s going to be the same enemies and the same encampments, albeit with stronger enemies, but the same basic shells nonetheless. Once you’ve taken out a few gangs of Moblins, there’s not much point to doing it again. They practically exist for reason of free swords and shields.
Speaking of which…
Swords and Shields and Durability
One of the things I think Breath of the Wild did well was the weapon durability, which I’ve spoken to great lengths about before. Early on in the game, you must be very careful with which enemies you engage battle with. A poor choice can lead to Link being completely out of a way to defend himself, aside from bombs which do practically no damage and have a long initial recharge time. The weapons are diverse and have really cool effects added to them, and that I really enjoyed. Something about sending a weakened glass sword into the after life by throwing it at an enemy and explode into a fine mist was weirdly satisfying.
The durability was necessary to balance the game, and I applaud that move. I also enjoy how it affected the Master Sword – obviously we couldn’t permanently destroy the Master Sword, so it was nice that it had a recharge mechanic to make sure it wasn’t completely overpowered. It made enough sense for me to suspend disbelief in the Zelda universe.
Anyway, the part that shines about the weapon system is that as you find bigger and better weapons, you still need to level up yourself. It forces you, the player, to evolve your fighting skills. A lot of the bigger weapons are two-handers which makes it very time consuming to attack, and while you can find high-level weapons earlier on in the game, you probably won’t be great at using them. I thought this was a good game design mechanic and I have no complaints about swords, shields, and durability.
The Cooking and Eating System
The first time I tried cooking something, after figuring out the clumsy controls in which you must fumble around with the inventory menu and then walk near a pot, I was immediately overjoyed by the animation. It sounds silly, perhaps, but it reminded me of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate when you eat a pre-hunt meal. It felt very official and it was amazing to me how much the different ingredients affected the end result. I only got the “failed cooking attempt” meal a handful of times, but that was usually from trying to make a trout-steak-berry-honey-and-mushroom sandwich, so it was understandable.
More evidence of Breath of the Wild being rushed more than this article lies within the cooking and recipe system. What if, when you combined certain foods, it saved the recipe, and then you could re-cook it later, automatically? Perhaps let the player select the quantity, and then have a big meal prep Sunday situation fire off, letting them fill their inventory? Instead you need to go through the awful cooking system multiple times, and if you’re like me and try to cook tons of things at once, you know how tedious this can quickly become.
I think Nintendo made the decision to not allow batch meal cooking has to do with either development time, or they wanted to force the player to experiment with different ingredients. This is understandable, but food plays such a vital role that they just as easily remember how to make the best super food that restores all hearts, and then it’s just a matter of repetition and skipping the animation. I would have preferred that the animation was unskippable, but you can cook many meals at a time.
While food is essential to Link’s survival in Breath of the Wild much like it is to all of us in the real world, it’s surprising that he is able to eat such a massive amount of it without throwing up all over the place. It took me mere minutes into the game to realize that I could go on practically forever with three hearts, as long as I had a large stockpile of apples, or some other uncooked garnish food that restore a half heart. The fact that Link can eat and eat and eat is very game breaking to me. Because no single hit on Link can take him from full health to dead (he will always be left with at least a half heart), you can technically beat any enemy, including Ganon himself, as long as you have the patience to match your supply of apples.
The mindless eating ability could be resolved in a number of ways. I have lots of ideas on how it could have been fixed, but that will have to wait until next time!
Korok Seeds and Collectables
One of the most defining features in Zelda games is the importance of collectibles, upgrades, and the side quests you earn them from. When I first ran into the giant Korok Hetsu and learned what to do with them, it became evident that this was not a necessary side quest to partake in, but a fun thing to make exploring a little more enjoyable. And enjoyable it was, for a time. It is very satisfying finding Korok seeds and it’s quickly evident how handy extra inventory slots can be.
However, after collecting over a hundred, it dawned on me that every one was pretty much copied and pasted across the map. Of course, there were several different varieties, but as variety is the spice of life I can comfortably say that when you don’t use enough spices, your dish is going to taste a little bland.
On a side note, how does Hetsu go about increasing the amount of weight that Link can carry on his person? Is he making Link stronger? Is he modifying his backpack and added more storage slots? This is never really explained. I’m willing to suspend disbelief and accept that a small adult human can conjure up infinite bombs from thin air and control magnetic objects with his mind, but this needed more explaining. I’m really kind of kidding here.
More on the topic of the side quests, I thought they were pretty cool and varied enough. One of my favorite parts about past Zelda installments was upgrading your health by finding Heart Pieces. It was a no-brainer – some person in some town needs some thing, and you just knew that at the end of it, you were getting either a shiny new Heart Piece, or some kind of weapon or wallet upgrade. It was exciting! In Breath of the Wild, you’re usually getting some kind of gemstone to sell, or some money. Not the worst thing in the world, but to be honest it didn’t hit me as an incentive to go run errands for each and every Hyrulian to get some cash.
I realize the Heart Piece system is tied to Shrines, which will be the primary focus in Part 3, but it was an important part of Zelda history that was changed, and I wasn’t a fan of saving up Shrine currency to obtain them. It didn’t feel nearly as satisfying getting 3-4 hearts at a time.
The more I have written about Breath of the Wild, the more evident it has become that there are a few key changes from previous installments that bothered me the most. The collectibles and the trade quests were always my incentive to explore, and without it, it grew tiresome and drove me to game burnout and exhaustion.
I think this is a good place to end part 2, partially because I’ve hit 2,000 words, and partially because we’re getting into Shrine territory. In Part 3, we will discuss Shrines, why I didn’t like them, what I did like about them, and… gulp… Divine Beasts!
I’d love to hear your feedback so far on this series, so please leave some thoughts down below! It might spark some inspiration to tap into another area of this game. Until next time – thanks for reading Part 2 of my Breath of the Wild critique!