Continuing my rant on Breath of the Wild, here is part 3, finally. In the last installment, we talked about the exhaustion that slowly began to occur from exploring, collectibles, eating and cooking, as well as some more positive words about the durability system. If you haven’t read the previous two preceding posts yet, I recommended reading them first so you don’t lose the context!
For the first couple of shrines, I was ecstatic exploring the space, learning the puzzles, and collecting my shiny Shrine Orb. I loved the animation at the end and it was immensely satisfying. I recall playing the first few shrines in the Great Plateau, thinking to myself, “I can’t wait to see how challenging these get!”
Only, 86 shrines in, and that absolutely never happened.
This is another case of quantity over quality, just like with the map situation. It didn’t need to be that big, just like there didn’t need to be 120 shrines. A huge portion of them were virtually identical containing varying levels of damage sponges: the Test of Strength shrines. Another large portion were Blessing shrines, where the actual act of discovering the shrine was the challenge, and so you had to go through the aforementioned four animations and two load screens to open a treasure chest and get another orb. While I enjoyed the puzzle and the “shrine as a reward” system, the tedious nature of entering and leaving each shrine really took away from this.
The solution to this repetitiveness would simply to have less shrines, but to build upon the concepts introduced in each one.
The powers that you are granted in the first section of the game are powerful, and can be used to come up with some very interesting solutions to the puzzles. A lot of the shrines in Breath of the Wild would start out by introducing a new concept, but then it just.. ended. It’s the equivalent of test driving a sweet new car but being told to stop the car and hand back the keys before you even got out of residential zone.
With each introduction of a new mechanic, by the time the player understands how to use this mechanic, they are already done with the shrine.
It’s like learning a whole language before traveling a country only to discover you really only need to say please and thank you.
I can’t tell you how many times this happened. One of my favorite mechanics was the Stasis power, combined with launching balls across the shrine. It actually worked fairly well as far as aiming is concerned, and it was very fun when you got everything to time correctly. The Mirro Shaz shrine was a good example of this enjoyable gameplay. However, after a measly two puzzles with the same exact solution, you are rewarded to the Shrine Orb. Why not explore this concept more? Whenever those glowing orange balls showed up again, I knew I would most likely be using Stasis and playing a round of mini-golf. And I was always right.
Another one required you to channel balls to the right hole by rotating platforms. But after a decidedly easy task, rather than building upon that lesson, you were done. That’s it. It was as if to say, “You’re done. Grab your orb and get the heck outta here!” This pattern continued for electricity puzzles, rolling bomb puzzles, wind puzzles, you name it.
Every single shrine brought about amazing ideas, but then Link prematurely evacuated.
Imagine if each shrine was set up like a mini-dungeon. Let’s say the puzzles actually got harder and caused some level of difficulty on the part of the player. Remember going under the well in Ocarina of Time? Now that is a mini-dungeon. Ditch the same exact theme or the loading screens or whatever and make them actually fun to go through, don’t make them so simple that they take me 15 whole seconds to figure out. Eventually, the puzzles themselves started to feel like a mere nuisance between you and your next Spirit Orb.
There were some exceptions of course, and a few of the shrines did require you to be a little clever. One puzzle in particular stands out to me, one where Link had to place orbs in a certain pattern to match constellations on the wall. I thoroughly enjoyed that one and loved my “a-ha!” moment. But on the whole, these were far too simple and a massive time-sink to feel wholly unrewarded.
After a certain amount of hours in the games, even the rewards themselves became useless.
I realize that the issue here is that as the shrines may be approached in absolutely any order, they need to have a baseline difficulty. Sure, some can be more difficult, but it’s hard to balance the rewards and treasures found within when the player can be at 3-heart status or 13-heart status. The open-world nature of the game ultimately is what became the undoing of the shrines. 120 shrines of varying difficulty to be approached in any order can’t possibly be challenging, because you always have to consider that the player may be new.
How it could have been fixed? I think fixing this could have been a combination of several things. One, and this one directly goes against the idea of getting the game out for the Switch launch, is to have multiple shrine styles based on the geographic location on the map.
Every single shrine looked exactly the same on the inside and outside. This made discovering shrines absurdly boring for me after the first 40 or so. No longer was I stoked to explore inside and see what they contained. They were all modeled after giant warehouses of empty space, with individual rooms set up like little cubicles. What ever happened to those tight, narrow corridors? Those maze-like rooms with areas you couldn’t reach until you figured out how the whole temple worked, or obtained an item? What about the grimy textures that made you more immersed in the dungeon, leading to feelings of claustrophobia?
Moss growing on the wall, like the Forest Temple in Ocarina of Time?
Frost and snow in the corners of the room, like Snowpeak Ruins in Twilight Princess?
Marbled water patterns like in Great Bay Temple from Majora’s Mask?
I know that Breath of the Wild was a new take on an older formula, or rather a return to the original formula, but removing all individuality from the shrines and Divine Beasts is a huge flaw that, after a while, I couldn’t look past.
Another way to improve upon the shrines would be for them to be longer and scale in difficulty the further away from the Great Plateau you became. If you’ve played Fallout 4, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Eventually, and I think we all did this, we wandered a little too far to the south side of the map, and were ripped to shreds by Deathclaws, murdering robots, you name it.
If the outskirts of the map were set up in a way that they became truly dangerous, and searching for shrines was a big risk that required intimate knowledge of fighting and the weapons to match, overall I think it could have made the shrines be more challenging and feel more rewarding.
Among some of my largest complaints or at least minor issues with Breath of the Wild was the Divine Beasts. A good friend of mine beat the game in a little less time than me, and he ran into the same problems. Keep in mind that the two of us grew up playing Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, etc, swapping the cartridge and passing the controller after each hour of gameplay. We are what you’d call some pretty die-hard fans of the genre.
It’s debatable that dungeons are the focus of Zelda games. They are what you actively seek, they contain the treasures you need to take down Ganon and save the princess, they are the source of the challenge and the mystery and the whimsy. They are the core gameplay that fans of the franchise crave. The Divine Beasts were an interesting take on the dungeons, but as the primary focus of progression within Breath of the Wild, they became less and less enjoyable with each subsequent Beast.
I thought it was a really neat mechanic at first, learning how the Divine Beast could be controlled in a way that made sense for the animal it was. For example, a bird turning on its side, an elephant moving its trunk, etc. I found this very creative, until I realized that all four Beasts use exactly the same mechanics.
By the third Beast, I realized it was all too formulaic. It turned into a repetitive checklist:
- Walk into the dungeon. The spirit talks to you and tells you to activate five terminals.
- Move through and rotate the animal dungeon to get all the terminals.
- Occasionally shoot eyeballs.
- Fight an incantation of Ganon.
Once this realization hit, my opinion of the game was a little tweaked.
I do miss the various “mini-games” that you would find in the dungeons themselves. Block puzzles, shooting Ghosts through picture frames, fighting mini-bosses? These are all staples of Zelda dungeons to me, and having all of them stripped became boring to me after a while. I can have a lot of trouble keeping my attention on something, so repetitive does not work for me. It’s completely alright to be entertained by what I refer to as repetitiveness, but it was a deal breaker for me that will basically guarantee I never return to this game.
After the Fact
I was in the last Divine Beast and needed one more terminal before I inadvertently took a break from the game. When I went back a few weeks later, I wanted to do anything other than finish the dungeon. It stung to feel that burn-out creep in, but I figured I could just have fun exploring and finding more shrines.
How did that go? Much to my thrill, I had a great time! I used my collector’s edition map, spread out over my bed, and went on a treasure hunt, knocking out 4-5 shrines per night. I had a great time exploring all the nooks and crannies of the map. I got just as motivated as I was at the beginning.
But eventually, something happened, and I just could do it anymore. I went from 50 shrines to 86 in a span of about two weeks, and then I just didn’t want to search anymore. I had truly covered so many sections of the map, navigating from shrine to shrine by quadrant, but I hit a point where it wasn’t keeping me interested enough.
Keep in mind that I was only playing for about an hour a day, 4-5 nights per week. That is an extremely low amount of time to play a game of this scale. While I’ve seen friends and colleagues get burned out by playing a single game for hundreds of hours straight, this was not the case here. The lack of diversity in the remaining gameplay had taken its toll on me.
I’d knocked out dozens of side quests, the vast majority of the shrines, all but a single beast with only a single inactivated terminal and Ganon clone separating me from victory. I’d bought tons of armor sets and found all the fairies, spending tons of money upgrading them. I’d murdered more bad guys and raided more encampments than I can remember. Overall? It was a great time. But I was done. I am done. It was time to finish this adventure.
Wrapping Things Up
The next night I flew back up to the Divine Beast in the sky, and finished the final Divine Beast.
I then headed straight for Ganon’s Castle, scaled the outside wall all the way up to the top, and I beat his face in first try. It felt pretty amazing. It was a great ending to the adventure, and while burn-out may have taken its toll on me, I don’t put all of the blame on Zelda.
Sure, the game has signs of being rushed, and personally I believe that the open-ended nature, and the traditional dungeons system replaced with the mini-dungeons distributed throughout the map as points of interest are two great ideas that don’t necessarily work great together.
There is a gray area when writing a review where the lines separating personal taste and actual game design critique can blur, so I’ll just state it like it is: my own opinion. Returning to the classic dungeon formula in the next Zelda installment could only be beneficial. I think players will truly crave that sense of exploring a dungeon, and inverting the dungeon and world size would be the best of both worlds.
I hope you enjoyed part 3 of the most rambly series yet! I think shrines and Divine Beasts are one of the most polarizing attributes of Breath of the Wild, right alongside weapon durability. Did you enjoy uncovering your map and searching for shrines? Did you enjoy the gameplay mechanics in the Divine Beasts, or were you left feeling like you wanted more? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
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