Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild released earlier this year onto Nintendo Switch and Wii U, achieving critical success and huge sales en route to becoming a classic. Yet in the months since, that narrative has shifted quite dramatically, as tends to be the case in the games industry. Suddenly gamers find the games features grating, irritating and largely counter productive to the experience. Web sites are even throwing out the term “overrated” (Which in itself, is overrated). I personally don’t feel this is justified.
Let’s be fair, Breath of the Wild isn’t perfect. There are clearly aspects of the game that only seems to exist as a way to artificially heighten the game’s sense of difficulty. The biggest of these is the cumbersome weapon degrading system — which is overzealous at best, intrusive and beyond fun at worst. There’s also an argument that Breath of the Wild suffers from some of the worst dungeons (if you can even call them that) in the series. The interiors of the world’s Guardians feel more akin to bite size challenges than the meat of the adventure. Compare these to some.of the series great dungeons, there isn’t even a comparison.
But that’s part of what really makes Breath of the Wild charming for me – it’s willing to go all the way in trying new ideas. While previous Legend of Zelda outings got bogged down in the grandeur of their elaborate set pieces, the latest Legend of Zelda focusses more on the journey.It’s not about spending hours figuring out puzzles in dark dungeons, it’s about embracing the world as a whole. It’s the journey above all else that defines the experience, and it’s here that the latest Legend of Zelda excels.
Previous Legend of Zelda games fell into the trap of convenience. The worlds they created felt more like an elaborate series of hubs, connected by afterthoughts and no real challenge. Twilight Princess in particular really lacks that curiosity for me. I never really enjoyed the way that version of Hyrule was designed. It only got worse with Skyward Sword, which went too far in failing to connect its world and make it feel like something better. I know that game has its fans, but Skyward Sword didn’t do anything for me because of this disconnect.
It’s why I suspect the developers behind the game streamlined the process of entering Shrines and Dungeons. For competent players, most of these can be knocked out with minimal fuss. They are but a mere distraction from the real star of the show, the world itself. Instead, Breath of the Wild makes the journey a key component. Everything in this world is out to make you hurt, making even the shortest journey feel that much more treacherous. Plotting icons on your map and moving to them is an adventure all to itself, you don’t know what’s waiting over the horizon for you.
Instead of rushing by enemies on Epona’s back, now you’re forced to hunt and preserve. You need to tame a horse and make it’s your own — a horse that you can lose through carelessness. You need to find the weapons to engage enemies or be left terribly outclassed. The game nurtures a sense of danger that forces you to scope out like never before. Link is vulnerable and liable to be downed with little effort, you have to learn the tricks of the game quickly.
It’s this that makes arriving in the games few populated areas feel like r. The first time I arrived in one of these hubs, I was genuinely taken back by the change in tone. It made me appreciate the little things all.the more — like watching villagers go.about their daily routine. The world’s clock plays a huge part in the daily routine of these people’s enriching the world. You want to stay in these areas to see what happens — it makes the world outside feel all the more dangerous. Of course, previous Zelda games have done this as well, but I’d argue that the execution is perfected in this outing.
For me, this is more engaging than ever before. Not since the original Legend of Zelda (and arguably Zelda 2) has the series genuinely thrown such a difficult experience at the player. Never before has the threat of death loomed so large. Even as you gain more hearts and attain better equipment, you have to remain vigilant. One of the biggest issues with past Legend of Zelda games is that the end game lacked challenge for those who’d collected optional items. Here the threat of that challenge remains unless you’re smart and plan ahead. Complacency is punished like never before.
It’s this shift in focus that I feel has given the series its edge back. No longer a slave the series own traditions and forms, it paves the way for a better game to emerge down the line. The focus on building your Link up and learning with him is part of the core experience – it makes Nintendo’s latest offering feel all the more impressive when you look at the series as a whole.
Granted, Breath of the Wild ties all these ideas to some less than stellar ideas. I’m not a fan of the way the main story is chopped up and turned into a scavenger hunt – meaning some gamers don’t get to see all the dots be connected. In this regard, the execution of certain ideas within Breath of the Wild are certainly less than desirable.
No game is perfect. As an experience on Nintendo Switch, Breath of the Wild stands tall and sets the bar high. It’s not a perfect game (as some may suggest) but the fact that such a big series took a huge gamble and mostly delivered is worthy of praise. In an age where change is slow in the video game industry, BOTW isn’t afraid to slow things down and make its core experience about the adventure. I appreciate that – it made for an excellent experience for me.
But others crave direction. They don’t want boundless adventure, they want a tight story. As said, Breath of the Wild is at its weakest when trying to convey its narrative. Perhaps in any sequel – Nintendo can actively work to marry these two ideas better.
It certainly doesn’t ruin the overall experience though, it doesn’t make the game overrated.