Since 1986, The Legend of Zelda has captivated the hearts and minds of gamers the world over. Over its lifetime, the franchise has evolved and changed quite a bit, starting as a 2D top down exploration game.
It would later make an attempt at a side scrolling action RPG, a set of terrible CD-i animated games, and lastly a set of open world exploration games that have set the modern benchmarks for a captivating series. With all that said, the real question is: can The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild live up to its previous iterations, or will it be blown away like so many a leaf?
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Platform: Wii U, Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)
Release Date: March 3, 2017
Breath of the Wild is a beautiful game on its surface. The art style is a unique blend of water colors and pastels mixed with the design principles of Hayao Miyazaki. It is a refreshing style choice and our protagonist, Link, is animated masterfully.
The game takes a big leap toward character customization in this game, giving the player the ability to buy and find many unique pieces of gear. Players can further customize said gear by changing the accent colors on them later on in the game. Link can also find unique weapons while exploring, which are designed beautifully, and fit well with the world that you explore.
Character enemies have that Zelda feel while bringing a new spin to fit within the Breath of the Wilds world. The addition of varied enemy weapons keeps enemy encounters organic and interesting when working properly.
The landscapes you encounter are vast, varied, and unique, each featuring loads of detail, but this all comes at a major cost. The Nintendo Switch version of the game is plagued with big performance issues in the graphics department.
At times when entering or exploring an area with multiple enemies or particle effects, the game can come to a literal hard stop. The game would often have noticeable and massive drops in frame rate in and out of combat: these are unacceptable by any standard. On more than one occasion the frame rate was so bad, the Nintendo Switch itself crashed, and needed a hard reboot.
Let’s get this out of the way before we really dig into gameplay: the frame rate issues impact not only the visuals but the general game feel and your ability to play the game. Add to this the potential for your controller to desync at random, and you have a recipe for frustration.
Many encounters require that the game is working perfectly for you to have a successful fight. Coming from this, Breath of the Wild really does not give the player any room for error when you first start playing the game.
Breath of the Wild has massive scaling issues when it comes to content and the player’s ability to explore it when you first start the game. Most enemies will and do have the ability to one shot you from the time you start the game. This persists to about the middle of the game, depending on how you decide to upgrade Link. This is just bad design, and less intelligent people would label this as hard when in fact it’s still rather easy when the game works properly. But the problem, once again, is that the game does not work properly all the time.
The game has several interesting paths to upgrade the player’s ability to survive the world, but none of them are explained to player outside of Spirit Orbs, which are earned from the 120 hidden shrines in the game. These shrines also act as warp points on the map, making them extremely important to not only find but complete as well. The shrines act as small dungeons, most of which do not include combat, but instead focus on puzzle elements that players would normally associate with previous titles dungeons.
You also have armor upgrades, which require you to find the four Great Fairies scattered across the land and then collect the items needed for said upgrades. This is key to having a more enjoyable gaming experience, as getting some basic armor upgrades immediately will allow the player to narrowly avoid death when the game has a hiccup.
The third path to upgrades players will most likely stumble upon is inventory upgrades earned via Korok Seeds. These seeds are earned from world puzzles, such as a ring of rocks being completed, or dropping a fruit onto a shrine statue offering plate, which will cause a forest spirit to appear and give you the seed. At first they were cute little puzzles you would walk across and complete, but they quickly became vital to your ability to play throughout the game. In general, players are limited to holding whatever they find in 3 categories: weapon, shield, and bow.
The items are limited to the slots you have, and they break early and often. In a perfect cycle you would be consistently gathering and using weapons as they break, but when you take into account that some weapons are clearly better than others, you’ll find stronger enemies can require one or two weapons just to kill. That mechanic combined with filling the limited slots quickly, and the ridiculous amount of hunting you will need to do to have enough slots to be comfortable in combat is exhausting. You will need 441 Seeds to unlock all inventory slots, from the 900 total seeds found throughout the world. In 100 hours of game time, I found 122. Let that sink in.
The world in Breath of the Wild from a gameplay standpoint is vast, but deeply devoid of interaction, outside some key areas. The majority of the land is fleshed out with wildlife, bugs, and plants you can hunt, gather, and collect. Sadly, the systems feel half finished and unintuitive. Cooking is a random stab in the dark, and you generally have no idea what you are making when you make it unless you have memorized or written down recipes you find in books, quests, or conversations with random NPCs.
Much of this is trial and error, and even finding out how to cook is something the player will most likely fumble with at first: go to menu, inventory, select hold item (max of five items), and walk over to a lit fireplace with a pot on it. If not lit, you’ll need to drop flint next to the firewood and hit it with an iron weapon, re-select the items to cook, get close to the pot and hit the cook button. Elixirs are done the same way but use bugs, lizards, and monster parts. Food is essential to the game, as it’s what heals you, yet it is such a pain in the ass that it will push you away from the process.
Another disappointment are the four Divine beasts, which take the place of the typical Zelda dungeons. While they have some interesting mechanics, they have relatively no combat outside of the boss you fight, and no cool unique item found inside to help you traverse the world. The fastest one can be completed in 15 minutes and they offer no real challenge whatsoever. Even Hyrule Castle, which is set up like an unfinished dungeon that you can literally climb over in 5 minutes to get to the final boss, presents no challenge.
One of the main things that felt like a real let down was that all the cool abilities that you would normally unlock by completing dungeons are just given to you at the start of the game. I am guessing the thought process was: “We have all these shrines scattered around the world map, we need to make sure the player can complete them all,” when they really should have condensed the 120 shrines into 30 solid temples while having the abilities tied to the divine beasts. They could give you a heart or stamina bar upgrade at the end instead of needing to find 4 shrines per upgrade.
The saving grace of the gameplay is the exploration. Being about to go just about anywhere and see the world that they made, sculpted, and designed is a bit magical. It’s the Zelda art style we all wanted combined with the ability to explore it to our heart’s content. That may be enough for people, but it still does not excuse all the massive flaws the game has.
There is some good music in Breath of the Wild, but nothing epic like we have come to expect from typical Zelda games. Many tracks are 10 second clips on repeat. If you are in an area affected by this, you will be quickly annoyed by this. It would have been nice if they stuck to the golden rule of “silence is golden.” Let the wind, rain, animals, and world sing the background song.
The sound effect on the other hand are amazing, and it’s a real shame that they get muted by the music. Everything from animals to the wind and rain have unique sounds and are presented beautifully.
One thing that just kills me is the voice acting. It almost as if Nintendo hired the cast of The Room to voice act this game. I almost looked for Tommy Wiseau’s name in the credits and had “Oh hi horsey” stuck in my head for a week.
A stand out in the Legend of Zelda series since its move to the Super NES are the stories and just how accessible they are. Breath of the Wild is an extreme and terrible departure from that. Link wakes up in the “Shrine of Resurrection” with no clue as to what’s going on, with all his memories wiped out. The memories cover the basics of the story, because really, there is no story outside of that. There’s only an end goal of freeing the divine beasts, killing Ganon, and listening to dialog that’s voice acted badly.
Side missions don’t really help flesh out the world. None of the one-off characters are involved in the main quests and nothing really makes you care about the NPCs. In general, it is a steep departure from previous titles and a big departure from good story writing.
The sad thing is, there is an amazing story here with a well written Princess Zelda if you look for it. If the memories were connected to places you needed to go, or made it so you would get the memories when walking into large areas instead of points that are a pain in the ass to find, you would have an amazing character arc and story paced with the exploration of the game. Instead we get the story presented as optional when it should be mandatory.
Ultimately, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a game with grand ideas, from a team that has no idea how to execute them and no time to learn how. It’s a brilliant first attempt, but that does not make it a great game.
Trying something different does not equate to doing something different with notoriety. As a launch title it’s disappointing to say the least, and as a Zelda game it’s downright devastating. As a long term fan of the series, playing the games since I was 5 years old, I feel it is finally time to strike off Zelda as a must buy series without question.
Do not listen to day one reviews, and do not be attached to nostalgia. It will fail you as a consumer and a gamer. This is easily the weakest Legend of Zelda game in the last 20 years, and some simple design choices combined with the time to QA correctly could have produced the best game in the series.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch using a physical copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 7
- Great art style that is animated well.
- The ability to go anywhere.
- Interesting world.
- General systems are designed poorly.
- Massive scaling issues.
- Asinine story setup and execution.
- Frame rate and controller issues.
- Dreadful voice acting.