After the stunning introduction via the Great Plateau, I’m still less than halfway through this epic saga; $90 (Canadian) well spent! The main quest asks you to recruit the power of four Divine Beasts before the ultimate showdown with Ganon, and I’ve completed two of those. The Beasts are large enough to serve the role of traditional Zelda dungeon, supplemented by the 100+ ‘mini-dungeon’ Shrines that make up the brunt of BotW’s progression.
The Shrines and Divine Beasts (I’ve encountered so far) are much smaller than traditional Zelda Temples. I’m a big fan of this as it removes my least favorite part of the older games: getting lost. The Shrines in particular do a great job of communicating the primary puzzle to solve. The ultimate solution might be easily apparent as well, but how you get there is the fun part. I’d much rather spend my time experimenting and pondering a problem instead of wandering the many rooms and floors of a Dungeon looking for something I might have missed.
The Shrines are a highlight and encapsulate much of what makes Breath of the Wild a great success. Discovery and engagement are words I use often when describing my love for this game, and finding Shrines is a great example of both.
You’re eventually given a device that points you in the right direction (when close), but you’ll still need to keep your eyes peeled as the Shrine could be tucked in a corner, above, or below you. Climbing to a high vantage point, spotting a far-off Shrine’s red light, and marking that position on your map for later exploration is also very satisfying.
The Shrine/Beast formula is much more streamlined and great for pacing. I’ve been stumped by one Shrine so far, but it’s an easy process to mark it on the map and warp to the next point of interest.
Combat in BotW is serviceable but a little disappointing considering the vast improvements made across nearly every other aspect of the game. The general formula of slashes, combos, the circle-motion, and jumping strikes hasn’t evolved much from Ocarina of Time. The different weapon types and ‘Flurry Rush’ (after completing a perfect dodge) are the biggest additions.
My toughest battle came against a hard-hitting, large creature (I won’t spoil), and although the battle was challenging and fair, it boiled down to simply performing 10 or more Flurry Rushes after dodging the same combo. I could have used different attacks but it felt like the Flurry Rush was doing the most damage by far. It was effective, but got stale a quarter of the way through the battle.
Dark Souls boss battles generally consist only of rolling and attacking, but their epic scope, imaginative animations, and dangerous attacks add tension. BotW’s larger enemies can still wow me with their style and power, but it’s fairly easy to stock up on meals that instantly restore your health while paused. The craftable elixirs and meals are a fun part of the collection mechanics, but perhaps if they refilled health at a slower rate it could have preserved a sense of danger in the toughest battles.
Some enemies will use elemental attacks that can turn a usually harmless opponent into a one-shot assassin. But again, it comes down to wearing the right armor or crafting a resistance elixir to that particular element. Preparing for an enemy makes sense within the mechanics of the game, but is about as fun as putting a jacket on when it’s cold outside.
Despite my criticism, I find the combat satisfying enough, especially when taking on a camp of several enemies. Planning the approach, eliminating the guard on watch (who can signal his horn to alert the rest), utilizing the exploding barrels these guys love to have around, or swooping in with your para-glider like Batman allows for a lot of creativity.
Some of the enemies seem to have lives of their own, cooking meals on the fire and even dancing. Seeing them scramble for weapons once alerted is a nice, realistic touch. I almost feel bad for murdering them all and taking their dinner; could have been someone’s birthday!
Once engaged in the fray, Link moves quick enough to nimbly deal with a gang. Mixing in the unlimited bombs (with cool-down) to send your opponents and their weapons flying is just one of the ways you can mix up the assault.
When not in battle, you spend most of the time heading in the general direction of where you need to go, discovering great moments along the way. One of BotW’s greatest achievements is demanding the player’s attention on the world as you’ll find rewarding items and things to do just about everywhere you look. So much of modern gaming feels like the player is hand-held from set piece to set piece, but BotW offers truly emergent gameplay that can differ widely depending on your approach.
The overall experience of BotW feels an awful lot like Nintendo has finally let the younger designers (that grew up with modern gaming) contribute to Link’s latest adventure. The physics puzzles feel like Half-Life 2, the towers are textbook Ubisoft-open-world, the weapons and large bosses feel very Dark Souls, and many other elements from outside Nintendo’s usual toolbox make an appearance. It’s like a greatest hits of game mechanics, coated with Nintendo’s highest level of polish and passion.
If – like me – you felt you out-grew the Zelda franchise, I’d highly recommend you come back and rediscover what made the series so important to begin with. Nintendo clearly has.
I’ll post my final review after defeating Ganon and completing as many side quests and secrets as I can find.
Here’s the latest episode of GameThinkTalk discussing BotW in the meantime.