The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)

Despite being a return to Zelda's roots of an open world action RPG, Breath of the Wild is commonly called a departure for the series. This shows how far off the path Zelda had strayed before returning to form with its latest installment. The game starts with a tutorial area that doesn't feel like a tutorial and is big enough to easily spend a couple of hours or more to get accustomed to the controls and mechanics. What becomes quickly apparent is that the developers have no intentions to funnel the player through a predetermined path, but pretty much every problem you face can be solved in multiple ways. This includes the puzzles found in most of the 120 shrines scattered across this tremendous incarnation of Hyrule. But it would be wrong to call the puzzles broken when they were meant to be circumvented by creative thinking outside the box.

Likewise, where you go after the initial area is completely up to you. If you want, you can go to Hyrule Castle and face the final boss Ganon right away. But Hyrule Castle is a truly threatening place. That is, if you even make it there, because you'll encounter plenty of enemies that can one-shot you. When a new hard mode was announced as DLC before the game's release, it was still unknown whether or not the base game would have difficulty options. It can be confirmed that it doesn't have a hard mode out of the box. But that doesn't matter, because Breath of the Wild teaches you respect quickly. It's no understatement to say that even Zelda veterans will accumulate more game overs in Breath of the Wild than in all previous 3D Zelda games combined. Nobody is going to ask for a hard mode for their first playthrough, because players are going to get beaten to death in no time.

Hyrule Castle is absolutely intense, it's something that hasn't been present in Zelda in a long time. Breath of the Wild's emergent gameplay, world and final dungeon leave such a strong impression on players that it gets completely overlooked that Hyrule Castle is actually the only dungeon in the entire game. Breath of the Wild is so wonderful that an otherwise such glaring shortcoming doesn't even matter. What makes games great are interesting choices, and this Zelda gives players so much freedom that they can go in any direction and discover nice things. Time flies while playing this game and none of it seems wasted, because progress can be made anywhere you go. In addition to the 120 shrines and four titans (which are elaborate puzzles, not dungeons), there are 900 hidden korok seeds (used to expand your inventory) and hundreds of treasure chests with supplies like arrows, gems and rupees. There's a lot of use for money this time around, because there are so many different armor sets with individual perks.

Breath of the Wild is pretty much the anti-thesis of Skyward Sword. Whereas the Wii game had long cutscenes and talkative NPCs, the Wii U/Switch release makes the majority of the story completely optional and only focuses on the most important events in its few cutscenes. While characters are only depicted for a few brief minutes, they still manage to become likeable and relatable. It's the art of telling a story with hundred words instead of tenthousand. The real story are the player's actions and it's not even defeating Ganon that feels like the ultimate goal, rather it's the journey itself. Players have become so used to beating a game as the reward that they've forgotten how fun games can be regardless of if they are finished or not. This is why Breath of the Wild got bombarded with perfect scores, because its premise is "you, the player, are great" instead of the all too common "look how awesome we developers are."

Yet despite doing so many great things, there are still plenty of opportunities where the next Zelda could be improved. There's no need for the world to get bigger; a sequel needs dungeons to provide more of that high intensity that is found in Hyrule Castle. The framerate of Breath of the Wild has too many dips to be excusable, although it is stable for the vast majority of the time. There could and probably should be more music. While it's nice that only half of the korok seeds need to be collected to max out your inventory space, it also means that the rest are only good to drive up a completion percentage (unless it turns out that there is an amazing award for finding all of them). The minigames are fun, but most of them do not net any rewards other than rupees. The replay value isn't going to be the same as for previous games; the classic top-down games can be played through in a weekend, but Breath of the Wild demands a lot more time.

Controls 10 Loaded with functionality, but no problem to get used to them.
No separate options for aiming and camera controls.
Gameplay   Fight and defeat enemies to get better equipment.
Explore the world to upgrade your stats.
Story   Cutscenes are only used for meaningful events and tell
everything the player needs to know.
Single-player   Epic open world game that truly allows players to do what
they want, including facing the final boss at any time.
Multiplayer   Not
available.
Graphics   Excellent artstyle. Rather common framerate dips in docked
mode, notable draw-in and pop-ups in both modes.
Sound   Sparse use of music in the wild where players will spend most
of their time. Dramatic music in key sequences.
Value   The main quest will last most players anywhere between
40-80 hours, but there's stuff to do for well over 100.
Replay Value   Players can try to beat Ganon sooner, but the game is so
huge that it demands much more time than previous Zeldas.
Score 9 A big step in the right direction for the Zelda series, but as
great as BotW is, there's room for plenty of improvements.

 

Downloadable Content

DLC for the Breath of the Wild is only available as a complete package. For €20/S20 you get a variety of things. There is a bunch of new armor pieces, although none of them turn out to be particularly useful. Most notable is the Korok Mask which reacts to hidden Koroks nearby, but its range is so limited that it hardly matters.

Master difficulty has its own save file and replaces each enemy tier with the next-highest one. This means that you won't find any red Bokblins and instead will be challenged by blue ones right from the start. Additionally, a golden tier is introduced and is unsurprisingly stronger than silver enemies. Furthermore, foes have self-regenerating health, so cowardly tactics don't work well anymore.

Trials of the Sword is separated into three parts with increasing difficulty. Each trial increases the base strength of the Master Sword by 10 points as well as its durability. It's the most challenging piece of DLC and it's annoying that there are no opportunities to save the game at any point during a trial. This is particularly damning during the final trial which is the longest one by far and can easily take two hours. The biggest catch is that you must start each trial without any equipment and items, so all you have at your disposal is what you can find along the way. Given how difficult this part of the DLC can be, its reward is rather disappointing despite actually being highly beneficial. Still, I would have liked the Master Sword's strength to go even higher and its durability to become unlimited, because when you beat all of these trials, nothing else will pose a challenge anymore anyway. Might as well enable a god mode of sorts.

The story DLC adds 16 shrines and a new "dungeon" and starts out with the forced use of a very powerful weapon that puts you at a quarter of a heart of health in return. That part wasn't fun and the rest of the DLC is already all about more difficulty. After the initial portion that features four shrines, the additional tasks are a more relaxed matter with a mixture of riddles and combat. The "dungeon" is alright, both in design as well as its boss. The cutscenes aren't exactly a revelation and pale in comparison with what is in the main game.

Overall, the DLC clearly underdelivered. On its own, that would be a bad thing, but looked at in full context, it can be forgiven because the main game clearly overdelivered. As such, I am not angry at it, but merely disappointed by it. I hoped there would be more on offer than such a strong focus on higher difficulty, but sadly there isn't. What bugs the completionist in me is that not even the DLC brings the heart/stamina container total to its max.

Value 10 Trials of the Sword and the additional story content amount to
~15 hours of gameplay. Also included in the DLC: Master difficulty.
Worth it?   Think Twice. The majority of the DLC offers higher difficulty, so if that's
not your thing, then you won't get much out of this.

 

Thoughts One Year Later

If you've read the explanation for my review procedure, you know that no game is eligible for a perfect score (10/10) until at least one year after its release, because I don't want to be influenced by hype. So now that one year has passed since the release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it's time to re-evaluate the game and the review that I wrote and then decide if an upgrade from a 9/10 to a 10/10 is justified.

I consider my review from one year ago quite accurate, both in its positives and negatives that I mentioned. Nintendo fixed the overworld of Zelda and that is a great thing, but the underworld (i.e. the dungeons) are still a construction site. A few people have called Breath of the Wild the best game ever, many have called it the best Zelda ever. I haven't agreed with either group at any point in time and I still don't. For me, Breath of the Wild is merely a foundation for something much greater that is possible to realize, because the shortage of dungeons alone already provides a lot of room for improvement in a future game. Therefore Breath of the Wild won't see a change to its score.

I don't think people will mind if the freedom of Breath of the Wild gets scaled back a bit in the next Zelda. That is, if the trade-off is more structure to the game's progress in difficulty. A Link to the Past is a masterpiece because it hits the right balance between overworld and underworld, and between freedom and linearity.

Last edited by RolStoppable - on 05 March 2018

Legend11 correctly predicted that GTA IV (360+PS3) would outsell SSBB. I was wrong.

A Biased Review Reloaded / Open Your Eyes / Switch Gamers Club