I blame all of my confusion about Breath of the Wild and what I want out of a Zelda game on Mark Brown. In his fantastic video series Boss Keys, Mark breaks down how dungeons are designed and executed from every Zelda game since A Link to the Past. He analyzes everything about the dungeons, from item placement, to keys, to shortcuts and everything in between. These giant themed labyrinths are the best parts about any Zelda game and the ones in Breath of the Wild are... not there?
|Get ready for lots of blue.|
Later on in the fantastic story you start tackling the closest thing to a traditional Zelda dungeon, the Divine Beasts, but these are just more physics based puzzles with limited combat inside to four or five connected rooms instead of a single room. Like the Shrines, they all use the same textures as the others, this time browns and blacks with hints of Ganon’s corruption. All four follow the exact same pattern:
- Download the map
- Manipulate the environment to activate terminals
- Unlock a master terminal
- Fight the boss
This frustration about the lackluster Shrines and Divine Beasts replacing unique and special Dungeons though is incredibly minor compared to how awesome everything else is. As the ultimate and genre-defining sandbox experience, Breath of the Wild should make any other developer making an open-world game sweat bullets. While its story is riddled with magic and heroism, its detailed physics and chemistry engine make every little thing you do truly magical.
|Hyrule is full of life and crazy opportunities.|
Another big change from previous Hylian adventures is how your inventory is managed. Juggling your key items between three or four different action buttons has been replaced with a system that allows you to equip anything to use in combat. Those spears your enemies are throwing at you? Pick them up and throw them right back! Need to deal some extra damage? Equip your giant two-handed axe and swing away. On your last leg and only have a torch? Good luck! Each item has an invisible durability score, so don’t get too attached to that powerful sword you found in a chest while clearing a Shrine. It will break right when you need it most.
Thanks to the expansive list of weapons, every combat situation has to be able to be defeated regardless of your equipment, so all gating has been thrown out of the window. Enemies that are difficult unless you have the Hookshot or the Fire Rod are gone. Puzzle solving items like the Dominion Rod are nowhere to be found (as far as I know). If you are skilled, and lucky enough, you can brute force your way through most encounters.
This makes the game feel more populated, but less unique. You do get different color variations of the same five enemies to fight against depending on your locale, but that game development trick should have retired years ago. Why isn’t the forest filled with Deku Baba’s, hiding in the soil to get the jump on you? Where are the Dodongo’s that are invulnerable until they swallow a bomb? Why don’t Ghoma’s start crawling out in the middle of the night, their glowing eyes their only weak point? I would even be happy with the jump-straight-at-you Tektites instead of a yet another Bokoblin camp or Chuchu ambush. Anything to break it up.
To be fair, there are giant world bosses that provide unique encounters, but even some of them get the recolored treatment. This turns what could have been fun one-time battles against a special boss into just bigger targets. There are a few unique encounters that are special and can’t be repeated, and those moments shine. The later enemies that hit harder, like the vicious Lynels, are typically fought one-on-one, giving the encounter a sense of a fight-to-the-death. I just wish this gravity translated to every battle.
The ever expanding world is as much of a threat if not more, than the encounters. You have to manage a stamina meter as you do things like climb and swim, and running out of stamina is almost always fatal. That is, if the world doesn’t kill you first. If you get to high enough altitudes, you start taking cold damage, if you go too far into the desert without proper protection, you will take heat damage. Most of the game ignores music tones, aside from when you are in hub area’s like Zora’s Domain, and just focuses on ambient noises like birds and running water. All three of these elements work in tandem to bring Hyrule to life.
From a story perspective, Breath of the Wild is incredible compared to the Zelda stories of the past. It finally feels like the cinematic wonder everyone had in their heads. While it does feature a mix of text and voice acting, it feels a little behind the curve compared to fully voice acted games like Mass Effect and Fallout 4. Once you unlock all of the cutscenes though, you can basically watch a significant part of the game as a full blown movie.
I am so frustrated about this game. I can’t help but feel like there should be more to it. The transition to a breathtaking open world robbed Zelda of a lot of it’s uniqueness, be it dungeons, enemies, or items, but it is still the absolute best sandbox game I have ever played. I keep coming back to it, and love exploring this version of Hyrule. Breath of the Wild doesn’t hold your hand and it makes you think in the terms of the real world, ignoring the physical boundary of the controller you are holding in your hand. I can’t wait to experience this game over and over again, be it through watching speedruns or seeing something new I haven’t seen yet.
This post originally appeared on RoguesPortal.com.