by Isaac Smith
To be frank, I don’t think anyone was really waiting for reviews of the new Zelda game.
To continue being frank, I don’t think most reviewers waited to write them, either.
Leave it to Last Token Gaming to take the tortoise approach to hare-brained video game reporting! Now that we’re done breaking our arms patting ourselves on the back, let’s get to the review.
Here it is: It’s fantastic. It’s expansive, beautiful, innovative, well-written, humorous and fun. If you had doubts, let me assuage them: this game is worth however much time it takes to get through it. Of course, I’m obligated to say (as if you were some sort of idiot incapable of figuring it out on your own): it’s not without its flaws. There, I said it. I hope you’re happy.
I’m going to spend more time on the goodies than the disappointments, however, and the gameplay shines brightest among them. The game is a conscious break from the Zelda formula, and I can’t imagine the fingernails bitten and tears shed over that decision. At the outset of the game, almost nothing is familiar: the gameplay is shockingly different, the locale is “somewhere in Hyrule because we said so”, and none of the familiar NPCs or locales (except a ruined Temple of Time) make an appearance. It feels decidedly un-Zelda-y. There aren’t even dungeons! Instead, there exist “shrines”, which give you “spirit orbs” which are to be used for some nefarious purpose undisclosed to the new player. Great.
But the bones are there. The more I explored the game, the more I discovered the puzzles, bombs and arrows, and gleeful chest-opening sequences that we know and love in a classic Zelda game. Nintendo walked the fine line of new and old, and fused the two beautifully.
Oh, and you can jump now. Hooray!
You can climb everything….and I mean everything!
It’s worth mentioning that “new” is a relative term. A lot of the game is reminiscent of Dark Souls: world bosses, exploration, challenging combat and fragile heroes, etc. Dark Souls did it well, and BotW took many pages from that book when creating their gameplay experience. So while it is decidedly novel for those long-time Zelda fans, well-rounded gamers will find it unsurprising (if pleasantly less filled with death than Dark Souls will ever be).
It’s a little more difficult to get the hang of than most Zelda games (outside of the terrible whirling Wii-mote massacre of Skyward Sword). Because of the freedom of movement, you can approach enemies in a large number of ways. Feel like murdering from afar with a bow? Great! Want to roll a conveniently placed boulder on them from above? Can do! Light them on fire! Drink a home-brewed stealth potion and sneak up while they sleep, or use the rain to cover your footsteps! Or simply sprint up, and create a cyclone of death with a charged battleaxe attack. Creative ways to destroy baddies abound, and the game quickly begins expecting you to start using them, or you’ll soon meet the business end of a spear or boomerang (that’s right, the bad guys get them now, too).
Weapons and shields are now breakable. You have an expandable inventory of each, and can fill it with treasures or trash, depending on what the situation requires. If you’re chewing through cannon fodder to make your way to a new area, low-quality weapons are fine. When a boss battle is between you and your goal, then spending the time to find higher-damage, more durable gear is a great way to prep. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s the first game in a long time where I really, deeply appreciated the Master Sword.
So…who doesn’t love nice, big explosions?
It also takes the Dark Souls approach to the malleable difficulty curve, giving the player the opportunity to fight bosses and mobs much more difficult than they’re equipped to take on. This is one of the things I’m on the fence about: the carefully crafted challenges of Zelda are often what made the earlier games fun. Seeing a lucrative treasure guarded by a boss that will 1-shot you does not make for a happy Hero of Time.
There are also several quick-time events where you participate in a mix of the normal combat and movement mechanics, with timing-based components added to them. They are, without a shadow of a doubt, the best combat parts of this game. When the majority of the game gives you ridiculous amounts of freedom when tackling enemies, taking on a challenging scripted fight feels *really* good.
You play as Link. You have to save the Princess Zelda from the evil Ganon.
Was anyone surprised by the plot?
If you’ve followed the game at all, you should know about the game’s horrific optimization issues when played on a big screen. When rendering a new area, it stutters worse than I did when I asked my future wife to senior ball. Yeesh. (Supposedly they’ve fixed this? And I married my senior ball date, so I’ve fixed that too.)
Another issue I’ve run into is that the excessive freedom often kept me from noticing that the game was nudging me in a general direction. “I’ll try to climb up these steep, rain-slick cliffs! Why? Because I damn well can!” After falling to my death multiple times, the frustration of my failure led me to grudgingly seek another way through, after which the game gleefully informed me was what it had intended all along. Thanks.
The final thing I’ll gripe about is the condescending loading messages. After a game over (which often comes with the same shocking alacrity as the “You Died” screen in everyone’s favorite masochism simulator), tailor-made messages pop up telling the player that falling from heights can be deadly. Or that dry grass catches fire quickly. Or that the enemy whose strategies you died to learn might be too tough for a widdle Hero of Time like you. It’d be like Dark Souls displaying the words “GIT GUD” after every death, instead of informing you about the useful things you’ll need to know later.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the most ambitious titles I’ve ever played. The game pays homage to one of the oldest franchises in gaming, while still being fresh. Expansive and beautiful, flawed but sincere in its delivery. It’s worth playing, it’s worth getting lost in. It’s worth finding the beauty the developers intended, and maybe finding some more that they didn’t. Let us know how you felt if you played it!