This is not a piece for gushing about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Make no mistake, part of me wants to gush about it. A large part. It hasn’t been declared several Nintendo fans’ and reviewers’ (Ordon) GoaT for no good reason. But that’s the thing: you can read gushing about BotW on almost any site. Including this one.
So, I’m going to do something slightly different, while still trying to maintain a tone of optimism – something I think Nintendo fans could do with, even despite the Switch’s positive start.
I’m going to pick apart ten criticisms of BotW that I think have some validity. There’ll be a combination of ones felt noteworthy by others, and by myself. Some I agree with, some I don’t. And then we’ll finish off with ten rapid-fire criticisms I have less time for – again, some my own.
Before that, a couple of pointers. If you’ve yet to experience BotW for whatever reason (and be warned: a large portion of the thrill of BotW is exploration and discovery, so while I won’t post any spoilers per se, you’re still not advised to read beyond this section particularly), there are a couple of things I’d ask you to keep in mind.
The first is to treat this less like a Zelda game, and more like an open world adventure. Because that’s what it is.
It’s been well discussed elsewhere, but several important features of the ‘traditional’ Zelda structure (the 3D Zelda structure anyway) have been scrapped. This is a fresh new approach to Zelda, that borrows from series conventions without always obeying them.
As such, if you go in expecting the traditional sequence of ‘preamble, talky bit, item, dungeon, dungeon item, boss defeated using dungeon item’, or even try to cut the grass to find money and hearts, it’s possible that you might even (maybe, possibly, I mean it’s unlikely but) not like this as a Zelda game. So scotch that. Nintendo’s reinvented their approach to Zelda, and asks its players to do the same.
And the second is to have patience.
BotW’s world is, to use the formal term, mahoosive. Taking your time with it is rewarded. Rushing through it is not.
It’s noteworthy that the few below-80 scores on Metacritic (I know there are problems with the site, I know) came from people who reviewed it late. These are people who likely didn’t get review code from Ninty, meaning they had to rush their progress to get their reviews out in anything approaching a timely manner.
Conjecture, yes. But on the GNamer Forum, this site’s sister site, the only two people who would view it similarly (sub-8/10) were two of the first to finish it. Could be coincidence, but when the coincidences start to mount up, they stop being so coincidental. Trust me, I know, I work in numbery stuff.
Even if I’m wrong, and this is all nought but informed guesswork, you’ll lose nothing from taking a relaxed, takey-timey approach to this game. So you might as well.
And now, for your delectation: ten things people, including me, think might be ever so slightly wrong with The Best Game Ever.
1. There are no dungeons
Remember what I said above? Don’t treat this like a Zelda game. Don’t go in expecting dungeons.
Because it’s true, there are only four dungeons in the formal sense, and these are cut down. The rest of the dungeon content is fed into 100+ similar-aesthetic mini-dungeon 'shrines', of which several aren’t dungeons at all: they’re either one-on-one battles, or ‘blessings’, where the hard work is in reaching the shrine in the first place.
So go in expecting dungeons, and you might come away feeling disappointed.
Which would be a shame, as the four formal dungeons are great in their own right. Revolving around (badum-tish) manipulation of the dungeon structures themselves, they’re clever spatial puzzles that challenge ze leetle grey cells as much as yer Forest Temples, without frustrating as much as yer Water Temples. (Apart from the desert dungeon, that’s the Water Temple of this game for certain, but the music's great so it doesn't matter.) Smaller, and without the focus on the item du jour, they’re not worse than other Zeldas’ dungeons; they’re just different.
The bosses... see point 6.
And the shrines? Although the combat ones pop up time and again, and although the similar aesthetic does get a bit tedious, they contain a huge variety of puzzles, using all of Link’s moveset. Not to mention those where the challenge is getting there in the first place. They’re good fun on the whole.
They won’t replace dungeons in some’s hearts. But for those who keep an open mind, I reckon the four dungeons there are (the same number as in Majora’s Mask, recall) and the plethora of mini-dungeons are a perfectly adequate substitute.
2. I get all Link’s items right at the start
Not a Zelda game!
True, the opening section (as seen ad satisfacteam at E3 2016) gives you basically all of Link’s basic toolset from the off. But looking at it from the point of view of an open-world adventure, doesn’t that make sense? It’s dangerous to go alone, take these, go wherever, do whatever.
And while the four items you get (counting bombs as one) aren’t quite as spectacular, maybe, as the Spinner or Double Clawshots, they’re also pretty fun. Mostly from the variety of uses they all have, but also from the ways you can use them to beat up enemies. Wanging a metal box onto foes' heads never gets old. Or freezing them in time while you thwack their bodies, building up momentum to be unleashed, explosively. Fore!
Whereas previous Zelda games may have used items to make you feel stronger through your adventure, BotW’s more subtle than this. You get Heart Containers, as ever, as well as stamina wheel upgrades. But you also get upgradeable armour, of many different kinds. And the weapons and bows you collect get subtly stronger as you go through the game. (You can hold more of them as well.)
By the end, when you’re beating up the Lizalfos that terrified you at the start without breaking a sweat, or torturing the terrifying Guardians, you feel much stronger. And all without increasing your item stash.
3. Where’s the Hyrule Field theme, Goron City theme, Zelda’s Lullaby etc.
NOT A CHUFFING ZELDA GAME
But okay, there’s a genuine argument to be made about the soundtrack in general, outside its place in the Zelda series. I’ve been playing through the Toby Fox story-bending emotion-toying RPG Undertale at the same time, and the difference in hummableness (that’s a word now) between Toby’s effort and BotW is stark. Heck, BotW barely has an overworld theme: it’s all atmospheric tinkles and animal sounds.
But what an atmosphere they create! Another important difference between this and other Zeldas, especially at the start of the game, is this: in previous Zeldas, the dramatic Hyrule Field theme would make you feel like a god, as you swoop down upon unsuspecting enemies and thump them.
In this Zelda game, you’re a survivor, in a mahoosive unfriendly world. You’re not a god. You’re scavenging food and weaponry to survive, barely staggering from one tower to the next as the aforementioned Lizalfos prey on your feeble carcass.
The music, or lack thereof, adds beautifully to that feeling, in the way that a bombastic Hyrule Field theme simply couldn’t. And when you’re all alone, on a cliff top, surveying the expanse of danger and treasure, with the sun setting overhead, BotW’s minimalist soundtrack works ideally for that too.
Meanwhile, BotW continues the series tradition of doing clever things with its music. Nothing quite as brilliant as turning Hyrule Castle/Zelda’s Lullaby around (called ‘retrograde’, music fact fans), but... well, listen to the build-up of music inside one of the dungeons, as you turn the terminals on. Or to Tarrey Town, as you complete the game’s single best sidequest. Or just go for a decent-length horse ride and keep your ears open.
BotW’s soundtrack may be more subtle, but hummable melodies are there. Especially in the major battles and towards the end. The only big musical problem is that the shrine theme is heard far too much, barely changed.
4. The story’s bobbins
It’s a Zelda game, you don’t exactly play them for... (looks up) Oh. Guess I can’t really use that argument, can I.
Weeeeeeell. If you go through the game’s four main objectives, then to the final boss, then it’s true: the obligatory plot is reasonably minimal. A handful of cut-scenes introducing the ancestors Link fought alongside 100 years ago, prior to being Red Dwarf-ed for a century. Some dialogue introducing their descendants. Then to fight Ganon (this isn’t a spoiler, I don’t think). Wham bam thank you ham.
If you take your time to seek out Link’s lost memories, the stories is expanded a bit. In this case, the telling is explaining Link and Zelda’s relationship, and Zelda’s... well, I said no spoilers. They’re touching and personal, a bit of the small scale that the rest of the game, with its size, can miss.
Having to actively seek out the story (and you can get more, e.g. the Zora’s Domain rocks, diaries) is, to my mind, a good thing for a truly open-world adventure. And both on and off the beaten track, you meet some genuinely good characters during your journey through this glorious world. Bolson, Purah, and Kohga spring to this author's mind.
The story remains a bit light on cut-scenes, that’s true. But saying it’s bobbins merely suggests that you haven’t sought it out enough.
5. The voice acting’s even more bobbins
I started off my playthrough thinking this. Now, at the end, I don’t any more.
My views initially were very skewed by two characters: Mipha and Zelda, as seen in flashbacks. Both seemed lifeless, their deliveries unnatural. Like the voice actresses just weren’t into it.
Zelda gets better. She’s given some not-great lines by the scriptwriters, as they try and ram exposition in with the subtlety of a Goron. When allowed to speak a decent script, she shines. Here is a Zelda with real character: a student first and foremost, who’d rather spend her time buried in books, but destiny forces her out of them. (This author can relate, only instead of destiny, it's needing to live.) Not ripping up the female character textbook any time soon, but she’s better than many damsels in distress.
There’s no saving Mipha, she is truly bobbins, not just in voice acting but in general character. Kawaii desu, yamato nadeshiko desu, Rinku daisuki desu!!! Boak. Her supporting cast’s much better: Urbosa is a personal favourite, but Daruk and Revali have their moments. Even derpy Goron child is decently voiced.
And the rest largely use text-box-speak. That’s just fine. Can’t ruin something if you don’t include it.
6. The limited range of enemies
This is one of mine. I haven’t seen it gone into anywhere else much, but here we are.
I counted. Including the Stal variants as one, and the Guardians as a couple, there are still fewer than twenty basic types of enemies in this game. You’ll be fighting Bokoblins, Keese, Lizalfos, and Moblins in the endgame itself.
It’s incredible, when Zelda has such a diverse dictionary of enemies to pick from, that we see so few varieties here. Skulltulas are out, for example. So are Boko plants. So are Armos, and Wallmasters, and Deku Scrubs, and Moldorm, and Poes. Poes!
Even not looking at this as a Zelda game AS YOU SHOULDN’T, I’d expect more than <20 types of foe. Given the variety of regions and terrain, it’s very disappointing to be taking on souped-up recolours of the same old beasts you were fighting at the start. It’s a cheap and dirty JRPG trick that’s unworthy of such a masterpiece.
And that’s before we get into the bosses. Without wanting to go into too much detail, the main dungeon bosses are four variants on the same idea. They play very differently, so get credit for that; but they look similar and have the same music too, with slightly different instrumentations.
The world, of course, is the real star of the show. The enemies are a footnote, Guardians aside. And the Guardians, and their stronger variants, are the real endgame enemies: you just get them thrown at you early to make you scared. What’s more, they’re excellent endgame enemies, always capable of causing a jump when their music and beeping laser sight come out of nowhere.
Meanwhile, other enemies get bigger and badder weapons as time passes. And they’re bursting with character. The giggling Wizzrobes more so than most, but even the standard-issue Bokoblins are full of entertaining behaviour. They hassle NPCs, hassle livestock, ride horses, dance around fires, and make silly noises. This is before getting to the overworld mini-bosses and their signature tunes.
One could easily argue that so much effort went into what enemies there are that it’s petty to ask for more. It was a slight disappointment, nonetheless. And I maintain that the bosses could have been better differentiated.
7. Dropping frames like a clumsy gallery attendant
I wasn’t going to include this one. Not based on the problems everyone says they have.
For this author, if you’re spouting gibberish about games running at (a smooth) 30fps, or wailing about the lack of individual drops of sweat, or complaining about a game being 900pxHD as opposed to 1024pxHD... I think that’s right, but care so little. Anyway, if you’re doing those, put the controller down and go outside. It’s ∞fps and as HD as you have eye cells.
Dropping frames can be a slightly different kettle of fish, especially in a fast-paced genre like racing or fighting. Which BotW isn’t. It’s a medium-to-slow-paced adventure with occasional quicker bits, a pace that suits it perfectly. And it is beautiful, a fact that’s entirely down to its art design, and not its technical acumen.
So when the frame rate struggled a bit in Korok Forest, and in some of the grassier fields, I couldn’t have been less fussed. I was more concerned about admiring all that waving grass. Lovely lovely grass.
But there were a couple of moments, in the more volcanic parts of the game, when delivering a coup de grace to a moron Moblin and/or their moron friends, when the frame rate actually stopped. Dead. Only after a second or so did it grind up to 10fps-ish, then back to normal rates. This happened in handheld mode, incidentally, even though it’s docked mode everyone else has a problem with.
That did jar me out of my immersion. That’s worth a valid complaint. But it’s two seconds in a hundred-plus hours. And any complaints about gentler frame rate drops should make the complainer have a good long think about their life choices.
8. THAT criticism
Ah, you knew degrading weapons would come up sooner or later! It’s the number-one contentious issue concerning BotW. Some people think it encourages exploration. Some people think it encourages hoarding. Whether you like it or not seems, at times, to be the difference between giving the game 8/10 and 10/10.
And this author's not fussed about it either way.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had moments when I’ve lost a great weapon, and I’ve been annoyed. Sometimes in a battle with a fearsome enemy, like a Lynel. Sometimes through simple degradation over time. And sometimes because I’ve not had any bad weapons, and Stasis is the worst Sheikah power in the game from a puzzles perspective, and Stasis puzzles should feel bad.
The shrines suffer most, I think. They’re all about hitting switches and shooting things (as well as the aforementioned Stasis bobbins), and trying to go about them in a way that relies on bombs (ironically, the least degradable weapon in the game) makes them a bit more tedious than they should be. Meanwhile, other areas demand that you drop a valued weapon in exchange for a windy leaf, or a torch, and that’s a pain.
But I’m subconsciously aware that much of the problem is with me. I’ve hardly ever been genuinely short of good combat-important weapons, let alone bows or shields. I just feel that way at times. The Korok seeds that you need to grow your inventories are semi-literally everywhere, and the game’s generally pretty good at keeping you supplied (unlike my poor Rupee-augmented arrow stash).
Break a weapon on an enemy, and there’s every chance it’ll top you up with something good upon defeat. And the enemies’ weapons kindly get stronger, both in innate type and in the bonuses associated with them, as you do. You’re even provided with a sledgehammer before most Stasis puzzles (although, sadly and badly, not all).
Also, as a result of the weapon system, I’ve had to get used to wielding all three main types of weapon (swords spears and clubaxehammers), whereas normally I’d mostly be swording it up and spears wouldn’t get a look in. That’s got to be a good thing.
Yes, degradable weapons can be annoying. But they can also be not that big a deal, or even beneficial. I don’t think there’s an absolute answer, and this author falls somewhere in the middle.
9. Hylian fatigue
This is a very personal problem I’ve found. It’s small, and it only kicks in after a lot of playing time, but it is there. Simply, growing sick of the game.
BotW is mahoosive, and there’s loads to do. Taking a patient approach, as said above, is definitely the way to go. But because of the size, and potentially the sameyness of some of the tasks, the patient approach can cause a player like myself to get... well, a bit bored of it all before the end.
Let me make it clear here. At the time when I started to get a bit fed up with all of the BotW there is, I’d ploughed a minimum of 70 hours into the game. That’s a level of fun comparable with a giant JRPG like Xenoblade, or two main-series Pokémon games, or about twenty playthroughs of Luigi’s Mansion. And I’d had fun for almost all of it.
And it didn’t last for long, in all honesty. Because then I took down the fourth major dungeon, and that mixed things up yet again. And then I (gasp) used a walkthrough to help clear up the bits and pieces I wanted to prior to taking on Ganon.
It’s a very minor complaint, but I thought I’d point it out. BotW’s a brilliant game, but you can (eventually) have too much of it. You have been warned.
Bog off, rain.
You’re ruining everything. Climbing attempts. Fires. Bomb arrows. Visibility.
You have some small advantages. New animals come out. You can sneak up on things more easily. And when used tactically, like in the Zora area, you can even add to the gameplay.
You add to the feeling of a living world, there’s no doubt about that. Nobody can argue they’re not warned about you: there’s a weather forecast in the bottom-right of the HUD, warning of potential rainfalls before starting off on an epic climb. And there’s something quite special even about sitting still on a mountain ridge, waiting for you to cease before continuing. It’s an atmosphere thing.
But you simply turn up too much, are too hard to skip through (due to your fire-extinguishing properties), and are generally a pain in the backside. It’s telling that more extreme climates can sometimes feel like a blessing, because Link can go about his business without the threat of the sky urinating on him.
I live in the UK, rain. I get enough of you spoiling my days without you turning up in BotW too.
Here’s the thing, now. Those are the main concerns. That’s it. Nitpicks and disagreements, scattered throughout 100+ hours of pure and utter magic.
There are other criticisms levelled at this game, granted. The following are all genuine moans I’ve heard or made. Let’s quickly dismiss them, with the snootiness of the French aristocracy dismissing the poor prior to seeing the guillotine.
11. The regions are out of place
You’re very clearly drawn to the Zora region first, and then either the Goron region (from the Zora region) or the Gerudo region (from your starting point), by the game. The Rito region (northwest) is one of the last two picks, despite having the easiest dungeon; meanwhile the Gerudo region is hard as nails. They could, if they wanted to, have put the regions in a more satisfactory order. Just as this author could have rearranged his videogames in alphabetical order, for a marginally more satisfactory appearance to his gaming shelf. But I’d suggest Rito/Zora/Goron/Gerudo for the marginally most satisfactory order.
12. Minimal menus
A minor point because you barely spend any time there, but the mute slideshow that greets you upon firing the game up is a tad disappointing. Not that I’m comparing this not-a-Zelda-game to other Zelda games... but if I was, I might remember Ocarina’s galloping horse, Wind Waker’s island zoom, Twilight Princess’ Ocarina homage, and the great music that accompanied them. Or the fairy fountain variant that traditionally accompanies the file select screen. Which is absent because...
13. One save file per user
Or you can create other users to keep a complete file active, or you can have the pleasure of replaying the game down the line. Hardly worth mentioning, let’s be honest.
14. The stamina bar exists
Are we really complaining about this? The stamina bar is what makes climbing, BotW’s most freeing mechanic, possible: the game would be nothing without it. Not to mention that stamina is another method through which BotW makes you feel more powerful throughout the game, not just boosting your attack and defence (as in many games), but also your agility. And if, as advised at the start of this piece, you’re being patient, it doesn’t hinder your speed that much at all. Although, if you’ve gotta go fast...
15. Horses are underused
A view that I felt, briefly, at a point. What with being able to call them only from certain places, something that (like the rain) builds up the feeling of a ‘complete world’ at the expense of gameplay convenience. After that point, I took several journeys in quick succession on which my horse, Warhorse a.k.a. Fathorse, was invaluable. Try crossing Tabantha Tundra on foot. Go on, the rest of us will wait.
You back? Pain in the neck, wasn’t it. Right, on we go!
16. It’s got two forced stealth sections in
Neither of which were any problem for me, and I normally hate stealth. Can’t say either set my day alight, despite one taking place in the volcanic region; but they’re not too hard if you know what to do and are generally pretty inoffensive, despite the lack of mid-section saves. And the non-fiery one is one of the funnier sections of the game.
17. ZOMG it copied UbiSoft’s towers, they’re rubbish
Hmm. I’ve never experienced one myself, but from what I’ve heard of the notorious UbiTowers, getting to the top gives you a map out of nowhere, and throws a bunch of icons over it. BotW’s towers are infrequent, are often challenging to climb (or fun to cheese with the Thunder Helm), download the map through ancient droplet technology (dat jingle), and then encourage you to spot areas of interest using your magic telescope and your own perusal skills. That doesn’t sound much like UbiTowers to me.
18. It eats battery life
Oh stop yer moaning. You’re playing the latest 3D Zelda, the latest one mind you, on the bus/train/plane. That’s three hours of what in OoT’s time they’d have described as witchcraft. That’s three more hours than any human being has any right to experience. Be grateful, and get a portable charging device.
19. It eats human life
I get this one. Evenings pass in the blink of an eye, with nothing else being accomplished. The time you set yourself to leave the house, with plenty of contingency? You’ve missed it, and you don’t know where you’ve put your house keys. You start playing on the bus, and find you’ve missed your stop, and you’re on the road to the middle of nowhere. I understand these all too well. Nintendo has your back here, teaching you valuable lessons about willpower and inner strength. Do not blame Zelda for this, callow youth: blame thyself.
20. I can’t marry Sidon in real life
I don’t get this one. I found Sidon’s appearances more irritating than anything else (#TeamTeba). But if he’s filling your dreams with lewd thoughts, perhaps put the game down and have a rest. A ‘rest’. (Then come back and play more, because we both know you can’t keep yourself away. Wash your hands first though.)
So, there you have it. The definitive guide to things wrong with Breath of the Wild. Minor quibbles, all of them, none of them either alone or ensemble able to take away from the greatness of the most magical adventure it’s ever been my pleasure to play.
In fact, I have a suggestion. If you think that there’s something seriously wrong with BotW, have you considered that it might actually be you who’s seriously wrong? You don’t need to answer now, just mull it over before you go to sleep, hey.*