In April of 2020 I got my own Switch, and a copy of Breath of the Wild to play on the go - something I planned to eventually do at some point. I had previously beaten the game's main story on the Wii U, but I didn't purchase the DLC because I knew I was going to be upgrading to a Switch copy at some point. Now that I have completed the DLC, it's time I finally share my thoughts on the game as a whole.
Clearing the water, it is probably true that the mere fact this is an open world Zelda was bound to impress me, and negate a lot of shortcomings, which I can definitely see bothering other people. I remember stepping out of the Shrine of Resurrection and witnessing that pan out view of Hyrule for my first time, and like many I was in awe - this was it, the game I had been dreaming of since the time while I was playing Ocarina of Time 22 years ago and thought, "What is beyond that 2D tree barrier?"
For me Breath of the Wild does a lot right, however, it isn't flawless. That said, most of what other people dislike in the game doesn't bother me, and I'll also hold that some of the criticisms towards BotW are not solely an issue for it, rather, they extend out to most Zelda games.
Breath of the Wild's Weapon System Requires Going With the Flow
I think when you play this game, you have to go into it with an understanding of what the emphasis of this game is: exploration. Probably the biggest issue people have with Breath of the Wild is that weapons will break. This game isn't about attachment to items, obviously; it's about the journey in between collecting items, to in turn do more adventuring - playing the game with a different perspective will always lead to disappointment. I'd say my breakthrough for coming to this realization didn't happen until I was about 45 hours into my first playthrough of the game. There were some really good Amiibo drops that I got, and I had some weapons with high attack output that I got from Shrines, but I didn't want to use them, even when I was facing some tough enemies. Then it hit me, what is the point in hoarding some of these weapons in my inventory if I'm never going to use them? I pondered this for a bit, and my conclusion was that it was out of fear of never getting that particular weapon again, and this extended out to Bows and Shields too. Most of the items can be replaced, though, either with something new that is on par with what you have, or better. Sometimes you will lose an awesome item that has buffs, replacing it with something not as good, but if you just stick to exploring (which is what the game wants you to do) you will regain really good items again, and you will re-find most items. The Champion's weapons are unique, and an argument could be made that even though they can be remade after they break, they aren't the original item the respective Champions actually used anymore. I definitely agree on this, so in my first playthrough I preserved the original Champion's items. If you don't care to take the same approach, if they break, they can be remade. Rare Amiibo drops can take awhile to occur, so having those items break can be a bummer. However, as long as you continue scanning the Amiibo, you will get it in another drop at some point.
Overall, almost everything that can break can be re-obtained in some way - the exception being 6 weapons that do not respawn after every chance to get them is expended. However, I don't think anyone will fuss over not getting anymore Kite Shields. Forest Dweller Swords have terrible durability, I was glad to finally be free from using it after the Trial of Wood Shrine Quest - it's definitely not a weapon I'd want to seek out again. The Regular/Mighty Lynal Spears and Crushers can be cool to get at early points of the game, but I think I'd be more devastated if after I've leveled up, that killing Silver Lynals would still give me low level versions of their weapons, rather than the Savage versions, which are the best, and a worthy reward.
In the end, I got over the weapon durability and started to just enjoy the combat, because why stress over a system I can't change that isn't really too bad? Sure, things will break, but the game will always toss replacement items my way. Sometimes you might end up raiding a Boko Camp and get some lower tier stuff, making it seem pointless. The flipside here is that the wrong Boko Camp was chosen: there are always places where particular items are guaranteed to respawn, so if you do enough adventuring, you can figure out all the best raid spots in the game. It's really an inventory cycle if you play long enough, you'll never be stuck with only weaker items forever, unless you purposely want to.
The Joys of the Exploration and Gameplay
Once the weapon durability hurdle is passed, Breath of the Wild has a ton of room to shine. It offers near boundless exploration and freedom. You can go anywhere, and do whatever you feel like, whenever you feel like it. Most players will never have the exact same journey, or do things in the same way. One player might choose to climb a particular mountain, another might just walk around that mountain, or Stasis a tree and ride to the other side, or not even go near that mountain at all. There are many different approaches to practically everything in this game, and credit is due to the game's phenomenal physics engine, which makes a lot of the various scenarios that could ensue possible.
I love this version of Hyrule, it's so visually stunning that I could just run around soaking in the views of the world, nothing else, and I would call that a satisfying gaming session - this is something that rarely happens to me with a game. Even hundreds of hours in, there is still something new to discover, whether it's a new location, a method of combat I never tried before, or a previously unknown way to traverse an area. Plus, the world feels more alive than any other version of Hyrule prior to it. I think I never really remarked on this until my most recent playthrough. I was in the Hebra region, somewhere near the Goma Asaagh Shrine, and I peered down to a lower ledge where I saw a pack of wolves near a moose. It caught my interest because the wolves were actually circling the moose, one wolf would lunge and attack it, the moose would buck it off and try to escape, but was prevented from doing so by the other wolves blocking it. I stayed and watched this go on for another 3 times within a few minutes, because I figured maybe they would end up getting some meat that I could quickly jump down and snatch away. Instead, when the wolf lunged at the moose a fourth time, they both fell off the ledge. The other wolves went further down the mountain after them, but at that point I didn't want to jump down that low to continue watching anymore. You won't see something like this in any other Zelda game, and that's what makes Breath of the Wild special.
In addition, the monsters can be observed doing their own things, as if they have their own lives they are living out, rather than just being in a predetermined spot always walking around armed and ready to fight. Sometimes they are chilling around a campfire with their weapons nearby with a few monsters atop either towers or higher vantage points as lookouts. They might be sleeping, terrorizing travelers on the roads, or dancing around some fruit or meat like they successfully hunted recently.
Continuing, there is various animal life to be found and multiple ways to interact with them. You can go hunting, take pictures with the camera rune for the Hyrule Compendium, and tame some animals like horses. This might be a hot take, but I feel like the NPCs spruce up the world too. Some of them have their own schedules that they can be seen following, which, like I mentioned with the monsters, make it seem like they are really living out a life in this world, instead of always loitering around the same spots. We haven't gotten this much attention to detail to NPCs since Majora's Mask. However, the execution of this was a flop for me, and I'll explain more on this later. Regardless, with all of this considered, I'm at least given an impression that this version of Hyrule is more of a real world than past versions of the land, and that's pretty cool.
As for the combat, it's great. Items breaking causes you to cycle your inventory and use some weapons you may not have used otherwise. For example, I wasn't really too fond of spears at first, but at points I ended up having to use them, and actually came to enjoy their reach during combat. Just like with the freedom to travel, there is also a freedom to combat to approach it from different ways. Sometimes it's very satisfying to roll a boulder off a cliffside, watching it topple enemies as it makes its way towards bomb barrels, dishing out a lot of damage to enemies within a large radius. Alternatively, you could use magnesis on a metallic object and launch it at enemies, or use it to whack them over and over without ever getting too close. These are just a few options out of a list of many others. I could go on gushing about the gameplay for a while, but generally fans are on the same page as me that this is one of the game’s strong suits. So besides weapon durability being an issue for some, what else is there to dislike with the gameplay?
Rain. I have to agree with most that rain really puts a hamper on a lot in the game, and it can happen frequently. I think we’ve all had that inopportune moment where we are climbing a mountainside, and suddenly it begins to rain. If you luck out and make it to an area level enough to rest at, that is maybe not so lucky, because you have no options besides staying there and waiting for the rain to stop. There have even been instances where I was at Kakariko Village with the intent to cook something, but rain put out the fire under the cooking pot, and I couldn’t sit by a fire to make time pass so the rain would hopefully stop. This is definitely aggravating, but this is one of those things where your choices come into play. There are alternative options that can be undertaken to counteract the rain. Instead of continuing to climb a mountain, glide down and find a way around, or use Revali’s Gale to scale it if possible. Instead of staying in Kakariko while it was raining, I could have warped elsewhere to try cooking, I also could have sucked it up and bought a bed in Kakariko to make time pass. So in some ways, our own approaches to rain plays a part in whether the experience is a negative or positive one, that said, I admit that my decisions in regards to rain are usually not ideal.
Listening to the Sounds of Nature
I actually liked Breath of the Wild’s minimalistic soundtrack, I don’t think any of the past games could have pulled it off, but for this one it works well with the entire theme of wonder from being able to explore the wild. That wonder can come from the views, but also from the sounds of nature as well. As some of you know, I live in Savannah, GA, during the summer one can often hear Cicadas outside, and since I’ve grown up here and heard the sound of Cicadas countless times, it is a sound that is just so familiar to me. One Spring afternoon I was playing the game, and while exploring the Gerudo Desert I heard the sound of Cicadas. They sounded so real, I actually thought I was hearing them from outside, not from in the game, I thought, “Wow, the cicadas are out really early this year!” Then I got a phone call from my girlfriend at the time, I muted the TV, talked to her, and when I hung up the cicadas were not making any more noise… odd. I unmuted my TV and the cicadas could be heard once more - I was hearing them from the game. It blew my mind that they sounded so real, and from that point on I gained an admiration for all the sounds of nature in the game. Like I said earlier, it works with this game because Link is on a quest to reclaim the wild essentially and to become a part of it as he goes searching for Shrines and whatnot. I think this does create a better atmosphere for the emphasis on exploration that the game has, plus, when we do get real bits of music it is even more exciting. On the flipside, I don’t think this approach to music can always work, I’m just saying it works with this game.
The Story Aspect of Breath of the Wild is Pretty Weak, But This is True of Most Zelda Games
People seem to rag a lot on Breath of the Wild for not being heavily story driven. The game really isn’t trying to tell some epic story though, my impression is that it’s focusing more on character arcs, the end results being either hit or miss. Mipha is in love with Link apparently and is trying to gather the courage to tell him. Revali is an arrogant Rito Warrior devoted to becoming the most skilled warrior in Hyrule, but we learn he does have a softer side, and he does need to train rigorously to be as good as he is. Daruk is kind of a typical Goron Leader who is always ready for a fight, and fears nothing, except dogs. Urbosa is probably the best Champion because she is basically a Mother to Zelda, and she was best friends with Zelda’s mother. She also knew that Calamity Ganon was once a man who was a Gerudo and wanted him dead for being associated with her people. Zelda has the best character arc in the game. She struggles to unlock her powers, she cannot spend time studying the ancient Sheikah technology like she wants to, despite her efforts there being helpful, and all of this is causing a strain in her relationship with her father. Zelda is also jealous of Link at first because he seems to excel at his role of the Hero with no difficulty. It’s actually through spending time with Link and building a bond with him that she is able to unlock her powers.
Overall, there are more misses than hits here. For every decent character there are two more who have arcs that seem pointless, making for the majority of the story content to be uninteresting, and the same is true of the present day narrative. I feel like the only truly interesting development was the Zora’s older generation blaming Link for the death of Mipha. Additionally, the Yiga Clan could have served to play an interesting part of the story, after all, the concept of defected Sheikah pledging allegiance to Ganon feels like it could lead to some interesting plot developments, but the story goes nowhere with it.
I mentioned earlier that the game gives a perception that the NPCs are actually living out a life in this world, and that they have schedules and various goals. The problem is few of them ever fulfill those goals. So that image of a world with lively NPCs is a false observation, upon a deeper look.
Then we have Calamity Ganon, he shows up, we are told a 10,000 year backstory about him, 100 years ago he corrupted the Sheikah technology, and his Blights murdered the Champions. He doesn't want the Triforce, he just wants to create a new physical body from the looks of things, but Link spoils those plans, leading to one of the easiest final boss fights in the whole series. Hyrule Castle is the only area really negatively impacted by Ganon, and for 100 years it's like the Divine Beasts went dormant. This isn't like waking up 7 years later in Ocarina of Time to find that Volvagia would break free from Death Mountain if Durania hadn't gone into the Fire Temple to buy Link time, or going into Zora's Domain to find everything frozen over. For 100 years things were fine in Hyrule, but when Link activated the Great Plateau Tower, only then did Divine Beasts finally re-awake - why didn't the Blights use them to wipe out all of the races of Hyrule a century ago? Oh right, because that makes sense…
I can't deny that Breath of the Wild has an unsatisfying story, but I will at least say that most Zelda games do. I wouldn't say that there are any Zelda games that perfectly nail an epic story, they mostly retread on formulaic storytelling. The Hero is called to go on a journey either because he is tasked to, or forced to. He goes to some preliminary dungeons gathering relics he is told that are necessary for him to complete his journey. Somehow a wrench is thrown into the original plan, setting in motion a new one with the end goal of confronting the game's antagonist. This pretty much sums up the plot of most Zelda games from A Link to the Past onward. So when people say Breath of the Wild's plot was presented in a repetitive way, which is true, at least it wasn't just another rehash of the story presentation of every 3D Zelda since Ocarina of Time. It got boring when 4 times you saw a cutscene of a Divine Beast rampaging, followed by meeting a village elder who suggests you team up with a descendant of a Champion, but first you should collect some items from a certain spot, then shoot stuff at weak spots on a Divine Beast, complete the glorified Shrine and then get an encouraging message from the dead Champion. Well remember in Ocarina of Time when 5 times you went into an area to find something wrong with it, so then you talk to someone who tells you to go into the area's Temple, inside you meet a future Sage and exchange a few words, you then complete the temple and talk to the sage and get a medallion? Breath of the Wild's repetition is nothing new at all.
It sucked that most side quests didn't hand out meaningful rewards? That's how most side quests turn out in Zelda, and with video games in general.
I suppose the outrage is validated by the fact that this is supposed to be the game that broke the restrictive elements of the series; they certainly reinvented Zelda from a gameplay standpoint, but failed to break out of sub-par storytelling. With this considered, I suppose I could see why fans are heated on this point. It doesn't bother me much though, probably because I think what little we got out of Breath of the Wild far surpasses anything in Skyward Sword, and also as a theorist I felt like the lack of story is made up for in the references to past games that Breath of the Wild offers.
Now, the one criticism this game gets that I think is completely uncalled for is that it doesn't add any meaningful lore, and to that I disagree. Sure it doesn't add to the Triforce lore, but it does add to lore in terms of Ganon, even if it's just a little bit. It adds a lot of lore to the Sheikah tribe, and it continues on the influence of Hylia from Skyward Sword. Furthermore, one of the things I always wanted to see was the return of areas visited in past games. Sure we'd see the Temple of Time and Hyrule Castle but it was always uncertain whether they were the same buildings or simply new ones with the same name. In Breath of the Wild we see places from past games that are unmistakably places we've been to in prior installments of the series. The Ranch ruins are clearly Lon Lon Ranch from OoT, we see the ruins of the Arbiter Grounds from TP, and all of the Springs from Skyward Sword. Normally you see a place from a game and you'll never see it again. It was exciting to me to stumble upon these places in BotW and getting a feeling of validation that these areas really existed, and the things that happened in them may have really occurred too. To top it off, we have legends in Zora's Domain referencing Ruto (as well as an explanation why the domain isn't one we have seen in a past game). Acknowledgement from the Gerudo of Nabooru (and Ganondorf). And let's not forget the Leviathan Bones possibly being the remains of Levias, The Wind Fish, and Oshus. These references add more lore than I could ever dream of for a Zelda game, the only other game that is remotely close is The Wind Waker with it's intro legend, statues of the Hero of Time, and the stained glass windows of the Sages from Ocarina of Time.
I'm legitimately excited for the series moving forward. I think Breath of the Wild is a template that, once refined, could give every fan the Zelda experience they've been dreaming of: a game that is all encompassing. A grand overworld, an interesting story with a cast of interesting characters and worthwhile NPC interaction, proper dungeons rather than small slices scattered around the map, a way to counteract rain while climbing (which is what I thought the Climbing Gear would do), and a system to repair broken items. I'd hope this happens with Breath of the Wild 2, but if it doesn't, these are hopes for whatever comes after.
3 years later, I still enjoy Breath of the Wild, I feel like it's a return to form for the Zelda series, and could usher in it's return to being the pinnacle of the action/adventure genre.
As always, thank you for reading, stay chill, and eat Skittles in healthy moderation!