Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

A game so good where if I even point out a single criticism, I'll be DDOSed and get death threats. YAY!

It's kind of amazing to me that it's been 6 years since a console Zelda release. Now I know that there have been plenty of handheld releases for the series as well as HD remakes of both Twilight Princess and Wind Waker, but there's nothing quite like a fresh, original Legend of Zelda game coming out. And with it being released as the Wii U's swan song as well as the Switch's premiere launch title, there's a lot riding on this game.

Not only that, but people are going berserk over this game in both extremes. Some people are calling this game one of the best games of all time, while others become actively violent against any critic that so much as gives it a simple 7/10, like Jim Sterling over on whose site was cyber attacked and he's been dragged through the mud by obsessive Zelda fans upset that it's Metascore went from a 98 of near perfection to a 97 of still near perfection. I'll never understand fandoms.

Like I said in my original review on the Nintendo Switch, I will always call Nintendo out on its mistakes, and I love to do that, but I still genuinely love the company and what they produce, flawed as it may be. Hell, a friend of mine cannot stand them for not growing up, yet still admit that the games are great for their demographic and are technically really good games. The point is is that I call it like I see it, a good game is a good game and a bad game is a bad game.

As for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I can easily say that it's a great game with a lot of fantastic elements, but is slightly marred by a few tiny aspects. Not enough to actively hurt the game, but to keep it from being the near perfection others claim it is.

I mean it's still going to get a 5/5, so what the hell is even the point of this review, amiright or amiright?

Breath of the Wild's story is good.

I would say more about the story, but honestly, the story in a Zelda game has never been the most compelling reason for anyone since maybe Majora's Mask or Wind Waker. I know it seems like a weird note to start this review on, but I'd much rather harp on the fact that while the story is very good and has genuine emotion in it, the delivery system for said story is beyond ridiculous.

In order to unlock cutscenes that explain essential story information, you have to traverse the massive world of Hyrule, which is beyond gargantuan, and find tiny little spots that will show you flashbacks that will, you know, tell the story for the audience. Now the story isn't essential to enjoy the game, but as a man who likes his stories, it is beyond annoying to have to hunt down well done cutscenes by examining a photograph, then trying to find in the several hundred square miles of Hyrule the one location where I can see the cutscene.

So my biggest gripe aside, it's time to heap praise onto this game like never before because man oh man does this game do a lot right. From the beginning of the game, you're given free reigns to explore the world however you like. The ultimate goal is to defeat Ganon, but you can do a metric ton of things before you even get there. You can start the game, run at him and try and beat him with a stick like I did, or you can actually explore the world and get so lost in it that you'd rather just complete sidequests, cook food, craft items, and just admire the view than save the world.

Thankfully, none of it is ever boring. I worried that a huge open world would becoming boring to traverse, and while there are definitely lulls in the gameplay between quests, it's still enjoyable just to explore. There are secrets in every nook and cranny of the game and the joy is just being able to explore the world how you want and when you want.

For example, when I started the game and swiftly got my ass handed to me by Ganon, I decided that the most important thing I should do was to fight a bunch of enemies and build up my equipment. So I jumped into a herd of enemies and got my ass handed to me because all of them were stronger than I was and my trusty stick couldn't get the job done. But I kept coming back to them with different strategies until they all died, I collected their weapons, then I blazed a trail of glory around Hyrule just exploring and doing things. Oh sure, I would go back to the main quest when I got bored, but that would only be after an hour or so of just wandering around.

While wandering, it's very possible to encounter places called Shrines, which function as one room dungeons that can be completed for Spirit Orbs, which are the new pieces of heart, and can serve as a warp point for when you want to fast travel. These shrines can range from solving a puzzle to fighting an enemy, but each shrine always felt unique and different. The one problem I had when encountering a shrine was that sometimes the mini dungeons can just be boring to explore. Some puzzles felt like busywork, and that's never a good thing, especially when there are 120 shrines in total.

But when the shrines were getting on my nerves, I could always just stop and fight a ton of enemies. Combat here is immensely simplified from other Skyward Sword, but it somehow has much more depth than any other game in the franchise. You can hit an enemy, jump out of the way, draw your shield, or shoot an arrow at them, but all of that is now predicated on one new change; customizable equipment.

You can swap out your equipment on a dime now and change your sword into an ax, a spear, a broadsword, a hammer, or whatever weapon you have on you. Some weapons would be more helpful in fights that others. Is there an enemy out of reach? A spear could get them! Is an enemy made of stone? A good hammer smack should break them! Your equipment does matter a lot in this game, and by the end of the game you'll have a stable cadre of weapons and shields to use. Now granted, it's really annoying when you run out of axes when you're cutting things down, or your last hammer broke while you were mining for ore and you need to find another one, but that's only happened to me maybe once or twice.

And yes, I said that your equipment could break. This is probably the most frustrating aspect of the game, but I'll admit that it only bothered me in the beginning of the game. By the time I reached the second major town, I already had a pretty good amount of weapons with modest strength and had my equipment pouches expanded to accommodate for the new cadre of weapons.

In fact, most of my frustrations with the game melted away by this point. The beginning was hard as all hell, but the game became much easier as time went on. I had very low health, bad armor, and enemies hit for a ton of damage, but I eventually got weapons and stats that could resist nearly anything. When I got hit by a boss's secret weapon, it only took three hearts away when back in the beginning of the game a simple Bokoblin could take three hearts from me in one hit.

Bosses are a bit of a tricky subject in this game as well. There are about as many as Majora's Mask and they aren't particularly memorable. They're just monsters that have elemental alignments, but the way you fight them are so innovative and fun. Bosses don't have a weakness to a single item. Instead, you actually need to strategize how to fight them. One boss will hang from the ceiling and shoot tridents and ice at you, so you need to figure out how to get them down to hit them. Another boss has an aura that hurts you if you touch them, so you need to get rid of it before you even have a chance at damaging them.

What makes all of it work is that you get every ability at the beginning of the game. In the first hour, you get a bow, bombs, ice blocks you can summon, a magnet, and a stasis field that stops a object in your path. Those are all of your abilities, so boss fights and shrines will rely on using these abilities to their full potential. It's so great just to get the full access to your toybox of weaponry from the beginning and just go to town on the world.

Which brings me to the best feature of this game; the world itself. Hyrule is a gorgeous landscape with constantly changing weather and NPC's that will have their own lives and schedules. The world truly does feel alive, whether it's scaling an icy peak, sailing across a river, riding a horse on the plains, free climbing up a mountain, or shield surfing down a ridge. And the characters sell the world too. There are plenty of side characters here, and some of them rank up there as being some of my favorite characters in the series. Sidon the Zora prince is great, the Old Man at the beginning of the game was interesting, and Kass the wandering Rito minstrel. I loved plenty of these characters, and I hope that future Zelda games make characters these interesting again.

So you all know this game is great, I know that this game is great, but is it truly one of the greatest games of all time? Personally, I think it's a damned good game. It's a game that has an incredible amount of detail and sets the bar for not only Nintendo games but for most open world games in general, but it's not the Alpha and the Omega. I loved my time in Hyrule and for Breath of the Wild being my introduction to the Switch, but I can't say that it's the end-all-be-all greatest game ever made. No game is the greatest game ever made because it's all subjective. My favorite game is Banjo Kazooie, but if you were to ask me if it's the greatest game of all time, I'd say no. Greatest by what? Influence on the medium? Sales figures? Good reviews for opinionated critics? Technical achievements? What makes something the best?

Breath of the Wild is a stunning game whose minor issues are all sorted out one way or another by the end of the game. It's satisfying from start to finish and brought the Zelda series to a whole new level of polish and quality that is going to take a lot to top. Still, you better believe that we have a serious Game of the Year contender on our hands.


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