Well, it’s been three (four, if you want to get technical) long years of waiting since they announced the game we’ve now had the opportunity to play. Breath of The Wild is now set to be one of the highest rated things out there, right next to the day they learned about alcohol and that time someone made a sentient vacuum cleaner. Oh, yes, everyone gives this game a 10/10 and perfect marks across the board, but does it really deserve that rating? Given that I abhor simple numerical numbering systems, I’ll let you decide but let’s keep an open mind for a second.
In all seriousness, this game is very atmospheric. I feel as though I’m part of a world that I don’t really belong in anymore (more on that later), and the world itself has an ominous tone to it. There is a certain level of dissonance, though, once you reach the first town. One minute, you’re talking to one old dude that seems like he’s the last human ever, and the next you’re in a bustling town full of kids, adults, and dogs. I feel as though the trailer of this game set out to be this epic sprawling world full of isolation, yet the world itself hasn’t gotten there yet.
In fact, it’s almost as though they tried to avoid making the direct comparison with Shadow of the Colossus. Well, Nintendo, you can’t fool this guy! The trailer had sprawling landscapes and a vast emptiness, yet the game has this annoying problem of having the occasional patches of openness followed by twenty minutes of straight fighting.
The first rule of gamemaking, bookwriting, and sexual intercourse is this: don’t hold back until the end, or they’re already going to be asleep. Breath of the Wild fails in this aspect from the start by making the first area an odd mix of rolling plains, icy mountain, wooded forest, and lakeside hills. I get that you want to show off the cool things that can be explored, but it feels very phoned in, like the four seasons just said “fuck it” to the top of this small part of the map. Not only that, but the areas feel oddly flat. There was a particular moment where I was chopping down a tree, and I noticed the ground was perfectly flat. There were no bumps at all, nothing to demark it from solid rock sans the weird painbucket green texture. It took me right out of the game for a moment.
I’m all for creating a beautiful game. People always say graphics don’t mean shit if the gameplay is bad. While I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment, if we’re going to focus on the visuals with every new console release, I’d like there to be at least a little effort put in to the number of polygons that make up Link’s sword’s hilt’s gem. Some of the textures look a little too muddy, although it could just be that they overdesigned some of them.
That said, I realize there are certain limitations when designing for a portable system. The problem with this argument, however, is that you shouldn’t push the boundaries of the medium just to prove you can. Look at the first few 3-D games: they were needed, of course, but they’re almost eye-wrenching. With Breath of the Wild, I’m constantly taken out, yet again, by the anti-aliasing. Everything has these weird jagged edges, like the graphics artist forgot he was developing Parkinson’s. Normally, I don’t mind these things, but I again look back to the previous generation with Wind Waker HD. That game looks phenomenal, and it bothers me that the overall quality wasn’t up to par.
With the visual department out of the way, let’s move on to a few things that don’t need processors to create (graphical processors, of course, you still need word processors). You are Link. You are not Shitballs or Bubblepants or ASNOIFN this time, because they needed the voiced dialogue to say one name. This is the second time in the last few years that a series made the change to voiced characters, and both times led to a detriment in overall quality. I know, I know, Zelda isn’t about roleplaying a person with whatever name you choose, but the limitation is weird.
Link wakes up in that weird cryo-liquid from the Matrix and, similar to the cohesion of that franchise, has no fucking clue what’s going on. We go outside to find an old man who does absolutely nothing to help us learn about the world, and soon enough we’re climbing towers to fill out our Ubisoft Sandbox-style map. Turns out, you’re Link (surprise surprise), and you’re supposed to stop Calamity Ganon from destroying Hyrule. Sounds like Ganon got a pay raise and a title bump since his last atrocious defeat at the hands of an inexperienced farmhand. I wonder if he ever gets really upset when he comes back only to find the chosen one destined to defeat him is a toddler.
The pacing in this game is all over the place, where one minute you have nothing to go on but a waypoint, and the next, you’re filled with just enough information to be frustratingly vague.
So far, , after about ten hours or so, I still don’t really know what’s going on. I know that I’m supposed to “recruit” (fight) four Mechanical Beast things, do a few fetch quests to gain the support of a bunch of Mechanical Beast Pilots, and rescue the Princess. Sure, I’m not following the story fully (I’m going off to find Shrines and whatnot), but this game has a very slow burn. In fact, it kind of recognizes me of somethin-
HEY, get out of here, Dark Souls!
Yes, this game “borrows” from Dark Souls the same way a tired college student “borrows” paper (and drugs). From the atmosphere to the pacing to a few more things, this game isn’t so much a Zelda game as a Dark Souls game.
That said, stealing from Dark Souls isn’t entirely bad. Dark Souls is a great game, so if you take a few pointers and learn from them, you’ll arguably succeed at some small thing. In this case, the combat was handled fairly well. You’ve got your attack, block, dodge, and shoot, and they all blend nicely together. Biggest thing they took out was stamina management, which was probably a smart move.
What they’ve replaced for that, however, is weapon durability worse than that old game on Xbox, Grabbed By The Ghoulies. One of my biggest gripes is the number of times your weapon breaks. It’s a well-made sword, and it breaks after twenty hits? I’ve seen plastic lightsabers last longer than that.
On a last note for the combat, it’s painfully obvious they put a lot of effort into making the game more difficult, but they did so by making the enemy attacks hard to predict, until you end of just tanking the damage and wailing on them. When you do block, it’s very unsatisfying to see a small little *ping* and a little blue flash before going back at it. These attacks you’re blocking are powerful enough to send you flying ten feet backwards, yet the small pot lid prevents that?
The cooking feels a little out of place in this game, along with the survival mechanics. I didn’t even know how to cook until I googled the answer. For a game that has so many mechanics, they explain almost nothing to the player. The flurry attacks, the cooking, the stealth, all of this is left for the player to find out. That’s not necessarily bad, but without the cooking, you’re going to be at a severe disadvantage for awhile.
My biggest complaint about mechanics is the mapping system. Far Cry 3 did that one thing with the radio towers, and suddenly every open-world game has these big-ass towers you have to climb, with varying degrees of annoyance, in order to get a real view of the world map. I understand wanting to shroud a few places in mystery, but this is getting ridiculous. You shouldn’t feel like you have to stop the adventure every few minutes to go to a tower in the distance. It makes even less sense when there’s other people around to talk to. It would take probably five seconds to ask someone to draw a basic map.
I’ve spent most of this review acting like this is the worst game ever. It’s most certainly not, and it’s largely better than most games that have been released recently. The problems I’ve mentioned aren’t deal-breakers, but they’re rookie mistakes given the nature of Zelda games. People are comparing this to the first Zelda, and that’s where I’ve got to disagree with everyone.
The original Zelda was about going where no other game went before, and about taking this huge risk to alienate the player with an unforgiving world full of mystery and intrigue. It was vague on story, but there wasn’t a big narrated opening, either. You knew there was a bad dude, and there was a princess, and that was about it. The mechanics were very simple, and most of the game was mapped to the d-pad and two buttons (that was all we had back then, see).
This game is not that. It blatantly steals from every popular game of the last six years. It took the survival aspect of cutting down trees and gathering resources from Minecraft. It took the complicated combat from Dark Souls. It took the atmosphere from Shadow of the Colossus, and the Sandbox style from Ubisoft. Nothing about this game is original, yet it’s being hailed as the groundbreaking, never-before-seen, masterpiece.
I will leave this review on a good note. I have currently put about ten hours into Breath of Dead Air, and I don’t plan on stopping. Despite the flaws, I’m still enjoying the shit out of this game. I hope that we get a second Zelda for this system, so I can see what they can do. But if we just give away “Perfect Score” to a lackluster product, I fear we’ll continue down the line of complacency.