I haven’t played a Zelda game since Wind Waker in 2002. I bought a Switch in November specifically to play BoTW. I figured it was worth it based on the strength of praise both the game and console were getting. I was excited. I couldn’t wait. When my Switch was delayed by a day, I nearly cried. Skip to the end: I’ve not been more disappointed in a game since… I don’t know. Perhaps, without hyperbole, it’s the most disappointing game I’ve ever played. Goddamn hype trains, man. Love the Switch though.
I kept reading that it was a “revolution in open world game design”. As someone who loves open world games. I couldn’t wait to see what it offered. Instead I’ve found a game full of inconveniences. I think that’s its biggest mistake. It constantly confuses inconvenience with challenge. And so ultimately, it doesn’t respect the player’s time.
That’s not to say it’s a completely dreadful game. For the first couple of hours I was in love. Everything was new and exciting and I was playing Zelda for the first time in years and yeah! But once that worse off, after many more hours of drudgery, I don’t think it’s a good game. Not even close. There’s barely a trace of the game I was told about in the reviews.
Firstly. The controls are bad. They weren’t thought through. There’s far too much opening of the inventory to do things that could have been assigned to buttons ingame.
If you’ve been gaming on a Playstation or Xbox for the past ten years. Get ready to constantly press the wrong button. A and B are reversed on the Switch’s controls when compared to A/X and B/O on Xbox and Playstation respectively. This shouldn’t be a problem. Names aren’t important when function is the same. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case on the Switch. Their typical functions are reversed too. So, get ready to accidentally exit your inventory when you meant to use something. (That you can’t do anything about it is my only real complaint about the actual Switch console. Which I think is bloody great.)
If you want to heal (and you will want to, a lot), or buff yourself. Each time. Inventory. The kind of ingredients and food inventory that quickly fills up with tat that you’ll probably need later. So, you can easily spend thirty seconds at a random point in a fight hurriedly looking through these lists for something to heal yourself with.
Every time your bow breaks, to get a new one out, you must open the inventory. Which quickly discourages use of bows, because they’re not reliable in a fight. You can at least select ingame another melee weapon when one breaks. Either way, both mean you’ll lose track of enemies while you faff around in your inventory.
I don’t mind weapon durability systems. But BoTW’s are too fragile. It’s another thing that ruins the pace of fights. There is the case to be made that it encourages you to try different weapons. But ultimately the weapons you won’t discard will be the ones that do the most damage. Regardless of type. There’s no point getting attached to a weapon you can never repair.
Ubisoft get a lot of flak for incessantly including viewpoints in Assassin’s Creed. Even though, arguably, tall buildings to climb make sense for a series that’s partly about climbing. They were at least made optional in AC Origins by not being essential to progress. Anyway. In BoTW, Nintendo have found a new, exciting way to make them really boring! They’re all the same! Their brown trellises take a good minute or so to climb. Except you have to get off and rest a couple of times during each climb, because Link will run out of stamina.
Sorry, I wasn’t entirely honest there. There are a few differences. Some of the viewpoints have enemies around them. Enemies that can make you lose your grip and fall off when they hit you. So you get to do even more trellis climbing. Yippee! Or the tower that’s surrounded by enemies who can one hit kill you. That was extra fun.
That being said. I like BoTW’s approach to climbing in general. That you can climb most surfaces is pretty fun. I mean, it’s weird for a game that seems to go to great efforts to try and be realistic, that Link is inexplicably Spiderman. But, whatever. Of course, that stamina bar makes it less fun when you just. Can’t. Make. It. To. A. Ledge. And Link lets go. Hi ground!
The same goes for swimming. Which is made all the more inconsistent when you get a piece of armour that lets you swim up towering waterfalls in two seconds flat using none of your limited stamina. But makes no difference to your regular swimming ability. Not quite to shore and out of stamina? Hi riverbed, meet Link’s drowned corpse!
Even the ground isn’t always a reliable place of relative safety from the whims of the game designers. The elements can attack you too. Again, to be fair. I like that body temperature is of importance. You’ll freeze to death in the cold. And the area surrounding the lava-spitting Death Mountain is so hot you’ll catch fire. If you’ve got wooden weapons equipped, they’ll catch fire too and break. Your cloth paraglider doesn’t though.
But for some reason. If you’re in an area where there’s a lightning storm and you have metal gear equipped. Lighting will, without fail, strike you. It doesn’t matter if there are trees or other conductive things that are taller than you. Lightning will strike you. So, it’s back to the inventory you go.
Anyway. Until you’ve got certain armour, you have to rely on elixirs to make Link exposure or heat proof. No big deal? Well let me tell you about BoTW’s cooking.
Firstly, there’s no recipe book. So, you’ve gotta remember them. Or write them down. Unacceptable. If Link can write down a list of quests, he can keep a list of recipes. Inexplicably you can look at the recipe for an item that’s in your inventory. But once it’s gone, you can’t. This isn’t a problem for your basic healing items. You just need some fruit or meat.
It becomes a problem when you need a specific ingredient so you can get a desired effect from an elixir. E.g. Fireproofing yourself. If you have the ingredient in your inventory, great. You can look through all the (eventually) hundreds of ingredients you have. The best way to find it is by reading the description for each ingredient. But if you don’t have that ingredient, you’re screwed. There’s no way of knowing which ingredient you need to make elixir X. Sure, if you know which you need off the top of your head, fine. You can go looking for it. But that’s barricaded behind a dose of backtracking.
Not long after being unleashed on the world, you’re given a camera. You can use the camera to take a picture of literally everything that Link can consume, use or kill. Once you’ve got a picture of it you can scan for it and be directed to a general area on the map where that thing is located.
So. If you don’t have a picture of the ingredient you know you need. You’re left wandering around looking for it. If you don’t have a picture of an ingredient you don’t know that you need. You’re left wandering around looking for …something.
Let’s say you’ve managed to track down your ingredients. You’re ready to cook or brew. This shouldn’t take long now. Find a cooking pot. Open your inventory. Scroll through your inventory. Find the ingredient you want to start with. Press the ‘Hold Item’ button. Select up to five individual ingredients. Selected the wrong one? Start again! You can only put down all of the ingredients in your hands, not specific ones. Exit the inventory. Press ‘Cook’. Wait five seconds while Link dances and the food cooks. It’s cooked. Link holds it up in the air. The game gives you a dialogue telling you what you’ve created. Want more than one dish or elixir? Repeat this process the same number of times as items you require.
Where was I? Oh yeah. Trying to get past the area that’s too hot to pass. Now I’ve gotta run back to that area with my newly created elixir, because you can bet there won’t be a cooking pot by the entrance. The game is full of tangents like this. Most of them are as boringly long winded as the above. Some are obvious, or take a little experimentation.
I went in expecting “a Zelda game”. Beautifully crafted dungeons that give you a piece of gear and teach you how to use it effectively. Building your skills up in layers. All joined together by a metroidvania open world. Yes please. I want that.
What I got was a reasonably good puzzle game, in the form of the 120 shrines (small puzzle rooms) dotted around the world. Held together by a mediocre open world game filled with busywork. BoTW frequently mistakes inconvenience for challenge. And constantly breaks the rules and logic it establishes for its world on its own terms. Not the players.
Gone are the hookshot, masks and instruments of the earlier games. Instead your “skills” are: Something that stops time on certain types of one object for you to clumsily try and change the direction of. A half-arsed Gravity Gun that only works on certain metallic things. Something that lets you make ice platforms on water. Oh, and two differently shaped remote bombs. Which are annoying in their own right. For some reason, Link can aim when he throws a spear, club or sword. But not a bomb.
Worst of all. There’s little instruction with these tools, so even though they’re easy to use. The Shrines in which you get them are over so quickly that there’s no time for the learning about environmental clues that indicate you need a specific tool. This is what made previous Zelda games such a joy to play and discover. Stuff that can be interacted with is fairly obvious in shrines. But out in the world, it often comes down to dumb luck that you actually find what you need to progress.
There’s much more I could say that has left me disappointed and frustrated. And, yes, there are some things that I like about it too. But this is a post about why I was so horrendously disappointed by the latest Zelda game. So, I’ve intentionally left those things out. But there’s nothing I could point to that overcomes the gaping flaws that are what I’ve described above.
Metal Gear Solid V’s freedom of approach. The Witcher 3’s sublime world building. Horizon Zero Dawn’s intense, multi-staged battles. Prey’s detailed environmental storytelling. These are revolutions in open world game design. If Breath of The Wild truly is a revolution in open world game design. It’s a turn in the wrong direction.