Breath of the Wild Makes Me Sad…
As my time with Breath of the Wild winds down, I find myself reacting to the game in many ways. Some of those ways line up with the universal praise the game is receiving, while others trigger my tendency for sharp and wordy criticism. Surprisingly, what has come from most of my time with the game is tremendous self-discovery, specifically in how I interact with games.
Hearing that Breath would be a true open world adventure that has side quests galore, got me quite excited, not to mention how impressed I was with the visuals I was seeing in preview coverage. I wanted to dive into that adventure as soon as possible. I had enjoyed Skyward Sword, but it seemed outdated from the day of its release and oddly enough, the Zelda-influenced Darksiders scratched the Hyrule itch way better than anything Nintendo had been doing (other than A Link Between Worlds, that game was dope!).
I’m the Zelda guy, it’s easily one of my top 3 games series of all time. Hell, I have a Triforce tattooed on the back of my leg. So naturally, I preordered a Switch and Breath of the Wind, and I eagerly awaited my precious Zelda game. Upon release, I jumped right in. I chalk my first clumsy 3 hrs with the game to trying to grow accustomed to the Switch and its tiny joy-cons. After that passed, my feelings about the game became uneasy.
I wasn’t met with the wonder and whimsy for which Zelda has come to be known. The early punishing difficulty and this new and annoying stamina meter were not sitting well with me. But this is Zelda, it can’t be bad, maybe I’m just not getting it. Besides, the 97 Metacritic score can’t be wrong, can it? So, I pushed on, through the random deaths, the dozens and dozens of shattered weapons, and the game literally explaining nothing to me.
At this point, even negative critics of the game like Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann were coming around to how “great” the game actually is. I still didn’t see it. I was having to force myself to pick it up and get back in the fight. Wandering into an enemy camp and not knowing all of them can kill you with one hit, only for it to happen. Then you lose 5-7 minutes worth of progress because of check-pointing nightmares. These frustrations almost resulted in me hurling my brand new Switch at my brick fireplace…multiple times
While all this was happening, I continued to see praise coming out about how the game “lets you figure it out” and that there’s “no hand holding” as if those are good things. All I was seeing is a game with a poor menu structure that actively doesn’t want me to finish it. I have 15 games sitting on my shelf right now and another 80 in my Steam library that I haven’t even touched, why would I continue to force myself to play a game I wasn’t enjoying? Because its Zelda, its supposed to bring me happiness. Then I made it to the first “dungeon”.
Outside of the sporadically places shrines (which really turn out to be the saving grace of the game), the dungeons are the closest thing Breath has to traditional Zelda gameplay and mechanics. Each dungeon and shrine have a set goal, with set rules and tools to do them. Ironically, because of the way the game is built, in that you can go to any dungeon in any order, the 4 “Divine Beasts” and the bosses within are much easier than just walking around the open world. That’s right, the hardest Zelda game has the easiest bosses.
Thematically, the dungeons and shrines are diametrically opposed to that of the open world. The open world, wants you to explore, it wants you to experiment, it wants you to climb to the top of things, or die trying. To be fair, the toybox Nintendo has created and the madness that has ensued is a beautifully fragile calamity waiting to happen. If you can see it, you can probably climb it, if it moves, you can kill it, if it drops, you can cook it. I honestly see why the game has been so revered because it is a breath (pun intended) of fresh air, especially from Nintendo. But, but, but all I really want to do is find more shrines, I want more puzzles.
I ended up trudging through the world, avoiding combat at all costs, because there’s a 50% chance with one hit I’ll be dead, and a 30% chance that if I kill all these baddies, my sword will break and everything these fools drop will be much lower spec-ed, effectively making the entire encounter a negative sum equation. I know the encampments are set-up to give you creative ways to take the enemies out, but that’s not what I’m here for. Fighting random enemies has no proven tangible benefit, other than to “have fun” and most of the combat encounters are not yielding any of that.
So, there I am looking for towers, and shrines making my way from “Divine Beast” to “Divine Beast” and still the praise continues to roll in. So much praise that the fanbase has apparently turned into crusading defenders of the Metacritic score. Notable critics that given scores lower than perfect are getting threats and even getting hacked because they are the ones responsible for it not having a “perfect” score. There’s where the bombshell hit me.
I’m not the Zelda guy anymore, and with the success of Breath of the Wild, it doesn’t look like I going to get to be the Zelda guy anytime soon. After Ocarina of Time became the perfectest game of all time, Nintendo spent the next 13 years making very small changes to the formula and offering adventures that piggybacked on the mechanics of that masterpiece. With Breath being both the most significant change the series has seen in nearly 20, it being universally liked by critics and it flying off the shelves, I anticipate Breath’s core mechanics will be the new norm in future entries.
People are quick to say “Oh, that remake destroyed my childhood.” Breath hasn’t necessarily destroyed my Zelda childhood, but it looks to have driven a dagger through a significant chunk of my Zelda adulthood. I don’t like breakable weapons, I don’t like crafting, I don’t like cooking, I don’t like punishingly difficult games, I don’t like survival games, I don’t like the stamina meter, I don’t want to go looking for something to do, when I climb a tower I want you to give objectives, If you’re going to put numbers on stuff go ahead and make an RPG, Breath of the Wild doesn’t get these things wrong, just wish they weren’t there.
I’m not going to be the person that says Breath of the Wild is a bad game. It’s fine, clearly, people are enjoying the toybox, and for a good portion of the new audience, they could find years of enjoyment out of it. So, objectively, Breath must be good, right? However, from a personal standpoint, which is really where reviews should come from, Breath of the Wild is not my Zelda game, and I don’t know if that’s ok.