Friday, 2 February 2018

Review No. 137 The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Nintendo Switch (12+)

Strong Points:
Awesome art style
Can play for a short time or a long time
Varied weapons
Surprisingly deep story with dark aspects
Great characters
Good voice acting...
Lots of collectables
Not just a checklist
Map gives just enough information
Will always being contributing to some sort of upgrade
Boss designs
Shrines give varied challenges
Can take any challenge from any angle
Finding a secret is a great feeling
Just enough direction is given
Massive, varied world - while still realistic
Remixed versions of the Hyrule theme
The physics of the world

Weak Points:
No ability to write notes next to your stamps
No ability to keep recipes written down outside of taking a photo
Not enough space in the camera mode
No ability to transfer photos taken to Switch's storage outside of capturing a smaller version
...For the most part
Divine Beast Naboris's puzzles were difficult to picture
The combat's not always as fluid as I would have liked
Can sometimes feel overwhelming

Some spoilers ahead:

In-depth Review:

Release Dates:
World Wide: March 3rd, 2017

Left Analogue Stick: move Link/(push down) crouch/(with ZL) strafe
Right Analogue Stick: move camera/(push down) scope
A: interact/(with ZL) parry
B: cancel/put away
X: jump
Y: attack
ZL: centre camera/lock on/raise shield
ZR: use bow
L: use rune
R: throw weapon
D-Pad: select rune/shield/weapon/call ally
+: open menu
-: open the Sheikah Slate

So, Breath of The Wild was finally released. After six years and an entire console generation, we were delivered BOTW. Was it worth it? Oh, yes. We were promised freedom, creativity and an evolution of the typical Zelda adventure and we got it.

Not since Skyrim have I felt content to just exist in a world. There's normally always an end goal - quite a lot of open world games have devolved into checklists now. BOTW, however, wants you to explore the world at your own pace, uncovering secrets when you want to. This is probably the way games should (and will) go - respecting your life outside the game while also promoting the game as an alternative, instead of making you feel bad for not completing all these side quests by now. That's not to say there isn't a place for checklists in games, but leave it for when you're mopping up collectables at the end.

And there's quite a few collectables to get. With over 100 shrines, many, many more Korok seeds and the Hyrule Compendium to fill up, you won't run out of things to do for a while. What's nice about BOTW though, is that everything is contributing to something else - you're not collecting for the sake of collecting. Shrines unlock Shrine Orbs which increase your health and stamina, Korok seeds allow for an increase in backpack space and the Hyrule Compendium helps you to keep a record of enemies, animals etc. and track them at a later date. Even collecting every ingredient you come across will help you to upgrade your armour at some point. Nothing feels separated and included for the sake of it - it will all help you in some way or another.

Of course, BOTW isn't a passive game about collecting - you also need to fight. This is where the weapons come in. I grew to like the combat in Breath of the Wild, and it allows many different playstyles. You can be cautious and calculating, you can be quick and dodge all the attacks or you can be like me and run at them with a large offence. While you start off with the pretty standard fare of weapons - rusty swords, a halberd etc. soon the weapon size will grow and incorporate elemental swords, lances and giant even the Master Sword. The designs of some of the weapons are really delicate and detailed as well, which is always nice to see in the 'browny grey' landscape of most modern games.

To keep track of all these weapons and enemies, you have the Hyrule Compendium. This was one of my favourite surprises of the game. It basically consists of taking photos of everything in the area, allowing them to be recorded. Besides fulfilling that collectors urge quite nicely, it also allows you to track enemies and weapons, as well as see how to beat certain weapons. If you can't fill a slot for whatever reason you can buy photos from the Hateno Tech Lab which is great if you didn't take a photo of a boss for example.

I'm personally so used to games filling in bits for me that I actually lost some areas for a while. For example, in the opening you come across an old man's house, where if you bring a food item then you can get a Warm Doublet, useful for later. I moved on, thinking I'd do that later but when I tried to get back I'd forgotten where it was. There was no signs or massive icons depicting the house and it wasn't until a few hours later that I managed to get back, completely by accident. I then started to adapt to BOTW's style of play, marking even the most general areas (such as a group of 3 ore mines) for later - you'll want to I promise.

This made me care about the surroundings a lot more and become a lot more discerning about the world and I quite enjoyed filling in the map myself. That's not to say the game doesn't give you anything - it fills in where shrines, stables etc. are and the general topography of an area is filled in with more detail when you go there but it's not a simple case of following the icons.

One problem I found was that I'd almost like to add more detail. Any place of interest which wasn't a gemstone, Korok seed or shrine was given a star stamp, which made the map quickly lose some meaning when I forgot what the stars were for. I would have liked to have attached notes to the stars like a journal - it would have made everything much easier to follow and make jobs for. The same goes for recipies. Somewhere to write them down instead of having to take a picture or try and remember would be great, especially if you pop back on after a couple of days.

Shrines take the place of the dungeons in previous Zelda games. Smaller than the dungeons, they offer either small puzzles or combat challenges. They're normally small enough to encourage a pick up and play style of game usually reserved for the phone. Besides showing off the Switch's selling point, the Shrines themselves are fun. Yes, some are frustrating, but they are all beatable one way or another. If you can't figure one out, I'd suggest going back to it later, it might be that it needs resetting anyway. Shrines found also act as fast travel points for Link. These help to break up some of the
walking a bit, especially if you need to get back to a village quickly.

If you find Shrines to be a bit taxing on your time, then there's also Korok seeds. With over 900 Korok seeds scattered around the world, you don't have to walk far to find one. They also usually fit into nice categories, so if you can figure out how to do one, you can figure out a lot more. They help to liven up the world and I found many after falling down a cliff or getting hit out the way. If anything, it just shows how much care Nintendo takes in its world building.

On the other hand, if you want a larger dungeon, Nintendo have you covered as well. There are four Divine Beasts, one for each of the main races in Hyrule. These massive dungeons really can test your puzzle ability, although most can be completed by following the layout step by step. Besides using your normal abilities, you can also manipulate the Divine Beasts themselves, allowing you to reach otherwise impossible areas. These are really useful, besides Divine Beast Naboris' in my opinion. This particular Divine Beast allows you to move 3 cylinders inside the giant camel around, so as to line areas up. While good in theory, in practice it's quite difficult to get your bearings, especially if you started the level by just playing around. Otherwise, I really enjoyed the self-contained levels of the Divine Beasts and the prizes you get out of them really help with the rest of the game.

Besides the Hyrule Compendium, the other area I was most surprised by was the story. I was expecting a simple Hero save the world story, and admittedly it is similar. However, the memories really flesh out the characters, especially Zelda. Giving feelings like doubt and jealously to the Princess helped to make her a lot more sympathetic and overall, I really enjoyed the story. Not just the main story either, you'll keep meeting people with their own little problems, all more in detail than I thought they would be. And darker. Much darker sometimes.

The voice acting is slightly more variable than the story. Some, such as Zelda and The King really work, others feel slightly out of place with what you think the characters would sound like. It doesn't take much away from the game, but if they carry voice acting on into the next game, then taking some more time to sync up the characters and the voices would help it to sound slightly less amateurish. Although I do realise that the characters were animated for Japanese voice actors first, so I'm not expecting The Witcher or Overwatch levels of voice acting.

If you think it will work it probably will, most of the time. That should be the slogan of the game. There's a cooking pot? Shoot a fire arrow underneath to light it. Lightning troubles? Remove your metal weapons and armour. Need to fly higher? Light some grass to create an up-draft. The physics engine in this game is really impressive, making every moment a little puzzle. It means that there's quite a lot of ways to do anything, and not just 'stealth' or 'Rambo'. You can drop a metal block over an enemies head, steal their weapon or roll a bomb into their camp. The enemies will act accordingly however, kicking your bombs out of the way or picking up tree branches for weapons. It's a really alive game, constantly making you adapt but giving you the tools to do it as well.

I wasn't sure what to think with the graphics originally, more like Wind Waker than the 'realistic' visuals we were promised to begin with. I quickly changed my mind when playing. Vast landscapes while still surprisingly dense with detail and a lot of variety when it comes to biomes. The lighting is amazing as well, especially with the sunset over the desert or the sea. Don't come thinking another Horizon: Zero Dawn, but it's pretty impressive for a portable game. The framerate is also pretty strong throughout, with only a couple of drops encountered when fire and a lot of enemies are involved.

Conclusion: overall this is an awesome game and a great evolution of the Zelda franchise. If Nintendo can do this with Zelda, I can't wait to see what they do with their other established series like Pokémon and Metroid. PSA: once you start playing, it's sometimes difficult to stop

Rating: 92%

Thanks for reading, Satamer.

Note: this was actually the first Legend of Zelda game I've ever completed and I'd like to know which one to try next? Comment below!
The ones I have so far but have yet to complete are:
Wind Waker HD
Skyward Sword
Link to the Past
Legend of Zelda
The Minish Cap

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