Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has taken the gaming world by storm. Having received some of the consistently highest praise a game can receive, many gamers entered this new entry into such a storied series with high expectations. Is this game truly the pinnacle of open world exploration and content? Does Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild provide everything that could be wanted and more? Not really.
Breath of the Wild is the first open world game Nintendo has attempted. Providing true freedom comes with a high risk. The world needs to be filled with content, but not overflowing. Content needs to be varied, but without being confusing or lacking in substance. Environments need to provide different experiences. In many ways, Breath of the Wild accomplishes these things.
When the game begins, Link awakens from a 100 year sleep and walks out into a large, yet restricted area. There is plenty to explore, yet there is no immediate escape from the high plateau. This first area serves to introduce the player to the main content in the open world, Shrines, and to acclimate the player to the weapon, armor, and cooking systems, as well as environmental interactions. It's also a great introduction to death, an inevitable aspect of this title. This opening section is immersive, showing off plains, a swamp, forest, and snowy peaks, giving just enough content as to not feel overwhelmed.
Even when the world is introduced in full, following the immediate directions given keeps the path obvious and introduces free exploration, world staples like stables, horses, and the dangers that lurk around every corner. It takes some time for the flaws of the world to become obvious.
The most immediate flaw that comes to mind are horses as a whole. Horses simply control terribly. There is a strange disagreement between horse movement and the camera, with automatic horse motions turning into more of a chore than help. Thankfully this issue is circumvented a bit by the fact that those looking to explore will find themselves climbing to high points and gliding off towards another more often than not. Horses are not required to feel like the world is easily explored.
The more subtle flaw is with the content itself. At first, the world seems loaded with things to do. Over 100 Shrines, side quests found in the handful of villages and towns, Korok Seeds, and filling out the Hyrule Compendium are all things that should serve to flesh out the experience. For awhile, they really do. Then it becomes more obvious that most of the side quests are unnecessary at best, Shrines become repetitive despite their individual variance in content, Korok Seeds aren't worth trying to hunt, and there is no real benefit to filling out the Hyrule Compendium. Except for a sense of accomplishment, there is no necessary benefit to running in circles searching for more hidden shrines, or snapping pictures of every weapon and ingredient in the game.
That isn't to say those experiences aren't enjoyable for the duration of their usefulness. Shrines give rewards necessary to increase hearts and stamina, both useful to a certain point. Korok Seeds serve as a method of inventory expansion for weapons, bows, and shields. Filling in the Hyrule Compendium means easier tracking of needed ingredients. None of these are a long term need though that justify more than exploring off the beaten path more than here or there. Full exploration feels more like a choice or maybe even a chore and less like a necessity in enjoying Breath of the Wild, despite beautiful, varied environments filling the world.
Focusing in a bit, the story itself leaves something to be desired. The main quests ultimately lead to all the story necessary, but the main quests are incredibly limited. The primary quest is essentially to clear four dungeons and then defeat Ganon while finding memories on the side. This means there are only five main areas including Hyrule Castle, and they don't take long to explore.
Clearing an area means taking back a Divine Beast, a large automaton built to combat Ganon, from the clutches of Ganon's blight. This basically means reaching a new settlement, speaking with the leader, completing a generally easy prep quest, and then assaulting the Divine Beast to ultimately climb inside of it and clear Ganon's blight. The Divine Beasts themselves, acting as the game's dungeons, are simple to complete. Each Beast has its own manipulation available upon getting a map, and then it's a matter of finding five terminals and beating a boss.
No area took more than an hour to complete except maybe the desert with the Gerudo, with the bulk of playtime being getting to the areas rather than completing them. Story basically amounts to the defeat of the Champions 100 years prior and their willingness to still face Ganon with the Divine Beast's powers, and Link's journey with Zelda until Ganon struck. This is not a title that thrives on its narrative, and that hurts the experience. By the end of the fourth area, the story could still be summed up in a few sentences without missing a detail, and yet the final fight was on the horizon. It felt like there should have been a lot more story that could be told.
Approaching the final fight, it was a good feeling to have the Master Sword at hand since almost every other weapon could barely pull off a couple dozen hits without being on the verge of breaking. That isn't to say the weapon system is bad. There were more weapons than a person could reasonably count scattered around the world, and weapons will get left behind far more often than not. With the fragility of weapons though, it can create a hoarding instinct. Like the best weapons need to be held onto because walking into a tough fight having already burned the powerful weapons is a fear sure to be faced by most players.
The weapon system would have greatly benefited from a widely available repair option to make weapons feel less temporary. There are some genuinely cool weapons that are fairly scarce in the world, and it's a shame to permanently lose them due to a system that insists on fragile, unfixable weapons.
Combat itself is fun, if not simple. Every enemy in the game can be dispatched with a few arrows and well timed weapon swings. No real strategy is needed against more than the toughest of optional enemies. Flips and shield parries add a bit of fun, and varied weapon types keep things exciting enough. Overall, there is nothing really negative about the combat. It's a fun, functional system that carries the player through the game without feeling too complex. At worst, it is only bogged down by the required weapon management mentioned previously.
On a technical level, Breath of the Wild ran fairly well on the Switch in both portable and docked modes. There were areas in the game where the FPS dropped noticeably, but the areas were thankfully few and never made the game feel unplayable. It did have more issues docked than portable, which felt a little off. Otherwise there were no strange glitches, game crashes, or other issues. Technically, Nintendo did a fine job.
Overall, Breath of the Wild is a quality experience. Unfortunately, it is not perfect. There are definite flaws that hold it back from the highest of praise. A more expansive story, more comprehensive or better dungeons, refining the weapon system, and adding variance in more ways than Shrines would have gone a long way towards crafting a truly unforgettable experience. Thankfully, the game is held together by fun combat, good bosses (barring some disappointment in the final encounter), a beautiful world, and side content that stays interesting just long enough to make the game feel worth the price tag.
Breath of the Wild is the next step the Legend of Zelda series needed, and it's worth looking forward to what Nintendo can accomplish with this series going forward.