What I’m Playing, part 15

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

A bit of a departure from my usual PS4 gaming, I decided (with a bit of coaxing from a friend) to give Breath of the Wild a try.  I figured it was time to give my poor Wii U some love anyway since it’s been a while.  Beware of SPOILERS ahead if you want to go into the game with as little knowledge as possible.

Right off the bat, it is glaringly obvious that this is NOT a typical Zelda game.  The usual trappings are here (Link, Zelda, Ganon, Hyrule, etc) but its been packaged in a very different way.  This time instead of a linear, dungeon to dungeon, Metroidvania-esque adventure, we are treated to a very westernized Zelda, and since I’m still early in the game I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad one.

Instead of the typical item and weapon gathering methods from the past (i.e. getting a new weapon or item from a dungeon and then doing a lot of backtracking to make use of it) this time around, we are given some of your traditional Zelda items (bombs and creating ice blocks) immediately in the starting zone of the game.  These are mitigated with an at times agonizingly long cool down, but they are useful tools none the less.  These are accessed through an in game item called a Sheikah Slate which looks suspiciously like a primitive smart phone or tablet.

Weapons this time around are far from the usual heroic type, instead we are able to steal them from enemies and can use them until they break.  Considering the ridiculous number of weapons I’ve gone through at this point, I can only hope that somewhere in the vast open world the Master Sword is waiting for me to find it as having to scrounge for weapons constantly is getting rather old.

Armor / clothing has been few and far between.  I’ve been in the same clothing since the start of the game until about an hour ago when I (finally) reached Zora’s Realm and got some really snazzy blue armor that lets me swim up waterfalls (without having to expend and stamina, thankfully).

Another departure from traditional Zelda games is the inclusion of aforementioned stamina.  You are given the ability from the beginning to climb ANY surface you like – rock faces, walls, trees – provided you don’t run out of stamina in the process.  If you do, you fall down to the nearest flat surface and must wait for the meter to refill before attempting to climb again, provided you live through the fall in the first place.  You can also vault in the direction that you are currently climbing, even side to side but at the cost of a sizable chunk of your stamina meter.  The side to side vaulting works surprisingly well and is something that I think other game developers should look at (*cough* Assassin’s Creed *cough*)  The inclusion of stamina has been to my detriment frequently throughout the game and one that I find highly irritating but I’m learning to cope.

Another departure is the method with which you gain more hearts.  Dotted across the land are Shrines.  Shrines are typically one room puzzles that must be solved in order to receive a Spirit Orb from the Shrine’s guardian.  After you collect 4 Spirit Orbs, you have the option to trade them in for either another Heart Container or a bit more Stamina.  So far in my playthrough I’m trying to keep it balanced, one heart, more stamina, one heart, and so on.  You can only trade the orbs in at statues of the goddess Hylia but so far, finding the statues hasn’t really been a problem.  The Shrines seem to litter the landscape and can be seen from quite some distance away as they stick out like a red/orange glowing sore thumb.  At the time of writing, I’ve found 13.

Something that’s been added to the game and that has been used ad nauseam in games as of late are towers that you must climb in order to uncover the map.  I don’t hate this feature, but it is becoming rather dull at this point since several other games have used it (Assassin’s Creed, Infamous: Second Son, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, and I think Dying Light did it too.)

As far as traditional Zelda dungeons go, I’m not sure whether this game has any or not.  I know there are 4 “ancient beasts” that you must bring back to the side of good if you are to have any hope of defeating Ganon, and at the time of this writing I’m at the first one (I had to take a break from the game due to frustration so I decided to start writing about the game.  I guess you could say the first dungeon was the catalyst for this entry.)  I love how their idea of a map is actually a 3D wireframe of the beast with red spots indicating where the terminals you need to access are located in order to bring the beast back to the side of good.  I’ll write more on dungeons as things develop.

Another inclusion in this game that I really don’t like is the hot/cold meter next to your mini map.  It is possible for Link to freeze to death as I discovered several times in the starting area trying to get to a couple of the Shrines there.  I’m hoping this can be combated with gear later on in the game as I have yet to figure out how to cook food.  I’m not terribly happy that was included either; at this point with the number of games that have crafting in them I’m really glad that Google is a thing.  I do find it a little funny that I’m running around with shit tons of crafting supplies on my person but I constantly run out of room for weapons and constantly have pangs of guilt when I have to leave stuff behind.

Next to the mini map is also an indicator showing how much noise you’re making.  I do think that this was a good idea as I’m sure I’ll have need of it later on down the line.

Combat this time around has also been changed and I’m not sure that I like it.  It’s not your typical beat the shit out of enemies until they die fair, this time it does require a bit of skill / improvisation.  I’ve been killed by my own bombs more times than I care to admit while trying to use them to kill enemies that are chasing me.  You can lock on to your enemy and focus on them like in other games, using them as a sort of anchor while trying to dodge out of the way of their attacks.  You can also parry attacks with your shield and if you’re quick enough you can hit them with a power attack while they are stunned.  If not for trying to do this with the Wii U game pad I’m sure I’d be better at combat than I am.  For now I’m sticking with the beat the shit out of them until they die method and see how far I can get.

This game is BEAUTIFUL.  The art style of cell shading is always pleasing to me and I’m in awe when I look around at the world that they have created.  That being said, I do feel like the draw distance is limited by the Wii U’s hardware and I’m not sure that the Switch has this limitation.  I might eventually buy a Switch and this game and see for myself what the difference is.  The weather effects are also amazing as is the inclusion of a day/night cycle.  The only time I find weather to be an issue/nuisance is when trying to climb in the rain.  It’s neat that they added the detail that surfaces become slippery when it’s raining making climbing a bit more difficult, but it’s also another annoyance about the game to add to the growing list.  Another weather related detail is being struck by lightning.  If you are equipped with anything metal (and most of the weapons in the game are) and you’re outside during a thunderstorm you start to spark with electricity.  After a few seconds the sparks become a lot more frequent until you are finally killed instantly by a lightning bolt unless you can make it to cover.  Thus far I’ve been killed every time a storm happens, so when I see rain, instead of enjoying it like I would in any other game I try to find a campfire and wait until morning and hope the storm is gone by then so I can continue my quest.

Speaking of the environment and distance, you can use your in-game tablet as a sort of view finder to see what’s around you and mark it with a pin for you to investigate later.  The distance between where you’re standing and where the thing you want to get to is, is often quite deceiving.  More than once I’ve pinned something that I wanted to go investigate (usually a Shrine) only to find when I looked at the map that it’s actually a million miles away or in an adjacent zone.  I like that it’s a big open world for me to explore, but having to walk everywhere and especially over great distances gets tiresome.  There is travel by horse which I’ve not yet tried and there’s my favorite – gliding through the air on a rickety looking hang glider.  The only negative there is that you are constantly using stamina while gliding which I think is total bullshit since I’m not doing anything but holding on to the glider.  Grip meter from Shadow of the Colossus I guess?  That shit is why I never went back to that game and just might end up preventing me from finishing this one or making any significant progress.

So far my experience with Breath of the Wild has been quite a bit negative and a little positive, but since It’s been a long time since I’ve played a Zelda game I’m trying to enjoy myself as best I can.  I’ll write more on my journey as it unfolds, stay tuned.