What I’m Playing, part 19

The Legend of Zelda:  Breath of the Wild

Editor’s note: previous BotW post was written about the Wii U version of the game.  Since then, I have acquired a Nintendo Switch and started BotW over from the beginning.  This review is about the Switch version of the game, which I personally feel to be the superior version of the two.

So here we are, about 100 hours later and I have finished The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.  I’ve re-read my previous post about the game, and while some of my thoughts from then still stand, I feel that they are worth reiterating here.

Please note that I have in no way completed 100% of this game.  Doing that might take me another 100 hours or more.  These thoughts I am writing are simply from my play through and the limited amount of the game I experienced.

First, The Negatives

I still dislike the Stamina meter as I feel that it was the ultimate barrier between me and going anywhere that I wanted in the game at any time.  In an open world game such as this, that’s a definite point against the overall experience.  I play games to forget about my own real world limitations and be entertained, not be weighed down by them in virtual space.

The Hot/Cold meter I feel was also a nuisance and ultimately useless as it only really came into play when I was in an extreme environment (such as Death Mountain’s lava strewn landscape or the game’s many snow covered mountains.)  As such, I feel that it could have been left out of the game completely and the experience probably wouldn’t have suffered without it.

There is a serious lack of any sort of tutorial in this game on how to do anything.  The player is left to ultimately figure out everything himself as there is absolutely no hand holding of any kind in the game with the exception of one Shrine that teaches you advanced combat techniques.  I spent dozens of hours in the game before I finally figured out how to cook food, that I could use a sledgehammer to break open mineral deposits (instead of bombs), what all these non-food items were for and the list goes on and on.  In my younger years I wouldn’t have minded as much as I had a lot more patience back then.  As I’ve gotten older (now in my late 30’s) my impatience has only gotten worse.  Maybe I’m the asshole here or maybe the game is, either way a bit of in game help would have been nice.

Having to save your own progress.  I realize that this one isn’t really something to bitch about too much as a lot of games don’t do it for you.  In some ways it’s a good thing as you get to determine where you want your save state to be instead of some pre-determined check point.  Still, there were plenty of times in my journey that I would get carried away in what I was doing only to die and lose some progress.  Discipline is the key here, but in such a magnificent world to explore its easy to forget to save.

There were no traditional dungeons in the game!  I was equal parts surprised and disappointed that there were no traditional dungeons of any kind anywhere in the game.  I don’t feel that the Divine Beasts counted as dungeons as all 4 of them were more like giant puzzles to solve than anything else.

Korok Seeds.  Finding these things is a fun little diversion when you don’t want to chase after any of the quest waypoints in the game, but I feel like putting 900 of them in the game is a little excessive.  Finding them is crucial to your success in the game however as you need them to give to an NPC in the Korok Forest to expand your inventory.  My inner OCD gamer is determined to eventually find them all but I’m in no hurry.

Last but not least on the negatives list, the Sheika Slate.  While I do have to admit that I find the thing ingenious in its design and implementation in the game, it really does bug me that they found a way to insert modern technology into a Zelda game.  It doesn’t bother me when they do it in Final Fantasy as that’s been the norm since the beginning (for me anyway) but I’m a bit of a fantasy purist when it comes to Zelda and I don’t think such things belong in a Zelda game.  Which leads me to the next part…

The Positives

While I wasn’t a fan of it’s technological connotations, the Sheika Slate is a seriously slick piece of tech!  You have a handy and slick interface that you can keep track of your quests, view the map and check out your inventory all in one.  It even has a camera for taking pictures of anything and everything in the game that you want.  I also liked the fact that the quest log was rather unobtrusive and quest waypoints could be turned off completely.

The art style in this game is simply beautiful and breathtaking at times.  The world itself feels like it was lovingly and painstakingly hand crafted from the ground up and that everything is placed where it is on purpose and with a lot of care and thought.  I never got tired of looking at the world for 100 hours no matter where I was and there was always something more over the horizon for me to explore.

And there is A LOT to explore in this game!  I never once wanted for something to do as the world itself kept me interested in many ways.  Finding and getting to all the Sheika Towers, hunting Shrines, floating on the glider, there’s just so much to do in this game and sadly not enough time to do it all.

The play controls were, for the most part, very easy and responsive.  The only thing that I didn’t like was that motion controls for aiming the bow were set to ‘on’ by default.  Other than that I felt that everything was buttery smooth and easy to navigate.

I know that I listed it as a negative at first, but I was a little relieved that there were no traditional Zelda style dungeons in this game.  The formula, while it works, is a bit tired at this point and I liked that I had all the abilities that I needed from the start of the game without having to wait until I got to a certain point in the game to get them (like not being able to swim until you got flippers from Zora, or not having a bow and arrows, and so forth.)  The Divine Beast puzzles definitely made up for any traditional dungeon’s absence.

The Divine Beasts were innovative and, for the most part, fun to navigate and complete.  There were snags here and there (like the elephant’s trunk) that really detracted from the experience but overall I enjoyed figuring out how to complete each one of them.  The abilities that you obtain from each beast’s caretaker as a reward for completing them and killing Ganon’s minion were also a pleasant surprise and a nice incentive to keep going.

Where Do We Go From Here?

This time around, instead of blindingly running through the game thinking it was going to be a traditional Zelda hack n slash affair, I took my sweet time and armed myself with a bit of knowledge before diving in.  I knew that in order for me to succeed I was going to have to find armor and learn how to cook and find some decent weapons.  This time, instead of going where the game wanted me to, I turned all quest markers off and decided to take my own route through the game and I’m certainly glad I did.

After the initial “tutorial zone” of the Great Plateau, I decided that my first step on the road to victory was to find and activate every Sheika Tower in the game so I could see where I was going and what was ahead.  A few weeks ago, over the course of a miserably hot Sunday, I woke up and had my coffee and I got to work.  In the span of 24 hours I had activated all but TWO Sheika Towers and had completed enough Shrines to give me the bare minimum number of hearts to obtain the Master Sword.  Armed with a weapon that I knew wouldn’t break (but I could only use for so long before it needed to be recharged) I was determined to succeed.  Side note for those interested, but when you go to obtain the Master Sword, the reason you need at least 13 hearts before you can get it back out of the stone is because as you are trying to pull the sword out it is slowly killing you, taking off a quarter of each heart as you come closer and closer to finally withdrawing the blade and reclaiming it as yours.  Bonus hearts from food don’t help either (I found this out the hard way.)

I also, after several hours of suffering in game, finally figured out how to cook and found a shop that sold armor.  It was definitely a eureka! moment but also one in which I felt pretty stupid as it had been there all along, I was just not paying attention.  This game does a fantastic job of making me feel really stupid but at the same time really hits that ‘you fucking did it!’ button hard.

The day after my 24 hour marathon, I got back up and I did it again (thank you Shirley/Garbage) although not for 24 hours, more like 10 or 12.  I completed the map by reaching the last two Sheika Towers that I needed and then I set off to Zora’s domain where the first Divine Beast awaited.  I knew what to do here as this was as far as I got in the Wii U version of the game, so I blew through it all as quickly as I could.  Then came the moment of truth when I reached the first incarnation of Ganon.  I had read and re-read the guide on how to fight and defeat him here and I used that knowledge along with the Master Sword to finally complete the first beast.  A sense of smug satisfaction filled me as I knew that this time around my quest would be a success.  I realized after the fact that, given I had no armor and very few hearts, I never would have succeeded against Ganon’s minion in the first Divine Beast.

Over the next 100 or so hours (I really don’t know exactly how many as the Switch doesn’t tell you an exact time, but it currently says ‘around 95 hours’) I set out to conquer the other 3 Divine Beasts and managed to beat them in quick succession.  Finishing the bird and lizard were easy tasks (except that part in the lizard where I was in total darkness.)  Getting to the camel was a bit trickier.  I had managed early on to reach Gerudo Town in the faaaaaaaaaaaaaar south west corner of the map only to be turned away as I was a voe (the Gerudo word for male) and voe are not allowed in the city.  Using the power of Google I figured out that I had to get the clothes to dress as a vai (the Gerudo word for female) from a nearby bazaar.  Once that was done, I was on my way to the last beast and victory would soon be mine.  There was just one problem: I got hit with an unseen and very much unwanted stealth mission before I could get to the last Divine Beast.  This was (for me) the only time in the game where I really had to bother paying attention to the noise meter as I was running through the thieve’s hideout to reclaim the Gerudo ruler’s helmet that would get us to the beast.  As soon as I found out it was a stealth mission, I doubled back to Kakariko Village and purchased the set of stealth armor that I had seen many hours earlier.  I suppose it helped me from making too much noise, but ultimately simply staying out of sight of the thieves was what saved the day.  Conquering the last beast was fun and I felt that this version of Ganon was the most fun to fight out of the 4.

I suppose you kinda want to be quiet when approaching a sleeping Hinox before you attack it, but once you know how to fight and kill one (and have the lightning ability from the divine camel) it really is a useless feature of the game to me.

At this point, armed with the power of all 4 Divine Beasts, the Master Sword and a lot of pent up rage, I decided it was time to take on Ganon’s fat ass and be done with this game.  Little did I know that I was not really ready for what I was about to run into.

Early on, I had learned the hard way that the Guardians were to be avoided at all costs as their eye beams were pretty much a one shot kill.  That was until I gained some decent armor and got my hands on the Master Sword.  I found out, much to my surprise, that even though the Master Sword’s attack is rated a paltry 30 in comparison to other weapons in the game, it really fucks Guardians up.  The stationary ones could be picked off quickly before they even got a hit in as long as I got the drop on them.  The ones that still had legs and could walk proved to be more of a challenge.  I found out that you can cut their legs off, thus stunning them for a short time and giving you more of an opportunity to get more damage in.  Once I found out that cutting their legs off prevented them from running away, I gleefully hunted them down one by one first cutting off their legs then finishing them off as they sat helpless to my attacks.  Revenge is such a sweet thing, isn’t it?  I also learned that if they managed to get a shot off against you, you can use your shield from the divine lizard to reflect the beam back at them every single time (provided you have any uses of the beam left) and thus whittling them down even faster.  At the time of this writing, I’ve killed so many of them that I’m sitting on somewhere over 300 Screws in my inventory.  I really hate these things in case you can’t tell.

Picking off the Guardians and reaching the gate to Hyrule Castle, I was once again greeted with a wire frame map of the area.  I could see a huge red sphere at the top of the castle which I presumed to be my goal and decided to play it safe to a certain degree.  Playing it safe also made me a complete dope as I fell for a heinous trap, not once but twice!  Along the direct and Guardian filled route to the top of the castle are 2 gate houses.  Not thinking that anything was going to happen when I went in them, I foolishly went inside the first one and my heart sank as I was faced with a Lynel.  I had been avoiding them at all costs throughout the game as I had no idea how to fight them, let alone kill one.  But here I was in a locked room with one, the very definition of the word screwed.  Mentally and physically exhausted I went into fuck it mode and decided to give it a shot and I killed it!  Holy fuck, I just killed the hardest enemy in the game.  After that, there was no stopping me.  I picked up my rewards for kicking its ass and went on my merry way.  This time, I purposefully ran into the next gatehouse and found my next Lynel victim waiting on me, and it fell just as its predecessor did, though both of them cost me nearly every cooked meal that I was carrying with me.

I pressed onward to the Sanctum of the castle.  I decided enough was enough and used the jump glide and all my Stamina food and Elixirs to jump and glide my way up the walls and after running away from a couple stationary Guardians I had reached the end.  I walked in not knowing what I was about to face, but was treated with an incredible cut scene.  All the Divine Beasts, once completed, simply sit and wait for you to reach Calamity Ganon so the battle that was lost 100 years ago can be finished.  Once you do get there, however, all 4 of them fire a beam of (what I assume is) holy energy at the ruins of the castle thus knocking him down to half health at the start of the battle!  For once this game decides to give ME and advantage, but it wouldn’t help.  I got as far as his fiery form during this phase of the fight, but ended up getting careless and not paying attention to my hearts, so I lost.

Fuck my life.  Fuck this game.  Why do I keep doing this to myself?  Oh my god.  Whatever, I picked the controller back up and decided it was time for plan B.

Plan B consisted of finding as many Shrines as I could for more hearts and, now that I knew I could kill them, hunting Lynel and Hinox for their parts.  This went on for several more hours, and I decided to start with the first Lynel you meet in Zora’s realm when you’re looking for Lightning Arrows.  After using up the Master Sword and all my Divine Abilites and a good portion of my cooked meals, the bastard was dead.  Unlike his Hyrule Castle brethren, however, the rewards weren’t worth the effort.  I got a measly (read: less than the one I was carrying) shield, a few lightning arrows and one hoof.  Great, thanks game, I hate you too.

There were a few sidetracks to Plan B as well.  For the entirety of the game I’ve been hoarding everything I come across whether it’s gems, food, monster parts, you name it.  One thing that I never found a use for was Luminous Stones.  At this point I was just tired of trying to figure things out on my own, so it was time to turn to my old pal Google for the answers, and I found a lot more than I bargained for.  Googling led me to this article about what I could use the stones for, and what do I find in that article?  A link to another article about buying my own house in the game!  Well, shit, I wish I had known about that about 80 hours ago.  It would have saved me so much trouble (and a lot of cooked meals.)

Another side track was hunting down those blasted Korok Seeds.  At first, I decided to buy the DLC for the game just so I could get my hands on the mask that helps you locate the seeds.  At first, it was pretty cool in helping me look for them and I came to notice that the seeds were in out of the way places or sometimes they were in landmarks that were incomplete.  I came to notice just about every pattern or location in the game that might house one on the world map and I managed to find quite a few of them on my own after that, without using the mask.  Finding all 900 however is going to take patience and a map (like this one.)

I also decided to Google the locations of all the fairy fountains in the game as well.  I had only discovered the one in Kakariko Village and she could only upgrade my armor so much since she was the only one I had found.  That was when another nasty surprise waited for me: the cost to activate each fountain.  The first fountain was 100 Rupees, and I thought ‘yeah, no problem!’  The second one was 500 and I was like ‘ouch’ then the third and fourth wanted 1,000 and 10,000 respectively and I was like ‘this shit better be worth it.’  At the time of this writing, I have 3 activated and I’m still struggling to scrape together 10,000 for the last one out in Gerudo desert.

After many hours of grinding for materials for armor, hunting Hinox and Lynel, hunting Shrines for more hearts, buying a house and fully upgrading it, helping to build Tarry Town (it’s the cutest thing ever, look it up!), and hunting Korok Seeds for not enough inventory space, I decided yesterday that Ganon was going to be my bitch.

I made my way back to Hyrule Castle, murdering Guardians as I went (in my mind, this and this are playing on repeat) but this time I decided to bypass both gatehouses since I didn’t think the Lynel in them were worth my time this time around.  I made my way to the Sanctum, waited for my Divine Abilities to recharge, saved my progress and then the fight was on!

The fight with Calamity Ganon is a boss battle done right!  Everything about the fight is pretty straightforward and easy to grasp.  The only time I had any trouble was during the part where he glows red and is impenetrable to your sword attacks.  I can’t imagine trying to do this fight without doing all 4 Divine Beasts and the Master Sword, though it does seem possible since the game doesn’t stop you from running straight to Hyrule Castle after you get off the opening plateau.  After waiting a painfully long time for my reflective shield to recharge (and a Google search to make sure I was doing this correctly), I was met with Ganon’s final form:  Beast Ganon.  I felt like this part of the battle could have been left out of the game entirely not only because I suck at trying to aim and hit things while I’m moving (or the target is moving, or both) and not only because I didn’t care about riding horses in this game (that’s right, I spent almost 100 hours exploring the entirety of Hyrule on foot) but because it just felt like an excuse to shoot Ganon with arrows.  At first I didn’t get that I had to hit all 3 targets on one side of him in order for it to count, but once I got it I began to panic because I was running out of arrows.  Not once in this entire game had I had need of the Ancient Arrows, so I was pretty much just sitting on them this whole time, but once I found out that they were super effective against Beast Ganon I used them all up.  Once I ran out of those, I started grasping at straws and used all my other arrows.  Once I had finished the one side, I ran around to the other then got off the stupid horse so I could aim better.  I hit the first 2 targets no problem and when I went to hit the 3rd, guess what?  That stupid fucking horse was standing in my way, so the camera zooms in on it’s flank while I’m trying to aim at Ganon.  I nearly lost because this stupid, stupid horse was just standing there.  God forbid it should, you know, run the fuck away from this gargantuan monster that’s standing here.  Once I got a clear shot, I whistled for the horse so I could ride around to Ganon’s head but guess what?  When I needed it, it was gone.  As far as I was concerned I guess Ganon killed it so I made a run for him on foot.  I was suddenly glad I took my friend’s advice and used enough Spirit Orbs for a 2nd circle on my Stamina Meter.  Running to face the thing, I waited for his beam attack then jumped into the updraft and took aim at his last weak point on his head and BAM! I had finally defeated Ganon.  Afterwards I was treated to a cut scene of Zelda going all Super Saiyan on Ganon and using the Triforce to kill him.  Nice touch!  I was a bit disappointed though that after the credits were over, I was simply brought back to the moment before I fought Ganon as though nothing had happened.  I was hoping that it was over and I’d be able to freely explore the ruins of Hyrule Castle without Ganon or his goons parading around the place.

Since I hadn’t collected all the memories of Link and Zelda together (ain’t nobody got time for that) I’m sure I got the lesser ending but it just gives me something to strive for later on, should I feel the need to.

All in all I’d say that it was a very enjoyable, though at times very frustrating, experience.  Myself and others all wonder where and how Nintendo can take the franchise from here, but we’re definitely looking forward to our next adventure in Hyrule.

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.