A reader explains why it took him three attempts to enjoy Breath Of The Wild and where he thinks open world games often get it wrong.
I finally completed the story of The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild yesterday and wanted to write about the very mixed feelings I had playing it.
Initial expectations were high as the review scores were all exemplary, but my anticipation was also tempered by the fact all Zelda games post Ocarina Of Time are reviewed based on whether or not they are the greatest game of all time. The previous title, Skyward Sword, was also heralded as the greatest Zelda game ever initially but then the hype died down and everyone reassessed it. Based on this I did not buy Breath Of The Wild at launch, I waited until Super Mario Odyssey came out to take the plunge on a Switch.
This meant I started playing Breath Of The Wild about six months after its launch. That was plenty of time for the hype to die down. At this point a few of my friends had already played it on Wii U and they had complained about the minimalist story but still thought it was a very good game. There were also a few Internet reports of people bouncing off it, but the reviewers were all steadfast, this was the real deal.
Initially I had no idea what was happening or where to go. All my weapons kept breaking and it felt like every time I tried to climb a mountain it would start raining and I would fall. I really was not enjoying the game, it felt like a chore and not the magical world of discovery I had been led to believe. I continued to explore and found about 30 shrines, many of which I could not figure out what to do in and felt I was missing key items or powers.
I had also heard stories of all the inventive methods that could be used to traverse the environment and approach fights. For this reason, and with my shrine experience, I filled my inventory with a range of items such as a torch, Korok leaf, and a hammer to ensure I was prepared for each challenge. This left me very little room in my limited inventory space and the weapon degradation meant I was always having to look for a new weapon.
After about 40 hours of play I had explored quite a bit of the map, killed a Hinox and defeated the Divine Beast in the Zora Domain. I could tell that it was objectively a good game, but I was still not enjoying it and decided to take a break from it.
Zelda was not the first big open world game I had played and not initially enjoyed. I had experienced the same on The Elder Scrolls Oblivion and Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, IV, and V. All of which I had enjoyed when returning to them later. It wasn’t even the first Zelda, with Twilight Princess and Minish Cap both being abandoned early on to be returned to later. (With Minish Cap being about 10 years later). So maybe I just needed to be in the right mindset?
About six months later I picked up Breath Of The Wild again. With new motivation and outlook, I tracked down where Hestu had moved to and greatly increased my inventory spaces. I then completed all the shrines I had previously left abandoned and tackled a few additional shrine quests I had discovered. I tracked down another Great Fairy and upgraded some of my gear. All in all, I was now much better prepared. Maybe this time it would click?
After this prework I set off to the Goron’s Death Mountain but unlike the Zora Domain I did not meet someone on route to guide me. I climbed the mountain looking for the path forward but never found it. Then all my wooden equipment started burning and I started taking damage. I abandoned this expedition and went to explore the Gerudo Desert instead.
The Gerudo’s quest went relatively smoothly and I defeated the Divine Beast. I had played another 30 hours at this point and was beginning to feel fatigued, so I parked it once again. I had enjoyed the game much more during this second session, but I still did not love it like everyone else seemed to.
I then went on to play a lot of short indie games and the thought of returning to Breath Of The Wild was intimidating. I spent a lot of time questioning if the game was appropriate for me? I simply did not have the time to commit to such a huge game, after all I had played 70 hours already and was still only halfway through. Maybe I should just leave it? Perhaps Ocarina Of Time was my Zelda moment and I would never get that wonderment back?
Then I saw the Breath Of The Wild sequel trailer and I became excited for Zelda again. About a year had past since I had last played the game and the level of trepidation was enormous. ‘I would inevitably be disappointed again’, I thought. ‘I just don’t have the imagination required for this game’.
I went back in with the mindset I would just smash the game, get it done and close this chapter. I went straight to Rito Village and defeated the Divine Beast. This gave me the heart piece I needed to collect the Master Sword and I was off to Death Mountain. This time I found the tower which completed the map and with it the path up. I bought some burn prevention elixirs and completed the quest en route to getting some resistive armour. In only 10 additional hours I had defeated the last two Divine Beasts. Time to fight Ganon.
I went into Hyrule Castle completely unprepared. I figured there would be a save point or shrine just outside the point where the final fight takes place. I would go there and then warp out to collect food before returning to kill Ganon. Turns out there was not a warp point (or at least not one I found) and I stumbled into the final fight and lost. I then used Google to discover there is a hidden shrine in the castle, so upon reloading my save I went there and warped out.
I then spent some time looking for more shrines and clearing quests I had collected. I had a range of armour sets suited for a variety of conditions, the skill from the Rito Divine Beast made traversal much easier and with the Master Sword I no longer had to worry about weapon degradation. I built up a pretty good armoury of elemental weapons and used these to kill elemental enemies quickly.
I discovered some inventive shrine quests, such as one on a desert island, I collected the scales from the giant dragons, I had fun getting wolves to run into my bombs and I killed a Lynel. It had finally happened, I finally got Breath Of The Wild. I now understood why it is praised so much and why it is considered one of the greatest games of all time.
The difference in my experience at a few hours played compared to 90 is light years apart. I also think coming into it late amplified this disconnect initially. Not only had all the reviewers completed the game and experienced playing as a much more powerful Link but so had most other gamers. They were all discussing all the cool things they could do when I was still struggling with the basics.
Many open world games have similar issues, where the game is simply more fun to play at the end than it is at the beginning. Many get around this with a strong opening cinematic and a high energy action event, such a chase sequence. Breath Of The Wild by comparison was much more sedate and required a lot more of the player to get the most out of it.
It is true that it is far more rewarding to earn something by discovering it for yourself than by receiving a gift but for me Breath Of The Wild took this too far at the beginning. Nintendo potentially removed some hand-holding to distance themselves from Skyward Sword, which had far too much, but Breath Of The Wild became far too easy just to give up on straight away and may have led to several people missing out on a great game.
For me Breath Of The Wild needed to provide a stronger incentive to play at the outset. For instance, the game could have started with the player controlling the previous Link and dying at the hands of Ganon. This would have given the player a better grasp of what was at stake and partially elevated Ganon from a faceless monster to more of an antagonist, a bit like Ganondorf was in Ocarina Of Time. It would also have enabled us to witness what Zelda did to bind him and add some more to her character in the process.
Perhaps Nintendo considered this as a start but felt it was too similar to the openings of many Metroid games and wanted to avoid a situation where all of the players powers are stripped away at the very start? Or perhaps starting the game with a death was considered too depressing? Or maybe the intention was always to make Breath Of The Wild a journey of discovery from the very start? Afterall you cannot please everyone all of the time, perhaps just winning them over by the end is enough?
By reader PazJohnMitch
The reader’s feature does not necessarily represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.
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