The truth hurts, but someone has to come out and say it.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the most critically acclaimed games of this generation. However, the title exudes flaws and leaves so much to be desired from a game in the Zelda series. If you’ve been a fan of the site for some time, you probably know my feelings on Breath of the Wild, but for its third anniversary I thought it was time to finally sit down and explain my full list of problems.
Before I dig in I do want to share some of the good things I found in Breath of the Wild. For starters, the Great Plateau is an excellent starting area that does a good job at teaching players how the game will ultimately work. Amiibo functionality is also great, giving players access to a ton of exclusive items. Additionally, the Wolf Link Amiibo is awesome, even if it sadly doesn’t scale well much farther than the early areas of the game.
The general combat is also well done, and the Shrine system is a great way to compliment dungeons in the Zelda world. The DLC is also very good with those Shrines being some of the best in the game. Gliding through the world is also fun, and the way you can get creative with the limited Sheikah Slate toolset is fantastic. Guardians are great villains that can really strike fear into players, so that was pulled off exceptionally well. That said, these few great elements don’t make up for the shortcomings of the rest of the game.
To start off, the story in Breath of the Wild is not very good at all. Not only is its current placement on the timeline left intentionally vague, but many things aren’t explained. Like what is a Calamity Ganon and how does it tie back to the regular Ganondorf? Maybe these shortcomings will be explained in the future, but for now everything seems like some sort of Zelda fanfiction because it’s so far removed from direct connections to the other games which is downright unheard of for a console 3D Zelda title. The self-contained story is also not very interesting because it’s extremely basic and the in game flashbacks don’t add any real exciting revelations.
The characters also leave much to be desired. There aren’t that many of them, and the ones you do encounter aren’t very likeable. Everyone may have a favorite of the four Champions, but once they start talking, the terrible voice acting really ruins them. The other characters are quite bland and seem to lack the typical Zelda charm with few exceptions.
The sidequests and minigames almost always lack any meaningful reward, making them virtually pointless. Zelda games over the years have conditioned players to do well in minigames and to complete quests in order to obtain great items, but in Breath of the Wild that’s rarely the case. Most of the time you’re just handed a bit more pocket change which, in this large game, isn’t nearly as big a deal as you may think since there are many ways to earn moolah.
Mounts seem to be given a lot of attention in Breath of the Wild, at first glance. However there are several animals you can’t ride even though it seems like one should be able to. Also, since so much emphasis in the game is put on climbing over mountains and other terrain, mounts ultimately become almost worthless and can’t go with you most of the time. It feels very strange.
Breath of the Wild is one of those games with an inverse difficulty curve. You start off with nothing and are very vulnerable. However, the way I played it, I eventually wound up becoming a god before too long in the sense that I couldn’t die. I’d have so much food saved up that I’d have to be stupid or just make a gravely critical error in order to perish. Games like this aren’t necessarily bad, but once you hit this point every encounter feels like a waste of time since you know you’re not going to lose.
The music in Breath of the Wild is bad. Well maybe it’s not considering there’s a five-disc soundtrack set, but you rarely hear much of the music while actually playing. That’s because for 95% of someone’s actual time with the title you will be treated to the same ambient track. The track is memorable, but probably just because you have to listen to it for hundreds of hours if you aim for full completion of the game.
Earlier I may have said the combat is good in general, but unfortunately it’s bogged down by the breakable weapon system. There are so many flaws for the breakable weapons, but it ultimately compounds the fact that Breath of the Wild forces players to use a poor item management system far too often. You can take out a camp of foes but then, if playing optimally, you have to compare leftover weapons to what you’ve already got, but also need to keep in mind you may have used some so they are weak but you can’t really tell until they are about to break, so good luck. It’s a damn mess and people playing Breath of the Wild will find they are goofing off in the menus for far too long instead of playing the actual game. Not to mention, the developers didn’t even put enough armor slots into the game for a player to collect each armor type. It’s only short by a handful of slots, but this is really a bad design decision.
One other gripe with the combat is that for almost the entirety of the adventure, one of the best strategies is to first use the Sheikah Slate to freeze an enemy with the Stasis ability. Then you just wail on it until it’s dead or almost dead.
Additionally, how awful does it feel when you finally obtain a Champion’s epic weapon only to find out it will break just like all the others? It’s really stupid and, like the Master Sword, these weapons should have been given some sort of recharge rate, even if it meant completing some sidequest in order to do so. But as we know by now, sidequests in Breath of the Wild can’t give anything that helpful unless they open up a Shrine.
Breath of the Wild is also big on letting the player climb over almost everything. Sadly, this is frequently ruined by the rain. I get that maybe they were going for some realistic thing here, but rain ruins a major element of the game by making climbing much harder. Often times I’d just hang off the side of a cliff, physically walk away from the system, and wait for the rain to pass to not lose progress on my climb. It’s really annoying. Add to that the fact that there are no items that counteract the rain and it’s maddening. Oh yeah, there is a set of gear to help climbing though, which does help on any climb, but you will then have to open your menu and select each piece of gear for it one by one because there is also no way to create easily selectable armor sets. It’s impossible to avoid menu hell in this Zelda title.
In a game like Breath of the Wild a huge emphasis is placed on the exploration aspect of the entire world. However, in reality you see just about everything far sooner than you may think. I remember the first time I encountered a mighty Hinox and thought about how cool it will be when I can come back and beat this guy. Surely this enemy is one of a kind and guarding a bridge for a reason. WRONG! The same three, four if you count the big desert foe, major enemies are copy pasted throughout the entire continent. In fact the enemy variety is completely lacking in Breath of the Wild.
The copy-and-pasted elements don’t end there though. From ever-so-slightly altered puzzles, to standard enemies, enemy camps, friendly camps, and much more are seemingly the same everywhere. There are a few exceptions, but 90% of the game is the same and this completely damages the sense of discovery the developers attempted to incorporate because of it. Compare this to any of the Xenoblade games where there are unique monsters, enemies, stories, places, and all sorts of stuff scattered throughout the world and you can see how bland Hyrule appears to be. Yeah, the enemies get harder over time in Breath of the Wild, and some versions of them fit the environment, but it just winds up being boring especially since the environment in general is just so empty that most of the time you’re walking in a giant void of familiar elements you wind up seeing hundreds if not thousands of times.
You may remember earlier I praised the Shrine system, and I don’t take that back. But all Shrines have the same aesthetic, which is kind of lame. The Shrines are where most of the traditional Zelda puzzles appear in Breath of the Wild. Sadly, of the 120 base game Shrines, 20 are Tests of Strength requiring players to do a dumb fight that repeats across several Shirnes, and 29 are Blessing Shrines. Blessing Shrines don’t have any puzzles in them, and some may argue that just unlocking them was the puzzle. I’d argue that going into an empty Shrine is a letdown. That means this seemingly large and epic game, that I’ve already established if full of copy pasted elements, only has 71 mini puzzles that are in actuality the core of the Zelda franchise.
When actually completing the puzzles within Shrines, and sometimes elsewhere, there are also clearly designed puzzles that developers had to put effort into making. These puzzles often have a standard solution that you can figure out, but may be challenging to do. Breath of the Wild will then often gives the player ways to cheat it using their abilities. At times this feels good because you, as a player, can outsmart the game. But there are other times where I actually feel bad for the people put in charge of having to make these detailed puzzles because there are clear and obvious ways to forgo what they did rendering their work meaningless. Frankly, bypassing the intelligent design by outsmarting the game is sometimes cool and empowering, but it should have had more checks and balances because it often gets out of control. Actually completing the puzzles as intended at times may feel more rewarding than cheating using the in game systems.
Oh yes, I’m sure some of you are now going to remind me about the four Dungeons, or Divine Beasts. Sadly, these Dungeons also keep the same feel and aesthetic throughout and are actually some of the worst designed dungeons in Zelda history. So there is another core Zelda staple butchered. Why was such little care taken on such a major part of the game? I have no idea.
Now I think it’s time to talk about one of the worst elements of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The game includes the worst sidequest in Zelda, and quite possibly gaming, history. That is the quest for the Korok Seeds. Not only does this quest send players on a wild goose chase all over a gigantic map, but it forces players to complete a handful of puzzles that are only ever so slightly altered. Again, it feels lazy and copy pasted. While this quest is rewarding for nearly the first half of the 900 available seeds, the second half of the quest gets you absolutely nothing. Get them all and one of the biggest jerks in Zelda, Hestu, rewards Link with a steaming pile of golden poop, which is probably some analogy to the game you just spent playing.
Some people will tell me to stop collecting the Korok seeds after getting half while playing, but I pin bad quests like this on the developer since they had to consciously make the choice to design it so poorly. They decided to make locating all the Korok Seeds insanely difficult with no in-game items to help except a weak DLC mask that barely helps. They chose to make it so it stops being rewarding, and for the final reward to be useless. And they had to choose to make completion of the quest mandatory in order to fully complete the game. So if you make an element of your game unfun, it’s on you.
The endgame in Breath of the Wild is also boring requiring players to farm pieces of the three Dragons in order to upgrade their gear. Unfortunately this requires a lot of waiting for those guys to fly past, which isn’t fun at all.
Breath of the Wild may have a handful of fun moments like Eventide Island, and the mazes to name a few. However the game ultimately falls short on so many levels. I played at least 400 hours of the title and searched nearly every nook and cranny of the world trying to fully understand what the game is. Unfortunately what I found is a disaster of a Zelda game that really feels like a rushed project that some college student pulled an all nighter on and handed in at the last minute. It’s like the team spent all of their time working on how the physics and elements would interact as well as building this giant world that they forgot to populate it with good dungeons, fun characters, an interesting story, real Zelda puzzles and elements, diverse enemies, rewarding quests, enough fun places, and more.
What I’m trying to say is Breath of the Wild lacks polish because it was clearly sent to the market before it was done to meet the launch of the Nintendo Switch. When compared to the previous 3D Zelda title, Skyward Sword, it’s like the polar opposite. Skyward Sword has a great story, amazing characters, the best dungeons in 3D Zelda, and makes the best use of the motion controls found on Wii to create a truly innovative, unique, and polished Zelda gameplay experience that actually blows Breath of the Wild out of the water in every way.
Now I know many of you are going to still tell me how wonderful Breath of the Wild is, but I actually think most people who played the game have blinders on. The fact is they focus on the short time they played doing the main quest, and maybe a few side things, and don’t look at the game in terms of the big picture. To me, this is just ignorance and more people need to “Open your eyes” and “Wake up” to the truth that Breath of the Wild is in need of some Tic Tacs.