- Release Date: March 2017
- Time to complete: ~45 hrs
I went into Breath of the Wild somewhat reluctantly, being in general completely tired of "open-world" games, and also considering my only other experience with a 3D Zelda title being Ocarina of Time, which I gave up on at the first boss - I couldn't get my head around the camera controls. Truth be told, 3D cameras and I still don't get along very well, plenty of 3D games put me off due to the camera systems. I didn't really have any problems of this sort in BOTW, even though at times the camera can be a little unruly (an absolute refusal to clip through objects causes some difficulty near walls for example, especially when holding bombs or other objects over your head).
The weapon durability system had me very worried from the start, since the very first swing of my tree branch weapon at an enemy threw up the warning "Your tree branch is dangerously damaged!" - I'd heard how easily your weapons break, and while I did go through a lot of weapons, it was never as dire a problem as I had feared. The biggest concern is that when you DO obtain nice gear, there's a definite reluctance to actually USE it, since every swing brings you one step nearer to losing that weapon. A small number of these can be repaired/replaced, but the cost in doing so is very high. You want to save your weapons from degradation when you need to hit switches with them? Well, you can fire arrows at the switches instead... but every draw of the bow is a strike against that bow's durability as well. Shields will block enemy damage... until they suffer from lack of durability and are removed from the game. At least armour doesn't break in this fashion, which makes it feel like the most worthy investment in all of Hyrule.
As with most open-world games, I feel like there were a few too many mechanics thrown in just for stuff to do, lots of collectables (and ways to redeem the collectables), cookables, status effects, environmental damage types, etc etc. It's ignorable to varying degrees, but I doubt anyone would want to go through the whole game casually with the default number of weapon slots, which means collecting Korok seeds. Do you want to burn to a crisp in an area brimming with lava pools? Better get cooking some elixirs with animal parts you've collected... or farm enough rupees to buy an expensive armour set... and then use yet more parts to upgrade the armour. But only if you've hunted down enough of the armour upgrading stations to allow you to upgrade sufficiently. It's not exactly a chore to hunt down this stuff, a lot of it is found fairly organically as you make your way through the maps, but it's still just so much busy-work.
As you explore the map, you'll get into random battles - which if you're sane, you'll probably just sprint past. Otherwise you are just trading weapon damage for monster parts. Oh, and the monsters all respawn occasionally, too, so you can't really clear out areas for any reasonably length of time. So run past everything (or gallop on a trainable horse with randomly generated stats), while you make your way to your destination.
At least the destinations are great. I enjoyed the non-battle challenge shrines quite a lot, usually comprised of fairly simple puzzles which use your various abilities and reward you with decent gear and collectible items which can be traded for more health. Finding them also give you fast-travel points, which is incredibly helpful. Especially since your inevitable soirees into mountain climbing generally result in the weather quickly turning to rain, which makes your climb basically impossible. Please wait for the weather to clear to complete your task.
Other destinations include the towers - tall beacons which are also fast-travel points, but also fill out your world map, and provide great high places to paraglide off. Many of these towers also require some simple tactics or tricks to successfully negotiate, but some are just brute stamina-upgrade checks.
My favourite destinations were the Divine Beasts, the closest thing BOTW has to a classic Zelda dungeon - a set of puzzles to solve followed by a boss battle. I don't like boss battles, especially in 3D games, and one of them was probably the hardest battle in the entire game, but I enjoyed the puzzle and spectacle aspect of these tasks most of anything. They aren't even required to do, but make the final boss much easier. And you get extra abilites for completing each one.
Something else incredibly enjoyable is the art direction. The graphical style is simply fantastic - cartoony while still being beautiful and detailed. The designs of the various groups of beings (birdlike people, fishlike people, Amazonian styled women, and... uh... large round strong people?) are really fantastic too, especially the champions of each group. I really liked hanging out in their civilisations - well, except the large round rock people up in the flamey volcano. That place sucks. I also can't claim to have thought much of... well, any... of the enemy designs. Usually I like the "bad" characters in media more than the good ones, but these ones were really just either ugly pig-like things or robotic spider daleks, which sounds cooler than they are. Bit disappointing there.
The music... is hard to talk about. The most common music is a vaguely annoying battle theme song as sprint around the countryside and are spotted by enemies. Next most common would be occasional plinking of piano as you sprint around the countryside. But there are some wonderful, full musical pieces dotted around the game - it's just not particularly common to hear them. In some ways this makes them more special when they DO appear, but a great deal of the time you're just listening to your gear jostling around as you run.
Story is never a particularly strong point of the Zelda games, and this one is not much of an exception - the general plot is very basic, and unless you... er... collect... your memories throughout the game (which I don't believe are necessary at all!), you probably won't really have a lot of backstory to go off. I'd recommend finding the memories, even if it requires a guide - Zelda's struggles which lead up to the current-day events are great characterisation, and the game would feel quite lacking without knowing about them.
Despite not being particularly positive towards the open-world elements of the game, and as a result a lot of the mechanics decisions made based upon those elements, I actually enjoyed Breath of the Wild quite a lot overall, mainly due to the tone and design. I'm not sure it's as replayable as many other Zelda titles, but that's mainly due to the time investment needed due to the open-world-ness, which was a worthwhile experiment in the universe, but I'd prefer dialling it back a bit (or completely) for future entries.