After completing a game as massive as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, there's naturally a lot to unpack. However, as this is already the game that launched a thousand think pieces, I'm going to try to avoid retreading too much of the same ground covered by major gaming outlets. Thus my closing thoughts on the game will come in two parts: a light-weight review of my personal experience, and my thoughts on where I'd like to see the Zelda series go next.
The best word to describe the experience of playing Breath of the Wild is "flow". Or put another way, doing things in the game just feels good. Each of the game's mechanics naturally leads into the next: You climb a tower, mark points of interest on the map, and then fly, horseback ride, or run to each, perhaps with little combat interspersed along the way. While Breath of the Wild is by no means the first game to use this formula, it executes it exceptionally well. Every discovery in the Hyrule overworld reveals just enough of something more to nudge the player into thinking, "Well, let me see what's over that next hill before I stop playing for the night," ...and the next thing you know, it's 3 in the morning. The combat takes some getting used to, but once I got the hang of it, I found that it allowed for more variety in tactics than any other Zelda game. Coupling this with the plethora of weapon and armor options, there's a strong possibility that no two people with approach a given encounter the same way. Weapon durability and crafting also further feed into the BotW's addictive cycle by always pressing you on to find new ways to upgrade Link.
While the dungeons and shrines are somewhat aesthetically bland, I really enjoyed the Zelda-meets-Portal style of physics-based puzzles. For a seasoned Zelda player like me, these new types of puzzles were a welcome change from the predictable and blatantly signposted puzzles that had been the norm for the previous few games. I will say that of the four main dungeons, I felt that the camel and elephant dungeons were much more interesting than the salamander and bird, but this may be a function of the order that I tackled them. While the puzzle and platforming challenges of the shrines and dungeons are top-notch, one area where they fall flat is enemy variety. There are only two types of enemies indoors: Guardian Scouts and Ganon Blights, with minor variations on each. It would have been nice to enter a combat shrine or a dungeon boss room and be surprised, but that unfortunately never happened.
All of this excellently crafted, free-flowing, non-linear gameplay does come at a cost, however: storytelling. While the narrative has never been as central to Zelda as it has to other big name RPG series (like Final Fantasy), most of the modern entries provide an enjoyable journey with ups and downs along the way, colorful cast of characters, and come to a satisfying conclusion at the end. Breath of the Wild's amorphous structure makes having a cohesive narrative through-line much more complicated. The resulting Nolanesque collection of out-of-sequence flashbacks offers an interesting and nuanced glimpse into the relationship between Link and Zelda, unlike anything I've ever seen Nintendo attempt before with these classic characters. While the voice acting varied considerably in quality, it was generally effective at giving additional emotional weight to these scenes, I just wish there was more of it (most cut scenes are still text-only dialog). However, what makes a disjointed Nolan-style narrative work, is an ending that provides a twist or big reveal that ties all the other scenes together and gives them new meaning. Disappointingly, Breath of the Wild just doesn't have that. For me, this game that is otherwise fantastic kind of ended with a whimper.
Though the very ending of the game left me feeling a little cold, after some reflection, I still can't help but love a game that is otherwise so expertly crafted and provided me with over 100 hours of fun and adventure. Even after playing Breath of Wild consistently for 2 months, I still find myself tempted to return to mop up the last few shrines and I will almost certainly be picking up the DLC. Anyone who is a fan of action RPGs or open-world games owes it to themselves to play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Completion Time: About 115 hours (Main quest, plus 106 out of 120 shrines completed)
In a few days, I'll be posting some thoughts on the future of the Zelda series now that Breath of Wild has shaken up the formula.
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