— PLEASE READ THIS FIRST —
Usual warnings apply: you may spoil your enjoyment of the video by reading this ahead of time. Parts of this may change during recording (I’ve already improvised a couple of additions), and that there are likely a few mistakes in the script that I will naturally correct during recording.
Please be aware of that if you’d like to read this early.
Breath of the Wild is one of the best games I have ever played. If you follow me on Twitter then you might be surprised that the video is opening with that line, because I’ve spent most of my tweets bemoaning how many reviewers overlooked the game’s flaws. And the game really does have those flaws—not just nitpicks, although I have plenty of those too—but huge, critical problems that I do not understand how so many reviewers managed to ignore.
But I’d be equally guilty of not doing my job if I didn’t acknowledge that parts of Breath of the Wild do things better than any other game I have ever played. And through that admission, I hope I can help you understand how conflicted I am on this game and how difficult it is to properly judge it. Because Breath of the Wild is so huge and has so much to do, that it’s like two games in one.
On one side, you have the incredible stuff. Exploration. Link’s mobility. The freedom in the many options you have to move through this world. The visuals are heavily stylized and won’t be to everyone’s tastes but they consistently impressed me. I cannot think of another open world game that does these things better.
But on the other side, you have another game. A game that feels frankly unfinished. Which, oddly enough, is what you play almost any time you’re taken away from exploring. When you enter a shrine or what masquerades as a dungeon. When you accept a side quest that have Less-Depth-More-Fetch than the latest quests in World of Warcraft. The game’s combat is the best of these but falls short of its potential, and has some balance issues that are so terrible it feels like it was made by a team of amateurs in comparison to the experts that developed the exploration you experience through the world.
That sounds like an exaggeration as I’m reading it back now. But this is really how I felt: there were many moments I had while playing Breath of the Wild that I had to stop in place to wonder how a game THIS good was possible. How on Earth did Nintendo manage to make this? Hyrule is so vast, and beautiful, and overflowing with detail. And then a few minutes later I would be thinking the opposite: how could combat be this bad? How could a shrine puzzle be so worthless? Why was so much of my time being wasted, when there’s already an overwhelming amount of places to go and find? Why is this a Zelda game when there’s hardly any of the typical Zelda-content?
The conflict I feel about this game is something I hope I’ll resolve by writing this. I can sum it up like so: imagine a hypothetical game that was 20 levels long. 10 of these levels are some of the best content you’ve ever experienced. 5 were just okay—about average. But the other 5 were terrible. How much should your overall reaction be brought down by those bad parts? Do you just ignore them and focus on the good, since that’s what stood out the most to you? Diehard fans who think Dark Souls 1 is the best in the series would say yes, you do. And I can’t say for sure if they’re right or wrong. I don’t know where or how to draw these lines. I don’t know if you SHOULD draw them, even though it’s clear to me that so many reviewers have. They’ve quarantined off the diseased parts of Breath of the Wild and responded to the best of it.
And that’s about as long as I can be vague and spoiler-free. If you love exploration in video games then you owe it to yourself to play this game knowing as little about it as possible. If you want something more—deep combat, an engaging story, any sort of challenge, or interesting puzzles—then you could probably skip Breath of the Wild. You might want to hear my reasons first though because you might disagree. Fortunately, there isn’t really much of a story to spoil anyway.
Breath of the Wild begins with a cinematic. There’s no menu the first time you start this game. It just automatically plays this introduction sequence and gives you control of Link. He’s been asleep in this chamber for a hundred years and has lost his memory. You’re guided by a voice through this small area and walked through the basics of the game.
This opening is interesting and could potentially get you wondering about what happened. Why was Link left here? Who’s speaking to you? Why has he lost his memory? Ultimately the pay off in the story isn’t worth the time spent speculating. While it’s certainly a story that received more attention than any of the Mario games, it’s still primarily an excuse for Link to travel the world and have an adventure. I do think the potential was here for something more elaborate but we’ll get to that much later.
For now let’s focus on all of the things that are introduced here. First up is the Sheikah Slate, that I immediately saw as a pack of Hearthstone cards and could never unsee it for the rest of the game. Hopefully I’m alone in that observation and, if not, at least someone out there will now share my pain now that I’ve pointed it out.
The Sheikah Slate is essentially a magical smart phone. Eventually it even has a camera. For now it has a map and I guess some sort of GPS. You can use it to inspect your surroundings and mark things in the distance, which will then also be visible on your map. Soon after this you unlock four “apps” for the phone that you can use for the rest of the game.
First let’s get out of this chamber. You’re given some clothes in the next room and not-so-subtly nudged into opening the menu and learning how to equip things. Then after that you see the exit open as a light at the end of the tunnel, but not before you’re forced to climb up a wall in order to leave. Again, not-so-subtly showing that Link can climb in this game. Although my guess is that most players won’t realize exactly how important that is in this first stage.
You’re given a brief but beautiful shot of Hyrule and the title of the game fades into view. You’re shown a mysterious old man nearby and then left to do whatever you like. Welcome to Breath of the Wild. Go nuts.
Except you’re actually confined more than you might think. This starting area is called the Great Plateau, and it’s raised on all sides from the rest of Hyrule. You can’t leave this place until you’ve completed the game’s tutorial. Where the game succeeds however, is that you’re still given a lot of flexibility in how you go about completing this area. You can also skip some of it on your second playthrough when you know what you’re doing.
The Great Plateau is one of the best things that this game does. Because Breath of the Wild is all about freedom. So as much as it may seem paradoxical that it’s showing you that freedom while keeping you confined, this part is necessary for each player to be prepared to face the larger world before being able to leave here. The genius is that my guess is most players won’t even notice this.
See The Great Plateau is like a miniaturized version of the entire game. The whole thing really. For starters it’s surprisingly large—it has multiple areas to go through, ruins to see, and multiple enemy encampments. You have the fields, a mountain range, the ruins of the temple of time, and your first tower to find. After that, you’re given the task to find four shrines on the map.
Compare this to the larger quest in Hyrule after this… you’re looking to complete the four “dungeons” on the map. Which you can do in any order you like, but you’re still strongly nudged in the direction of one of them. Just like here on the Plateau. Your quest leads you to the shrine that grants you the magnesis app first, but you can ignore that suggestion and go wherever you want.
Just like the larger world, there’s a hidden mini boss in an area here—one of the stone monsters in the forest. And the mountain area is colder than the rest of this part of the map, which is also a feature you’ll be running into a lot in the larger world: preparing yourself to survive harsh environments. Whether that’s with clothes or temporary food buffs.
But the thing I love the most about this starting sequence is how much it promotes exploration. It starts with that sweeping shot when you first see daylight. I saw Death Mountain in the distance and I immediately wanted to go there. Then, when you raise the tower, the cinematic that plays does an even better job of this. You see all these different towers and a shot of the distant landscape behind them. As soon as I saw this snowy one I was sold. I want to go THERE. I want to see THAT. I already have longterm goals to keep me playing. Then, as the final thing that pushes this all from great to brilliant, you can use the Sheikah Slate function I mentioned a minute ago. I was curious enough to want to see how far Death Mountain was from the Plateau. And that moment when the sheer scale of this world began to dawn on me was one of, if not the best, thing I felt while playing this game.
The Great Plateau feels so large at first but it is comparatively tiny to the rest of the game. To the point that, after you reveal the whole map, it’s honestly hard to tell where it is anymore without zooming in. And that’s something you will notice and experience for yourself. That there’s THIS much to explore in this game.
But WHY is the exploration good? I’ve said it a few times now: that I loved this part of the game. Well for starters not everyone will. Some people prefer their games to be heavy on combat, or puzzles, or stories. I enjoy those a lot too, but I also like getting lost in video game worlds and seeing interesting things. And those two qualities right there are what Breath of the Wild excels at. There are a lot of cool things to see if you get lost. And it is very, very easy to get lost in this game.
By lost I mean sidetracked. You almost always have your map and you can fast travel to shrines you’ve found, so it’s not really possible to get properly lost or stuck—with only a few exceptions like Eventide Isle. The two main mechanics that facilitate exploration are the climbing and the glider. The first finally lives up to that famous line about open world games: “See that mountain? You can climb it.”
Well in Skyrim this means finding a set path and following it to the top. Or finding literal stairs built into the side of the mountain. In Breath of the Wild, you actually climb it. With your hands and feet. And it’s not some brainless alternative to walking either, you have to judge the height of things and compare it to your available stamina. For something that appears so mundane on the surface, there is a shocking amount of things you can learn here.
Firstly, you can look ahead for potential resting spots on the side of whatever it is you’re climbing. Some of these are obvious, while others are harder to recognize. Then there’s the ability to jump ahead at the cost of more stamina. Link is capable of climbing for longer at the slow pace—his stamina lasts longer that way—but you’re a lot faster if you jump. This means you can do some quick planning to squeeze in a few jumps to climb faster but, more importantly, that you need to account for the final desperate jump you can do just before your stamina runs out to finish climbs that you otherwise wouldn’t.
This is also useful when it’s raining. Surfaces are too slick to climb when they’re wet, but after a few attempts you can notice a pattern to when Link starts to slip. If you time a jump right before that, you don’t lose any of the height you’ve gained. It’s very stamina intensive but makes climbing possible. This was one of many little tricks that I taught myself while playing through experimentation, and it’s one of the best things that the game does—rewarding player creativity.
Look this climbing thing may seem unworthy of the praise I’m giving it right now especially since I’ve criticized Uncharted and Tomb Raider for all of the climbing in those games. The difference is that they have “climbing walls” with a set path to follow. Breath of the Wild let’s you climb anything. At any point. With very, very few exceptions—so few that it’s genuinely not worth me saying it but I want to avoid the pedantic comment correcting me—you can climb any surface while you’re out in the world. It’s a decision you need to make and for you to determine whether you can make the climb. Which was a big reason why I favored stamina upgrades over heart containers as I played.
There’s a childlike wonder in climbing things. It feeds into that idea of freedom. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to experiencing how awesome it was to get a flying mount for the first time in World of Warcraft. It’s like some shackles you never knew you had have been broken. Climb the building. Jump on the roof. Jump OFF the roof. Want to ignore the roads and the paths we’ve made? Go for it. Climb around them.
Have you ever gotten a stubborn streak like that in Skyrim or a game like it? There’s a cliff between you and your destination and you’re clearly not going to waste time going around even though it would probably end up being faster. So you sort of do a half strafe up the jagged edges of the land, jumping whenever the game lets you, and making a little bit of progress each time. This is more glitching through the game than anything else but god damn it you’re going to do it your way.
Breath of the Wild embraced that. And made it a feature.
Couple that with the glider and I think, if you haven’t played the game, that things might start to make sense about why the exploration succeeds. There’s a lot of verticality in this game. You climb towers to reveal the map in each region—of which there are fifteen. And there are a lot of hills and highland all over the world. You’re taught early on to survey the land for shrines and, by extension, anything else that catches your interest. Then, when you begin to slowly glide down from up high, you have the time to look around and study everything as you descend. And there’s seemingly always more than one thing that catches your eye on the way down. It’s up to you if you want to investigate, and the fact that it’s so simple to get around with all the gliding and climbing made it really easy for me to get lost.
Shrines reward you with spirit orbs that are functionally heart pieces from the previous games. You need the same amount for them to be worth something—four heart pieces, four spirit orbs. The difference is you can choose either more life or more stamina with every four that you exchange. So shrines already have an intrinsic value and allure for you to find them via exploration. But it was other qualities I found that added to the reason to go out looking for things.
The most subjective one is that the world is really something to look at. There was genuine beauty to be found in this game for me. While I do think a few too many of the regions were full of green trees and sprawling grassy fields, there was enough variety in the many mountains, highland, swamps, jungles, and desert to keep me admiring my surroundings. “That looks cool, what’s that?” was often the first thing that got my attention.
Next up are the Korok Seeds, which reward players for being perceptive and stopping to look at the things they pass. This is a collectible that, initially, is extremely valuable because it expands your maximum carrying capacity for weapons and shields. There are 900 of these seeds to find in the game, and each of them are tied to exploration or a very light puzzle. The game trains you to be on the look out for any potential place one of these guys might be hiding—on top of a temple, or hiding under a suspiciously placed rock. There are patterns in the world that you’ll start to notice and, 9 times out of 10, whenever I thought to myself “I bet there’s a korok hiding over there,” I was right.
900 sounds like a lot. And it is. It’s actually insane that there are that many. But I am certain you’re not meant to find all of these—you’re not even meant to find MOST of them. 900 seeds isn’t there as a number so the game sounds like it has a ton of content. It’s there because by having so many, they can be crammed all over the place for people to find easily without being glaringly obvious. I found almost 300 of these seeds across the 150 hours that I played Breath of the Wild. And I am certain that I likely missed another 300 hidden in those same areas I went through. This is the equivalent of casting a really wide net for players—another person who put in the same amount of hours I did may have also found hundreds of seeds. But they’re likely to be a completely different set.
But the most important way exploration succeeded for me, and I hope for many others, were the stories that I was able to experience myself. Stories in a way unique to video games and more like situations you may get yourself into in real life. The most standard of these were encountering other travelers on the road. These interactions were usually boring but a rare few stood out. I don’t know why, but saving a couple from monsters and then learning that were searching for a blooming flower—a silent princess—is stuck in my memory. As is my first meeting with Kass, the traveling bird bard. Hearing his accordion through rain in the distance and walking toward the music, wondering what it was. And then being given one of many riddles to solve—which were always easy but were still enjoyable.
The bigger moments were when I felt like I was traveling “out of bounds”. There’s a tangible sense, especially early on in the game, that you’re climbing to places you’re not supposed to get to yet. But the game still lets you do it. The most memorable of these stories for me was climbing the frozen mountain range in the southwest part of the world. This was a very long climb and, once I reached the top, I discovered that I wasn’t prepared to withstand the cold. Now I had a choice: leave so I can become better prepared, or push on to find a shrine or the region’s tower so that I would have a fast travel point to come back next time without having to do the long climb again.
Of course that’s what I did, which ended up taking a lot longer than I anticipated. I kept pushing on, with supplies dwindling as I ate most of my food to replenish hearts lost to the cold, before finally finding a shrine and then the tower shortly afterwards.
There were a bunch of experiences like this for me while I played—seeing my first dragon was another one, even though they ended up being disappointing when I learned more about them. I know full well that this type of thing doesn’t appeal to everyone but combined with everything else to do with exploration, it made this part of the game immensely enjoyable. It was a real pleasure to get lost in this world—which is exactly what I did for my first fifty hours or so. I didn’t do any of the main quests. The game was just this for me during that period.
But this is only half of what there is in Breath of the Wild, and I think you could make a strong argument that it’s even less than that. So let’s rewind back to the Great Plateau, after we raise the tower and are given our first quest to reach those shrines.
You get your first set of four spirit orbs by doing these, which you can use to buy an upgrade in the nearby temple of time at the end. The Mysterious Old Man, who turns out to be the ghost of the King of Hyrule, won’t give you the required glider to leave the Plateau until you do this. More important than the orbs however, are the Sheikah Slate powers that each of these shrines gives to you.
Two sets of bombs. A series staple. One is the standard sphere version. The other is a cube so you can securely set it somewhere, which I thought was a neat touch. It was also nice that these recharge instead of being a limited quantity. Puzzles could be designed around the player always having access to bombs because of that.
Magnesis allows you to lift up metal objects. You can move them to make bridges, or a set of stairs, or to open doors.
Stasis allows you to freeze objects in time. This makes them immobile for the duration of the effect no matter what force is being acted on them. So balls won’t roll down a decline—which is how the shrine tests you on the mechanic—and that any series of strikes you land on something while in stasis will compound by the end. So you can launch heavy objects away.
Lastly is the pillar of ice ability. I say lastly because this one is at the top of the mountain in the Great Plateau and is likely the final shrine that players will visit. There are multiple ways up here too, and more than one way to combat the cold. It’s yet another example of how much freedom the game offers each player to choose their own journey to a destination.
The pillar of ice is exactly as it sounds. You can also make them appear from waterfalls but that twist on the mechanic isn’t taught in this shrine. The way it’s introduced is by spawning ice under a gate to lift it up from the water below.
Your reward for doing all of this is some story about your past and the destruction of Hyrule—that Zelda and Link, before you lost your memories, failed to defeat Ganon 100 years prior. You’ve given some very vague details about Zelda being locked in a perpetual battle with Ganon in a now corrupted Hyrule Castle, and that you need to save her. First, you should visit and reclaim the four “Divine Beasts” around the land, that were set as weapons to help defeat Ganon before he corrupted them. So you’re given more details about how you ended up sleeping in the shrine at the beginning—because you fell in battle and had to be taken there to be resurrected 100 years ago—and have the goal of the game. Purify the divine beasts. Kill Ganon.
The other, far more fun reward is the glider. So let’s ignore the story and speak about that.
I was very excited the first time I got to this point. There were so many possibilities for the game building on what it had just done. The Great Plateau was a gated area. Because of that, Nintendo knew that every player had an array of tools when they left to explore the world—weapons, a bow, a shield, probably the knowledge about cooking and clothes, the ability to climb, glide, and all four of the Sheikah Slate powers.
In previous Zelda games, many of the dungeons couldn’t incorporate the tools found in earlier dungeons. That’s likely a reason why many of them followed a similarly gated design. You do a small set of dungeons, find their treasure, and kill their bosses, and then have those key items for the next grouping of dungeons that you can do in a different order. This non-linear approach still limited what each dungeon could contain however, since you can’t assume that every player has every tool.
Here, in Breath of the Wild, you have all of this already! So dungeons can be built around the idea of mixing and matching different mechanics. Climb something, then stasis a moving platform so you can glide to it. Then drop a cube bomb to blow something up, which reveals a metal box that you can manipulate to allow access to some water for an ice pillar or something. I can only be vague about this because Breath of the Wild doesn’t do this. Ever. So I can’t show any visual examples to reinforce this point.
At most there are instances where you have to use two abilities together. But that’s it. And even those are really rare. I was expecting a dungeon at the end of the Great Plateau—one that incorporated all of these tools and then introduced a new one that can be added onto a growing list. But stunningly enough, these are all the tools you get. For the whole game. Not even the excuse of the dungeons present in Breath of the Wild add anything to this list.
Instead, the only additions you get are the ability to swim up waterfalls in the Zora questline, and a powered jump ability from the Rito questline. The former of which is only required to do a handful of quests in the area and a korok seed, while the latter is never used for anything specific at all.
Not even the shrines build on any of these concepts introduced by the first ones on the Plateau. This is such a missed opportunity that it’s MINDBLOWING to me that Nintendo did not think of a way to develop this potential. This is the most fertile beginning that I think any Zelda has ever had, and it goes on to to be the most lackluster series of puzzles and dungeons that I’ve ever seen in one of these games.
Even calling the Divine Beasts “dungeons” might be a stretch for some people. They’re incredible to look at—with a spectacle both from the outside and the inside when you board them and run around their insides like a more “organic” version of a dungeon. It reminds me so much of the awesome scale in Shadow of the Colossus, which I think is a comparison a lot of people are going to make. And I did enjoy these sections don’t get me wrong—I liked the unique mechanic each one had with controlling part of the robot to make it rotate, or move in a way to open different paths. They’re very well put together, but they’re also tiny. There’s no clever, grand level design like in many other dungeons in the series. They’re too small for that. The only place that really felt like that was Hyrule Castle which, depending on how bitter I’m feeling when you ask me, might be the only thing I consider to be a dungeon in the game, period.
The divine beasts also share the same visual theme. Have the same introduction from a ghost of the pilot who died inside when Ganon took over. They have the same concept of find a map, manipulate the beast’s unique function, and access several terminals to regain control. Then you kill a boss—all four of which share a very similar visual style.
I’ll talk about the bosses more later when we get to combat, but for now I want to hammer home how disappointing this was for me. I play Zelda games for the dungeons and the bosses. That’s the thing I look forward to the most. I will never forget how awesome some of the bosses looked in A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time when I first saw them. Just like the overlapping level design and challenge in navigating those dungeons was what made me fall in love with the series to begin with. And this just isn’t in Breath of the Wild. It just isn’t. Imagine how much more rewarding exploration could have been if there were dungeons to find in the world. The mazes you can discover hint at the potential here. They’re unfortunately too simple but the idea is still present. You can feel it when you arrive. All this mystery and intrigue… imagine if it gave way to a huge dungeon.
Very little of this game was spoiled for me before I started playing. So I really was expecting to unearth some dungeons somewhere as I explored. I looked forward to it the whole game—stumbling upon the entrance of some place and having a whole different kind of experience in a dungeon, with a new tool, and an awesome boss. It never happened.
And I don’t know if that’s fair of me or not. You’re going to have to let me know about that. I know it’s not fair to want MORE content, because Breath of the Wild is already brimming with stuff to do. Like I said earlier, I had to stop and ask aloud how Nintendo possibly made this game because it really is that vast. And having even four real, proper dungeons hidden in the world—which would still be too small of a number—would be a massive amount of work. And yet even understanding that I’m expecting too much, I can’t stop myself feeling this way because of the “Zelda” in the title of this game. It’s a great experience on its own. But there’s not enough Zelda to justify it.
What I am certain of however, is how right I am to be disappointed in the shrines. Because maybe that’s the alternative. There are 120 shrines in Breath of the Wild. If 20 shrines are about the same size of a dungeon when combined, then that could be the equivalent of about 6 dungeons that were chopped up into bite-sized chunks and spread throughout the world. Not so bad if that’s how they work, right?
The shrines are the worst feature in Breath of the Wild. This section is going to be long and overly detailed because I intend to prove it, instead of just whining about it. So if you’re not all that interested you might want to skip to the combat in Part 3.
Korok Seeds and Shrines have one main thing in common: they appeal to a completionist mindset. Longtime viewers may wonder why I’m comfortable saying that Korok Seeds are something you’re not meant to fully finish, yet I forced myself to do almost every puzzle in The Witness, beat the end of Darkest Dungeon, and reached the center of the galaxy in No Man’s Sky.
In those games, that IS the game. Those are the main features. The main goal. In Zelda, there’s a hell of a lot more in the spotlight. Even ignoring the main quest, it’s clear that exploration is front and center. You could argue that it’s right there in the name of the game. It’s for this reason that I’m willing to give the side quests a pass. I enjoyed next to none of them—although some of the characters had some funny lines and were charming—and that’s okay because they were clearly filler content to me. Do I wish the game had great side quests? Absolutely, why not. If something can be good why not have it in the game? But I would have rather had dungeons and more Zelda-content instead.
Korok Seeds are clearly not something you’re meant to obsess over. Even though the reward you get for finding some of them is important—I’ll argue later that it’s even gamebreaking—the amount of seeds you need for each upgrade slot quickly ramps up so that it’s not all that worth it. Also while we’re here and just mentioned No Man’s Sky, am I alone in having flashbacks to how the inventory upgrades here? Holy hell that game really did a number on me.
The difference between seeds and shrines is that I think you’re meant to do the majority of them. I don’t think you have to do ALL of them to consider yourself finished with the game—although I don’t think it’s crazy to go that route if you like—but doing more than half, maybe even 80 of the 120, is reasonable if you explore most of the world and do all of the main quest. Or maybe it should be a comparison to the 70 stars out of 120 in Super Mario 64.
That’s still a lot of hours of content devoted to shrines. I did all 120 for the video and just that content alone took me about 20 hours. And that’s a pretty accurate estimate because I went through all of my footage and spliced together every shrine. Mostly because I wanted to be able to review all of the shrines for this examination but also because I’m as crazy as a straw.
All of these different clips are the 120 shrines. We’ll be splitting them up shortly. For now, it’s important to know that there are two ways to find all of the shrines in the game. The first is that you just find it. With your eyes or your ears. You see a shrine, walk toward it, unlock it and then ride the elevator down. You get off and say “Yep, it’s a shrine.” Or you hear it with your shrine-dar in the slate and play a game of hot-or-cold to locate it. This can actually eat up a lot of time, as does all of the waiting for the shrines to play their cinematic movies—which are always the same—and then load in and out.
The second way to find a shrine is through a quest. Often these mean the shrine is inaccessible until you do a task. But it doesn’t always mean that. Which can lead to some trouble when you’re measuring the worth of each of these shrines. Because even though every shrine has the same visual style and recycles the same assets over and over, the content inside can be very different.
I’m going to sound disrespectful with what I say next but I also feel like Nintendo has wasted my time already so I think we’ll break even. The majority of these shrines are so bad that it feels to me like the developers held a “Bring Your Kid to Work Day” and had all them design their own shrine with incredibly simple tools, and the ones that everyone liked the most became the bulk of the shrines in the game. That’s how vapid a lot of this content is.
So let’s split this up because that was a fairly bold thing to say and I need to support it.
First off, the easiest examples to get rid of are the combat shrines. These are all identical. It’s the same room with the same enemy. It’s a medium-sized guardian robot who will have an assortment of weapons and shields to use against you, and either a small, medium, or super-sized health pool depending on whether it’s a minor, modest, or major trial.
These enemies always have the same mechanics. And the only change in the environment are the pillars you need to bait them into slamming through when they enter a certain attack. On harder trials you need to use your magnet powers or your ice pillars to make these barriers which, to me, made the fights EASIER because I could always guarantee there would be something to use.
If you count the tutorial introduction shrine for these fights—which I definitely think you should—then these take up 21 of the shrines in the game. One sixth of the shrine (slash) piecemeal dungeon content is comprised of just this. Same fight. Over and over. And over.
Stay with me because it gets worse.
More often than not the shrines that require the completion of a quest will be elaborate. And this is generally the best shrine content in the game. There’ll be a puzzle of some sort in the world, or some task you need to do. Kass will present a riddle—like finding the right point to shoot an arrow through two of these rock formations. Or a woman in the desert will require you to go on a quest to make a drink for her before she’ll free up space so you can access the shrine, which leads to carrying an ice cube through ruins full of monsters and hiding it in the cooler shadows so it doesn’t melt while you fight.
There were 35 of these type of quest shrines in the game on my playthrough—there’s technically more than that but not all of the shrines require you to have the quest in order to access them. Just most of them do. Of these 35, 25 of them ended with an empty shrine. Although I hate the wasted time loading into these things for what amounts to a free pass, it’s more than acceptable that some of the shrines are like this because some of the quests are complicated enough to justify it.
So quests like navigating the huge mazes on the map, or completing the challenges in the lost woods, or Eventide Island—which was one of my favorite parts of the game. Quests like this justify the empty shrine at the end, since that’s just the reward. The shrine “puzzle” was in the world instead.
However not all of the quests are worthy enough of this pass. And it’s made doubly strange because some elaborate quests DO have puzzle shrines at the end of them. 10 of them do and a few of these are some of the more substantial shrines. There’s a quest in the Rito region that requires you to find a bunch of bird children so they’ll practice some song at a nearby nest. You have to hunt for them in the village, then cook some special food for the most troublesome one, then you need to solve a puzzle by listening to their song at the nest. Only then does the shrine spawn and it still leads to a series of puzzles inside.
Yet other quests, like holding a snowball at the right angle in the sun so its shadow is cast on a panel, leads to nothing. An empty shrine. Or lighting these torches in the desert—which takes less than a minute. It leads to an empty shrine. Not all of these were made to be equal, and it’s made worse by some of the shrines you can find without a quest that are also just empty. There was this one hidden in a wall that my shrine detector picked up. No quest. Empty inside. Another in a cold lake that was very easy to find and get to. Same thing. Easy to find without a quest. No puzzle inside the shrine.
This is a game that promotes exploring. So it should have been predictable that someone like me, who enjoyed going to the far reaches of the map, would have found some of these shrines before finding the quests. This one here, which was empty, was linked to some sort of quest in a nearby town. A quest that I got a long time later and watched as it instantly auto-completed in my quest log. I have no clue if there was some challenge I skipped over accidentally but I don’t think that matters. For me, it was a dead shrine.
That means that there are 29 shrines like this in the game—just a bridge with a chest in a chamber of water. And not all of them had meaty enough journeys there to justify that. The fact that some of the longer quests—like solving the heart-shaped riddle in the Rito village, or taking photos of the broken monument on the beach—still have a puzzle shrine at the end of them after all of this, makes a lot of the ones that don’t feel suspiciously unfinished.
The shrines that are left are ones that you directly find in the wild. These also include the starter shrines on the plateau and the simple ones in the areas closest to that starting area. I think this split might be a bit hard to follow so let’s refresh all the shrines on the timeline.
The first group on the left are the 60 shrines you find and then solve a puzzle inside. The next 10 are those that have a quest in the world but still have a puzzle shrine afterward. And the remaining 50 are the 21 combat shrines, 25 quests with empty shrines, and the 4 shrines that I found without a quest that were completely empty.
We’ve already gone over how variable the quality some of the quests can be. I think it’s worth mentioning a few other examples real quick though. The riddle that requires you to stab a platform with a specific weapon should have really had a puzzle shrine underneath it. As should the shrines that require you to present a scale of each of the three dragons in order to unlock the way—especially since this is something you’ll have to do many times if you want to upgrade your armor.
Conversely, discovering the ruins at the end of the game’s biggest canyon, and fighting my way through many broken guardians, was one of my favorite moments in the game. Even after I was disappointed that I hadn’t just found a secret dungeon, this was still enjoyable and worth an empty shrine at the end. As were some of the mini-games like the Goron Climbing challenge, and the sand seal racing in the desert.
There are some stinkers in these quests but it was the best scripted content in the game on average. Which is not something I can say for the 70 shrines in the game that had puzzles in them.
The biggest issue is that too many of these are overly simple. And this is also where we’ll be going through the most examples.
I’ve went through and split the 70 puzzle shrines into the five groups you see now. The four on the left are the tutorial shrines on the Great Plateau. The next group are 15 shrines that I consider to be good and interesting. The next group are another 15 that are just okay or borderline bad. Then there are 32 that are outright bad and a waste of your time or repeat concepts. And then there are the 4 at the other end which I am going to label as terrible, because they use the frustrating motion controls.
A lot of this is going to be subjective. What I just said might be something you disagree with—some people might like those motion control puzzles. Whereas I hated them. So I’m going to go through each group and explain why I separated these puzzles. Obviously I can’t do them all but I think you’ll be able to understand my reasoning, and then decide whether you agree with me or not.
First, let’s establish the four tutorial shrines as a baseline for what I consider to be a good series of puzzles. Each of these follows a pattern of introducing a concept and then testing you on it at least two times after that. So with the stasis mechanic, you need to freeze a cog, then freeze a ball, and then freeze a third ball which you then need to hit while frozen to move. It’s a progression on the idea each time.
Same goes for the magnesis ability, your bombs, and the ice pillar. You make a pillar to climb to a ledge, then open a gate, use it to block a guardian from hitting you, and then lift a seesaw.
This progression of an idea is what is missing in the vast majority of the shrines that I’ve labeled as bad or only okay.
This shrine requires you to place a bomb on a block and then use another bomb to blast it in the air so you can break through the ceiling. This is actually a cool concept—timing different bombs—but after doing this first part of it you’re already done. This is the end.
In this other shrine you jump over two gaps with the glider open and ride the wind. And then you’re done. This is the whole shrine.
This one gives the enormous undertaking of jumping on a raft in moving water. Then it goes full frogger and has three more rafts. Then you have to use the current and a bomb to open your way. And that’s it. No really, this is the entire shrine.
You shoot an orb off a pillar into the docking pit. Then you throw a ball through the door it opened into another pit. And then you jump upward to the end. This, like many other shrines like it, should have been the first phase that builds on this concept. Instead it’s already over.
Same for this one which has you shooting a ball in the air so a jumping pillar activates so you can shoot a crystal. That’s the whole shrine.
For the most ridiculous example of all, there’s this one which needs you to freeze an electrified ball so it falls to the floor—or you can time a magnetic grab I guess—and then you’re finished. You take it to the inactive power switch and you’re done. I had to put the controller down after this shrine and really think about how this made it into the game.
Then there are others that are so close to introducing a cool concept. This one has heavy balls on ropes. You shoot the first rope and see that they fall to press down a button. Then the next room requires you to freeze the ball so you can shoot both ropes without it swinging out of alignment of the button. That’s a cool idea! But you’re already done. Aside from an even easier optional ball for a hidden chest, this was all there is to do in this shrine.
For some of the other bad ones and some of the okay ones, there are a lot of repeated concepts. This shrine has a fair amount to do with using stasis to launch objects, but this is the same puzzle the tutorial used to TEACH you this mechanic. It’s repeating that again. Same for the balls rolling down slots that you need to stop or block. It’s the same thing.
Or this shrine that was similar to the inside of a giant clock. This could have been a really interesting puzzle involving stopping certain gears in a specific order, or moving onto more complex chambers like this with more mindbending puzzles. Instead you ride up to the top, make a simple jump, and then freeze the gear at the right time. Which is exactly the same as the very first thing the game taught you to do in the stasis tutorial shrine. After you climb these stairs the shrine is over.
Some of the shrines that are okay do build on an idea but are still too simple. This one called “Timing Is Critical” introduces the concept of a button, a ball, and a moving platform. Then it tests you twice after this with a slightly more complex version. So there is a progression but it’s just not enough. There are quite a few shrines that are like this.
In contrast to these, you have some good shrines that feel like they got 10 times the attention, which is why I’m only half-joking about my “Bring Your Kid to Work Day” explanation. These good shrines are the only ones that feel like actual game designers made them.
There was one that was an assault course of lava, wind, and timing jumps with the glider. Another one that delivers on the promise of timing bomb explosions—first with a simple introduction of an automatic thrusting pillar, then one you have to control, and then a final room that needs two bombs set up in a slightly clever way to solve it.
Most of the shrines involving electricity also followed this pattern. They start off simple and gradually increase with each stage of the shrine—just the fact that they had stages at all makes it better than most of them unfortunately.
There was a decent shrine that built on the foundation of the magnetic ability, first by having you get a set of platforms swinging in place, then coiling the spiked balls around the ceiling beam—or making them swing in a pattern that you can dart through—and then making some stairs to the end.
And that difference in approach there—that those spiked balls had two solutions—might be what a lot of you are screaming at your monitors right now. That I’m wrong about these shrines, because many of them have multiple solutions. That they’re flexible and therefore fun.
I understand that it can be enjoyable to do stuff like that. But my perspective is that a boring puzzle with three boring solutions instead of just one boring solution is still a boring puzzle. And that some of the solutions break these shrines in ridiculously stupid ways that show such a lack of thought on Nintendo’s part.
There’s a shrine that has a lot of fans, a ball, and a dock for it to sit in. The idea is that you’re meant to use blocks to cut off specific fans so that the wind currents left active will roll the ball into the dock from beginning to end, so that you have time to get to the rising pillar that the dock triggers when it’s active.
Seems like this could have the potential to be a cool puzzle, right? Well not only is this shrine one of those “one room, one layer only” puzzles, it’s also completely subverted by using stasis on the ball when it’s already in the dock and then running to the pillar. And this mechanic, with freezing a ball mid-roll, is something taught to you in the tutorial shrine. Every player is going to know this. Imagine if putting a bomb in the slot would work just as well because it’s the same shape. That’s how poorly designed this puzzle is.
To add insult to injury, there are TWO of these wind current shrines that can be ruined the same way.
And look I also understand that there’s an inherent problem here, which could be something another group of people might be screaming that I’m wrong about. Breath of the Wild is an open world game, so that means there’s a soft limit on how complex these shrines can be. Because if you can do them all in any order, that means really difficult ones could ruin the experience for players if they happen to stumble onto a challenging one early. Something like this happened to me with combat in the game—and we’ll get to that in a bit. The opposite happened to me with the shrines. At the end of the game, while searching for the final ones, I was finding modest and minor combat shrines that I could kill without any effort at all.
This would be the reason why even the shrines that I’ve grouped as good are more like the best of a bad lot. Some of them are interesting but they still don’t have much to them compared to some of the puzzle content and level design in the previous Zelda games. So maybe I’m wrong to criticize them for this missing complexity… easy shrines should exist so there are more accessible ones, and lots of really difficult ones might ruin the game.
Except I can think of three solutions to this problem, and I’m just a guy with a YouTube channel, not a legendary experienced developer at Nintendo.
The first solution has to do with how the shrines exist in Breath of the Wild in comparison to other open world games. In Skyrim or Fallout 4, places you find that you can enter through a load screen are an actual place. This is a little abstract without an example so think of a cave in Skyrim—it has to still be a cave after you’ve loaded into it. Or a factory or a sewage plant in Fallout 4. The interior has to match the exterior in some way. They have to be consistent and are therefore limited on what the interior can be.
In Breath of the Wild, all the shrines have the same reused entrance. They have the same interior theme. They even have the same assets and music that plays. This means that the shrines don’t actually have to physically match their entrance location on the map. By that I mean, Nintendo could have made a set list of shrines from 5 to 120, and dynamically changed which shrine you load into depending on how many you’ve done before that.
By doing it this way, there could have been a real, actualized difficulty curve with shrines expanding on concepts from previous shrines because the developers knew that players already had a chance to see them. It would have also made what happened to me impossible: all the combat shrines I found early on would have all been minor ones, then modest ones in the middle of the game, and major toward the end. Same goes for puzzles. All of the easy ones would have been the first 20 or so you found in the world.
Some of you watching might reject this idea because it means everyone gets shrines in the same order. Well the other solution is a tweaked version. Shrines are separated into tiers of difficulty—say sets of 10 or 15, that are grouped by being Tutorial, Very Easy, Easy, Moderate, and so on up to Very Challenging. And each set of 10 or 15 could have that order scrambled within its tier, with harder versions of each type of shrine in each set so developers can still design these shrines by building on previous concepts, while still making it so each player sees them in a different order.
The third solution would be fewer shrines. So some of them could be larger. Make some of them have more than one spirit orb and stages of progression on ideas so that more can be built on whatever foundation—say, burning leaves to reveal hidden paths and switches—that each shrine is based on.
This concept could be taken even further with a few rare “Mega Shrines” that take a few ideas and go crazy with them. Maybe have a few interact and overlap, with several spirits orbs to find in different rooms. Maybe there could even be a new Sheikah Slate app that’s introduced in these “Mega Shrines” that adds a new twist to the existing mechanics, so that there’s even more possibilities for the developers to get creative. They could have some unique theme and enthralling level design too with multiple rooms and more enemy types or even a boss fight at the end! The name “Mega Shrine” is sort of weird though. It would be good if they could call them something else instead. I wonder what that name could be.
What it boils down to is this: too many shrines were like this one. I had to spend time finding it, waste time with the cinematics and all of the loading screens, all so I could run up a hill and dodge metal spiked balls that were coming down to get me. Or I could not dodge them either, even that didn’t matter. This was the whole shrine. And I kept saying that to myself “That’s it? That’s all there is?” after each shrine like this that I finished.
With only 15 shrines that could be considered good, another 15 that are only okay, and the rest either being bad, empty, a mixed bag of world quests, or the same combat shrine copy and pasted, I think it’s easy to understand why this core part of Breath of the Wild was so disappointing.
And I think that wraps it up for shrines. Maybe I’m expecting too much from the game on this one but I really don’t think so. The amount of time that’s squandered on the loading alone is enough to prove that these weren’t as well thought out as they could have been. Which, unfortunately, matches some of my thoughts on combat. Not all of them. But enough.
I have a feeling that’s what a lot of people have been looking forward to in this video so let’s get to that now. Combat. Enemies. And how Breath of the Wild turned “durability” into a four letter word.
The two words I would use to describe combat in Breath of the Wild are fragile, and inconsistent. And “fragile” doesn’t refer to weapon durability, although now that I’ve written it, it would have been way funnier if it had.
Combat is fragile because Breath of the Wild is a game that is too easily broken. So fighting enemies is something that you have to go out of your way to make enjoyable for yourself, because there are far too many pitfalls and temptations that make it too easy.
However, let’s start out being positive because if you do manage to walk this narrow line and find a way to make combat fun, then it can be enjoyable. And not just a little bit either. There’s a surprising amount of freedom found in combat that mirrors the exploration in the world, and how you can creatively break the game’s puzzles.
Small enemies almost always come at you in groups. These groups are also almost always in encampments in the world that you can approach and plan to engage. The other type of encounter are mini-bosses but these are few and far between depending on how you play.
Clearing out these camps is the lion’s share of combat in Breath of the Wild, so let’s focus on that for now.
Freedom is found in messing around with the mechanics. You can approach camps in a direct assault and fight them in what usually turns into chaos. You can stealth your way in, picking off the guards at night and then sneak attacking sleeping enemies for massive damage, or stealing their weapons before they wake up so they have to fight you unarmed. Or you can embrace creativity and get more than a bit crazy.
Metal objects? Well those can become weapons. Fire? Burn enemy weapons to nothing. Have a fragile weapon of your own? Early in the game you can deliberately break it over an enemy’s head so their weapon goes flying from their grasp. Then you scramble ahead of the dazed goblin thing and pick it up to kill the enemy with their own weapon.
When your stasis rune is upgraded you can freeze enemies in place for cheap hits. Or stasis boulders or logs to smash into enemies. Push boulders the old fashioned way to crush them. Blow up explosive barrels. Throw bombs—but be careful that they’re not kicked back at you.
And the possibilities here keep going far beyond my own creativity. Video Game Dunkey has a great video that showcases how fun this can be. However—and again, it all comes back to how subjective it is—playing the game in this way failed to engage me for a significant amount of time. After a few camps of doing stuff like this, I felt that not only was it inefficient but that I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. And this gets even more true later on when the harder types of enemies begin spawning in the world.
Stealth is also fairly simple but it can be enjoyable, especially if you attack encampments from the skies. You can glider down, shoot arrows during bullet time… or arrow time, I guess… to wipe out the tower sentries, and then softly land next to the sleeping monsters to stealth kill them. It’s not a bad way to play and the option is welcome.
Direct assaults were what I settled on though. For both the most fun and the most challenge, but this is the part of the game that lives up the most to the idea “you have to make this fun for yourself.” Because holy shit does this combat system fall apart without self-imposed rules and limitations.
The problems are everywhere, but you can find the most in the numbers. You heal by pausing the game, opening your inventory, and eating raw ingredients or cooked meals. There’s no limit to how much healing you can receive while paused and there’s no limit to how much food you can carry. And ingredients are everywhere. I never came close to running out. And cooking recipes that use any “Hearty” ingredient automatically become full heals after cooking. Something as simple as one Hearty Vegetable plus a single apple turns into a full heal, because the game needs to give you full life in order to grant you the bonus yellow “armor” hearts that are part of that type of ingredient.
Similar to that, some food buffs can increase your defense and offense numbers, which might make you wonder how damage and defense is calculated. If you watched my video on Dragon’s Dogma you’re about to be shocked that Nintendo did the same thing.
Every heart container is made up of 4 quarters. You can see Link losing these in the cold. Each weapon has a damage number attached to it, and each number stands for one quarter heart of damage. I figured this out by giving bokoblins specific weapons and letting them hit me without any armor on.
So a basic red bokoblin—the lowest enemy in the game—will deal half a heart worth of damage with a 2 damage stick. So each damage point is a quarter of a heart. Likewise, if I gave him a Royal Sword that has 36 damage, he deals 9 full hearts of damage to me. 9 hearts multiplied by 4 quarters in each heart is, of course, equal to 36.
Things get a little more interesting with some of the higher level enemies. These are color based. So the red bokoblins are the weakest. Then there are blue ones. Then black. And finally silver. The way damage is handled is that higher level enemies have an added damage bonus to each attack. For example, when unarmed, a silver bokoblin will deal 6 hearts of damage. But if you give him the same 2 damage stick, he now deals 6 and a half hearts damage. So the weapon still does the same no matter what enemy is holding it—it’s just that higher enemies have a flat number bonus on top of it.
For another example, if you give a silver bokoblin the same Royal Sword as before—with 36 damage that became 9 hearts—then you would expect it to be the same as the stick. The silver bokoblin should add its 6 hearts worth of damage on top of that 9 hearts and sure enough that’s what happens. It’s 15 hearts worth of damage.
If you translate this into numbers, then a red bokoblin holding a Royal Sword is only doing the weapon damage—9 hearts. 36 damage.
While the silver bokoblin is doing 15 hearts. 60 damage.
Now let’s add armor so I can show you how easy this system is to break forever.
Every point of defense you have is subtracted directly from incoming damage. It’s not a percentage reduction. So it isn’t like 50 points of defense means all damage is reduced by 50%. It means that whatever damage number the enemy has is reduced by 50.
So if I have armor on that adds up to 36 defense, then that red bokoblin with a 36 damage Royal Sword won’t be able to hurt me. As you can see, that’s almost true. The game never allows you to be fully immune. Instead it lowers the damage down to just 1 quarter of a heart. If I wear even higher defense, all the way up to 84, it still deals 1 quarter of a heart. So this shows there’s a minimum amount of damage each hit should do, but this is so low it’s still effectively zero.
If I go at the silver bokoblin with 36 defense then it should stand to reason that the armor should cancel out the entire Royal Sword and all that should be left is the silver bokoblin’s base 6 hearts of damage right? This is exactly what happens. 36 armor is negating 36 weapon damage.
If I bump my armor up to 60 then all of it is now gone. The silver bokoblin is now doing 1 quarter of a heart per hit. And it’s the same if I go all the way up to 84 armor.
Upgrading armor breaks the game. And I am very lucky that I didn’t figure this out until I was already finished with it. Because it would have been yet another thing I would have had to stop myself from using to make the game fun.
If you’ve played the game and wonder why you sometimes take a massive hit of damage, this is why. Because the world in Breath of the Wild levels with you. Tougher enemies start showing up. Even on the Great Plateau you’ll find these silver bokoblins later in the game. And with them come better weapons. So if you’re not upgrading your armor as you play, then you are going to get smacked around a lot by the same high damage weapons that you’ll start to use. Because instead of percentage modifiers, Nintendo used this batshit insane subtraction system which makes it so low armor players get destroyed, high armor players take absolutely no damage, and people in the middle have to play a game of chicken on whether or not they should upgrade their armor to make the game a little easier, but not TOO MUCH because otherwise they’ll ruin the game by blocking all incoming damage.
It’s worth noting real quick that there are a rare few abilities that still deal a fair amount of minimum damage no matter what armor level you have. This guardian laser for example inflicts 14 and a half hearts on a naked Link. Then 3 and a half with 64 armor. And still 3 and a half with 84 armor. So there are a handful of instances that it’s different.
Hilariously enough though, the final fight with Ganon is one of them but… Okay I feel like I’m picking on the game here but this is too stupid not to mention. If you fight Ganon naked with no defense, then most of his attacks deal about the same amount of damage. His laser does 11 and a half hearts. All of his sword slices do 10 hearts.
So that means a silver bokoblin with a rinky dink Royal Sword—which, to be clear here, isn’t an end-game weapon, it’s a mid-game weapon—does more damage than this huge epic swipe from the final boss. Even with no weapon, this little silver goblin thing’s 6 hearts is close to it. And for the most ridiculous of all, a silver moblin with a shitty spear that’s on fire will do 9 and 3 quarter hearts worth of damage. Ganon’s weapon is also on fire by the way so I feel that’s a fair comparison.
So why are the numbers so terrible? Well because balancing offense and defense like this when you can’t be sure if players will even have access to upgrading armor is a nightmare. Which is why percentages would have been so much better. Same for that healing problem. If players can heal themselves instantly of any damage, then it makes sense that enemies should spike damage really high. In this way, your health isn’t just these hearts, it’s the entire supermarket worth of food you’re carrying around with you too. You can view your health in Bloodborne in a similar way—your health bar isn’t just what’s at the top of the screen, it’s all of your blood vials as well. The genius there is that to access the rest of that health, you have to play well enough to time a heal in the middle of a fight, and also recognize that you SHOULD heal instead of attacking, but also not to heal too early so you don’t waste a lot of it.
Breath of the Wild also has an added security net that if you’re at full health you can’t be killed in one hit. You’re left with a quarter heart instead. Even if you only have three hearts and the attack does so much more damage. As long as you have food, you are effectively invincible. Except for when an attack glitches out and deals damage twice quickly in succession, which was rare.
Something as simple as having the game unpaused after selecting food, and having a second or two of downtime while Link eats it, would have solved half this problem just like that. Now you have to run away from enemies and position yourself to heal instead of somehow being able to eat 20 apples and an entire turkey while reeling on the floor. The solution to the other half of the problem would be to limit the amount of healing you can carry for each fight. A simple way to do this would be that raw ingredients don’t heal Link. Only cooked meals do. And you can only carry a fixed amount of them. In this way you don’t have stupid inventory limits for picking up ingredients, but you can still restrict how much potential healing you can carry at once. This could even be something you could upgrade or expand by finding things via exploration—more cooked food slots.
Or maybe they would have to be preserved in special containers after cooking. Maybe you could have four of them at the start. Four glass, uh, jars? Cups? What’s the word I’m looking for here? I feel like it should start with a B maybe?
And that’s the first two major problems on this list that I couldn’t find a way to bring up until now:
- Damage Calculations and Armor
- Healing and Recovering Mistakes
- Inconsistent Rules, Mobility, and Balance
- Low Enemy Variety
- Weapon Durability
My hope is that by now you should be getting a decent idea on why I labeled the combat as fragile. It’s too easy to intentionally break it with food. And it’s too easy to accidentally break it with armor upgrades. Now the answer to those problems are to just not use them—don’t eat during combat, and don’t wear armor. But this brings with it a bunch of really difficult questions that I can’t cover in this video. About developer intentions and how much responsibility players have to make games enjoyable for themselves. Plus the game should still have a healing system. Ignoring the option entirely isn’t a good answer.
This is a two-way street and, unfortunately, with the other problems on this list it keeps getting worse. Because although I eventually did find a way to make combat in Breath of the Wild a lot of fun, it wasn’t like that after my first hour of game time.
If food and armor are ways players can break the game, then balance issues are ways the DEVELOPERS broke it. And this is also something that goes two ways. At the beginning of the game, after finishing the Great Plateau and being given a glider, I wanted to ignore the main quest and begin exploring. I had so many possible directions to go but I eventually decided to go south.
I had two reasons for doing this. The first was one I think a lot of people will understand: this was the shortest trip to the edge of the map and I wanted to see what was at the boundary. The other was that the canyon stretching off into the distance looked like an interesting place to explore. So that’s what I did.
If you’ve played the game extensively and explored this canyon yourself, you know I made a terrible mistake here.
We’ll talk about enemy variety shortly but it’s important for everyone to know that there are roaming mini-bosses in Breath of the Wild. The one that lives in this canyon is called a Lynel and, despite it being the most difficult enemy type in the game—more so than any of the bosses including Ganon—it’s the only one out of the four types of mini-bosses that doesn’t get a fancy, extravagant health bar.
I got here so soon that I was still armed with my crappy Plateau weapons. And being the Hardcore Gamer (sarcasm) that I am, I started to fight this thing and got my ass handed to me. Its arrows killed me easily. Every hit was potentially fatal. Its moveset was way more advanced than anything else I had seen so far and I was still getting used to the controls.
However, these are all good things in my opinion. I like it when games put challenges like this in the world to overcome. Because that’s exactly what I did. I learned to sprint out of the way of its arrows. I learned to dodge its attacks—many of them perfectly to trigger a special “Flurry Rush” counterattack mode. I, the player holding the controller, was able to learn and beat this challenge.
So what’s the problem then?
Well, even though I could beat this monster, Link could not. Or, more specifically, his weapons couldn’t. I was incapable of dealing enough damage with them before they broke and I was out of options. It wasn’t that I couldn’t dodge him for long enough or anything like that. It’s that I was literally incapable of killing this monster without better gear.
This turned me off the combat for dozens of hours after this. I’m not kidding either. I dismissed so much of it as a gear-based game that was all about acquiring armor and weapons and more hearts. My response to this may seem extreme but I hate it when games mix gear progression and skill together, without making it so players can still skill their way through if they play well enough. I loathed that I had to run away from this lynel because my weapons weren’t good up to the task.
Now the tragic thing about this is that if I had gone in literally any other direction this wouldn’t have happened. Don’t get me wrong this is still Nintendo’s fault and there are many things they could have done differently to avoid this, but this is bad luck on my part for encountering this monster. It spoiled any sense of exploration I had in that moment too. I actually thought “Oh I guess I can’t go anywhere after all, because my gear might not be good enough for some areas. It’s not that they would be difficult. They would be impossible.” This early on in the game, because the lynel didn’t have a fancy health bar, I thought this entire region was full of this enemy type so I should go somewhere else instead.
There’s another direction I could have gone and encountered a lynel this early. And I went out of my way to test it on my second, three-hearts-only playthrough. There’s a colosseum near the Great Plateau that has a lynel at the bottom. If you go there first, right after getting the glider, there are enough monsters in the levels around the lynel that drop good enough weapons for you to comfortably kill it early on. Most of them still break but it’s possible. And this is the sort of thing the other lynel needed in the canyon.
But I also said this problem goes two ways. Weapon durability in this game has been such a hot topic that I’ve read quite a bit of articles on it. My impression is that many people who have played Breath of the Wild didn’t realize that the world scales with you. I don’t know what causes it and I don’t have the time to commit to another thorough playthrough to find out—it could be your average weapon damage of your collection, or how many enemies you’ve killed, or how many shrines you’ve beaten. Or it could be how many regions you’ve visited.
What I know for certain however, is that it’s NOT caused by clearing the Divine Beast dungeons. Or at least that my game world started to get harder before I did any of them.
Harder enemies bring better weapons. Tougher fights. Like I said, the hardest type of bokoblin started spawning in the STARTING AREA after I went back later on, with dragonbone weapons instead of basic clubs. This is true for all of the regions in the world. Everything scales as you gain power and experience, EXCEPT for the dungeons.
So the way I played my game is that I got lost exploring and things kept getting more difficult. The first change I noticed were the black bokoblins. Then the black lizards. Eventually I saw my first silver moblin and then even a silver lynel because even they have tougher versions too. And I came to the incredibly reasonable conclusion that, if the world was this dangerous, then surely the dungeons and Ganon must be even more so?
In these hours exploring I had done quite a few shrines. Gained some more hearts and stamina. I hadn’t really upgraded my armor and hadn’t thought to investigate how it worked, so that added to how much I was getting smacked around by these high level enemies. More important than all of this however, is that I stumbled into the Lost Woods and found the Master Sword.
The Master Sword is the only weapon in the game that doesn’t break permanently. Instead it loses its energy and has to recharge for 10 minutes before you can use it again. It has 30 attack damage which is middle-of-the-line. It’s even below those Royal Swords we were using earlier. However, in the presence of guardian enemies, it gains a damage buff. It starts to glow and spikes to 60 damage.
Armed with this weapon, the world didn’t feel all that different. In fact I was mighty disappointed that the Master Sword could break at all and, in the case of enemy camps, often broke before I could kill multiple enemies. This legendary blade felt legendarily brittle. But when I finally went to finish the dungeon content that all changed.
What I am about to show you is the boss of the Zora domain. The great elephant divine beast. This is the first dungeon I completed. This is the first boss I fought, and it’s the first time I am ever fighting him. This is what happened.
This is the other way the balance issue can go. I had ruined the game by playing it the way I had. I didn’t get to enjoy boss fights. The other three weren’t as extreme as this but they were still so easy that I didn’t even know what their mechanics were until I fought them again on my second playthrough with three hearts.
After leaving the Great Plateau you can ignore everything and go straight for Hyrule Castle. You can collect an assortment of weapons from within the walls and then go for Ganon. If you do this, then the game makes you fight all four divine beast bosses in a row before the Ganon fight. Whereas, if you do the beasts first, there are no other bosses here and Ganon gets a huge nerf down to 50% health instead.
These two options are at the opposite ends on a spectrum of insanity. Even Ganon is a pushover if you do all of the four beasts first. 50% health makes the fight a joke even in his second phase, and then his third phase is even worse than that.
But if you rush here then it becomes this huge eleven phase struggle that took me over half an hour to do from start to finish. And by doing that I got to learn the mechanics of every boss. And they were pretty good. Not overly great or mindblowing but good. Enjoyable. So I wish I had gotten to experience them properly on my first playthrough in the dungeons. Same for Ganon himself—I wish it had been a proper fight my first time.
Instead, I felt like I was being punished for playing the game wrong. No boss fights for me. They were all far, far easier than normal enemy groups in the world.
These are problems born from a gear-based system instead of a skill-based one. And even then, the issue is exacerbated by the disposal nature of the weapons you find. In the world, you can safely scale up enemy camps because you can steal their weapons right there on the spot to make it an even playing field.
Whereas with bosses—if the game scaled up these fights in response to some sort of trigger… Say, if you ever pick up a weapon that has more than 40 attack power then the fights become stronger. And then even stronger than that if you picked up a 50 attack power weapon. Well you might not have those weapons anymore when you get there. It’s highly unlikely that’s the case because once you find one you usually find a bunch more, but for bosses like this they would want to avoid players experiencing what I did with the lynel at the beginning. This may also be why there are so few enemies in the dungeons, so you don’t break your weapons and have them for the boss.
I also understand that they couldn’t have made the bosses scale to whatever weapons you were carrying at the time either—because otherwise what’s the point of progression systems at all if the game is constantly going to be scaling the difficulty to about even? I think that the world scales very well—it’s easy to understand the stronger colors of each enemy, and the weaker colors never vanish. So you can still have a challenge with the newer ones while having opportunities to wreck weaker enemy types that used to cause you trouble. That’s what progression systems should be all about—balancing moments when you get to turn the tables and feel powerful, but still provide a challenge. The bosses and dungeons fail where the open world succeeds.
Fighting all of the bosses in a row ended up being one of the most enjoyable parts of the game for me. But it also provided ample opportunity to notice a lot of little problems and inconsistencies in combat. Which, if you recall the beginning of this section, was the other word along with fragile that I used to describe the fighting in this game. Inconsistencies come primarily in animations and the Flurry Rush ability.
After 150 hours I can’t tell you for certain what the trigger is for a successful Flurry Rush. I can hazard a guess but, if I’m right, then it’s one of the stupidest systems I’ve ever seen. Ironically enough, the best enemy to show this on is the Zora boss that I wiped out after accidentally triggering flurry rush on my first encounter. This time we’ll be fighting him in Hyrule Castle.
This enemy has very slow, predictable movements in phase one. If you’re too close to him he’ll do a big blast move. If you’re too far he’ll do the horizontal lance swipe. And if you’re goldilocks he’ll continuously do a forward thrust.
Now, my dear viewers, if you’re experienced with action games that have dodge triggers or parrying systems, let me ask you. What do you think should be the core idea behind something like that? If you’re parrying an attack in Dark Souls then that’s the reward you’re trying to skill your way to by getting the timing right. And with that reward comes a risk. Essentially, in order to parry an attack, you have to be in a position that you might also get hit by it. If you mess up the parry then you’re going to get smacked.
If you mess up the dodge, then you’re going to get smacked.
The proposed idea then, would be that you should stand in the path of the enemy’s attack and, at the last possible second, have to dodge away, right? To put it another way, the dodge should remove you from damage that you would have sustained if you hadn’t moved. The weapon should slice or stab the air wherever you just were and, the closer your dodge time was to taking damage, the more that it seems like it should be given a reward. In this game’s case, flurry rush.
This is not how the mechanic works.
Seen here, I stand in the path of the spear and dodge when I think it’s about to come at me. And they’re just normal dodges. No flurry rush. It is possible to get this right but it requires very precise timing that is honestly well beyond any other timing challenge in the game. And for a while I thought “well it’s a big reward, maybe it really is meant to be that tight.”
Then I started to experiment. I purposefully went to the side of the weapon and, long after the attack started, dodged. And it triggered flurry rush every time. As I’m writing this I don’t know how clear it will be in the footage so I just want to hammer this detail home: if I hadn’t dodged these attacks, I still would NOT have taken damage. I’m not even in the path of the enemy weapon, and yet the game still gives me the fancy Matrix reward.
This is ridiculous.
So the guess of a conclusion I can come to is that, when the game looks to see if a flurry rush should activate, it doesn’t care about whether you would have taken damage. It simply does a check for the area around Link to see if there’s any sources of “active damage”. If you dodge while those conditions are met, then you get a McFlurry Rush.
The next boss in this series seems to abide by these rules with his overhead slam. I can strafe and already be out of harm’s way before I dodge and still trigger a flurry rush.
Same for some of the lynel attacks. When he runs away and does his sudden charge, you can trigger a flurry rush before he would have hit you. Yet even this far away, because he’s in an active damage state, the game gives you the reward.
You can also see examples of this when, during the slow motion dodge animation, Link actually collides with the enemy weapon from a bad dodge and still gets the rush mode. Conversely, there were many attacks where Link actually does a flip timed so well that he flips through the air over a sword that passes so close underneath him but, because the game didn’t think the weapon was “active” when I hit the dodge button, these don’t count as flurry rushes.
And yet stuff like this does.
What makes this immensely frustrating on things like the lynel fights and the Thunderblight boss is that if flurry rush doesn’t activate you can sometimes dodge into damage. For this lynel attack, I am waiting for a timing window so I get the rush and, even flipping so well over his sword, it doesn’t activate. Then, before I can dodge a second time, his attack comes so quickly as a followup that I can’t always dodge it. This means that my initial dodge was too late, yet if I go earlier than that it can often look like I didn’t even dodge an attack at all to trigger the rush, and instead just did a back flip that was SO FANCY while the lynel was flexing his sword arm, that he became stunned enough that I could murder him.
The medium sized guardians show a similar problem. Pretty much anything with a spear shows the same thing that the Waterblight fight did.
For a bunch of other issues, you have the first boss in the series being capable of spawning tornadoes immediately on top of you without any warning or time to react after his first phase change. Three arrows to the facemask area are meant to stun these bosses but sometimes it just doesn’t work—but it works enough of the time that it’s clearly intended. A similar issue for that stun: it’s meant to last about 8 seconds or so but sometimes they recover instantly.
The Thunderblight boss has an attack in phase 2 that I can never reliably dodge ever. I’ve watched a couple of speedruns of the game and even those players don’t try to dodge this attack, they cheese him in a doorway instead so I’m fairly comfortable saying that there’s something wrong with this. It comes back to the old Bethesda’s Bug idea on these dodge timings. Are they even working properly, or are slightly different timings for each attack some sort of unique feature they were trying to do and messed it up?
This attack still does damage to me during flurry rush because the weapon is radiating fire damage, yet Ganon’s doesn’t do that even though it’s the exact same attack.
Sometimes the shrine guardians will keep on trucking through a pillar and not be stunned even though they’re supposed to. And this lynel was capable of shooting arrows that could clip through the ceiling to kill me. More than once, too. Not to mention their 360 no scope bow shots while they’re riding around.
And finally, there are a bunch of attacks from normal enemies that have no telegraphs whatsoever. And some highly questionable use of hyper armor. Your attacks usually make small enemies enter a chain of stuns that you can continue to lock them down if you’re relentless. But sometimes, for no reason I can determine, it just doesn’t work.
Or they will instantly activate an attack with no warning and knock you away.
The worst offender for stuff like this are the bokoblins with spears. Seen here, they have a warning animation that has them twirl the spear once before they stab. But if they’re waddling around before they do it, or if you weren’t in range and suddenly come into range, then they instantly trigger the attack at a supersonic speed.
There’s just this general sloppiness to a lot of this. And that continues with the controls.
There is nothing I hate more about Breath of the Wild than the camera during combat, and the lack of a dedicated dodge button. The camera is easy to explain: I shouldn’t have to play roulette whenever I break my lock on and reapply it. The right analogue stick should switch targets instead of being some weird rotational control that can mess up what direction you think Link is going to dodge in. Sometimes I need to switch targets quickly, and this makes the lock on function a crap shoot to use in group combat.
But! I’m forced to use it because that’s the only way to dodge. Without being locked on—whether that’s at an enemy or empty space—Link doesn’t dart to the side or do a flip. Which means that if I want to dodge an incoming arrow while I’m in the middle of fighting, I have to just hope that I can do it, or that I break the lock and sprint for a while so the arrow misses me.
These are two problems that I think are really easy to solve, and they would go a tremendous way to making group combat fun for me. I like that there are hordes of enemies to fight. I like that they all bunch up and try to come at you from different angles and attack together—it also promotes using spear weapons to pick off stragglers who waddle too far from the group. But often it’s so awkward to properly dodge or switch targets. Even with footage like now, I am occasionally dodging at random because I can’t properly see or stay locked on to what I want, purely because of the controls.
The dodge button should be the sprint button. It should function just like it does in Nioh. Tap it for a dodge. Hold it down for a sprint.
With that said I can finally talk about how much potential there is in this combat system. Because there is a lot to like during direct assaults. Switching between melee weapons and the bow is fast and fluid, and you’re rewarded for quick head shots. You’re also incentivized to incorporate a lot of Link’s mobility options. If you’re gliding then you can trigger arrow time. If there’s something to climb then you can get up there to better land your shots or do powerful slam attacks. There are so many wonderful hit-and-run tactics you can use during group fights. And when you’re smacking around a goblin, with its head bobbing through the air, it feels so satisfying. I love the downward stab in this game too—something that harkens back to the second Zelda on the NES—and how awesome it feels to charge at an enemy you just knocked away to finish him off with a jumping attack.
I tried to do something new or a little more daring with every enemy camp I came across. When to commit to a big spin attack. When to try to trigger a flurry rush on the biggest monster. And while a lot of these encampments were too samey and had the same giant skull, the few that utilized the glider and climbing in ways like this made these encounters such a joyful experience. It genuinely breaks my heart that the lock on sucks and there’s no way to dodge outside of it, because that flexibility is what’s missing here. Link is so acrobatic outside of combat, but the moment the weapons come out the game screams “NO. YOU MUST BE LOCKED ON.”
Which finally brings us to the next point on the list. Another thing that squanders the potential of Breath of the Wild’s combat: a lack of enemy variety.
On a surface level this may appear like a good chunk of content. But after playing the game yourself you learn that many enemies aren’t utilized very well, or are too insubstantial to matter all that much.
So even though there are bats, slimes, and octorocks—and a few elemental variations on all of them—since they all die in one hit and appear more like mobile traps than actual fights, it’s easy to dismiss them as not really part of the combat system.
The most interesting thing they can do are when the bats come at you in swarms at night, or when an octorock is on the fringe of a battle you’re fighting at a camp. But both of these circumstances were exceedingly rare when I played. Same for the wizzrobe enemies. I rarely saw these guys and, when I did, they were almost always alone.
Mini-bosses have the same problem. These are the lynels I mentioned earlier. The giant cyclops monsters called the hinox. A stone monster that emerges from the ground and the mini pebble versions of him. And the mulduga sand monsters in the desert. Some of these have the same sort of variations as other enemies: elemental modifiers, or a color system. The hinox has a skeletal variation, just like the three main humanoid monsters you fight.
These fights are interesting the first few times you do them—except for the stone monsters which are always kind of dull. The lynel fights are the only ones that still feel a little exciting for me now because they have a lot of different moves and require different reactions—running away, back flips, and side dodges—depending on what they do. The hinox on the other hand was far more interesting the first time and has rapidly became one of the most boring enemies a few encounters later.
This fight can remind me a bit of the asylum demon in Dark Souls 1. You can force him to do a slam move, run away, and then get some easy hits in. Or you can just shoot his eyes to stagger him and cheese the fight. You can cheese it even more with stasis so those eye shots are even easier—which is another way you can add to the long list of methods used to destroy the combat system in Breath of the Wild.
I do have to say that this fight has a lot of cool details. The first time a hinox covered his eye so I couldn’t shoot it had me grinning like an idiot. As were the variations that had armor on their legs to block your hits. And when I saw a hinox rip a tree out of the ground to use it as a weapon. There’s probably a ton of things like this in the game that I missed in combat because the game can be so damn easy to break. It had fewer chances to impress me.
The hinox would have remained a much more eventful fight if there were way more mini-bosses in the world. Or if they were confined to certain regions. Nothing proves this more than the molduga fights.
These aren’t terribly interesting on their own—in fact they’re more like a puzzle involving bombs and pretending the sand is lava than a proper fight. But the first time I fought one of these was after I had played the game for about 80 hours and, to make you all groan with how bad this next line is, it was like finally finding water after being lost in the desert.
A new enemy encounter was so refreshing and hit home how sorely the game needed more things like this. But it goes further than that because having the molduga monsters be unique to the desert region adds a lot of character to this area. I know it would have been a lot of work but if each region type had its own unique boss like this it would have made the game a hell of a lot more fun for me. Some areas already do this with unique wildlife. It’s a shame they couldn’t have done the same with some fights that use the environment as a part of the encounter like the molduga does.
I just want to reiterate real quick: those are all the mini-bosses there are. Lynels, and Talus, and Hinox, oh my. These are the three you’ll be seeing over and over unless you purposefully go to the desert. Just three. Which funnily enough is the same number of regular enemies you’ll be fighting.
This is a bigger problem than the mini-bosses. The vast majority of your fights will be against these humanoid groups. The bokoblins. The lizard men. And the larger moblins. They all have the same color variations. And they all have skeletal versions that spawn at night.
Despite only being three, they’re all quite similar. Moblins especially—they feel like they’re just larger bokoblins. The lizards are far more agile but this brings its own problem: they dart away from your attacks so much, or if you try to close the distance between them, that’s it often a better strategy to just wait for them to come to you and then counterattack. Which adds a lot of unnecessary tedium to these encounters.
And that’s it. Really. For some people this will be the biggest problem the game has. That around 80% of all of the fights you have in Breath of the Wild will be against bokoblins, lizards, and moblins. And while there is a lot of fun stuff you can do with the different combat arenas and encampments throughout the world, you could double this number and it still would be considered low.
But I’m forgetting something, aren’t I? There are two other enemy groups. There’s the human assassins in the Yiga clan. And there are the guardian robots.
Well the Yiga clan attacks have the same issue as the wizzrobes, bats, and octorocks. They’re quite rare and only ever attacked me alone when I was out in the world. The larger versions with the two handed wind swords only ever appeared to try to kill me once. Which is such a waste of an enemy type. Yiga camps around the world would have been a great way to get more mileage out of these enemies and, during the Gerudo questline, the game shows that it is willing to send more than one of these at you at the same time, but it never happens in the world.
This waste of an enemy type honestly leaves me dumbfounded.
Same for the guardians. They likely didn’t want the small and medium sized ones out in the world because then the combat shrines wouldn’t feel special—but they’re already overused in that environment. Having a guardian like this show up in the middle of a camp, or maybe even fighting two at the same time, would have been fantastic. This is the type of enemy that the game sorely needs by the way. Something that’s a bit more hefty. More armored and slow. Less fodder and more demanding of your attention. Something like a big armored knight would have worked as well. But no, you just keep fighting the Mordor Rejects and lizards.
The much larger guardians are something I’m unsure about. I died a lot to these early on getting the parry timing down on the lasers. After that, these were never a threat to me. Chopping off their legs is kind of cool, as is trying to shoot them in the eye, but that these enemies only have the single laser attack makes them feel so shallow. Which is something else that’s a shame because I like how they look and move. And I love the music that plays as they’re charging up their blast. It’s just that they don’t feel like fights to me—they’re “can you parry this” instead.
And unless I’m forgetting an enemy and I don’t think I am, that’s all there is. Oh there are bees. Do bees count? Probably.
I don’t think I need to spend anymore time on this because the low number speaks for itself. In my mind it’s very similar to the problem I have with the shrines. It deeply confuses me that Nintendo thought this was enough, when they poured so much effort into the world that supports these features.
And so that brings us to the last one on our list. Weapon Durability. Which I think, after how long this section went on, deserves its own.
Weapon durability is fairly straightforward and easy to understand, but let’s review it with some numbers before we get into it.
At the start of the game you can carry 8 weapons. On the Great Plateau, these were ranged from starting sticks, bokoblin clubs and spears, to some low level swords, hammers, and axes.
Later on you will be able to carry many, many more weapons. You’ll start finding great swords with elemental damage. Energy weapons that the guardians use. And equipment that is much more fancy and durable than what you started with.
To put this into perspective, the first weapon most people will find is the 2 damage stick. This breaks in about 10 hits, for a total damage potential of around 20. Whereas the 30 damage Master Sword breaks after roughly 40 hits, for a total damage potential of about 1,200.
This type of progression can be good. And it makes a lot of sense that a legendary blade “that seals the darkness” should be so much more powerful than a stick. But I’m pointing it out for the sake of just having some basic numbers for you to grasp the system if you haven’t played the game, and to also show how reliant the game is on gear.
Combat often involves switching weapons when something breaks. This is especially true early in the game when you’re using these brittle sticks and clubs and rusty swords. This is the feature that I think has received the most attention from players—some people love this system and think that the entire game is built around it, whereas other people hate it and wish the game had more traditional weapons.
I can break down what I think the goals of this system were into six main points:
- To force the player to use different weapon types, and adapt to each.
- To create big exciting moments in combat.
- To make the Master Sword feel special.
- To allow equipment expansion slots to appear valuable.
- To better balance the game.
- To reward exploration.
In my mind, only one of these succeeds. You may already have guessed which one that is.
Let’s go through these in more detail. The argument in favor of balance is that if weapons weren’t breakable, you could sneak into Hyrule Castle early in the game and pick up a bunch of powerful weapons and steamroll all of the content. This argument makes a bad assumption in that if weapon durability was removed, that it would be the only change—that you would still be finding all of these weapons everywhere and you just keep replacing old ones with better ones. It also ignores that the world levels with you, and that these weapons in Hyrule Castle wouldn’t always be this powerful.
The weapons available here could also have their attack power reduced. But in my mind, changing the durability system would require a lot more changes to make the game better. Not to mention that Nintendo clearly didn’t care much about balance to begin with considering all the other ways you can break the game.
Making the Master Sword feel special initially works. It’s a permanent weapon despite needing time to recharge, so it does feel unique. However this clearly backfires because of this very quality. When I played, the Master Sword became my pickaxe. It became my chopping axe. It was the only renewable weapon I had, so therefore it only made sense to use it up on stuff like this since it would grow back again afterward. It was also the first weapon I would always use during fights before moving onto “waste” my breakable ones.
This ties into the first point on the list: this system doesn’t really encourage use of a lot of weapon types. And a lot of you may have just thought “You’re crazy, of COURSE it does,” but give me a minute here to explain.
There’s no way to renew your weapons after they’re damaged. Even the Master Sword, once it starts to wear down, has to be broken before it’ll begin to recharge. Since there’s also no way to see durability on weapons, that means you’re heavily incentivized to keep using the same weapon once you’ve started. After winning a fight with the Master Sword, I would often find some trees or rocks to intentionally break the last 8 hits or so, in order to begin the recharge timer so it wouldn’t break early in my next fight.
Same goes for other weapons. If you’re constantly switching, you’ll lose track of what weapons are already close to broken. You want to avoid the situation of having half of your weapons with low durability, so it makes sense to keep using the same weapon until it breaks before moving onto another, which also frees up a slot for whatever weapon you find next.
But even if you like all of that—and I don’t think you’re wrong to because these are decisions right? You’re playing in a clever way. Even breaking your Master Sword can be seen as a little trick you can learn and take advantage of. Same with being smart about using your weapons efficiently. Even if you like all of that, there isn’t really any weapon variety in Breath of the Wild. This system isn’t encouraging much at all.
The Master Sword is the same as the Royal Sword, or any other one handed blade. Even one handed clubs are only a little different and have the same spin attack. It’s the large two handed weapons that show this better. Those big swords, hammers, clubs, and axes? They all have the same moveset. They may emit fire or ice or lightning or just physical damage, but they’re just visual tweaks on the same weapon.
The only other different one is the spear, which I enjoyed a lot, but I found much fewer of these than any other weapon type. Probably because they’re also what I consider to be overpowered for locking enemies down in quick hits, and long range pokes.
There are only three weapon types in Breath of the Wild. I don’t think the magical rods really count. Just in case I’m forgetting one we can increase that number to 4. That’s still very very low for a system that’s apparently made to force you to switch.
I think most people don’t realize this since they defend the system because they’re so enamored by the second point on this list. Which is the only one I agree with. And I agree with it a LOT. Having weapons break during combat, with a big explosion that knocks the enemy away and sends their weapon flying, is a lot of fun… in the early game. When you have so few weapons and they’re all breaking regularly, when switching between them is a really quick decision, or you scramble to steal another weapon that was just flung onto the floor.
This is all great stuff. It’s the reason why I enjoyed the Great Plateau so much on both playthroughs, and also returning to that highly focused system on Eventide Island. The weapon durability system is at its best with a low amount of truly disposable weapons, and encounters that are built and balanced around that.
Which is why this system, like the weapons you carry, degrades the more you progress. Hetsu the Broccoli Man allows you to carry so many more weapons in exchange for korok seeds. Couple this with finding much more powerful weapons, and it all starts to crumble. Now there’s so much time being wasted deciding if a fight is worth your special collection of high power weapons. And returning to the low disposable ones isn’t possible because of the appearance of high hp monsters—there’s a reason why the game takes you from that 10 damage potential stick to 1,200 Master Sword.
At some point during the mid-game, there are too many weapons. And so many of them are good that I ended up hoarding them all and rotating between my Master Sword and two free spots for some the of the average Dragonbone equipment I could scavenge from higher enemies in each fight. Then there are opening chests with weapons in them, which makes you have to decide whether it’s worth taking, what you should throw away for it, and then have to open the chest again to do so. That might seem like petty criticism but there are so many of these chests in the game and it slows things to a crawl.
In summary, it’s not an absence of permanent weapons that ruins this game. It’s an abundance of breakable ones. It’s going from 8 weapon slots to so many that it takes a few seconds to cycle through them all in the quick select menu. It changes from a big exciting turning point in a battle, to something that makes you pause and interrupt yourself as you decide what to use next, like a man who can’t choose what brand of shitty cereal he wants to get at the grocery store and spends twenty minutes staring at all of the colorful boxes until they lose all meaning.
There are many, many ways to achieve the goals on this list that are better than the game currently works. To avoid the other problem early on, with finding high health enemies without enough weapons to kill them, there could simply be a weak unbreakable weapon or an unarmed punching attack—just like the ones the bokoblins can use—for when you run out. I know bombs can do damage but their basic version does so little that I don’t think that’s a viable alternative for something like a lynel.
Or Link could steal an enemy’s weapon with a special timed dodge or parry if he currently has no weapons available. Or Nintendo could have been smarter about their encounter designs.
This isn’t a problem with enemy encampments, because you can steal weapons. The hinox also solves this problem with the amazing inclusion of weapons still embedded in its body, or hanging on its neck as trophies, from adventurers it killed in the past. You can steal these weapons in the fight, meaning the encounter itself is supplying you the means to beat it if you’re smart or quick enough.
Adding this concept to the lynel—he could have had a huge quiver full of big spears on his back that he could occasionally throw at you. If you dodged it, you could pick up the spear and there you go, you have a weapon that could be balanced around this fight that you had to earn for yourself. Problem solved.
Guardian enemies in the combat shrines could have weapons break off after you deal damage to them, or they could snap off when they collide with pillars in the arena. Then they could repair themselves so they can still fight, while you go and pick up your new weapon.
Solutions like this could justify keeping inventory slots really low. And the lower the inventory slots, the more likely you are to use all of your weapons and not end up agonizing over decisions more often than anything else. Hell if you did this right Link could get away with just having one weapon slot, period.
But the more traditional solution would be to give Link more weapons like the Master Sword. There are only three weapon types, so each of the tutorial shrines could give one of each—versions of the special weapons you’re gifted after each of the shrine dungeons. So a hammer that’s on fire. A spear that has an ice modifier. And a sword infused with lightning. The fourth shrine could have a bow.
These weapons would be “breakable” in that they need to be given time to recharge—ideally they would have some of the guardian energy tech, so you could justify that they start to renew hits immediately instead of having to be broken completely before they start to fix themselves.
This also means puzzles and bosses can be built safely with the knowledge that every player will have access to these weapons.
Link could still have an open slot to grab enemy weapons that should always be balanced through world level to be just a little better than your permanent ones. And Korok Seeds could now be used to increase the amount of hits your weapons can deal before they break, instead of increasing inventory size. With these permanent weapons you could also add a new collectible in the world to find and acquire—some resource that allows you to increase the power of these weapons as the game goes on, just not in a way that breaks the game like armor does.
This ties back to the only point on that list of six we haven’t gotten to yet. Exploration isn’t really made any better by finding weapons. It’s cool at first but a reward isn’t all that exciting when you know it’s going to break soon. This is especially true if the weapon is so cool looking that you don’t want to use it. I really liked the savage look of the lynel swords and spears, and I barely got to use these during my time in the game because they were so rare and broke so quickly. If you had permanent weapons from the start, then these other weapons you find could be unlocked as skins you could use to alter the appearance of your starting ones, so that each player could choose what they want to look like.
There are other solutions too—especially if you agree it’s later on in the game that the weapon clutter gets to be the problem. After freeing the Master Sword you could start using Korok Seeds to make some weapon slots permanent. Maybe weapons are corrupted by Ganon’s influence in some way and the Master Sword allows to you protect some of them through Broccoli Man’s magic.
My favorite idea that could also improve the story is that Link starts with a broken Master Sword. When he fought Ganon in the past, he got trashed so bad the the sword was shattered. When he was left in the Resurrection Shrine, all he has is a hilt with a jagged blade. This could be Link’s permanent, weak weapon that you could upgrade by questing for lost shards throughout the world. It also makes Ganon appear a lot more threatening. Maybe that could even be incorporated in the final fight somehow to make it more interesting—every hit you take during that fight instantly destroys whatever weapon you’re currently wielding. It’s the last boss so you can safely inflict that sort of penalty on the player.
And with that said we can move onto some discussion on the story and the main quest. Breath of the Wild’s story is told through a few conversations, some fancy cinematics from the dead King of Hyrule, Impa, and the four champions during the Divine Beast sections, and a selection of memories you can find in the world. The memories were the most interesting to me because they’re scrambled, and I love it when stories experiment with a non-linear order of events. This was made even more interesting by the first memory you access, since it introduces a bunch of characters and heavily hints that this ritual and bond between Link and Zelda isn’t all it appears to be. That Zelda may resent Link for a reason you’re left to wonder about.
Unfortunately the game never unlocks this potential. Most of the memories are somewhat charming scenes of Link and Zelda that don’t go anywhere. It’s still interesting enough that I would have preferred to play that version of the game—with Link and Zelda together so they can speak and interact with each other when something happens. Instead they’re short flashes of events that don’t go anywhere.
The biggest letdown here is why I suggested the change about the broken Master Sword. See the story is that Zelda has some sort of emotional block and is unable to access the special power in her bloodline—the one necessary to seal Ganon away. So she heavily invested in another plan with the guardians and divine beasts, which goes wrong when Ganon corrupts them all and turns the weapons against Zelda and Hyrule.
The whole game, this event is hyped up as a disaster. Ganon tricked everyone, killed Link, and Zelda was left to contain him. Then later on it’s shown that Link didn’t even fight Ganon. He died to a couple of guardians instead. Which immediately deflated a lot of the tension. When you get to Hyrule Castle, that’s the first time this version of Link and Ganon have met. So instead of it being a huge, tense rematch of the century with Link finally overcoming a challenge that kicked his ass last time, it’s just him finally doing what he was supposed to a hundred years ago.
The main quest is quite short and that’s okay. Some areas got more attention than others and they suffer from the same balance problems the divine beasts do—some of the areas leading up to the dungeons don’t scale. Especially the Zora domain, where you are constantly interrupted by Prince Shark Fish telling you to watch out for so many dangerous enemies that most players will likely be able to wipe out without any effort. But then again maybe this is a joke that failed to land. It’s so obnoxious that I’m starting to guess it might be.
The biggest difference between the four quest areas can be found in the Rito line. The others all have a chain of things to do before you can get into the dungeon. Zora has that gauntlet in the rain, followed by getting lightning arrows from a lynel after climbing some waterfalls—which is skippable but still something you’re meant to do. Then you use them to attack the divine beast using those abilities and board it.
In the Goron domain, you have the light puzzle of figuring out how to resist the intense fire in the air, then you go through what is my favorite combat arena in the game: the vertical pillars in the lava. This uses so much of Link’s mobility tools in a way that clicked with me, even though you can cheese it with the bomb cannons. I recommend not doing that and being creative with climbing, the glider, and your bow instead.
Then you have to guide a Goron through something sort of like a stealth section in order to board the divine beast.
The Gerudo quest is similar. There’s a light puzzle required to gain access to the city. Then you have to go on a different quest to retrieve something—which ends up being a mini dungeon, with another stealth section that I was thrilled to discover you could fight your way through instead of automatically failing. Good job on including that choice Nintendo. Seriously, well done.
There’s even a mini-boss in here to beat, which leads to what I’d argue is the best divine beast fight with the Shadow of the Colossus weak points and riding on the sand seal. Then you have what is also the best divine beast dungeon after this.
In contrast, you show up to the Rito town. Get a quest to glide to a nearby area with no combat whatsoever. You prove to the bird man that you know how to shoot a bow and glide at the same time in a very simple puzzle that’s nearby. And that’s it, you’re immediately taken to the divine beast boarding sequence. Which, visually, is very impressive. But mechanically it’s really boring. There’s too much down time gliding between each cannon. It’s by far the worst one.
One of these is clearly not like the others. In the immortal words of Shania Twain, this don’t impress-a me much.
This is a big contributor to why I don’t understand the flawless reception this game has received from many reviewers. Because there’s something that’s even worse than this in the game and far more obvious. A lot of people would argue that the ending of a game, story, or movie, is the most important part that you have to nail down. It’s definitely the best way to make something memorable, but I’d argue everything is equally important—the beginning to grab someone’s attention, the middle to keep their attention, and the ending to make everything that came before worthy of their time.
Breath of the Wild’s ending is one of the worst fights I have ever played in a game. I can say that because it’s barely even a fight. To be clear I’m not talking about the Bloodborne version of Ganon that you fight in the castle. That boss is actually pretty good if you’re not overpowered. I’m talking about the behemoth version that you fight in Hyrule Field afterward.
There’s something very wrong with the story, tone, and world in this game. Ganon’s arrival is known as the Great Calamity that ended the world. Hyrule is now a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting. In reality though, it’s anything but that. This place is a paradise. Nature is thriving. There’s beauty and animals everywhere. More than that though, the many villages in the game are prospering. Without exception. All of them. Even with the divine beasts apparently stirring up trouble, no one seems worried. Monsters never attack anyone. The Gorons are continuing to expand their mining industry. There’s a construction company. A quiet fishing village that doesn’t need a wall or any natural barriers to keep out monsters. There’s no strife. No famine. The monsters are all content to mind their business.
Even those who have the job to help you seem so lazy about it. It’s like yeah whatever Link, if you feel like rescuing Zelda then go for it. It’s cool. Even that is so vague. Zelda is still 17 years old at the end of the game. So what sort of timeloop paradox has she been keeping Ganon contained in until now, and why is it only now that his power has grown to the point that he’s causing trouble again? Why are the divine beasts only now starting to make a mess of their respective areas?
This doesn’t really matter all that much but I do think more effort could have gone into the story matching the setting, or at least an attempt made at matching the freedom to take your time exploring the world that Nintendo clearly wanted to give you.
Because the potential was here to make this something special. Despite myself not giving one single shit about anything to do with Zelda or the story after seeing how weak the memory cinematics were, I was shocked by how epic I found the introduction to this final fight with Ganon. Zelda’s words here, pertaining to the series historical use of Link’s triforce of courage and his amnesia in this game, are surprisingly strong. It creates this momentum. This “Oh it’s on. Let’s go. Let’s kill Ganon.” And it stays strong as you ride forward, pick up the special bow of light, and then…
This isn’t a fight. Ganon can’t hurt you. I don’t think this monster even has AI tied to it. It’s just a random selection of shifting in place and then spewing an evil breath in a cone in front of him. He doesn’t try to target it. He doesn’t try to do anything. The whole encounter is riding in a circle waiting for Zelda to tell you to shoot some targets. And then you do that, wait some more, and do it again.
Oh also, if you get here without ever catching a horse, the game just gives you one. I thought that was kind of weird.
I loved parts of this game. I know that I’ll play it again with the DLC features and hard mode later on in the year but, without those additions, I don’t know if I would want to. There’s still so much left to see and find in the world, but the thought of having to do just some of the shrines again is enough to turn me off.
Breath of the Wild is undoubtedly the best open world game I have ever played, when I am playing it as an open world game. It has so many smart decisions. I love the blood moon mechanic. Because not only does it contextualize why monsters have now respawned in the world, it also clearly announces it for you so it’s not a guessing game when you want to go back to old areas. But even here you can see how it’s two steps forward and one step back. Why is there only one version of this cinematic? If you’re going to play it each time blood moon happens, why not have a shorter version, or different ones, so that I’m not stabbing the skip button? Blood moon happened more than twenty times as I played.
Actually it happened three times in one night one time. I think it can be buggy.
The game is gorgeous, but it comes at the cost of frequent frame drops. Although I do prefer games to have at least 60 frames per second, I am not a big frame rate snob. I can happily tolerate a stable 30 FPS on console games but the keyword there is stable. I also understand that some dips can be forgiven, because it would be a waste to lower graphical quality so much across the entire game just for the occasional rare time that things get really intense.
Breath of the Wild, however, regularly starts to chug whenever there’s a lot of grass and trees in one area. As in, the first place most players are going to go after leaving the shrine at the start of the game. For an even clearer example of this you need to go to Korok Forest, where the frame rate tanks harder than anywhere else in the game. Most importantly, it tanks EVERYTIME I come here. And this is where you upgrade your equipment slots and return to try to pull out the Master Sword when you get a new heart container. How was this performance seen as okay? I don’t understand how places where the game regularly starts to stumble couldn’t have been identified and made better.
During combat things are usually fine, except for moblins. This is another case of a regular problem. More often than not, when I hit a moblin hard enough to make him enter ragdoll mode the game will drop a massive amount of frames or even lock up for more than a second. It’s even more strange because when I play the game when the Switch is in handheld mode it runs better. Unfortunately I’m not able to record footage when the console is undocked.
I’m curious if hard mode will have large enough changes to fix a lot of problems I have with the game, although I seriously doubt it. Same for the dungeon content that’s coming, which I foresee as just one dungeon a little bigger than a divine beast but I could be wrong. I don’t think Nintendo has ever planned DLC for a game like this so maybe it’ll be this huge addition that makes the combined game so much greater than what we have now.
I doubt it. But I look forward to being proven wrong.