Let’s face it, there is no shortage of BotW coverage right now. Visit any popular video game publishing website and you will find yourself surrounded by tips and tricks, critical reviews, and journal entries detailing wacky adventures and annoyances. I’ve kept the scuttlebutt close at hand, trying to figure out how The Nerding Grounds can make its contribution to this groundbreaking entry that will undoubtedly be celebrated for generations.
Last week I purchased a Wii U, and not just because all of my friends were prattling on about what a crowning achievement Breath of the Wild was, even though that was a big contributing factor. That being said, the game has consumed my life. During the first week of my playthrough I picked up on a lot of the new features, and revamped mechanics. With each discovery I started to realize more and more that this game was actually a fully fledged RPG. Whether the Legend of Zelda has historically been a role-playing game series is pretty big source of debate. While there are some reminiscent features, certain aspects might be missing from the Zelda formula that would undoubtedly classify it as an RPG. I can confidently say that I have no reservations when it comes to classifying their newest addition to the Zelda family. In fact, I think Breath of the Wild has even managed to bring forth a refreshing set of standards for how RPG’s should be executed moving forward. I was planning to write a third article of What RPG’s Are Doing Wrong to accompany part 1 and part 2, but instead I’m just going to talk about all the ways Zelda is doing it right.
Realistic Traveling (Sort Of)
Traveling in BotW isn’t a straightforward point A to B task. There are endless possibilities when it comes to navigating the diverse landscape and they all add a sense of fulfillment to your journey. Riding a horse is more efficient if you stick to the main roads, which becomes much easier if you choose to uncover the sections of the map before proceeding. Traveling this way asks that you plan your route beforehand, taking into account what you will run into on the way. It will probably be a good idea for you to stop at a campfire and cook up some meals, or stay the night at a one of the stables on the road. If you choose to make the stretch on foot you will be utilizing the new climbing mechanic to clear the hills and mountains that stand in your way. This form of travel doesn’t come easy due to your brittle stamina meter that you use for nearly every strenuous activity. Still, this is a very interesting addition to the Zelda series.
You will continue to unlock fast travel points ask you progress through the game. Anytime you find a shrine puzzle, you will also receive a teleport pad for that location. This does take away from the realism, but the shrines tend to be spaced pretty far apart, and every new area needs to be reached by conventional means before you can unlock these options. No matter which direction or method you take you can be certain that the traveling has a real sense of adventure to it. The events that take place during these trips are unique and make you feel like you are adapting to the world, or vice versa. Speaking of adapting, BotW may open the door to all of Hyrule very early on, but being overambitious can have consequences. Many of the areas in the game are intended for a more seasoned link and will not hesitate to punish you until you stay where you are meant to be. This also applies to environmental conditions. You can head up to that snowy mountain all you want, but if you don’t equip the proper clothing or bring a few trusty consumables, you’ll soon find yourself in a regular “Jack Torrence” situation.
It doesn’t look like the exact size of BotW has been confirmed yet, but I can tell you that this game is freaking enormous. Comparable to Xenoblade Chronicles and The Witcher 3, it makes Skyrim look absolutely tiny. A common side effect of games on this size and caliber is that the environments can become repetitive and undesirable after hours of gameplay. This causes players to resort to fast travelling everywhere, completely removing the opportunities to naturally absorb the game’s design. Thankfully, the environments in BotW are just begging to be explored. As expansive as this game is, I have yet to run into scenery that I don’t find unique and interesting. Starting on the Great Plateau gives you the perfect introduction to the structure of the land, and fully prepares you to be set free in the rest of Hyrule. From the Temple of Time, to the Dueling Peaks, to the old battlegrounds, the locations in this game are stunning and dripping with character. I feel like I can recall every single area that I’ve previously passed by, which keeps to the classic Zelda style even with this large scale development.
While BotW does has a fast travel system in place, it doesn’t tear you away from organically taking in the surroundings. It still feels like a journey into the unknown to get to the next point. The game design causes you to see a lot more of the coverable ground, rather than pushing you to make a beeline for your objective and ignoring everything else around you.
Crafting and Cooking
Crafting systems are a frequent aspect of the modern RPG. A well executed crafting system can raise the potential of a game significantly, while an inconvenient engine can get in the way of an enjoyable experience for the player. The system needs to come from necessity, or it just feels like a time wasting chore. In Zelda: Breath of the Wild crafting and cooking are one in the same. Cooking is not only used to create a variety of dishes for heart replenishing consumption, it’s used to add critical defenses and buffs to Link during his risky travelling. Throughout the game you will run into adversity in the form of elemental damage, dangerous environments, and general failure from your shitty Hylian body; god damn Stamina.
The cooking system utilizes nearly everything you come across in the game. This isn’t built to bog you down with dozens of crafting ingredients for the sake of keeping you busy. The ingredient combinations for the different elixirs and dishes actually makes sense. Adding a mushroom that increases stamina to a piece of fruit creates a stamina inducing fruit medley. A few peppers mixed with apples and mushrooms gives you a meal that will protect you from the fatal temperatures of the snowy mountains. Taking a sneaky snail and combining it with the horn of a monster gives you an elixir that boosts your stealth for a short period…okay, so some of the concoctions require a bit of imagination, but that’s why we play games like Zelda. My only complaint, and Brett Lindsey agrees here, is that cooking just takes too damn long. It would be great if this portion included some time saving tools, like a “create multiple” option, or as Brett recommended: a cookbook that allows you to choose from the recipes you’ve already discovered. Alas, we are destined to hover at the fire like Julia Child stranded in the wilderness.
If you’ve read my previous articles, you know that I have plenty of opinions on side quests. Nothing aggravates me more than trying to sort through a cluttered quest journal, when there is so much more to experience in the game, such as the actual side quests. In my ideal game, side quests are spaced out, moderate in number, and unique enough to hold the player’s interest. While I’m not even to the halfway point of BotW, it’s clear to me that all three of these features are present in the side questing repertoire. Since the series hasn’t really incorporated a full fledged side quest system until now, that’s all the more impressive. Many of the objectives are something that I can complete while I am continuing my regular progression through the game, and the rewards for these tasks are pretty nice since there are a number of expensive items you will want to purchase. I actually find myself getting excited when I see a villager with that little red “!” in their speech bubble.
Thus far, all of the quests in BotW have been well thought out. This doesn’t just come from the interesting subject matter, but the people that are included as well. The characters that you run into have defined personalities, which helps jog your memory when you are looking through your assigned objectives. I’ll see the quest asking me to find a “traveler’s sword” and I immediately remember the little kid in Hateno Village, with the dead grandpa that asked me to find it. It’s refreshing to know that whatever I decide to tackle next will be worth it and provide some great stories in the process.
Zelda: Breath of the Wild does not refrain from providing some minor annoyances. One of the major pain points is how often I find myself being taken down from a single blow. I fully understand that this game is meant to provide a challenge, but at times these fatal attacks, whether they are handed down from beasties or the forces of nature, occur so swiftly that I hardly have the chance to defend myself in any way. Furthermore, I believe the weapon system could benefit from some serious restructuring. Utilizing different weapons is a great feature that has a big place in this game, but the pathetic durability of these weapons is implanting this need for me to push through to get my hands on the indestructible Master Sword so I don’t have to deal with it. If they had just implemented a repair system and given the weapons higher durability I think this would have been much better. I like to become familiar with the weapons I find, and having them shatter after 6 swings just makes me feel like i’m fighting with an endless supply of wooden sticks. I’m sure this will change in the later half of the game, but for the time being it’s quite upsetting.
Brett Lindsey is taking on the task of ripping the game a new b-hole, so if you want to hear more complaints go check his article out!
Here we come to the end of my RPG ranting (for now) with an example of a game that, in many ways, lays the foundation for quality practices to come. Did Breath of the Wild impress you as much as it did me? Where does it rank on your Zelda list and why?