I am a huge Zelda fan. It’s my favourite game franchise. The only versions I haven’t played are the multiplayer focused ones (Four Swords games, Tri Force Heroes).
It’s not my intention to put this game down. It has a whole lot of things that are good. I am not going to go over every good aspect, just aspects of which I personally don’t understand why reviewers give this game a (near) perfect score. The game has its flaws. If I didn’t mention something, I like it or accept it.
This post is very SUBJECTIVE. Feel free to take from it what you want. Always try out games for yourself and don’t let others influence whether or not a game is worth your time. The hype trains have had major fallout over the internet in the recent years, destroying or glorifying games that don’t deserve the hate/praise.
This will contain SPOILERS. If you don’t want the game spoiled for you, finish it first, then come back.
You are in for a long read. I broke it down in chunks if you don’t want to read it all or want to get a general idea about what things felt off to me.
I have played through the game without getting influenced by reviews or other sources. I managed to keep away from major spoilers.
My version of the game is a translated one (Wii U). I got a Dutch version and I can imagine some nuances got lost in translation. E.g. they translated ‘Devine Beasts’ to ‘Titans’ … One time in my life, I actually have been close to doing Dutch Localisation at Nintendo Europe and this translation would not have been accepted by me (but might have been forced by corporate force anyway?).
Because this game is so large in scope, some of my remarks might be wrong. I am still playing the game from time to time to discover more shrines, costumes, etc. When I do, I realize I haven’t travelled to certain parts in the world, so I might have missed some things.
I am very aware of the fact almost every Zelda game has some aspect which sets it apart from its brethren. I am not complaining about the game not being a copy and paste version of another title.
Nintendo has dangled this title in front of the fans for a long time and myself being as old as the franchise, I noticed over the years what nostalgia does with consumers. This might have heavily clouded people’s judgement.
This game was released in a time in my life a bunch of things changed. I was about to start a new job and move back full time to Belgium (I was working in The Netherlands during the week before this).
This meant my TV was in a box for a couple of weeks. Thank god for the Wii U Gamepad! I think I only have been able to play this game on a large screen when I was through about 80% of the “main” objectives.
During the first hours when I started to play, I was actually thinking: “Is this a The Witcher III mod?”
It felt so different from the other Zelda games. You are confined to the Great Plateau to get introduced to the core concepts and abilities you will be using for the rest of the game. True dungeons were missing. No boss battles. What was going on here?
Where were my dodge abilities that have been a staple in the 3D Zelda’s to avoid attacks? It eventually appears these dodges need to be unlocked first. I had issues with enemies in the beginning as I had no shield and no way to protect myself against an attack (where in other games I would have dodged it).
Exploring Death Mountain and getting to Vah Rudania
If you are going to scale a volcano, it’s bound to become hot. Temperature plays a part of the game mechanics in BotW. Being exposed to extremes damages you over time. Luckily there are potions, meals and clothing to take care of that.
But, that doesn’t take away the first time visiting this area I sensed it would severely cost me either way to be able to survive. The fire resisting clothes are not cheap and you need at least 2 of the 3 pieces to be fire resistant.
There are potions, but gathering the ingredients takes a bunch of your time. You can purchase ingredients or the potions, but again, this costs you rupees.
During the quests to get to Vah Rudania, I managed to survive with the potions. If you complete a part of this quest, you get new potions. Leading me to believe I might be able to survive with these potions. The game would not dare to leave you stranded without protection right? Wrong. The road to Vah Rudania requires thinking work. So the first time you play, you are bound to get through this area very slowly. Burning precious seconds from your potion’s effect time.
I decided to ditch this quest to gather rupees to be able to buy the clothes I needed and go through this area without a time pressure. But guess what: you aren’t able to teleport away during this quest … So I ran all the way back and once past the start of this path, the game offered me the option to abandon the quest. Sigh. If the game would not have saved at a point where my potion effect time was still enough to reach the start of the path, I would had to load up an old save game, losing a bunch of progress.
Bonus: this is actually kinda funny, but didn’t see this one coming. Select bomb arrows and ready your bow in this hot area. I dare you. Took me 3 attempts to figure out what was happening. I thought it was the enemy I got engaged in battle with doing some kind of attack.
Fairies not activating
I have encountered a bug where the fairies I was carrying would not revive and heal me after running out of hearts. This is something I rely on in every Zelda game that has them. I always carry a fairy to be prepared for damaging surprises.
Or the lack thereof.
This game FINALLY introduced a quest log system. In the older games, the only tracked quest was the main quest. For all other things, you had to remember yourself what the side quest was and who the quest giver was.
So why didn’t they include a cookbook??? I would have loved to have an overview of the things I can create. Throughout the game, there are some books in houses which describe dishes, bit it’s all in written text. So you need to remember the names.
What does the game show you if you look at a meal’s recipe in your inventory: pictures.
I already mentioned The Witcher similarities. In The Wicher III, you have visual recipes. You can look up the ingredients you need. So I was surprised to find out BotW didn’t have any recordings of the recipes. Once you have made a dish, you can see the ingredients. But this means that if you want to keep a reference, you need every meal once in your inventory to be able to look up how you made it (and you can’t use them, because then you lose your info.
It’s a sad thing they didn’t provide a cookbook option in the menu. If an improvised recipe resulted in something useful, it could automatically be logged in the cookbook. Encouraging you to experiment with all kinds of combinations.
During the shrine where you are introduced to the stasis ability of the Sheikah Slate, one of the crucial uses of the ability got lost on me. If you freeze an object in time, you can whack on this object to build up energy. An arrow appears showing the strength and direction the object will move to when the object unfreezes.
When I got into a shrine where I needed this functionality, I was stuck. I could not figure out what to do. I had to look it up online and learn about what I described above.
Now why didn’t I get how this worked when you are introduced to the ability?
You have to get past a giant stone ball that is blocking your path to the Sheikah Monk. There is a hammer standing there, so you pick it up. First thing I did was whack the stone with the hammer. Nothing. Tried stasis. The thing is not moving. Hit it again with stasis, whack it with the hammer. Stasis wears off, ball slowly rolls away. I didn’t notice the energy build-up because I had the camera up high. The ball lies on a narrow path above an abyss and I didn’t want to fall down, hence the camera position. So I completely missed the arrow appearing when you whack an object in stasis.
The description in the menu also isn’t very clear about how to perform the action. This might be a lost in translation problem.
Having experience programming with physics, I am not very fond of them. They are unpredictable and if they go wrong, they do so in spectacular fashion. There are tons and tons of videos online of games where physics start to trip.
Getting knocked down
I can tell the moment you get knocked down/back, the game takes control away from you and let the physics engine do the rest. It returns you the control when the object (Link) returns ‘asleep’ to the physics engine (asleep = not enough movement anymore to be subjected to physics calculations).
But this might feel like it lasts forever. It think they should have made Link returning an ‘asleep’ much sooner. In this game, Link can climb almost any surface. Yet, if he gets knocked back/down, he loses all the ability to grab any surface … I have made mistakes in the game where I accidently bomb myself over the edge of a cliff and I just kept going and going with only the physics engine at my mercy.
Beach ball fun
There is an island in the game where you have to get a shrine orb on a pedestal that is on a small island in the sea where you can’t possibly throw it onto (you might be able to use stasis to let it fly there, but one wrong whack and it might become more of a hassle than necessary).
So the first time I just tried to throw it. Found out these orbs float. Good to know. They only way to get it onto the island is using Cryosis (= creates pillars of ice on the water you can climb and stand on).
If I build a pillar underneath the ball, it ends up on top of the pillar. So I did the first try. The ball rolled off. It got underneath a ledge of the island I needed it to get onto. Because of the ledge, the game would not let my use Cryosis on that spot. So I had to inch the position of the creation area to be able to get the ball from underneath that ledge. But because it would be a corner to push up the ball, it would surely fall off again. When I finally got it lying still on top of a pillar, I could climb up, grab the orb, jump onto the island and put the ball where it belongs.
But because I was already annoyed and didn’t want the orb to end up in the water again, I panicked. Wanting it to be over, I accidently pressed the throw button instead of the release button. Throwing it into the sea, having me to go through the same ordeal, cause it ended up underneath a ledge again …
In certain Shrines, you need to guide a ball using a motion controlled device. At these instances, the camera is locked into a predefined position. But the angles they’ve chosen are really, really bad. I had to redo a ball guiding puzzle 3-4 times because the alignment LOOKED ok, but it actually wasn’t …
Same thing with a hammer you needed to swing. The camera felt not intuitive for the way you were moving the gamepad around, making you miss your swings completely.
This is my water temple of Breath of the Wild …
At first, this level design made my head spin (pun intended). It consists of 3 rings that have structures on them and you can individually spin the rings around in 90° steps. In the end, it didn’t prove to be that much of a challenge. But the thing which frustrated me is that I couldn’t get a decent overview of the structures and platforms in this area. I couldn’t map and link it all together because mostly, something was obscured from my vision.
When I did my first boss battle in this game (the one in Vah Rutah), I already noticed a whiff of Dark Souls. Apparently, every action adventure game nowadays needs to borrow from this brutal, yet fair game. This made me realize I should come to these battles well equipped (weapons, shields, potions, meals). But I didn’t come prepared for the brutality of the Vah Naboris boss battle …
MY. GOD. Zelda has had the occasional challenging bosses. But this was at a completely different level. It almost feels as if the designers on this part didn’t speak to anyone else of the production team.
This is a fast boss, he has a move where he dashes 3 times (becoming untargetable) and then swings at you, making focusing him with the lock-on button almost impossible. Yet, locking on is crucial to deflect attacks with your shield and dodge at the right time to activate your flurry attacks (= a couple of free hits you can get on the enemy). So if your position is somewhat off from his position, you get hit. And his hits do serious damage. Luckily in this first phase, you can break his shielding pose, leaving him exposed for a while giving you a moment to attack him.
The second phase is not that hard, but very unpleasant to complete. You need to use Magnesis (the ability to lift and move metal things) to take one of this rods that come down to reflect his electric attacks back to him. As this battle takes place in the aforementioned area with the three rings, it can be hard to locate the boss. When you lift a rod, chances are the camera is not able to get the boss in the frame. So the times I did this battle, I mainly lifted the rod based on intuition, not being sure I was holding it at the right spot.
The third phase is very similar to the first phase, with one, very annoying twist: the enemy’s shield and sword have become electrified. This means: hit the shield with a metal weapon, you get electrocuted, receiving damage and dropping your weapon and shield in the process. Same thing with getting hit by the sword: you drop your equipped weapons. And if you have a metal shield you can’t stop this sword attack.
At this point in the game, all weapons I was carrying were metal, forcing me to have to wait till he did one attack where his electric charge had worn off, as the shield bashing wasn’t going to cut it anymore while the shield was electrified.
As it wasn’t infuriating already that every hit this guy did cut away more than 50% of my life, I also had to scramble for my weapons each time, mostly resulting in enough time to have passed for the boss to do his next attack, leaving little room to actually do something.
This battle frustrated me so much, I actually ditched it for a long period and just went exploring the landscapes. During this exploration, I found a rubber body armour that had electric resistance. I also harvested ingredients to cook lots of electric resistant meals. They might have prevented me from dying in multiple occasions, but the boss still hurt me plenty before he kicked the bucket …
Navigating through the Lost Woods
The Lost Woods are known in the Zelda series for having you to navigate through an area that will spawn you back to the start if you take a wrong direction.
I got through this on sheer luck. At first you see some torches. Similar to the flag poles in the dessert of Ocarina of Time, you run from one torch to the other visible one. Simple. Yet, at a certain point you end up at a “dead end” where there are no other torches to be seen anymore. I tried a couple of things. Just run into the woods. Didn’t work. There was a torch. Burning a bunch of stuff. Didn’t work. Inching through the forest, hoping to notice something if I would be going the wright or wrong direction. Didn’t work. Following the largest branches of the trees, as the might be indication a direction. Nope. Playing hot lava by climbing up the trees and jumping from one tree to the other. This did work!
But after I got through, I looked up how you are supposed to navigate through the forest. Turns out: you need to watch the direction of the embers from a torch you are carrying is emitting … In not any part of the game have I noticed particles are an integral part of the gameplay. I didn’t even notice the embers of the fixed torches were showing a direction.
How was I supposed to figure this one out?
Some of the shrines require you to complete challenges in the outside world for the shrine to appear. Some of these can be a good challenge and have rewards of the same level of difficulty.
But it happened a couple of times I was very disappointed with the rewards I found in the chest of such a shrine. It didn’t hold up to the effort I just went through.
This is one of the more bitching points that some people will not agree with at all. And it is more of a “being at the wrong place at the wrong time” situation. The weather system is dynamic, changing from time to time. Whenever it rains, you are virtually unable to climb as you slip. It’s a 2 steps forward, one step back situation. You can get over small vertical distances, but can’t scale larger structures.
This kind of screwed me over in one of the mazes. Ok, you are required for a maze to find your way through the corridors. But it came in pretty handy I beefed up my energy to the point I could scale a maze’s wall to get to the top of the structure.
But I got stuck in a part where I couldn’t figure out how to get out of it using the corridors. I probably ran through every corridor 5 times. Why? Because I got 2 consecutive rain periods and was not able to climb my way out of it. It felt like a serious waste of time (warping out and returning would have cost me the same amount of time).
There also have been moments where I needed to climb up something to progress, but a rain period delayed me.
Some parts actually use the rain on purpose, but when these situations happen, you most likely aren’t required to climb something to move forward.
No Wii U gamepad touch support
I understand at one point in the development, executives decided to push the development of the game towards the release of the Switch. Although the Switch’s screen is not usable in docked mode, it’s not an excuse to drop the touch screen entirely.
The thing which surprised me the most is when the keyboard popped up to name your horse. You can’t touch the keyboard. It actually looks like an Wii U OS keyboard, not even in-game. Then why am I not able to use the touch screen? This really felt a step backward in software development. Touch screens have made typing so much more intuitive and faster than having to navigate to each key and press a button.
I am also missing a second screen to be able to manage my inventory without having to open a menu on the main screen. The HD reworks of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess both have made this possible. I am convinced this also has been part of BotW at some point, but the Switch development threw it all out of the window. It’s so strange to see a black screen on the gamepad in one of the last games for the Wii U while other games always showed something, even if it wasn’t interactive at all.
There is one touch screen function however: touch anywhere to swap between TV and gamepad mode …
No pieces of heart
Where the hell are my staple hidden objects in this universe, pieces of heart?
This game is so massive. Why did they axe pieces of heart for other hidden objects (shrines, Koroks)? I would have loved to see these desirable objects being hidden in this massive world. Instead, you have to earn shrine orbs (you get these when completing a shrine). And then you have to travel to a goddess statue to request a new heart container. In the older games, 4 (or 5) pieces of heart resulted in an instant extra heart container. You could say the orbs are similar to pieces of heart, but the fun thing about the pieces of heart is that they could pop up everywhere in the game where you least expect it (buried, out of reach requiring a certain object, perfect scoring mini games, side quests).
This battle also had a very “Dark Souls” vibe to it. At least the first phase.
The first part of this phase is not that bad. Ganon’s attacks hurt, but once you’ve seen all the possible attacks, you get how to avoid them and survive.
But when he’s down to about 25% health, he becomes shielded.
I fired anything at Ganon I had at my disposal. But I just wasn’t getting how to damage him in this state. Again, I looked it up and it turns out the 3 ways of having a change of damaging him further are: shield parry, Daruk’s Protection and dodge an attack on the right time to trigger flurry attacks.
Shield parry = never had a need for it in the game, so never used it before.
Daruk’s Protection = 3 hits and it gets on a cooldown. Also, this ability needs to trigger when close to Ganon, otherwise the knockback doesn’t affect Ganon.
Perfect time dodging = hadn’t perfected the usage because the game doesn’t really require it for you to master.
I actually lost interest in the game for a little while because it felt cheap the game could not hint you on how to disable the shield and the only ways you could do it, were based on stuff you were not required to master during the game.
Phase 2 is an insulting pushover …
I was more fighting the controls to ride my horse (I played through the majority of the game without a horse) than actually facing off against this Ganon.
The only moments I got hurt during this second phase were:
a) when Ganon’s beam hit me when I accidently jumped off my horse.
b) I soared up, pulled out my bow and forgot to watch my energy meter, resulting in running out of energy and crashing into the ground below.
As my title suggests, I don’t think this Zelda is a 9 or 10. For me it’s an 8. Maybe an 8,5 tops. This game has frustrated me a bunch of times. Something I have never had with previous instalments in the franchise before. A couple of my remarks are game design flaws and could have been avoided.