Sunday, March 26, 2017

Breath of the Wild Review


SPOILERS AHEAD

Wii U on BenQ 2560x1440 monitor.

I have played and completed Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess, and while they are not my favorite games, this is a matter of taste. I can see why they are considered masterpieces with the extremely thoughtful and intricate level- and puzzle-design of the dungeons, including platforming and opportunities for creative use of items retrieved from dungeons over the course of the game, and the engagingly-designed towns and NPCs. I’m happy to again see the Gorons, the Zoras, Tingle, and other familiar character/s. The musical score is magical.

My hang-up with all the games cited above is the empty over worlds. The passage from town and/or dungeon to the next is unimaginative, and one might as well run away from enemies as there is no incentive to fight them (i.e. no leveling up and only marginal items gained)--a relief as I found the combat mechanics a bit clunky and floaty. The only time I explored the overworld was for any lingering heart-pieces to power up, or to get arrows, bombs and other weapon items from cutting grass. With OoT and MM on the 3DS there were problems of the 3DS analog stick having significant dead space, but that’s not the fault of the games, but of the system.

Upon seeing BotW trailers, I was excited and heartened that this might be the first Zelda that I could truly enjoy as much as its committed fans do. I was enchanted by the footage of Link cooking (which was adorable), by the potential to explore, the many different ways of killing enemies, interacting with the environment (shield surfing! playing baseball!), and the combat mechanics looked absolutely spectacular. Seeing the parry riposte reminded me of Dark Souls, and the back flip at the right time reminded me of Bayonetta’s Witch Time, so I felt certain this game will have all the elements that I’m looking for in an open-world game.

Alas, my heart sank when I learned the review embargo was to be lifted only on the day before the game release, a red flag harkening back to the No Man’s Sky and The Order: 1886 fiascos...and I now see why. By giving the reviewers limited time to play (maybe enough time to complete the Great Plateau), Nintendo hoped they'd give BotW 9’s and 10’s. Indeed, the first few hours of the game, from the opening scene through running out into the world, are absolutely magical, stunning and breathtaking. The mysterious old man who directed me to the shrines spurred me on, so I was compelled to finish the four shrines to obtain the paraglider, as I was dying to find out what will happen next.  However, the old man revealed the ENTIRE story, so there is no mystery left for me to discover and explore.

Further, after eight hours, I noticed that the world is superficially-designed, empty and barren, and the subsequent story quests were uninspiring (i.e. the Laboratory blue flame quest). With the rather pedestrian narrative exposition and lack of character development, I lost interest in completing the main campaign.

This was further hampered by the clumsy UI, where you have to click the D-Pad 4 or 5 times to get from, say, Weapon category to Shield category, as opposed to the usual R1 or L1 (one click of bumper buttons will go to the category directly). The combat mechanics were just as clunky as ever before, worsened by the weapon degradation. It is rather immersion-breaking to need to push the D-Pad right arrow key and then toggle through the various weapons to replace in mid-battle. A weapon will typically be good for up to five enemies at most. Therefore, it makes more sense simply to run away from the enemies, and to put all one's spirit orbs into endurance for efficacy. I tend not to heal as it means having to find more ingredients for healing items. So, I let myself die as this revives me to full health, without wasting resources and saving time (this strategy might not last further into the game).

While the world looks empty (you see mounds and mounds of green), it is actually NOT gameplay-wise, and is full of very neat things to do.  I was surprised that there were fifteen-plus Korok Puzzles in the Great Plateau alone--I think I only found two. However, the problem is that I was not interested in exploring given how monotonous the world looked, as if it was copied-and-pasted for long stretches, with the same green color, or the same white color in the snowy mountain areas. For example, the quest where one has to retrieve memories, the photos looked practically identical and hard to distinguish, so I will need to YouTube if I feel compelled to find them, which is also immersion-breaking.

Further dampening enjoyment is the consistent frame-rate stuttering, and the introduction of game-delaying rainstorms at inopportune times, such as during the blue flame quest or climbing.  The rain prevents any climbing and fighting with metal weapons due to the lightning.

With the same bright green, brown or white color throughout (depending on the region), lack of anti-aliasing, and the frame rate issues, BotW can cause literal headaches. Even if I were not prone to headaches, I do not find this enjoyable gameplay.

Despite the migraines, I pushed and worked through the game.  After additional hours, the game grew on me, and I got used to the rather problematic technical and game design aspects of BotW.  Although exploring is more of a chore, the game can be addictive due to the shrines, the cooking, the amount of freedom in the game, the ability to climb any surfaces in the overworld.  All future open world games should think about making climbing more accessible.

If you can get over the questionable technical and game decision designs, the game can be enjoyable.  My advice is to focus on finding the towers, shrines and korok puzzles, picking up resources along the way.  Shrines are used to increase health and stamina, and the korok puzzles to increase your inventory slots, which are crucial in this game.  Another positive game design decision is that reportedly, resources are unlimited, so I would take advantage of that.

After 76.5 hours total of slogging through, I completed the game.  Since I had to get the master sword, I was very impressed with the Korok forest.  Taking away the aliasing, lack of textures, lighting and shadowing, and frame rate drops, the forest is very lush and full.  It is hoped that the next Zelda will have this fullness, rather than a visually empty and barren world.  It is a shame that the whole world does not have the detail of this forest.

Three out of the four divine beasts are reskins of each other except for different elemental attacks.  I used the same techniques on all 3.  However, Thunderblight Ganon was very unique where I had to learn how to back flip flurry attack (seems to be more consistent than dodging/parrying).  Pulling off a flurry attack is addictive and elevates the gameplay.  Calamity Ganon was also unique and fun to battle, making use of dodging, flurry attacks, and the divine beasts’ powers.

TL:DR.  The outdated graphics that are equivalent to the 1990s, significant framerate drops to the point where I thought the game crashed during a boss battle (Thunderblight Ganon), lack of story and character portrayal, repetitive enemies, visually barren and empty world, weapon degradation, and frequent rain that prevents you from doing anything, all mar what could have been a good game.

If you have a Switch or a Wii U, I would recommend buying BotW given both systems’ limited game selection, but I don’t find it worth buying a whole system, unless you’re a huge Zelda fan.

Final rating:  C+, above average.

 -Alice

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