We all have backlogs, I’m sure. Those games that just gradually pile up that we keep saying, ‘oh! I’ll play this eventually!’ and then we don’t. Then we instead buy even more new games and it creates a never-ending cycle of regret, money spent and great games we’ve missed out on. In my case, I’ve decided no more! I am going to be productive (sort of), play more games, and document my journey through my extensive backlog spanning years of Steam sales, cheap bargains at game stores and games I absolutely should have played by now but I haven’t. Welcome to my backlog slog, a weekly segment where I’ll walk you through what I’m playing this week, and whether or not you should add it to your backlog, too.
This week, I’ve got my hands on Nintendo’s hit, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Released in 2017, it’s one of the more recent entries of my backlog, but with my recent Switch purchase I thought it’s best I get my hands on it as soon as possible to see what I was missing out on. I was missing out on a lot.
Breath of the Wild takes place a hundred years after the fall of Hyrule in an event known as the Calamity. It evokes a similar sort of feeling seen in Wind Waker, where we witness the fall of Hyrule and how society has rebuilt itself. Though instead of an open world of ocean, we have an open world of… Well. World. It’s the first truly open world and open ended Zelda title allowing players to tackle the story entirely at their own pace, in their own way. It’s non-linear and while it vaguely suggests a path to you, you by no means have to follow it. Speed runs of the game are a great example of this, as it launches a naked Link holding nothing but a stick straight toward Hyrule Castle to defeat Ganon without so much as looking at the rest of the world. And this is a completely viable way to play the game, if you so choose.
However, if you take your time and really explore the world, you’ll find that Nintendo has created a pretty rich environment full of interesting characters all with their own lives. Camps of monsters who will hunt, dance and sleep at night (allowing for sneak attacks before they can grab their weapons). Treasure tucked away in ruins of towns. Pieces of lore scattered here and there that hint at what this land used to be, and how it’s fallen so far.
However, being Nintendo’s first attempt at an open world Zelda title, it can also be pretty clumsy at times. Combat is more in depth and a lot of fun, requiring timed dodges, blocks and parries, but the unpredictability of breakable weapons can really screw up any strategy you may have had. While I understand it, and that it encourages using all kinds of weapons, it quickly becomes frustrating realizing that you can’t use one weapon to even get through a boss fight or tougher enemy without it breaking. Even unique weapons will break, but at least these have the option of being repaired.
The game also suffers in how it treats progression. There’s no issue in terms of how it allows you to explore and progress at your own pace, but instead the issue comes when you’ve played the game for a few hours and realized it doesn’t have much to offer in terms of new mechanics and growth. All the tools you will need to solve puzzles and dungeons are given at the start of the game, and the only thing you obtain as you progress are slightly nicer swords to break on tougher enemies. There’s no hookshots, no musical instruments to master, no fun toys to discover as you progress through dungeons. This would be interesting on subsequent playthroughs as it allows the player to mess around and explore to their fullest right from the get-go, but I’m on my first playthrough. I’m finding it frustrating that I’m clearing dungeons and my only reward is a heart container and progressing the story in a way I’ve realized is optional.
Breath of the Wild is, for the most part, a brilliant game! I’m really enjoying my time with it. But it just feels as though Nintendo only got the gist of open world games without truly understanding what it means to make one. It’s too caught up on letting the player run rampant in a toy box and not focused on making sure new players feel a sense of accomplishment for their achievements.
Overall, though? I can’t complain too much. I made a flying machine and launched myself stark naked into a den of monsters armed with nothing but a pot lid and a stick. Good game.