I spent the pandemic playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. My first 10 hours were incredible, the next 30, very good. But I clocked another 60 before I vanquished Ganon. The flaws in BotW become more apparent the more you play it. It’s a great game, but not the masterpiece people say.
The major flaw of this game is the length, which is a function of how huge it is. If I was so inclined, I could spend another 100 hours doing everything. But almost none of that content is worth doing.
The sidequests and shrines are the two biggest flaws. Although even the most boring part of BotW’s world is beautiful and interesting in its own way, the same can’t be said of its sidequests and shrines. Both pieces of the game have their share of clunkers. There are only so many times you can reasonably be expected to fetch five critters or move a few blocks around. The intent was to break up Zelda dungeons into bite-size puzzles, but it was a failure. Other puzzle games have much more interesting puzzles. Owing to the game’s “go anywhere anytime” design, there aren’t really shrine puzzles that are harder than the others. The difficulty doesn’t build, and there aren’t new upgrades to fit into your arsenal to have new puzzles.
There are two reasons to do any of them. One is the inherent reward. Every 4 shrines gives a heart container or stamina (your choice). Sidequests often come with a 50-100 rupee reward, but you don’t know ahead of time what you’ll get. Not knowing ahead of time can leave you frustrated, if a quest was harder than the reward implies. After 7-12 hearts and a wheel or two of bonus stamina, the upgrades are pointless. It’s easy to get enough materials to cook healing items that restore health or stamina. The rupee rewards are similarly poor; you’re better spending your time farming them from certain activities. A few sidequests open up new areas or shops, but there’s little indication ahead of time that’s what they will do. Some of these quests I had no idea existed until I consulted a guide. Some special shrines have special items, but their use in combat is quite limited, and they break anyway.
That leaves the non-game reward – the enjoyment from helping these characters or solving a puzzle. A lot of the time, that didn’t pay off for me. Getting two mediocre lines of dialog from a couple in love doesn’t do it for me when I’ve done that for 3 other couples in a 100 hour game. Only a few of the puzzles felt clever or made me feel clever. Too often, I was fighting the controls.
This game’s identity is almost its lack of identity. I can remember a dungeon puzzle from Twilight Princess 7 years later, but there are almost no puzzles I remember in BotW, even less so ones that I thought were good. BotW is longer than other Zeldas, but there’s less polish. Where it is polished, it’s amazing. Entering the Zora dungeon is one of my favorite gaming moments. Zora’s Domain as well as Gerudo Town are both beautiful towns. I wish that level of polish was applied to a smaller experience.
What kills me is seeing all the unique stuff in BotW that I missed. Instead of exploring the world and coming across this or this, I plugged away at shrines and the quests I knew I had. Which isn’t to say I didn’t explore the world! I got every tower, and was rewarded with… nothing. Can’t I get a faster glider or something? I didn’t even beeline from tower to tower! For my first 10 or 20 hours, I refused to fast travel. BotW is at its best when you find stuff on your own like fairy fountains or dragons. That’s why I don’t understand the design to fill the world with so much crap that there’s no motivation to find the good stuff. The designers might say the crap needs to be there to make the atypical stuff actually atypical, but I disagree. BotW could be a world where every moment is special. A world without filler. Link to the Past is that world, this isn’t.
Finally, I disagree with the intent to have a flat or nonexistent progression through the game. Unlike other Zeldas, there’s a very limited set of upgrades you get. Everything else is found in the world or in sidequests, and most of those just provide stat boosts. A few provide passive abilities like bonus stealth or an electro-charged sword. There’s no cohesion, none of the upgrades feel special or change how you play. I never really found a use for anything but a one-handed sword in 100 hours. Even if I did, a 45 attack axe is about as good as a 40 attack axe. The elemental bonuses are useless - hardly any enemies are affected by them. Upgrades like the climbing gear only matter if you don’t have a lot of stamina, which you do, just from doing the 100+ shrines in the game.
I wouldn’t have all this harsh stuff to say about the game if I didn’t have so long to be alone with my thoughts. Go in there with a machete and cut anything that isn’t amazing. Shrink the world by at least 50%. On the other side, you’ll have a masterpiece.