Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 2, 2017

Email: My basic BotW impressions

Master Malstrom!
In your recent post, you said this about Ultima VII:

“At one point, he says, “Many people didn’t follow the storyline. They got sidetracked into the huge world and did whatever they wanted.” Sounds like Breath of the Wild (if it comes out the way it should)”

I’m happy to tell you that it did come out that way. In fact, it’s not even a matter of leaving the main quest behind and later having to return to that point to finish the game (like in a game like Skyrim); you can finish BotW without doing any of the main quest beyond the small starting area at all!

Now, this would be extremely difficult, because the entire point of the main quest is doing two things: Weakening Ganon, and strengthening yourself. At the very start of the game, you are weak, you probably have a stick and a pot lid for a shield, you have 3 or 4 heart containers, you wear a ragged shirt which cannot withstand atmospheric conditions beyond the comfort of the temperate plains, and you just woke up from a 100 year sleep with no idea of what the hell you are doing or supposed to do other than a message from a certain Old Man: Destroy Ganon.

Unfortunately for you, this form of Ganon happens to be an unspeakable amalgamation of destruction, the apocalypse itself. It has control of Hyrule Castle, and of countless ancient machinery dotted throughout Hyrule. When you wake up, you are at your worst, and Ganon is at its best, you have absolutely no hope of facing him. So you leave the Great Plateau, armed with whatever you could scavenge, left to wander in this wide sandbox.

That is how BotW starts, that’s the structure of the entire game. Get stronger, make Ganon weaker, kill him. How you do this, is entirely up to you.

Anyway, with the game’s beginning and structure of the game out of the way, I’ll tell you my basic impressions in broad keypoints as to not make a huge email, and keep in mind I’m 21 hours into the game:

-This is emergent gameplay personified. Every element of the game works independently from one another (often in unpredictable ways), and at the same time interact with each other to create situations that will be unique to you and your presence in the world. Players are going to have extremely different experiences even when facing the same areas or enemies of the game. Climbing Mount Lanayru and thinking the weak frost resistance clothing I had was enough, and then being hit by a random blizzard and nearly freezing to death on the way up as I fought and dodged all kinds of aggressive enemies (that can kill me in 1-2 hits), only for a Blood Moon to occur at the summit and to realize that this meant all the enemies I faced and spent resources to kill on my way were now back from the dead, was one of the most intense “narratives” I have ever experienced in a video game, and it wasn’t even scripted or written by a developer, it happened as a result of different systems working independently and interacting with each other. That is the beauty of BotW and it shows in every area of the game.

-Combat is satisfying. Enemies are aggressive, come in big numbers (especially around their encampments or nests), and do NOT take turns attacking you. It is very easy to die in this game, preparing yourself and knowing your enemy (and the environment, see above) is the key. There are various weapons and each weapon type has its own move set and behavior under different circumstances, like spears being useful for thrusting from a distance (but watch out because you need two hands to use them, no shield for you), and quick, short weapons being great at just dealing massive damage from up close with their flurry attacks.
Speaking of combat and emergent gameplay, being smart about the different systems of the game can win you fights, and being dumb about them can get you killed in seconds. For example, that thunder infused sword you got didn’t seem that useful at first, but try facing an enemy when it’s raining or drawing him to a nearby pond or body of water and enjoy the shocking devastation. This goes both ways, too, so watch out if you are wet yourself, or wearing metal equipment like heavy armor.

-The world is huge, dense, and is built in an organic faction that feels very real. Hardcore gamers on message forums will, and are no doubt already, complain about “empty useless space”, not getting the point (as they often don’t) about what a video game world means, as a place to inhabit our imagination as much as our imagination inhabits them. Breath of the Wild got into my head in a way no game has since the original Dark Souls (but for different reasons) did, I cannot stop thinking about its world and I have even dreamt about it. This “empty space”, this vast, colossal world of labyrinthine mountains, vast plains, sweeping lakes, has me completely ensnared, wondering what next corner of the world might be hiding something interesting, either to help me in my adventure or just for the sense of wonder in it. And boy is there a lot of interesting things in this world, it’s FULL of stuff!

-I have never liked puzzles in 3D Zelda games, and rest assured that there aren’t any actual puzzles to be found in the overworld of the game. They are instead hidden away at shrines, which serve as these bite sized mini-dungeon puzzle rooms hidden throughout the world. When you complete one, you get a Spirit Orb (basically the new Heart Container, going to explain it shortly), and whatever chests you can find while exploring them.
And well, I have to admit I enjoyed most of the shrines despite not liking previous 3D Zelda game puzzles. Perhaps this is because they feel more like 2D Zelda Puzzles, they are very physics engine based and feel very “natural” or “analogue”, for a lack of better words (I’m not the best writer). No moon logic to be found.
One point of possible contention is that in the event that the player doesn’t like shrines, he’s SOL when it comes to upgrading Link’s health or stamina, as they are the only ways of getting Spirit Orbs. Spirit Orbs are exchanged for either Heart Containers, or Stamina (which affects what you can do while exploring and using special attacks), and yes this is a big RPG element added to the game, akin to Zelda 2 where you could choose where to spend EXP. So if you don’t enjoy the puzzles, either put up with them or enjoy being very weak, which can be fun on its own way (nothing beats a NES Zelda 3 heart run). However, I actually surprised myself as I’m actually enjoying the puzzles, they feel very different than other Aonuma 3D Zelda games, and are more in line with the simple physics puzzles of 2D games such as Link’s Awakening.

I could go on forever, but one thing that could be seen as a mixed bag, or even negative (I’m still not sure):

-Weapon durability. Your weapons break VERY, VERY fast. A shiny new metal sword might last 2 or 3 enemies if you are lucky, assuming you aren’t fighting cannon fodder. Rare magical weapon you got by finding an awesome cave in a hidden ruin? Will last 4 fights tops.
However, the world is CHOCK FULL of weapons to find, so you will always constantly cycle between weapons, you’ll never run out (you can exchange your obligatory open world collectable for more inventory space later). This means that the game treats weapons not as permanent additions to your arsenal, but resources. Everything in this game is a resource, from cooking ingredients to your weapons themselves. Want to take down a big ogre on that ravine? Think twice about it, because you’ll spend resources to take him down. Even assuming you take down the ogre perfectly without getting hit, you’ll still go through 2 or 3 weapons taking him down, so every decision in the game must be calculated and every action matters, which can either be a great mechanic, or a way to limit how much you want to experiment with all that good gear you find in the fear of breaking them on things that are not “worth it”.

Well there you have it, didn’t cover everything I wanted but hopefully you’ll enjoy reading from someone who is indeed playing the game. I’m playing the Wii U version, by the way,and it works fine enough, performance drops are noticeable but aren’t as big a deal as hardcore gamers are making them out to be.
Overall, I think this is the best 3D Zelda game ever made by quite a huge margin, and it may be one of the best yet. Still not convinced on weapon durability, but the game is just too good, I cannot put it down, the way every system in the game is so consistent and work with each other so well to create these emergent moments is something I have never seen done on an open world game, not to this extent.

Well, there it is.

Image result for and there it is

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