“Danger and tension… to whom? The hardcore gamer? The housewife? At least with this open world approach, the player can define their danger.”
I was playing through the original LoZ for the first time just two days ago. It has been observed by you, and fellow readers, that BotW lacks both tight arcade combat, and an underworld (ie, Hyrule Castle dungeons). Let me say that BotW also lacks enemy gates. There’s no White Sword to miss out on because you couldn’t get past the Lynel at the top of the Waterfall. There’s no pack of Moblins blocking the only way to a dungeon or the only way out of a forest.
The replacement is skull chests, but they don’t do quite the same thing — with semi-randomized drops, any particular chest doesn’t matter as long as you get one. A difficult enemy camp doesn’t often need to be beaten to progress or to get better loot, you can just look for an easier fight or find a good weapon laying around. That’s necessary for the game’s sense of freedom, but it leaves a hole.
The player’s freedom is hindered already by semi-random events, mainly weather. Why not also have semi random enemies? Stah-enemies at night don’t work because 1: their HP never increases as the game goes on, and 2: they always just spawn right in front of you. They’re not a challenge, they’re a speed bump. Assassins have the same problem of not scaling enough with progress. I’d prefer to see random mounted bokoblins, instead of them only being predetermined locations. How about being hunted by Lynels, instead of them just staring at you? How about at night time, you see the army of the dead in the distance coming for you? This random danger could be limited to night only to give the player another out (in addition to teleporting)
Think about your first blood moon. I bet you thought you were in trouble. It seems a lot of players realized “oh, that’s it”. Should have been that nights of the blood moon had ganonjuiced-up enemies with extra rare loot, thereby giving the player an urgent, immediate, and somewhat emergent short-term objective and challenge. These sorts of things would have been a counterpoint to relaxing awe of taking in new nature areas, and would feel more dangerous than a predetermined enemy that you can choose to fight or not.
As for the game becoming a grind, I have to wonder if your methodical playthrough aggravated it. I went in ravenously and explored as much of the map as quickly as I could. I hit a second wind going back to earlier areas. I got all the towers early on but missed vast swaths of shrines, so I ended up having reason to travel ok foot through the map twice. I think the game lends itself best to binging through it the first time and then restarting after. I’ve been hungry for A second playthrough already after 12 or so days off.
The further I get in the game, the combat begins to click. The framerate fix also helps. I rather enjoy the combat now. Fighting guardians brings to mind the intensity of some of the combat of Zelda 2.
I cannot talk about BoW “Wow!” because I have not even completed it, let alone digest it!