The Legend of Zelda: Breath of Wild continues to dominate headlines and will remain one of the best reviewed games of all time. It’s true, it’s a big and brave game that deserves attention. This is especially surprising as it comes from the notoriously risk-adverse Nintendo which has kept their licensed and lucrative properties in check for decades. It’s the first Zelda game to really let you go anywhere from the start. There’s so much of this vast world to explore; which makes it even stranger that the game actively discourages you from doing so.
Weirdly enough, anyone who plays the new Zelda will all experience one memorable moment: your first jump down from the tutorial plateau. After you wake up with no memory as to events of the last hundred years or so, you are quickly given a task by a strange old man to clear out four shrines. For doing this errand, he promises you his glider you can use to descend down to the greater land below. For the first half hour or so, you can only look in wonder at the world that awaits in the distance until you get that damn glider. Once you finally do accomplish this task, most will take their first major leap into this game and glide down the world beneath you. It really does stand out as perhaps the most impressive moment of the game when the world is full of potential and you’re finally being let lose to go wander.
For us, our first destination was a random deserted mountain way off in the distance. We didn’t actually intend to touch down, but our stamina gave out holding the glider so down we went. It wasn’t long before we found one of the many, many skull shaped bases that seemed promising at first until a cadre of high-powered ghouls ran out and one-shot killed me. An odd way to start. I reloaded, got a few good hits in with every weapon in my arsenal before they all shattered like icicles, got struck down again, at which point I decided I’d just return later in the game when I’ve leveled up a bit or had sturdier weapons.
But that’s the problem, for the most part, that situation never changes. There is no leveling up mechanic outside of more heart containers or slightly more stamina. And the weapons I have now some 30 hours into the game still splinter into a million pieces way too quickly. I’m not attached to any weapon because I never have them long enough to care. Even my bows fall apart after a few good shots. At this point, I’m conditioned to avoid enemies completely as it’s not worth the hassle juggling my inventory to keep a weapon in-hand for the possibility of, what, more worthless enemy parts to toss into my bag (which can hold thousands of enemy horns but only like 3 shields).
That shouldn’t matter though because I have this tremendously detailed and vast world to explore, right? It’s got to be chock full of secrets to find and cool gear to make exploration worth it, right? Well, kinda. It’s true there are some secrets to uncover including chests hidden underwater or shrines that require you to unlock them by performing some feat, but besides a handful of possible clothes to find, the only game changing powerups you’ll ever encounter are orbs, effectively the game’s currency that’s worth ¼ of a heart container or stamina boost. Every shrine completed yields you exactly one. The powerups you find hours and hours into the game are the same ones you find during the that tutorial.
So we’re left with a world that is full of enemies that aren’t really worth fighting for trinkets that aren’t really worth finding. Not to mention Link’s laughably limited stamina means he’s more likely to drown in a river than cross it and, though novel, climbing mountains can easily prove to be a fatal mistake. Though visually impressive, this world doesn’t like it’s meant to be explored.
I remember stumbling upon an oasis where I caught one resident studying a nearby sandstorm that seemed isolated over one area. He informed me there must be a treasure in there if only I could find a way through it. Before I jumped off that plateau, this would have been intriguing. Now my jaded gamer self, I know he means yet another shrine with yet another ¼ of a heart container. Let’s just hope I don’t actually have to fight anything on my way because that would truly suck.