I’m five years late to the party. As others started playing The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, I decided to dust off my barely touched Breath of the Wild with the goal of freeing the Divine Beasts and taking down Calamity Ganon. I wouldn’t be going in totally ignorant (I’d seen others both play and beat it), but I still had to contend with my own poor sense of direction. And so here I am now, on the other side of glorious victory, here to detail my thoughts on a game everybody has already played.
I’m not the most hardcore Zelda fan. I have a history with the games—including playing the original NES game, Link to the Past, and Ocarina of Time—but I never really touched 21st-century Zelda. I know there have been various debates about whether the post-Wind Waker games have been too linear and uncreative, and that having Breath of the Wild arrive in this context was like a bolt of lightning. This open world game ends up being situated in an interesting place in the Zelda series, not only because it had never been done before, but because it both harkens back to and defies its predecessors. The free exploration feels a lot like classic Legend of Zelda, but the open-ended solutions for puzzles hits differently compared to earning a Hookshot and utilizing it throughout a dungeon designed around it.
I think my experience with BotW can best be encapsulated by the fact that my greatest challenges and frustrations were at the beginning of the game. As mentioned, I am directionally challenged, and throwing me into the middle of nowhere without many visual markers is a sure sign for me to never get a sense of my bearings. I was probably stuck up on the game’s first area, a low-stakes plateau, for far longer than I probably should have been. Still, once I managed to actually get stuff done, the game opened up to me, and I started to have a lot more fun.
There’s something very satisfying about just discovering stuff as you go on little detours, or looking at the map and seeing something really odd out on the edges of the land—“Is that a maze?!” The game rewards you for being curious, though you may get skill-checked by the nearby monsters. It’s one thing to be able to assess the strength of enemies, but when you have to factor in that your weapons and equipment can shatter and leave you defenseless, you really have to decide if trying to go somewhere is worth it. I often stubbornly decided it was, and would end up either killed or hanging on by the skin of my teeth. Did I have to fight that first Lynel? No—the game even explicitly says you don’t need to—but I wanted to try, and I was willing to lose 80% of my weapons to do so. It’s a funny feeling to look at your rewards against what you lost to get them.
Combat is a major part of BotW, as enemies are a frequent sight, and bosses require you to at least be able to function. I’m of two minds about the fact that the game gives you so many tools for one-on-one situations but then frequently pits you against many—I like that they don’t just wait kindly like in Ocarina of Time, but it is annoying nevertheless. I would also often wonder if maybe I was too powerful for an area with the equipment I had; I wanted to test my skills but it might have just been a matter of brute force. At the same time, I also didn’t necessarily want to be facing challenges masochistically underequipped. I understand that any powerful items I possessed were thanks to my own exploration, so it’s not like anything was unearned, but I still would have liked a better sense of where I stood in terms of mechanics mastery.
Overall, though, it was a very satisfying experience to play through Breath of the Wild. I’ve heard that Tears of the Kingdom is just a straight-up improvement in every way, which I’m looking forward to trying out sooner rather than later. I actually find it fascinating that TotK is such a direct upgrade, as that has never really happened in the history of Zelda. I’m curious to see how people assess BotW vs. TotK in terms of greatness: What do you value more, the pioneer or the refiner?