The first thing I have to mention is that I plain forgot this version of the game existed with how the Wii U is of little relevance these days. Although, considering how the system flopped it’d be hard to say if it was ever relevant and I’m one of those that have had the system since launch, a premium model at that.
Breath of the Wild is a fantastic and expansive game, allowing you to go literally anywhere. Not once in my many hours of playing, barring the edges of the game, did I encounter any sort of boundary or invisible wall telling me I couldn’t go somewhere. If I saw a mountain in the distance and wondered about climbing it, not only could I do so, there was often something at the top to make the journey worthwhile. It also looks very nice with the art style doing a lot to hide the limits of the Wii U, the draw distance on the other hand left a lot to be desired.
I found the attention to detail to be astounding, especially for a Wii U game, the immediate environments were lush and varied and teeming with all manner of life, from monster campsites to animals and insects. I particularly liked the way the lighting changed and evil looking particles floated about during the blood moon and it was even more amazing to see that moon show its intimidating red hues for the first time. A little detail I liked quite a bit was the way he game over screen changed colour to reflect how you died, if it was an electric based death it was yellow and being killed by monsters it was red. To look at the game as a whole, up close you could be forgiven for thinking it was being played on more current hardware, though it is also available on the Nintendo Switch.
One thing to note that I found to be great was the weather effects, the rain looked almost real and the thunderstorms are very atmospheric, causing lightning to strike down on the ground around you. Beware of the weather however as when it’s raining it’s impossible to climb anything since Link slides down endlessly, which led to me having to wait around for the rain to stop, depending on where I was and where I wanted to be. I had hoped that I would find some equipment that would allow me to climb in the rain, but even the climbing gear I found didn’t carry that effect.
As well as the rain being a pain in the backside, the thunderstorms were dangerous, if you’re walking around while a storm is occurring you will be struck while you have metal gear equipped. The first time this happened I had no idea what killed me and after that I noticed it was due to my metal equipment and would drop it all on the floor to save myself an electrically charged death, doing this though meant it would scatter when struck causing me to lose most of it. It wasn’t until a bit later that I realised I only had to un-equip the gear to avoid the wrath of the lightning and a little while after that a tip on the loading screen confirmed as much. What is good about these lightning strikes is that they will also strike enemies holding metallic items and you can use it to decimate an area by using your magnetic rune ability to leave something in the middle of a group of enemies.
I found the movement controls to be a bit more finicky than I would have expected, it often took several adjustments to get Link facing in the direction I wanted. Ordinarily this didn’t pose much of a problem but when it came to the moments where I had to attack or throw something in a precise direction, it would miss more often than not. As well as Link, the horses I found also controlled terribly, it was only when I had them going at a gallop that I could make them go in the right direction. It is worth mentioning though, that the horses had a mechanic where they would become more well behaved the more you rode and praised them, similar to how it works in Red Dead Redemption 2. I was often left frustrated at the controls and the fact that the horses would refuse to jump off even the tiniest of ledges, so I only tamed one horse, barely rode it and sold it to someone that asked for a horse and spent the remainder of the game travelling on foot.
Of course it wouldn’t be a modern Nintendo game without some kind of gimmicky control. Some of the shrines in the game have what it called apparatus challenges which required the use of the Wii U GamePad’s motion controls, I found these sections to be especially frustrating because I had to flip and rotate the GamePad to no end and still barely got the thing to work as it should. It was so bad to use that there were moments I questioned if I would even be able to complete that particular shrine. As I spent most of my time playing with the Wii U Pro Controller it also meant that I would have to swap back and forth between the control schemes; while it was annoying to do however, I can say that it was simple, all it took was the press of a button for it to know which control I was using.
The only real use I got from the GamePad was from scanning the solitary Link Amiibo I own for in game items. It was a nifty little feature and often came with bundles of food, the item in the chest however was often a weapon worse than my current inventory, instead of the twilight gear I was hoping for. At one point I was even granted a horse by the Amiibo, though I was up on a plateau at the time and with no way to get the horse down I had to leave it behind. It was a bit annoying that I could only use the one I have once per day, though I can see why they wouldn’t want players over using it. Since I only have the one Amiibo I was unable to test if different ones had different effects or usage restrictions.
The combat controls were okay, though I found the camera to be a bit of a pain. Instead of the camera remaining behind Link when you lock on to an enemy, it follows the enemy around meaning that sometimes your view will get obscured or Link will appear so far away it’s difficult to judge when attacks are coming. As well as that you can only lock on to characters classified as enemies, wildlife doesn’t count, so if you find yourself the target of a pack of wolves or a bear you have to maintain the camera manually and keeping track of a fast moving target like a wolf can be a bit hard to do. I found it easier to leave a bomb on the ground then when I caught their attention, the whole group would often travel into the blast radius of the bomb and I could get them all at once. Luckily if you are having trouble defeating them, it’s worth mentioning that you only have to beat one to scare the others away.
By far my favourite thing about Breath of the Wild was the exploring, every so often I’d come across a new shine or a korok puzzle and I would have to stop to solve it. I have to commend the game for being so well designed that it’s incredibly easy to figure out the games’ sometimes complex puzzles with ease. There’s enough information on the screen through the placement of items and other things in the surrounding area that you know what to do without being told directly how to do it. I loved that the game was all about figuring things out for yourself with minimal hand holding, sure there were tips in the loading screens that had useful information, sometimes even things I didn’t know I could do, befriending a dog and have it lead you to treasure for example.
While the game does have the bare minimum when it comes to instruction, there are things that it will tell you about to no end. Every time you enter a shrine you are greeted with a message about who it belongs to as well as at the end you have to go through the same text boxes over and over. It wouldn’t have been so bad but there are so many shrines, it eventually becomes tiresome. As well as those annoying text boxes it’s like the developers took note from Castlevania 2 in that every so often you’re stopped so the game can give you a cutscene and tell you the blood moon has risen and all the monsters you’ve defeated since the last blood moon have respawned. The game only needs tell you this one time for you to understand what’s going on when it happens so every single time is not only annoying, it’s overkill.
I found the combat in the game to be a little tough for my tastes, even well into the game when I had hearts numbering in double digits there were still enemies who could defeat me in one hit, regardless of any defence boosting items I was using or what equipment I had. I also found the dodging controls difficult to get used to, sometimes I would manage to get it slow down for a counter attack while being a sizeable distance from my opponent and others I would get hit no matter how well I dodged. One thing that I thought might have made it easier to deal with was if Link had the ability to roll to the side, rather than jump since almost all enemies are larger than him so jumping to the side almost guarantees you’ll get hit. It wasn’t until very late in the game when I had found all the great fairies and upgraded my armour a decent amount that I was able to deal with my enemies without dying a few times first.
Something the game does that seems more of an annoyance and as an arbitrary way to make the game more difficult is that the weapons and shields break, I never failed a combat encounter because my weapons had broken, it was more the difficulty of the enemies. One thing I did like about having my weapons break was that it gave me the opportunity to see the funny reactions of the enemies when you steal their weapons to use against them. One thing I found more frustrating about the difficulty of the enemies more than anything else was that many of them, particularly Lynels in my case, were far more difficult to beat than any of the games’ bosses. The bosses were so laughably easy that even without trying I was able to defeat all of them without failure, even the end boss, Calamity Ganon.
Something I found that made the game a little more difficult for me was that there seemed to be an abundance of two handed weapons compared to relatively few one handed ones, meaning my only defence was learning to dodge effectively, it also meant for the most part that shields were little more than lighting conductors in my case. I would like to point out for the record that while I wasn’t the best at the game, I was also not that bad either, I did have some decent grasp of the combat system and even found the major test of strength trials to be fairly easy. I think since a lot of the weapons seem to resize themselves to be able to fit in Link’s hand that any and all weapons should have done that allowing them to be used one handed with the option of using both hands, much like how you can use weapons in the Souls series. There were times when it was useful to knock something to break it or to make fruit fall from a tree but to do so meant hitting it with a weapon, a blunt one if you’re after fruit and not wanting to cut down the tree. In older games Link would have been able to roll into it, this is something I missed when playing Breath of the Wild.
Moving away from melee based combat using a bow is simple enough, hold down the button to take aim and release to fire, pretty straight forward. I thought of the bow more as a tool than a weapon because it didn’t seem very effective in battle due to the time it takes to aim and fire, plus I used it to solve puzzles more often than not. It did have its uses though, particularly when striking a weak spot of an enemy like a Hinox, big and slow moving. I did notice that arrows seemed to be something of a rarity, I recall finding more special ones than regular and having to buy almost all of my normal ones.
I quite enjoyed the puzzle solving and as I said earlier in the review, there’s very little hand holding and the game basically leaves you to figure things out on your own. What I didn’t enjoy however was doing something particularly challenging or time consuming and having the end reward be the exact same thing almost every time. Sure, the shrines have chests inside with weapons or arrows and very rarely new gear but the end result is always the same, a single spirit orb. The game starts to feel like a collect-athon after a while, even though the puzzles in the shrines are different and sometimes it’s a puzzle to get to the shrine, having the same reward seems like the game is wasting your time for the sake of it under guise of exploration. Even the game’s major puzzles, in the form of divine beasts are all basically the same puzzle in a different layout.
The side quests fare no better, usually offering little more than something as simple as food as a reward. I felt that if Link had been able to level up, as a character would in a traditional RPG, it might make the quests and shrines more meaningful and leave it open for better rewards. It would have also made the combat feel more balanced so you’re not outmatched by the majority of enemies for most of the game.
I do have to say though, that the physics in the game are top notch and allowed me to solve some of the puzzles in my own way, for example there’s one section where it seems like you’re supposed to swing spiked obstructions and try to weave your way through them. Instead of doing that I decided to wrap them around the rafters and just walk underneath, since the chains and ropes behave realistically it made it possible to pass it that way. In many other games I’ve played with ropes and chains, they merely serve as decoration.
I have more negative things to say about the game than positive, yet I still enjoy the game despite its flaws. It’s hard to say what makes it so appealing when I found so much to dislike during my experience with it. It gets a fairly average score for all its problems but the game as a whole I found difficult to put down, so I would definitely say it’s worth a try for any Zelda fan. If you’re not as skilled a gamer as you’d like though, or just don’t like the grinding, fetch quest style progression, you might want to give this one a miss.