Nintendo has officially announced that the next Zelda game is in development, less than a year after the launch of Breath of the Wild and mere weeks after the launch of Ballad of the Champions. It’s exciting news to be sure, especially considering that Breath of the Wild received some pretty incredible reviews. However, despite the positive critical reception of the game, there have been some fans who have voiced issues with various aspects of the game, players who rated it to be less than perfect amidst a stream of perfect scores. I myself gave the game a 9.5 out of 10 (and that was after a subjective positive score adjustment), declaring that although I enjoyed the game a lot there were definitely aspects of it that held it back for me. For many longtime Zelda fans, Breath of the Wild lacked a bit of the magic that made the series so special. But we cannot deny that the game held a magic of its own. Is there a middle ground between these two views?
Today I thought it would be fun to take some time to explore the major criticisms of Breath of the Wild and see if there’s a way to keep their essence while also creating something a little closer to what longtime fans want to see in Zelda games.
When weapon breaking was first showcased in Breath of the Wild, I stated on Twitter that it was weird to live in an era where weapons in Zelda are breakable but weapons in Fire Emblem last forever. Two series moving in effectively opposite directions for different reasons. Because of the “survival” aspects of Breath of the Wild, the durability system makes a lot of sense and it fits the overall atmosphere of the game. I personally didn’t mind it at all. However, a pretty vocal group of Zelda fans did not appreciate the fact that weapons could break. Finding a piece of gear you liked only for it to wear out and go away frustrated a lot of players, especially when Zelda had never previously been a game where you had to worry about that sort of thing.
The argument in favor of durability? Well, there are a few. First of all, as I stated, it fits the survival atmosphere and adds a degree of difficulty to the game. Weapons breaking also forces you to try out the massive variety of weapons in the game – you’d never revert to a lesser weapon if your better weapons never broke. The minute you explored a shrine that contained a really good weapon with great damage, you’d no longer have needs for the pedestrian gear dropped by the bad guys. There’s no point in having different weapon types if you have no reason to switch between the types.
Personally, I think that if the next Zelda game doesn’t feature the whole “survival” angle, it probably shouldn’t feature weapon durability. However, I think there is a way to include it durability so that you get the best of both worlds – no eternally using your best weapon but also no constantly juggling crappy gear that wears out in a single fight. That compromise lies in the mechanics of the Master Sword.
When I started playing Breath of the Wild, I assumed that the Master Sword would be an infinite weapon. You get it just before the final boss and it never wears out. It turns out that this isn’t quite the case. The Master Sword has a durability of its own, but rather than breaking it runs out of its power to dispel darkness. It then becomes unusable while it recharges. The sword also only wields its full power in the presence of Guardians or manifestations of Ganon, otherwise having a weaker form that deals a respectable but not overpowered 30 damage (compared to 60 at full power).
With the introduction of the Trials of the Sword in DLC pack 1, the Master Sword could be powered up by completing challenges in the game. This causes the sword to become stronger and stronger as you complete more trials, finally enabling it to reach its full power all the time. Prior to that, the Master Sword is a good weapon, but not the best, and you have to balance its use with the use of other weapons because it too can break. I personally think this mechanic has potential if spread between multiple weapons.
Think about it. The next Zelda could potentially have multiple special weapons of various types, each designed to banish the powers of darkness. Think the weapons of the Champions, but received relatively early on in the game and all operating on the mechanics of the Master Sword. One weapon might be your fast, light weapon. Another is heavy but powerful. Yet another can be combined with a shield for a more defensive strategy. All of these weapons have a durability and recharge time, so you do have to worry about them breaking, but they come back in a reasonable amount of time and switching between them is a key part of your strategy when facing enemies. Maybe you need to use the more defensive weapon until you create an opening, and then equip your light weapon to unleash a ton of fast, damaging attacks while your sword recharges.
This gives you a set of multiple weapons to switch between while also requiring you to manage them carefully. In order to prevent the weapons from becoming obsolete, you spread quests throughout the game world that you can complete in order to make the weapons stronger. By upgrading the weapons through quests, you increase their damage and durability, making it so you can use the same weapon more often before recharging. I personally think this could be a good compromise between endless weapons and breakable ones, and because each weapon type is useful for a different combat situation, you could work that into a sort of puzzle mechanic for the combat system (similar to how puzzles in Breath of the Wild all build upon the same set of runes).
Perhaps the most-missed aspect of classic Zelda is the dungeon, a major location where Link must brave a host of monsters and difficult puzzles in order to face down a unique boss in order to get The MacGuffin(TM) and save the world. Breath of the Wild had dungeons, but there were only four of them, a small number compared to the vastness of the game world. These dungeons each featured a unique mechanism that Link could manipulate through the Sheikah Slate in order to navigate the interior, but one unique feature was not enough to make the dungeons feel special.
This was the clearest when it came to the design of each dungeon. Aesthetically, all of the dungeons look pretty much the same once you are inside. The same walls, the same enemies, the same machines – even the bosses all look pretty similar due to their common source. Instead of feeling like a milestone of the game, instead of feeling like a special location, each dungeon feels lifeless and overly similar to all of the others.
Honestly, I don’t really understand the thought process behind this decision. One might be tempted to blame it on the fact that you no longer have dungeon items – because you can do the dungeons in any order, you can’t lock a tool necessary to complete one within the interior of the other. This means each dungeon must rely on your beginning tools as if it is the first dungeon you will encounter. The thing is, this has been done in Zelda before, and it was done in such a way that it did not make all of the dungeons seem bland. Let’s take a second to talk about A Link Between Worlds.
While Breath of the Wild is definitely more experimental in nature than A Link Between Worlds, the 3DS title still took some steps in a new direction, making attempts to play with the Zelda formula. It dabbled in openness by making it so that you can basically complete the game’s dungeons in any order. The tools you need are not locked behind a dungeon miniboss – instead, you can rent and eventually buy the various in-game items from Ravio the merchant. Because you can rent whichever items you want at any time, you can just exclusively rent the ones you need for whichever dungeon you want to explore and then go there.
However, the fact that you can approach the dungeons in any order didn’t make them blend together or make them boring. This is because even though all of your tools are available all of the time, each dungeon still took the time to showcase a specific one. Additionally, each dungeon contained another special item unique to that dungeon that could be used to solve brand new puzzles and then later interact with the overworld. The desert, for example, contained Titan’s Gloves, which allow you to lift heavy stones and toss them aside in order to create new paths. Only the desert dungeon relies on these gloves, but once you get them you can explore the overworld in new ways. You can go there first or dead last – it doesn’t matter. Not having the gloves won’t prevent you from completing the other dungeons in the game.
I think that A Link Between Worlds shows that it is totally possible to combine total openness with the typical Zelda formula of each dungeon relying on certain tools for navigation and the defeat of enemies. Dungeons can also contain unique items without having to occur in a specific order. In the next Zelda game, I think a lot of fans would love to see the return of classic dungeons. There’s a special appeal to seeing obstacles you don’t know how to pass yet and then finally obtaining the treasure that allows you to move past them; that joy can be self-contained within each dungeon so that you can experience them in any order. This would also make completing dungeons more meaningful, as finishing one will allow you to interact with the overworld in a new and helpful way.
I think it’s important that I emphasize here that these new tools would expand your overworld options, not lock certain quests or paths until you get a specific item. The total freedom of exploration in Breath of the Wild is part of what makes it work so well. You never pass an obstacle where you have to think “well, I guess I’ll have to come back later when I have the right Puzzle Item(TM) to get through here!” I’m not asking for that to come back. Instead, I think it would be amazing if getting these new items just expanded the list of options that already exist for you. “Man, used to when I went through this canyon I had to fight the enemies directly – thanks to these new Titan Gloves, I can throw boulders onto them from the cliff and then go down into the canyon without fighting.” Puzzle items wouldn’t be keys to otherwise impenetrable locks – they would simply be new tools that give you more ways to interact with the world.
While I think there are some other criticisms I could address here, these are the main two ideas I have that I think could serve as decent compromises between Breath of the Wild and past Zelda titles. I’d be curious to hear what you think, adventurers! Do you think there are things in Breath of the Wild that should be rejected in favor of older series conventions? Do you think the Zelda series should throw out those old conventions entirely? Do you, like me, think there must be a working compromise somewhere? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
I have to admit that Breath of the Wild didn’t really endear itself to me at first. I ended up dying all the time simply trying to explore (not unlike the original, now that I think about it), and losing weapons was annoying. However, once I got used to the vastly different gameplay, I really ended up liking it. Ironically, despite being the series’ first foray in modern open-world design, it ended up outshining any of the Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry installments I’ve played so far, as it offered something they tried to grasp, but didn’t quite reach. Indeed, I feel it has a rightful claim as one of the best games of the decade.
LikeLiked by 3 people
I am definitely with you as far as how BOTW compares to other open-world titles. I am overall not a huge fan of the genre, but Breath of the Wild did it in a way that made open world palatable for me. Those early hours were definitely tricky, but I feel like Nintendo balanced it well and made it so that death wasn’t so big a punishment that you would feel defeated after being defeated a few times. Often, death just told me I needed to approach the problem from a new angle, and to me that freedom to solve everything in your own way is what really makes Breath of the Wild sing.
LikeLiked by 1 person
“There’s no point in having different weapon types if you have no reason to switch between the types.”
I agree with this but I think their decision to force you to switch by degradation was a cheap and sloppy way of handling it. Other games, force players to switch between weapons by creating mechanics that would make it easier for a player to approach a certain enemy with a certain type of weapon. The way I want to play is sword and shield so, guess what is going to be in my inventory, swords that I can wield shields with. This hasn’t caused me to experiment but rather just makes me frustrated that I have to change out one crappy sword for another nearly identical crappy sword that I’ve slotted in my inventory. If there was a reason for me to carry a pike or a claymore because certain enemies would require them to fight, then I could see it but degradation doesn’t do this for me, it just makes me angry. Also, while it does add an element of difficulty to the game, maybe that is a toggle that could be added. Like, those that are looking for a more difficult path could have degradation and certain other survival items turned on instead of it being by default from the get go. That, I think, would make everyone happy.
Agreed on the dungeons. while I liked the one I played. It just felt like a slightly larger shrine and not the really special feeling you get from them in past games. And I think A Link Between Worlds spiced the Zelda formula up just right in that regards… what a great little game.
LikeLiked by 2 people
> Other games, force players to switch between weapons by creating mechanics that would make it easier for a player to approach a certain enemy with a certain type of weapon
Bingo! I agree with this one. The Biggoron sword was clearly more powerful in Ocarina of Time, but you had to lose the shield. Trade-offs like that are where you offer the player incentives for being smart about it and not just picking the best weapon all the time.
LikeLiked by 2 people
The Biggoron Sword is a great example of this, actually. I know I personally make it my mission to obtain that thing the minute I become an adult, because the extra damage is so useful during the course of the game, but I still bust out the Master Sword from time to time because there are some fights where the shield is very necessary. This is why I think a smaller selection of very different weapons would accomplish their goal more effectively – having only a few distinct weapons instead of a ton of similar ones within broad types would make it easier to form “combat puzzles” around the weapon variety.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yeah, I think people sleep on A Link Between Worlds. For me, it was just the right amount of experimenting with the Zelda formula while still adhering to it, whereas Breath of the Wild (while in my opinion still an excellent game) maybe went overboard on trying to be different from classic Zelda.
The thing that gets me about your observation is they tried to make weapons work that way (different ones being useful in different circumstances), but I think they made it too situational and obtuse. I, like you, prefer a sword and shield combo, so for me there was rarely a point to carry two-handed weapons. While they have value against very specific enemy types (Hinox or Tallus, for example), most of the time you can leave the heavy weapons behind and be no worse for wear. I say all this to say that I ultimately agree with your point – I think this is a good example of what my art design teacher called “good concept, poor execution.”
LikeLiked by 1 person
I generally find weapon degradation annoying – developers rarely get the balance quite right: they either drive you crazy by falling apart every 2 minutes, or are so sturdy that they’re obsolete before they break… Tbh I just kind of accepted it in botw… So I don’t really have a point here
… Oh yes, I was going to say that as this is my first real Zelda experience, it’s weird seeing the fans’ reactions. I thought it was a great game, but I’m also not guided at all by the previous outings… I guess I don’t really have a point here either… I just wanted to comment and get involved really…
LikeLiked by 2 people
Well I appreciate your comment and involvement!
I think you bring up a great point here – the folks that I see making strong negative statements about aspects of Breath of the Wild seem to be the folks who have been long-term Zelda fans – not a hard and fast rule, of course, but I think in a way BOTW has a special appeal for newcomers that isn’t gelling with the original fandom as much. The fact that you don’t have any preconceived notions about what a Zelda game should be gives you a sort of clarity that perhaps someone like myself doesn’t have. Because I pick this game up and goodness, it’s so DIFFERENT from Ocarina of Time, I don’t know how I feel about that. Perhaps the next Zelda title will take a page from Final Fantasy XV and try to bridge the gap: “a Zelda for Fans and First-Timers.”
LikeLiked by 1 person
I love this, Ian! And I feel like you were writing everything I say to people who have overzealous love for this game or intense criticism. I actually don’t mind weapon durability. It forces you to explore a little more. personally, since the beginning of the game i haven’t had a single weapon in my slot that was less than the master sword (when not powered up). Most of the time I’m frustrated at dropping good weapons (40-60) for better weapons (60+). But that’s not exactly a problem. I think by using durability they were trying to entice people to do a few more things, live a little, and create a puzzle-like atmosphere within the open world itself. If nothing ever goes away, what’s the point of trying new things?
However, your idea for weapons in the next game is brilliant! I love the idea of different weapons with different abilities and “usability”. Sort of like the magic meter, but each weapon would have it’s own and would recharge itself over time. That could be a really cool way to introduce different mechanics in the next game.
I am, however, with the critics of the dungeons. I was incredibly disappointed with how easy the dungeons were and how similar they wound up being. The different shrines were really cool, but again, they were too easy to make up for the lack of traditional dungeons. Overall I think BotW is an amazing game and I’ve loved every single second of playing it. But i’m very excited to see what Nintendo has in store for us next time!
LikeLiked by 3 people
Oh yeah, after Breath of the Wild I am very stoked for what they can do with the next game. I think if they take the aspects of Breath of the Wild that really, truly sang – the freedom of exploration, the ability to approach problems from multiple angles, the common sense physics – and apply that to a Zelda game with more traditional dungeons, that could be a winning formula. I personally think a Majora’s Mask style game would be perfect for that – put an emphasis on detailed, lore-filled sidequests within a smaller but still open world.
LikeLiked by 1 person
That would be incredible! I’d love to see exactly what you just described. It would be a perfect blend of what I love about each game
I feel like I have nothing to contribute to making this game better because all your ideas are just, like, ‘wow! I want that! Give me that!’. And it’s all I can think about now
Yeah I really hate the weapon durability but the graphics is amazing and I rate the game 9/10
I loved BOTW in almost every way, yet some aspects grew old quickly. The shrines and the dungeons were especially bland. I enjoyed a lot of the puzzles, but as you mentioned, the Divine Beasts were repetitive. I grew tired of the appearance of Sheikah technology by the end of the game. That being said, as soon as I finished all 120 shrines, I longed for more (least did I know, Champion’s Ballot would take care of that). Of course, it’s still one of the most enjoyable video games I have played! The dungeons and shrines could have been more diverse, but the game itself is a huge feat and quite honestly a piece of art.
LikeLiked by 1 person
You’re certainly right – for all the flaws we could point out, Breath of the Wild scored well critically for a reason. It did many things right, and I truly believe the creators achieved their goal of gutto kuru (to stir the soul) and made a game that absolutely qualifies as art.
LikeLiked by 1 person