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!