When Breath of the Wild came out back in 2017, I was ready. My partner Des and I had saved up for a Switch preorder and got both the console and the game from GameStop, to be delivered on March 3rd. The day of the delivery I had such a hard time focusing at work, and I remember Des sending me pictures of getting the game set up and starting their save file on Zelda. Once I got started I blew through the game, stopping only to write guides as I climbed, glided, and battled my way through the vast land of Hyrule. I had a great time with Breath of the Wild and reviewed it well, though I would go on to say that I felt my early articles on the game were too positive and that I wished Breath of the Wild was a bit more “like Zelda.”
I’ve tried a couple of times to return to the game after I finished the Champion’s Ballad DLC. Some of that time was spent in Master Mode while some was spent trying to overcome the Trial of the Sword. But after my initial run, I mostly left Breath of the Wild alone, and instead went on to play many other titles as the Switch’s library expanded and as I added new devices to my list of options for gaming. When Tears of the Kingdom was announced I was excited and hopeful for a game that took what I did enjoy about Breath of the Wild and refined it into an experience that more closely resembled what I loved about other Zelda titles. It’s been a long wait, but as of the time of writing it looks like May 2023 will finally be when we get to see what the sequel to Breath of the Wild is bringing to the table.
One weekend while trying to find a Switch game to keep me busy when the PC was otherwise occupied, my eyes turned to my Breath of the Wild game case. With Tears of the Kingdom coming soon, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to refamiliarize myself with the layout of Hyrule. I wouldn’t want to roll directly into Tears of the Kingdom right after playing Breath of the Wild again, but if I played the game a bit in October and November and then took a six month break, it would strike a good balance between getting reacquainted with the game while also giving myself space so it wasn’t too much open world action all at once. I decided to just boot up my last save and see where in the world I was, and as it turns out, Past Me had left Present Me a gift: I was standing right outside of the shrine closest to the beginning of the Zora’s Domain portion of the main story.
Zora’s Domain is, in my opinion, the strongest story segment in Breath of the Wild. Sidon is my favorite member of the “new champions” and Mipha’s healing power is a useful tool for surviving in Hyrule – I’ve already had some clifftop falls that would have put Link in an early grave if not for that power. Because the Zora race live long enough for most of the characters to remember Link, I find the emotional beats of that chapter more resonant. NPCs talk about playing with him as a child or resent him for his failure to protect Mipha – they are the most impacted by Link’s lost memories, too, as members of the other communities in Hyrule would have been strangers to him either way. There’s good stuff going on structurally too – I enjoy the trip along the river to reach the domain, then the battle against the Lynel to get the arrows you need to shut down the Divine Beast and enter into it. Being able to jump in right from that point made it easy for me to slide back into the groove of the game and got me excited to play.
Breath of the Wild is a game that has a lot of discourse surrounding some of its less popular mechanics. Weapon durability for example is something that I know drives a lot of players totally bonkers. Weapons in BotW break fast and so you’re swapping weapons around all the time. Because your weapon inventory is also relatively small and there are weapons absolutely everywhere, there’s a lot of inventory management. Do I want to pick this up? Is it worth it to spend a slot on a tool like a torch when I could replace it with a weapon instead? While I understand the frustrations with the durability system I do think it is an important part of BotW’s design; it encourages you to pick your battles, to see your weapons as a resource to be managed and to make decisions about which ones are most appropriate in a given situation. Some battles I really need a shield, while in others the bigger hitting power of a two-handed weapon might be worthwhile. I’m still hopeful that there might be a refinement of this system, something that takes the aspect of the system that I think is most interesting (choosing the right tool for the situation) and keeps that while being a little kinder to those who get tired of their stuff breaking every two minutes.
One aspect of Breath of the Wild that I myself have been tough on in the past is the dungeons. What seems to be the general consensus is that the dungeons present in the game are not sufficiently Zelda-like. The idea of course is that the shrines themselves are essentially mini-dungeons, small bites of puzzle spread around the overworld rather than being shoved into eight to ten longer, more concentrated experiences. I don’t think the Divine Beasts and the shrines quite scratch the same itch as a classic Zelda dungeon, but I do think they have potential. I actually find the Divine Beasts to be really compelling from a mechanical standpoint; changing the actual shape of each dungeon in order to change how you move around or unlock puzzle solutions was a lot of fun to me! Where I would like Tears of the Kingdom to make improvements is on the aesthetic design of the dungeons and the boss battles. All of the Divine Beast interiors look similar to one another even if they function differently, and it makes them kind of boring to explore. And fighting various manifestations of Ganon instead of more unique bosses adapted to their environment makes the boss battles less interesting too. I’d love to see the sequel keep the mechanical aspects of the dungeons while making them visually distinct and giving them bosses that are noteworthy.
Something I’m enjoying a lot with this playthrough that I hadn’t experienced that much previously are some of the DLC features that add a bit more quality of life to the game. These features aren’t just buttons you press to make the game easier – each one is implemented as something in the world you set out to discover, and by earning them you can then utilize them to make exploration more efficient. Once I’d built myself up enough to feel confident setting out to some more dangerous areas I set off to get the teleportation medallion as well as the ancient horse gear. While Breath of the Wild has a pretty robust fast travel system already, the medallion fills a useful niche: setting your own fast travel point. Often while you’re exploring, you’ll see a shrine off in the distance that will require you to sacrifice your current position to get there. It’s easy to glide down a cliff to a shrine you see on the ground, but climbing back up can be a serious pain. The medallion lets you establish a warp point at the top, go do your business, and then return to where you started so you can have the best of both worlds. The ancient saddle, meanwhile, let’s you warp your horse to your current position from anywhere, removing the need to visit a stable every time you need to bring your horse to a different part of Hyrule. These tools make exploration a lot more fun by expanding your options, but do so in a way that feels integrated into the world and that feels earned by the player.
At the time of writing, I’ve finished the Zora and Rito main quests and am currently focusing on filling out the map. I’d like to pick up the last QOL item that really interests me – the mask for finding Korok seeds – and I want to map out useful locations like where to find Talus and Hinox enemies that I can farm for resources to upgrade my armor or get money. It has been fun to revisit Breath of the Wild, not only out of anticipation for Tears of the Kingdom but also to recenter my thoughts on the game long after the discourse has died down. My initial reaction to the game as well as my re-evaluation of that reaction have both been tempered with time. What remains feels like a healthier understanding of what I do and don’t love about the game, an appreciation for what it is on its own terms.