There is so much to cover about a game as deep as Breath of the Wild that it’s nearly impossible to fit it all into one cohesive review. As a result of that, I’ve prepared a companion article with even more specificity (but still with careful attention to spoilers) to address some of the myths and misconceptions about Zelda, as well as my response to some of the more common criticisms.
Before we get started, if you haven’t already done so, you’ll want to check out my review first!
In this article, although I will be getting slightly more specific than I did in my review, I will still be taking great care to avoid spoilers and ruining anything for anyone looking forward to the experience. If I may make a single suggestion to you, it is that you avoid at all costs any specific information about this game’s content before enjoying it for yourself… and that includes the use of any guides during your initial playthrough of the main questline. This is truly a rare—possibly once-in-a-generation or even rarer—experience, and to ruin it for oneself in advance of firsthand experience would be a true shame.
All right, let’s go.
Claim: Breath of the Wild’s dungeons are small and boring
I wanted to lead off with this one because I could not disagree more with it. As I mentioned in my review, I would consider myself a serious fan of the dungeons in Zelda games, so much so that I think I would generally define most games in the series primarily based on the dungeons they feature. So I would like to think that I would be more affected than most by any sort of deficiency in the realm of dungeon quality.
I’ve seen numerous reports of people throwing around quantified statements about the “length” of the game’s dungeons, one claim which even references a “10 minute” completion time of the first dungeon. This is absolutely ridiculous—even more so than an attempt to quantify the actual length of the game or main questline in terms of hours and minutes. The problem with this approach is that it assumes that the average length of the dungeon completion process is directly related to the amount of time required to complete the dungeon. Of course, as we all know from past Zelda games and even more heavily-focused puzzle-oriented games (such as, for instance, the Professor Layton series), if a person knows the solution to a puzzle, it can be completely extremely quickly. Such is the nature of any puzzle, including some of the world’s most challenging puzzles. But that doesn’t make them any less challenging—and arguably, it may actually make them more compelling. Simplicity and elegance are often inextricably linked.
The same is indeed true of Breath of the Wild’s dungeons, most of which consist of around five or six primary puzzles separated by navigational hazards and other interstitial challenges. Although someone who has all the answers conceivably could finish one of them within half an hour, literally no one is going to do that on their first attempt. Instead, the average time to complete the same dungeon which this claim referenced would be closer to—by my judgment—1 to 1.5 hours. I have no shame in admitting that it took me personally much closer to 1.5 hours, because I made sure to collect all the treasures along the way.
As for the size of the dungeons, yes, they are absolutely smaller in overall size than, say, those of Twilight Princess. But the difference in approach here, generally speaking, is that of a large sequence of rooms and environments (Twilight Princess) versus a much smaller—and more cohesive—central environment with appendages and far more depth of traversal possible. For instance (small spoiler ahead in this sentence), you can actually scale the outsides of the dungeons in Breath of the Wild, which just serves to render them even more palpable and menacing. In lieu of a special item for each dungeon (a convention with which BotW breaks), this time, each dungeon has a unique gimmick of its own which must be used to complete it. That’s all the specifics I’ll offer here as it is absolutely not worth spoiling it for yourself.
There’s also the question of styling and themes. Many people have lamented the lack of conventional elemental theming (Fire Temple, Water Temple, etc.) for the dungeons in BotW—or at least, the supposed homogenization of design and decoration of their interiors. But again, while they all do share some common traits (as a matter of necessity), there absolutely is a difference in environmental feel, musical presentation, and mood. And in fact, I would go so far to say that each of the dungeons in BotW actually feels more unique and more memorable than those in most every other Zelda game in recent memory, if not simply because of some of the unexpected tricks and surprises which await the player within them.
So in summation, if you’re going into Breath of the Wild with an open guide in front of you, then sure, you should expect short dungeons. If you’re playing like an actual responsible human with some degree of self-control—and you don’t have an IQ of 170 or a team of people solving puzzles along with you—you can expect a great experience and some of the more memorable dungeons in the series.
Claim: Breath of the Wild’s world feels empty and barren
Here’s another common complaint I see from the observing community. The world is barren, they say, and it seems there is not enough to do or see. Again, this is not even remotely true in practice. While our exploration videos here at DigitalChumps did intentionally showcase some of the game’s quieter and more solemn moments—as those moments are far more prevalent and numerous in BotW than in previous Zelda games—there are still plenty of dense environments to explore, and lots of danger within them which will mitigate traversal and put a damper on care-free exploration.
But the central point here is balance. Breath of the Wild manages to nail this aspect of the formula better than any other game in the Zelda series, and honestly, better than most other open-world and action/adventure games in recent memory. There will be long stretches of sacred silence and moody exploration where the player can truly soak in the atmosphere and become saturated by it… and then, directly afterward, wander into a dangerous or particularly dense area wherein everything quickly shifts back to stealth, action, and caution. Likewise, there are regions of the map dominated by large, open spaces, as well as others that are quite the opposite (just like the real world). It’s all about balance.
Claim: Breath of the Wild’s weapons durability system looks annoying
I, too, was concerned going into this experience that the new weapon durability mechanic would frustrate me. After all, who would appreciate the tedium of having to constantly monitor your weaponry and switch to a new tool every dozen or so enemies? Well, surprisingly, this has actually become second-nature during my time with the game—and I actually have come to appreciate it. You see, the absence of a solid bedrock of tiered/progressively-stronger weaponry (and shields) simply opens up the diversity of gameplay experiences that much more. Because now, rather than defaulting to your newly-upgraded sword, you’re forced to plan and manage your usage of items to preserve the more powerful ones for tougher situations. In other words, it’s survival. And, against all odds, it’s fun.
There was never a situation where I was dying for a weapon and couldn’t locate one. By contrast, more often than not, my inventory was full and I was unable to collect additional weapons. This can sometimes be irritating, but it’s necessary, of course—otherwise the game would be far too easy. So it isn’t so much a problem of scarcity, but rather, a problem of abundance and careful selection.
In spite of that, thanks to the disposable nature of all resources (including weaponry), survival, preservation, and efficiency really are central concepts in BotW’s challenge, and while they are tangible considerations with which the player must constantly wrestle, they’re also made to be as elegant and accessible as possible. There really isn’t too much of anything in this carefully-balanced formula, and that’s one primary reason why the game is so successful and is seeing so much critical acclaim. It’s hard to put this sort of assessment into words, but yet again, it all comes down to a sense of balance.
Claim: Breath of the Wild looks dated and substandard
Sure, maybe you could make this claim based on still-frames or even when paired side-by-side with something as stunningly advanced as Horizon: Zero Dawn. But the beauty in Breath of the Wild is not limited to mere resolution and texture quality (both of which, by the way, are perfectly sufficient as viewed on my 65-inch Samsung KS8000 4K television). Instead—and I realize this has been said before, but it bears repeating—it’s the art style and the total package which makes this game so absolutely breathtaking. Games like Horizon may look far more realistic on account of their expanded technical resources, but Zelda’s world honestly feels far more alive, mostly because of how well the environment is animated and what it contains. That’s not a knock against Horizon in any way, but it’s critical to recognize the differences here.
Zelda’s is not a dead, lifeless world with sharp textures and a smooth framerate. It’s a living, breathing, shockingly detailed surreal environment with countless constituents individually managing their own behavior and reactions to such variables as weather, winds, time of day, and other stimuli. Animals run; birds fly; insects leap; enemies eat, sleep, chase; NPCs travel, converse, and respond to nearby threats… it’s literally a sandbox of the most authentic and elaborate variety, and it’s one of the most crucial aspects of Breath of the Wild’s success.
I challenge you to spend thirty minutes with both Horizon and Zelda side-by-side. Heck, spend thirty minutes with any other game and Zelda, then sit for a few moments and reflect upon your experience. You will then understand why it is that serious reviewers are not focusing on cherry-picking technical criticisms of this game in an effort to discredit the credibility of its game world.
Claim: The Voice Acting Sucks
Okay. Now here’s a criticism I can partially agree with… though I wouldn’t say it sucks, just that it’s far from the best we’ve heard in a videogame. It’s true that most characters sound more like something out of a Saturday Morning Cartoon—but never is the performance cringe-worthy; it’s merely subpar. It’s also not a big deal, as the game does a really fine job of marrying the lighthearted with the heavyweight subject matter. It still features that zany sort of Japanese cultural humor that has long defined the series, and the characters are a mixture of serious and playful. It’s sort of Disney-esque in this regard to be honest.
Still, there are some characters who are far better portrayed by their voice actors than others. It’s not going to ruin the experience for anyone, but it’s one of those extremely rare aspects of the game that could have used some improvement.
Claim: The game reportedly isn’t all that long
Length is a difficult topic to address as it applies to open-world games—almost to the point where I would suggest it is misleading. By definition, open-world games allow the player to go wherever he/she sees fit, and by their very nature, they intentionally provide endless distractions along the way to help divert the player from the beaten path and off in some other ancillary direction to complete some previously unexpected task. Arguably, the overall appeal of these types of games is very heavily rooted in their success in distracting the player.
What precisely do I mean by that, you ask? Well, unlike conventional action/adventure titles (such as previous Zelda games), open-world games such as Breath of the Wild thrive based on the believability and the irresistibility of the actual game world itself. Whereas a game like Skyward Sword or Twilight Princess could survive with a sprawling main questline and a basic assortment of side quests and collectables, all nestled within a merely acceptable container of an overworld perhaps merely for the sake of continuity, Breath of the Wild seeks to provide such an overwhelming assortment of attractions and distractions that the player constantly struggles with what to explore next. Better yet, along the way, as I’ve explained extensively already, the journey itself is a joy to behold. In short, it seeks to provide the closest thing possible to a living, breathing world that still incorporates enough game world sensibilities to remain fun.
And that’s where this game really hits a homerun. Not to beat a dead horse, but in Zelda, it’s the exploration and the journey through the world that the player really wants to experience more than anything else. And it’s so infectious, so intoxicating, that it’s damn near impossible to pull oneself away from those lures and back onto the main path. That’s open-world success.