So Feb 28th I picked up Horizon:Zero Dawn, and this review should in all fairness be about Horizon.
I had no intention of grabbing Zelda on release day, I was going to play through Horizon, then move on to Mass Effect in mid March.
Well with all the hype floating around for Zelda and the Switch, I got caught up. I have been a Zelda fan for over 30 years now. Played every game they made except for 2, Minish Cap and the original Gameboy version.
So it is no big surprise that the hype washed over me and I caved and bought Zelda, and put down the PS4 controller, blew the dust off my WiiU (fought the urge to get a Switch, more in a separate post) and ended up playing through close to 50 hours of Breath of the Wild.
Completed 60 shrines, the 4 dungeons, acquired 23 hearts, and never once upgraded stamina.
Now maybe I did myself a major disservice by playing Horizon first, because what it showed me is a very stark contrast of how poorly made Zelda is compared to Horizon.
Now I am not going to spend this review comparing the 2, that will be coming in a future post once I finish up Horizon, I am still about 15 hrs in and that is not close to finished.
But what I expected out of Zelda, and what I got were two terribly different things, and frankly, I blame the media outlets that truly did not rate Zelda fairly.
We have all been starved for a large scale Zelda game for the better part of 20 years, since Ocarina of Time came out in 1998.
And I think that a lot of media outlets were blinded by the concept of Breath of the Wild, and overlooked many many flaws because of Zelda fanyboyism.
The vast majority of media gave it a 10/10. Which in my mind means perfect, would not change a single thing.
This means a good story, a great interface, amazing controls, a game that is fun, a game that is devoid of technical problems. All these things have to come together in perfect harmony to be a 10/10.
Zelda is just not that game.
It is a complete from the ground up new game. Gone are all the familiar things that has made Zelda great in the past. The next weapon or gadget waiting for you in the next dungeon, that is not here at all. Piles of dungeons with small keys and a boss key. Nope.
Hook shot? Nope, Functional boomerang? Nope. Gloves of strength? Nope. And no to everything else except for bombs and a bow. Both of which you acquire in the first 30 mins of starting the game.
You got to a few small tutorial shrines, gain your 4 abilities, and that is it, you now have every skill you need to go beat the game. And some folks have, the current speed run time is just under an hour.
What this has done though, is completely remove the sense of wonder that Zelda from days gone by had, that drive to find the next dungeon and see what cool tools you would get, all gone in the first hour.
All the shrines outside the initial few are optional, even the games paltry 4 “dungeons” are optional. Everything in this game is option, including enjoyment sadly.
Nintendo spent so much times finding out if they could make a Zelda to this scale, instead of asking if they should.
The world is vast, almost insurmountably so. You can literally climb almost every single surface in the game. See a peak in the distance, want to go see what is at the top, you can do it.
But here is the kicker, after climbing my 10th peak I came to find that there is nothing there. The world itself is terribly barren, for a game so large it would be impossible to fill. Sure you may find a pocket of enemies, but after your 20th moblin kill, it starts to get stale.
There is not a lot of variety here in terms of things you are going to kill, or see for that matter.
In order to get a game of this size to function mostly well on the WiiU and the Switch, major sacrifices had to be made. Primarily in the graphics department. I am just going to come out and say it, this game is UGLY, we are talking last gen ugly, marginally better than Skyward Sword.
That is tragic, because Nintendo sold us a pile of snake oil in 2011 when they showed us just how amazing the WiiU Zelda game could look:
Fast forward to E3 2014 and we get the first official unveiling of Breath of the Wild. It is cell shaded, but it looks amazing, crisp, alive, vast.
Then pictured right below, is what we got in the final product:
Bland, blurry, lifeless and boring. Sure it is big, but at what cost?
The pulled the wool over all our eyes, and all the fanboys tout it as being the best game ever created.
The textures in this game reek of 2010, they are muddy, they repeat on single objects, they just look awful up close.
I know graphics are not the measure of a game, but they help sell the realism and experience. If the view from the top of the mountain is breathtaking, I will climb it, instead it is just washed out haze and some peaks in the distance.
Pretty tragic to see what could have been and what is…
Next is the performance, I could have even cut Nintendo a bit of slack if the poor graphics were to bump up performance, but they are not, the game on WiiU has a pile of frame rate issue, Nintendo used a weird frame locking system to make for some fake stability.
If the frame rate drops below the 30fps mark at all, so even to 29 frame, it immediately sets it to 20 fps. So where a little hiccup may not have been to noticeable, suddenly the game is chugging horribly.
Again, could have maybe forgiven this if they Switch version was the tech target and ran smooth, but it suffers from the exact same issues when it is docked and performing at 900p (why no 1080p Ninty!!!! this is 2017 not 2010!!!!!)
So there is zero reason in my eyes to upgrade to the Switch if your motivation is Zelda. As they both perform just as badly, and look near identical.
Then we have the interface, in the beginning this game was WiiU only, and the entire game was build around the WiiU gamepad, the Shieka Slate in the game is pretty close to looking like a stone WiiU gamepad even.
The entire inventory system, the games map, and many other motion controlled systems were all going to tie into the gamepad.
Then we get the announcement for the Switch, and we come to find that all of this functionality was scrapped last year because the Switch has no touch pad to use, so they gutted the game we saw yet again, all in the name of trying to make sure that the last gen version of the game was not superior to the Switch version, because frankly, why would I be motivated to buy a Switch if the WiiU has the best Zelda version and not vice versa.
Lastly we have the combat system.
BoTW is a hard game, and I love hard games, I am an avid “Souls” fan and Nioh was my kinda of punishing fun.
So finding out Zelda was kind of a “Souls” lite got me pretty excited.
It is a hard game, but not completely by design, actually due to lack of design.
The combat is well thought out, holding the ZL button allows you to lock onto an enemy, a very important aspect of the game, as you can only block when locked, and there is also a very cool dodge mechanic, that when a perfectly timed dodge will allow you to use a flurry of attacks in slow motion to take a major chunk of hp off a boss or enemy.
The problem is though, that the lock is not well designed. Literally dozens of times I have died when the system in place failed.
I would be locked onto an enemy, and it would jump back too far, or out of line of site, this immediately breaks the lock, and the problem here is say you were pressing left at the time, to strafe around for a better place to attack.
Well now that the lock is off, you are running left, the camera auto swings behind you, and you have completely lost sight of the target.
You now have to re-position the camera, turn Link to face the enemy, then hit ZL again and hope they are close enough to re-establish a lock. Typically by now the enemy is already on top of you and has got in a hit or two.
Now if this was any other Zelda game, no biggie, i may lose 1-2 hearts, but again, BoTW is “Souls” lite, so a boss can kill in you in 1-2 hits sometimes if you do not have a pile of hearts accumulated.
This is a huge frustration, so many deaths happened beauce of this I lost count. So it is not a isolated incident.
And God forbid there is more than one enemy (like in a few of the final fights) where a mini boss will jump back, break lock, and when you hit ZL again, you get a low level minion, thus leaving you wide open for the boss attacks.
Now any of these things on their own would not be too terrible, but when added all up, it is a tragedy, to see what could have been such an amazing game reduced to simply average.
It is not a 10/10, not by a country mile.
Was it a fun game? Sure, for the most part. And all things considered, it was pretty much the best Zelda game ever made.
But when you look at it objectively, when you remove Link, Zelda and Ganon from the game, you have to ask, is this a game that anyone would play?
And the answer is no, or at the very least it would have been heavily panned by the media.
What you are left with is a game that looks like it should be on the PS3, with controls that feel like they belong in that era too. A vast world of nothingness. I guess bigger is not always better.
I think the defining moment for me was about 10 hours in, when I had scaled my last mountain to nothing, that I realized, I would much rather be playing Horizon right now.
That is pretty telling.
Likely a must have for Zelda fans, but a paltry sand box game at best. And if not for the nostalgia, this game would be a solid 5/10.
A meager 7/10 (what it seriously should have been rated by most)