I’m gonna start this article with a preface. And I’m also gonna preface that preface with this preface because it needs to be said and also because you need to check your Semantic Satiation privilege. You lot need to chill. Uttering one negative syllable about Breath of the Wild gets the reaction of someone guffing in the Queen Mother’s face, and it’s unhelpful. That’s the preface preface, which was prefacing this preface; I adore Breath of the Wild. The adventurous spirit, the sense of discovery, the ambition of the entire game; whether it’s the engine running the game that took 4.3 quintillion years to build, or the borderline filthy way it stamps out quote-unquote “accepted Zelda tropes,” or the beautiful minimalist soundtrack, all of these are so good. But I’m not here to give this game another standing ovation, at least not in front of all these people, and its ego is big enough already – several of these aspects have a few minor flaws that have bothered me, enough to take to the internet to whine. Though not enough to stop me putting 300 hours into this game Jesus Christ-
So let’s talk about Shrines. And not the one I have of Nintendo merch and every day pray in front of to the old Nintendo gods to make a new Starfox game that isn’t rubbish. I think they’re perhaps the best example of this game having a really good idea, but that idea hamstringing the game into a direction that isn’t ideal – though that’s hardly a revelation, I think “having a really good idea than trying not to get shafted by it” is on Nintendo’s coat of blimmin’ arms at this point.
But I digress. The shrines I think epitomise Breath of the Wild’s main design ethic – that “the journey is half the fun”- and to an extent, they work really well. Treating an explorable dungeon as a collectible is a neat idea that embodies this philosophy – not to mention the only way to fast travel is by “collecting” shrines, which facilitates MORE exploration. By the end game the spirit orbs mean about the square root of bugger-all, yet seeking out shrines still feels like a rewarding activity; the shrine is its own reward.
Moooost of the time, anyway. The combat shrines are entertaining precisely once each and then become more of a chore than DE-guffing the Queen Mother’s face, and the quest shrines are fun to get to but offer precisely nothing – the room doesn’t even change. More troublesome is that these kinds of shrines make up a significant proportion of all shrines, and become more common as the game progresses – that is, as it becomes more difficult to find shrines, the shrines get worse, which guts a lot of the enjoyment from the process.
And the reason these shrines suck segues neatly into another issue. Rather than an exploration puzzle, these shrines instead just straight-up give you loot as a reward. Which sounds great. But if sirens have taught us anything, it’s that things that sound great often lead to gross chicken-legged women who’ll eat your face. I haven’t read classics I may have imagined that last bit. Apart from literally 10 or so chests that give you the unique equipment (which you can buy from some random Jim in Tarrey Town anyway), EVERY other chest gives you a weapon or some largely useless crafting material.
The problem is a lack of variety in weapons. Yes they break all the time, and I’m apparently the only person alive on Earth who DOESN’T have a problem with that, but surely that’s just a reason to have MORE variety. There’s literally three types of weapon total, and endgame you’re looking at maybe 20 weapons-usable TOTAL. And on top of that, the attempt to add variety, the “rare stats” or whatever, usually just means I can throw my claymore further or it breaks after four swings instead of three. Great. Not to mention, the shrines insist on giving you awful ones that you can get five identical ones of just by wandering into Hyrule bloody Castle! If you want loot to be good, give me, like, some sword that shoots lasers and gives me compliments as I do it, something unique and exciting. Like the Skyward Sword sword but with Fi recast as literally anyone. John Major would be an improvement. I hope that’s not too obscure, this is what happens when you get a history degree then use it to write silly articles on the internet.
The variety issue segues tidily into a problem I have with variety overall. These segues would be clever if I didn’t draw attention about as subtly as loud motorcycles draw attention to small reproductive parts. If I EVER see another Bokoblin, or another Lizalfos, EVER again, I will not be held responsible for my actions. I’m sure there’s some “know your enemy” justification for learning making the combat easier through experience, but after a couple hours of gameplay these guys are easy anyway. It gets a little better in Master Mode when these guys will rip your head off just for looking at the air surrounding them funny, but I’m still sick of looking at them.
Even the rarer enemy types get overplayed. I remember the first time I encountered a Wizzrobe, an electric one down by a burnt-out house on the swamp flats, it was magical. I don’t remember the 50th time I encountered a Wizzrobe, but I imagine it was met with an “ugh.”
In short, what Nintendo has done is taken “the journey is half the fun” and taken it too far, to the point where the journey is a solid 85, maybe 90% percent of the fun. And don’t misunderstand me, that fun is a LOT of fun. But I think it’s important, as well as talking about what would make bad games good or good games great, what would make great games almost perfect. In short, I’m sorry internet, I’m ready for my crucifixion now. Though I’d prefer a Breath of the Wild flogging if you’re after medieval punishment, the whip’d break after like 0.4 swings.