It’s not every day we get a new The Legend of Zelda title, so when Nintendo first announced Breath of the Wild, I was head over heels with joy. I grabbed it on release day and excitedly dove into this new incarnation of Hyrule. But in the following weeks, I grew increasingly frustrated and disappointed with Breath of the Wild — a feeling that strongly resonates within me to this day. That’s why when Nintendo revealed that a sequel was in development at this year’s E3, it murdered my hype (although I’m seemingly alone in this sentiment).
I have no problems with Nintendo wanting a sequel to Breath of the Wild. After all, it was incredibly successful critically and commercially; it only makes sense to follow it up. This announcement drove my fear through the roof. Would this be the end of my long-standing love affair with the franchise? If this upcoming sequel is going to be just like Breath of the Wild, it very well might be, at least where future games are concerned. But it raised another question. What does the sequel need to do to recapture me?
To answer this, we first have to ask where Nintendo went wrong with Breath of the Wild. I have two main problems with the game. First, they made too many changes too quickly, and as a result, none of them worked as well as they could have. Second, the game tries to blend fantasy and realism to the degree that meshes together as well as oil and water. So now, given these problems, how can Nintendo fix them in future games?
To start, let’s look at some of the significant changes to the Zelda formula, beginning with the dungeon structure. Instead of the traditional format, Breath of the Wild‘s dungeons were shorter, blander, and less fulfilling, and as a result were a bore to play through, despite some overall fresh ideas here and there.
Due to its emphasis on letting you carve your own path, Breath of the Wild wound up treating every dungeon like it was your first. The explanation of how to progress through the dungeon got old starting from the second time I heard it. In that way and many others, at a basic level, every dungeon follows the same concept.
I enjoyed the role the Divine Beasts played as puzzles within the dungeons, but aside from that, the overall design was bland. Each dungeon looked and played primarily the same as the others, and I got tired of them early on. Let’s not overlook the uninspired boss designs either. Or should I say, boss design? The dungeon bosses didn’t feel special since they were visual clones of each other.
Getting all the items at the start of the game also took away the dungeons’ sense of progression. Gone were the days of getting an essential item halfway through the dungeon, only for it to change the way you thought about the dungeon and its boss. The closest thing to a dungeon item Breath of the Wild provides is the champion ability Link receives post-boss. These provide some extra boosts to Link, but they aren’t anything game-changing.
How they can fix the dungeon system
To make dungeons work better in the sequel, each needs to stand out more from the others. Prior Zelda games have done this either through pure aesthetics, as in Ocarina of Time‘s child dungeons, or through necessitating the use of the dungeon’s item for progression. Despite having the same end goal (defeating the boss), prior dungeons feel and play differently from one another, preventing mindless repetition from setting in. I would like to see a return to the dungeon item system, but they could also accomplish this change by setting unique boss unlock conditions for each dungeon.
As mentioned above, the sequel also needs to recognize when you’ve already completed a dungeon so that you don’t receive repeat information. This problem could also be fixed easily just by changing the dungeon structure up, but if they remain the same, at least the sequel needs to recognize that we’ve been through this once.
Another major problem I had with Breath of the Wild was the overworld density. I found this version of Hyrule rather dull. It feels too big with too little to do. Sure there are 120 shrines, but there are only a handful of unique variants of them, and none feel particularly lengthy. You also have all the collectibles scattered around, but do we need 900 Korok Seeds? Especially when you stop getting rewards for them roughly halfway through?
I’m not opposed to an open-world Zelda game, as the series has always been about exploration. But the ratio of activities-to-world-size needs completely rebalanced going forward. Sure, having an expansive world can be a selling point. We see this all the time in the industry. We’ve reached the point where developers are always trying to outdo each other — and themselves — to claim the title of creating the most extensive world. But what’s the point of having such a massive world if there’s comparatively little to do in it?
More minor gripes
Though the dungeon system and overworld are the significant issues for me, there are a few smaller gripes I have with the game, all of which lend to the game’s sense of realism. The weather system, for instance, is a nice touch, but it affects the world too much. Traversing the land’s many mountains is already tricky enough at times; I don’t need rain making it worse. Weapons break too quickly and having to run around picking up new ones all the time got incredibly old after the first few hours. I would love to see this system removed from future entries entirely, going back to having a single sword with the ability to upgrade it.
The story of Breath of the Wild didn’t do much for me, and what was there was too hidden away. It was easy to pick up memories out of order, and given that they were optional, even easier to skip over them entirely. We don’t get a lot of backstory on the Champions and their relationships with Link, either. Whenever we see these Champions, they’ve already formed bonds with our hero.
One of the highlights of the Zelda franchise for me has always been the outstanding soundtracks. Music has always played a significant role in Zelda. Breath of the Wild takes that concept and completely throws it out the window. Instead of a full, ever-present soundtrack, the game’s charts are often subtle or outright absent. At least it matches the empty, boring overworld though.
Collectively, these minor gripes add to the realism of the game. But in a game with giant mechanical beasts, talking bird and fish people, and supernatural abilities, is realism all that necessary? I think not.
Is Breath of the Wild a bad game? Not in the slightest. Even I can admit that. What it is, though, is an awful Zelda game. It feels as though someone designed a Skyrim-type RPG and slapped a Zelda skin on it. As it stands, Breath of the Wild feels more like a proof of concept for future games in the franchise. I view this more like a draft of what Zelda could be; it’s an experimental world to test out brand new concepts to introduce later on.
As it stands, I’m reasonably apprehensive about the future of the series. There’s a lot of potential here, but it’s going to rely entirely on execution and balance. In the immediate future, however, the franchise needs to take a few steps backward, closer to the traditional formula. It needs to focus on sanding down the rough edges of one or two new ideas before reintroducing more.
Given the massive success of Breath of the Wild, I’m not confident that the sequel will address enough of my criticisms to draw me back in. But it’s too early to tell yet, so I guess time will tell.