Dissent is a given in video games, except for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Tom’s Guide has called it a perfect game, and it’s rare to hear an argument against it anywhere the industry. So allow me to explain why it took me a while to enjoy this five-year-old game.
Welcome! This column is part of a regular series in which we share what members of the Tom’s Guide staff are playing and enjoying right now, with an eye toward helping you find great games that you may have missed (this is not exactly one of those editions). Be sure to check out our previous entry, where we talk about Session.
Most of that delay, I’ll admit, is just because I put my Nintendo Switch down (well, technically I put my Pro Controller down). I hit a proverbial wall while playing Breath of the Wild the first time, and I had a tough time getting back into the game.
Then, the September 2022 Nintendo Direct forced my hand. Nintendo announced that Breath of the Wild 2, now titled The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, would come out on May 12, 2023. And that imminent release date was a nudge. I’d want to be in on the conversation when the game dropped, so why not get caught up now?
Bouncing off Breath of the Wild
I’m rarely among the first people to play most games, but I did buy Breath of the Wild close to its original 2017 debut. Then, I played it for a fair bit before, well, I veered too far off the path. I found myself fighting enemies I wasn’t well-enough equipped to fight, but that didn’t stop me. I often blame myself, and this was one such example. I thought, “I can beat this demon if I just played better and tried one more time.”
This kind of mindset wasn’t helpful, and it caused me to put Breath of the Wild down. And then I forgot about what the heck Link was even doing out there. I had wandered so far off the path that I just moved onto other games, and other things. “I’ll get back to it someday,” I thought.
Then, Nintendo announced a release date for the sequel, and that was just the nudge I needed. I went to my Switch, and did the unthinkable: I threw out all my progress in Breath of the Wild.
I’d played for tens of hours at that point, but I knew that for my return to work, I had to see the game through fresh eyes, especially since my brain had forgotten what Link’s whole story was about. So, I went through the opening act of Breath of the Wild, which went well for a while.
Then, King Rhoam Bosphoramus Hyrule reminded me of everything I really didn’t like about the game. Breath of the Wild, as you may know, is an epic that kicks off with the warrior Link’s amnesia. The king explained that Link was asleep for 100 years, and told me the story of Calamity Ganon ravaging Hyrule and infecting the Divine Beasts. At that point, I, too, recovered a memory. I remembered thinking, “This sounds like a game I’d rather be playing than hearing about.” That game does exist, and it’s called Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. (It’s non-canonical, oddly enough.)
Hours of gameplay later, Link’s Sheikah Slate (a little rugged tablet that collects data and abilities) gets its own camera. With this camera, you can unlock the stories that Link has forgotten by tracking down certain in-game locations.
I hope that sounds cool to you, because to me, it feels like a very weird way to deliver a backstory. Everything is fragmented and out-of-order. In a way, Breath of the Wild reminds me of the 2000 mystery movie Memento. Except instead of tattoos on your body, you’re on a scavenger hunt for photos.
This all made me realize something about myself: I prefer a linear narrative, which this game doesn’t really offer. It’s why I clicked with the Uncharted games, even though I’m not a huge Indiana Jones fan. It’s also why I like the recent Sony Spider-Man games, even though they’re open-world. A narrative is going on, and you’re able to follow it on rails until the next stop. Breath of the Wild disassembles that gameplay structure, and I bet that’s great for some players — but not me.
Why I love Breath of the Wild
Thinking about how I initially lost interest in Breath of the Wild, I started taking notes. And then I began collecting YouTube videos of character monologues. I don’t play the game every day (my time for video games isn’t what it used to be), so I like to have a little cheat sheet of notes and clips. Now, I can’t forget what’s going on.
Next, I played Breath of the Wild with more focus. While I will still hunt down the shrines that you need to get more stamina and health, I am also trying to accept Link’s limitations, such as when he comes across the massive Lynel (a brutish centaur-like beast) and needs to sneak around it to collect arrows. I think this overpowered enemy’s sole purpose is to show you that you’ll sometimes come across unbeatable enemies.
Now as I play, I’ve found the whole experience amazingly comforting, while still a little tricky. That seems to be the whole point of the game. Breath of the Wild is almost never unfair. What I’ve grown to understand about this game is that if you get confused, try to work a little backwards (hopefully you have a manual game save or two), and see if you missed anything the first time.
When I was trying to find a hidden fountain, for example, I eventually realized I had explored every pixel of the actual waterfalls and needed to look elsewhere. So, I had Link glide back to where I got the mission, and tried going the other way. I found what I was looking for in mere minutes.
Whether I’m figuring out puzzles in shrines or getting better at tussling with demons, I find the game both rewarding and fun.
Waterblight Ganon may be one of my favorite bosses in recent history, because of how it makes you navigate the limited space around it. This boss constantly bombards Link with giant ice bricks and long-distance spear attacks. And this is where I found a way to win by (eventually) playing smarter, not harder.
The giant ice bricks — which basically destroy the few hearts I earned early in the game — thrown at you proved to be my downfall more than a few times. My weapons didn’t do enough to break these bricks, and I was low on arrows, too.
Then, I thought about it for a second. These bricks looked just like the ice towers that Link can make with the Cryonis ability in the Sheikah Slate. And that meant I could shatter these bricks just as easily.
Accepting Breath of the Wild’s confusing moments
All that said, I still need to gripe. Yes, I like Breath of the Wild a lot now. I’m looking forward to spending time with it this weekend. But the Divine Beast map — crucial to unlocking the boss fight against Waterblight Ganon — is sort of poorly explained. I even had my colleague Marshall Honorof — who loves this game as well — confirm that for me.
I spent way too much time trying to find a way to get through a level requires you to manipulate an in-game menu. Once I found said menu, I was annoyed, but happy to move on. I have learned that more menus like this are in each of the other Divine Beasts. So at least I’m prepared. I just wonder why the game doesn’t explain details like that.
At this rate, I’m sure I’ll have beaten Breath of the Wild by the time the sequel comes out. And right now, I treasure my weekend time with the game. There’s so much I didn’t even get to explain in this story, from the joys of cooking in Hyrule, to the excellent combat system, to the whimsical and funny characters you meet along the way. Sure, Breath of the Wild zigs and zags in its story, but it still feels quite rewarding.