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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (477)

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Pikmin 4 4/5
No Man's Sky 4/5
Dragon Quest Monsters: ... 4/5
Assassin's Creed IV: Bl... 2.5/5
Tiny Tina's Wonderlands 3.5/5
Ratchet & Clank: Rift A... 4.5/5
Super Mario Bros. Wonder 4.5/5
The Alliance Alive 2/5
Catmaze 4.5/5
Turnip Boy Commits Tax ... 4.5/5
Seasons After Fall 3/5
Rayon Riddles - Rise of... 0.5/5
World to the West 4/5
MechWarrior 5: Mercenar... 4/5
Streets of Kamurocho 2.5/5
Aeon of Sands - The Tra... 2.5/5
Greak: Memories of Azur 3.5/5
Yaga 2.5/5
Riverbond 3/5
Bug Fables: The Everlas... 4.5/5
Front Mission 1st Remake 1.5/5
Middle-earth: Shadow of... 3.5/5
Bladed Fury 3.5/5
Ruzar - The Life Stone 3.5/5
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin 3.5/5

Next 25

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild   Nintendo Switch 

Break of the Weapons    4/5 stars

After decades of other videogame development outfits ripping off all of Nintendo’s original, often genre-defining ideas, it’s Nintendo’s turn to do the copying. Thanks to resurgent Western – specifically PC – game development over the course of the last decade, mainstream gamers have come to expect certain things from their Action/Adventure titles thanks to the likes of Ubisoft and Bethesda Softworks… things that traditional ‘Legend of Zelda’ games didn’t deliver. After the underwhelming reception of “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” on the Wii, Nintendo took a step back and apparently decided that the old chestnut, “If you can’t beat them, join them,” was apropos of their then-current situation. Thus 6 years later, “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” (“BotW”) was brought into the world: A ‘Zelda’ game that desperately wants to be a Western Action/Sandbox game… and remarkably does a very good job at it.

While “BotW” strives to emulate Western games in a large number of ways, the most striking way in which it isn’t like a Western game is the fact that’s it’s built on a custom engine rather than using a canned solution like Unreal or Unity. The result is a very attractive 3D game world that blends realism with cell-shading to great effect. “BotW” is a beautiful game, with an environmental vastness of scale beyond any other Action/Sandbox title and unique character designs that make this version of Hyrule feel anything but generic. The gigantic world map features tons of iconic locations from ‘Zelda’ history, though it seems that Hyrule must have major tectonic shift issues, as these locations do seem to have been arbitrarily moved around in order to create the “BotW” sandbox. At times, this vastness of scale also works against “BotW” from a technical perspective, causing significant issues with pop-in as well as heavy frame-rate dips in environments with a lot of tall grass.

The audio is a somewhat mixed bag. As the first ‘Zelda’ game to feature significant voiceacting, “BotW’s” narrative and voiced cutscenes are well-done (though I recognized several typical anime dubbers among the cast). The soundtrack, however, is very disappointing, as it is mostly muted and subdued solo piano. This ivory-ticking is usually so quiet and understated that it may as well not even be there. There are other tracks, such as an annoying battle theme, that didn’t do much for me either. It wasn’t until I reached the final dungeon that my ears perked up and I thought, “Wow, where has this been for the past 100 hours!?”

Technically, “BotW” is incredibly impressive for a large-scale Action/Sandbox game. There are no quest glitches or game-breaking bugs to speak of, nor does the game forcibly install part of itself onto the Switch’s internal storage (patches and DLC, which I am intentionally ignoring, notwithstanding). I did experience one crash-to-main-menu, which cost me about 10 minutes of gameplay between autosaves (I actually think the crash was caused by fast-traveling while autosaving), and there are the previously-mentioned pop-in and frame-rate issues, but even compared to the Sandbox genre’s other high-water mark, “The Witcher 3,” “BotW” is extremely light on problems.

“BotW” is a rather Sci-Fi take on the normally traditional High Fantasy ‘Zelda’ mythology. Apparently 10,000 years ago, the Sheikah culture (as in, the people who left behind those annoying talking rocks in previous ‘Zelda’ games) reached a technological pinnacle and sealed-away the incarnate evil known as Calamity Ganon. The Sheikah foresaw Ganon’s resurrection and built an army of autonomous spider-bots, called Guardians, as well as a quartet of giant animal-shaped mecha, called Divine Beasts, to aid in re-sealing him when the time came. In the intervening millennia, though, the Hylians, Sheikah, Gorons, Zora, and Rito apparently lost much of their technological prowess, leaving them completely unprepared for Ganon’s resurrection, and unfamiliar with the ancient Sheikah tech.

Ganon, however, did not lose touch with technology during his long imprisonment, but apparently signed up for correspondence classes in 133t h4xx0rz1ng, as upon resurrecting, he was immediately able to hack and take control of all of the Sheikah’s ancient machinery, dealing a mortal blow to perpetual hero-boy, Link, in the process.

Link awakens 100 years later in the Chamber of Resurrection – a high-tech Sheikah stasis/medical pod – with no memory of any of this, and must set out on a quest to regain his lost memories, his lost power, his lost sword, and to break Ganon’s hold on the Divine Beasts, before ultimately confronting the Calamity itself. All in a day’s work for the Chosen Hero of Legend, right?

“BotW” begins with a fairly typical tutorial section in which Link gains access to all of the major tools he will use throughout the game – the most important of which is the smartphone-esque Sheikah Slate – as he completes a series of four Sheikah Shrines. Upon completing this mandatory portion of the game, though, the player is free to take Link anywhere across the expansive Hyrule map. The game does provide some guidance, via a handful of Main Quests, which are tracked via the Sheikah Slate, along with Side Quests (which are trivial, usually inconsequential things that NPCs ask for help with) and Shrine Quests, which provide hints for the locations of hidden Shrines.

Immediately after leaving Hyrule Plateau, though, “BotW” feels very much like a typical Ubisoft Sandbox, as it is in the player’s best interest to drag Link all across the countryside to the glowing orange radio Sheikah Towers that will unlock the detailed map for each Hyrule province. Activated Towers (and Shrines) also serve as fast-travel nodes, allowing the player to hop, skip, and jump around Hyrule in a much more efficient manner.

The order in which the player tackles quests, however, is completely open. Because the Sheikah Slate contains all the important apps (read: tools) Link will acquire by the time he leaves the tutorial region, any Shrine can be completed as the player stumbles upon them. Likewise the Divine Beasts can be liberated in any order. Hell, suicidal speedrunners can even choose to skip 90% of the game and prove how ‘gud’ they ‘gitted’ by going straight from the tutorial to the final dungeon. The narrative suffers from this lack of structure, though, as it is mostly told through cutscenes of Link recovering his memories, which are scattered all across the map. There are often enormous gulfs of time between these scenes, which makes the overall narrative structure and pacing feel disjointed, despite the fact that the key scenes are frequently packed with emotion and meaning.

Overall, though, the narrative in “BotW” is solid, despite a few plot holes (Why does the Chosen Hero of Legend who preceded Link look like Ganondorf?) and uncertainty about how it could possibly fit into the extant trainwreck that is the ‘Zelda’ Timeline. I spend over 100 hours with “BotW” (no exact number, unfortunately, due to time tracking being absent from the stock Switch OS), which felt a little too long, plus the Sandbox structure created a typical sand trap of over-long play sessions consisting of busywork, aimless wandering, and ‘one more thing – oh, it’s 3 hours later’ moments.

One of the main things I’ve always loved about the ‘Zelda’ franchise has been the dungeons. Exploring these puzzle-filled lairs, finding a new weapon or tool to unlock additional exploration further afield, and defeating a boss to expand Link’s life meter: That’s the core ‘Zelda’ experience.

“BotW” does away with some of that. However, it’s not quite as bad as the haters would have us believe. Prior to playing this game, I had heard horror stories about how the game contains ZERO traditional dungeons in favor of 120 super-short Shrines, but that simply isn’t true. There are indeed 120 Shrines, and these are all typically 1-2 room affairs with one puzzle (or the same puzzle repeated a couple of times). The Shrines actually remind me very much of Valve’s ‘Portal’ series, as they typically involve some sort of simple physics puzzle and take place inside unbelievably clean and sterile test chambers. However, Shrines are not meant to replace traditional ‘Zelda’ dungeons, but are meant to serve as substitutes for the overworld puzzles and obstacles the player would typically overcome in order to snag a Piece of Heart. Often, Shrines are hidden behind exactly such overworld obstacles, and in such situations consist of a single room containing the goal (always a mummified Sheikah monk), since finding the Shrine was the puzzle in and of itself. The monk at the end of each Shrine awards Link a Spirit Orb, of which four can be turned in at any statue of the Goddess Hylia in exchange for either a Heart Container or a Stamina Container (Stamina comes into play when Link needs to run or climb, which is often, but Stamina is still far less useful than Hearts).

The actual dungeons in “BotW,” however, are the Divine Beasts as well as the final assault on Hyrule Castle. Each of the Divine Beasts is a giant Voltron-style animal-mech, with a dungeon inside it. In order to breach each Divine Beast, Link must first battle it into submission, at which point its interior becomes accessible. Inside, Link must reboot a number of terminals in order to confront the Ganon.exe virus controlling each Beast. Like the rest of the game, the Divine Beast dungeons are quite non-linear, allowing the player to go after the terminals in any order. As in a traditional ‘Zelda’ game, defeating the boss infesting a Divine Beast awards a Heart Container, and additionally awards Link with a special combat maneuver. The final dungeon, which takes place in and around Hyrule Castle, is on another level from the Divine Beasts altogether, though, and actually wowed me in more ways than one. Too bad it’s the only thing like it in the game.

Instead of a highly structured sequence of dungeons that must be completed in a specific order, “BotW” offers unmitigated freedom. The player is free to explore the map at their leisure, liberate the Divine Beasts in any order, complete Shrines as they stumble upon them, or hunt for secrets when they see something out of place. Despite its enormous scale, the Hyrule sandbox in “BotW” feels like every single inch of it was crafted with tender loving care by an environmental artist. While huge, the game map feels like it is bursting at the seams with things to see and do, which is an incredible feat, despite the overall repetitive feel of many of these things to see and do.

My main sticking point with “BotW,” though, revolves entirely around the combat and some misbegotten gameplay mechanics that seem to have been tacked on simply because ‘other Sandbox games have them,’ much like the level scaling and weapon durability I found distasteful and meaningless in “The Witcher 3.” Link’s combat movements in “BotW” feel far less agile than in most previous 3D ‘Zelda’ games, as I constantly found Link to be just short of hitting an enemy that dodged nimbly away from him, yet simultaneously unable to dodge nimbly away himself. This less-than-stellar combat becomes especially problematic when fighting some of the overpowered overworld enemies, like the lion-headed centaur Lynels or top-tier variants of common enemies, who are actually far more dangerous than any of the game’s boss monsters due to the huge number of Hearts they knock out with a single hit.

In combat, Link can wield Sword and Shield, two-handed Spears, two-handed Greatswords, Magic Wands, and Bows, but only the Sword and Shield for melee and the Bows for ranged feel useful, as Spears are too weak and Greatswords are sooooo slow. Even the iconic Boomerang has been transformed into a crappy Sword-type weapon that flies in an arc when thrown, weakly hits an enemy or environmental obstacle, then falls to the ground with a thud, giving me horrible flashbacks to my unsuccessful childhood boomerang play which typically ended with the damned thing stuck on the roof of the house. Unfortunately, Link must typically make due with whatever weapons he finds, rather than the weapons the player wants as “BotW” features an overzealous weapon breakage system that will see Link burning through his limited stock of gear in a hurry.

Indeed, I believe that “BotW” should stand for ‘Break of the Weapons,’ as that is the single most memorable and irritating part of the game. Other Sandbox games have been phasing it out because players don’t enjoy it. “The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion” had weapon durability – with the player option to repair weapons before they completely broke – yet “The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim” had no durability system. “Fallout 3” and “Fallout: New Vegas” both featured weapons that degraded over time – but could be repaired by cannibalizing other weapons – yet “Fallout 4” had no such degradation system. “The Witcher 3” featured durability, but instead of taking away broken weapons from the player, they simply received a (insignificant) damage penalty until re-sharpened. It seems like the copycats at Nintendo who were attempting to make “BotW” as Western and as Sandboxy as possible weren’t aware of this trend… or more likely started work on the game before this trend had run its course.

Link’s weapons in “BotW” all seem to be made of balsa wood, cast iron, 1970s plastic, and other super-brittle things, plus none of them can be repaired – indeed the player isn’t even made aware of how much durability a given weapon might possess outside of a warning that it is ‘badly damaged’ two swings before it shatters. Throughout the game, a typical weapon might last one, maybe two, battles before shattering into a billion pieces and disappearing from the player’s inventory (or maybe a battle will last two or three weapons, depending on the enemies involved). This inventory is, itself, a burdensome limitation, as it starts out incredibly small. The only way to expand Link’s carrying capacity for weapons, bows, and shields is to find Koroks, the tiny vegetable sprites seen in previous ‘Zelda’ games, who each hand over a seed. Turning in Korok Seeds to a rather large, fat, and hard-to-find Korok allows Link to obtain more gear slots for an increasing number of seeds (the final melee expansion costs a whopping 55 seeds by itself). There are 900 of these little bastards hidden throughout Hyrule, but I only found 200 or so, maxing out my melee capacity while largely ignoring bow and shield capacity because bows don’t break nearly as often as melee weapons do, and shields don’t break because Link can’t use them 66% of the time due to being stuck with nothing but two-handed weapons in his inventory. The only saving grace of the weapon breakage system is the fact that the Master Sword can’t ‘break’… instead it ‘runs out of energy’ and becomes usable again after 10 minutes of real time. I’ve seen plenty of Nintendo apologists proclaiming nonsense such as, “The weapon durability system is necessary in order to encourage players to try out all the weapons,” but that’s pure shilling. There are lots of good weapons in the game, and lots of crappy ones. The player has adequate reasons to keep a Frost weapon, a Fire weapon, and a Shock weapon with them at all times, as well as an Ancient Sheikah Tech weapon and even a Korok Leaf to make gusts of wind. The player would naturally need to use garbage monster weapons until they find better ones to replace them: That’s already enough encouragement to ‘try out all the weapons.’ Once I had good weapons in my possession, even when they broke, I didn’t replace them with garbage goblin clubs or friggin’ tree branches, I replaced them with other good (well, good-ish) weapons, even if it meant traveling out of my way to return to a known stash. And speaking of stashes, Link doesn’t have one! Typically, games with breakable weapons allow players to hoard back-up gear in a safe place, then travel back to the stash and restock when they run out. The closest thing in “BotW” is a house Link can buy, which can have display cases installed for three melee weapons, three bows, and three shields. This isn’t nearly enough extra storage, plus the extravagant cost means it won’t be available right off the bat.

The other big change to traditional ‘Zelda’ mechanics, and seemingly inspired by Western Survival games, is the fact that Link no longer finds health-restoring Hearts by cutting grass or killing enemies. Instead, he must forage for food items, ranging from mushrooms to fruit to fish to meat. These food items barely restore any health on their own, but when cooked over a campfire can create incredibly powerful healing meals/potions, as well as meals/potions that provide a number of beneficial buff effects. The ridiculous thing about cooking in “BotW” is that Link can carry 3 times as many meals/potions as he can melee weapons WITHOUT UPGRADING ANYTHING. While I didn’t need them, I had roughly 45 full-heal items ready to go for the final battle, which is far more than the piddly 4 bottles of potion Link has been able to carry traditionally. Hard-heads who obsess over ‘challenge’ have complained that the cooking system trivializes the game’s difficulty, but I’m totally okay with that.

Also inspired by Survival games is the fact that Link is now a wiener who gets injured when he’s too hot or too cold. Certain regions of the game map feature extreme temperatures, and the player needs to mitigate them either with potions or special armor that protect against the environment. While these temperature extremes are annoying when first encountered, they become trivial by the end game, thanks in large part to Link’s ability to find/buy and equip numerous special armor sets.

Thankfully, armor in “BotW” is not afflicted with the awful durability system, despite the fact that it probably takes a much harder beating than any of Link’s weapons. Link can equip a helmet, chest armor, and pants simultaneously, with many special types of armor offering a set bonus for wearing all three parts at once. While all armors start out relatively weak, the player can upgrade their defense stats by visiting the Great Fairy fountains scattered around Hyrule and providing the Fairy with a variety of monster debris, rocks, and other junk. While initially unlocking each of the four Great Fairy fountains costs a significant amount of rupees (money), the actual upgrades the Fairies provide only require the armor and the materials. I liked this upgrade system, and would have preferred to see something similar applied to weapons.

“The Legend of Zelda: Break of the Weapons”… err, “Breath of the Wild” successfully captures the open-world Action/Sandbox formula popularized among modern mainstream gamers by the likes of Ubisoft and Bethesda, while managing to remain a faithful ‘Zelda’ experience. The horrible weapon breakage system, however, throws a thoroughly sodden wet blanket on what is otherwise a breathtaking monument of openness and scale. Nintendo has already gone on record saying that subsequent ‘Zelda’ titles will follow the open formula set by “BotW,” which is perfectly fine provided the weapons don’t break and there are a few more actual multi-room dungeons and a few less one-room Shrines.

Presentation: 4.5/5
Story: 4/5
Gameplay: 3.5/5
Overall (not an average): 4/5



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