So this week on the Podcast we talked Breath of the Wild and I went on what could only be charitably called a Semi-coherent rant on the game. Rather obviously the whole of my personal feelings on the game didn't come through so I'd like to take this time to go more into depth as to why I think it is the single most overrated game I've ever played.
First off the game is designed around the open-world letting the player decide what they want to go experience and when they want to go take on the final boss. There's nothing inherently wrong with this idea. Honestly the way Zelda is built its a great idea the very first Zelda was probably one of the first open-worldish games that were released. However the game doesn't do anything to actively engage and encourage the player to explore. Enemies killing the player in one shot and one of the first likely events to happen is to get one shot by an enemy you didn't even know was there is not good for exploration. But more critically there is nothing in the world to find. All the micro-dungeons I delved into looked and felt the same. While other games like Oblivion and Skyrim can have that issue they make up for it by providing loot. You can find cool things in the dungeons which can buff up your character with new armor and weaponry. By contrast Breath of the Wild's dungeons are all small and neon with basically nothing in them. With this being the case they begin to feel like a slog and just ticking a checkbox to increase Link's stats. Which leads to the next issue.
The means to travel the world are great, being able to swim, climb and glide makes the world open up in a way that even Fallout and Skyrim can't match. That said Link's starting stamina is less than an Obese asthmatic smoker with his sprint being so short it is pointless to even bother and being unable to swim across a tiny pond ruins the experience. However even this could have been OK and upgrading things are always a normal thing in these kinds of games but the real killer in the game is its god-awful combat.
The real killer for the game is its combat. The combat is probably the worst one I've ever had the unpleasant experience of interacting with. I was told on the podcast that there is a dodge mechanic but since the game doesn't bother with a tutorial, like every game does, I never found it. If you didn't die in a single hit from basically every enemy you could get used to the combat before it started beating you down. A great example of this done right would be the newer Xcom games. There is a tutorial to get you used to the controls but after that you, the player, must figure out how to win. I said on the podcast that I felt better losing multiple hours of gameplay in Xcom than I did dying once in Breath of the Wild. The main rub is that whenever I died in Zelda it never felt like my fault while in Xcom when I lost characters I knew it was my mistake even if it was a low chance to work I, the player, made the decisions that led to the problem. In Zelda dying is less lost progress but it always felt unfair. That is more important if it doesn't feel fair, which without providing the player with the information to use the tools they are given, you can't really accomplish.
The tools given as I already stated break if you look at them funny but even that could be OK. After all the Elder Scrolls and Fallout games incorporate weapon degradation and the player will usually be carrying multiple different ones in that eventuality. The difference lays in the fact that in these games weapons degrade in effectiveness. They don't just break out of left field. The other thing these games do that this Zelda doesn't is provide armor. the player is given the tools to succeed in combat. Even after leaving the starting area the player has a couple of weapons, knowledge of the combat system, and armor. Breath of the Wild seems to not believe in armor and because of this it makes combat something that was avoided as much as possible which again breaks the exploration vibe. I don't advocate the enemies being pushovers but one of the best gaming experiences I've ever had was the first time I encountered a dragon while exploring in Skyrim. It was a dangerous and tense fight but since I had all the tools to fight back it was fun. However a better example to use would likely be Fallout 4. This is due to the large preponderance of Fat Man launchers in the wasteland. These instant-kill weapons float around but the player has methods of hitting back and killing the person carrying the weapon gives the player the weapon. This adds a risk-reward to the encounter. Killing an instant death enemy in Zelda doesn't even give me a sword. All it does is cost resources without providing any of same.
The surface layer of Zelda Breath of the Wild isn't a terrible concept but digging deeper into the core mechanics and gameplay absolutely kill the game. I can ignore a terrible story, I played Fallout 4, for the sake of fun exploration and combat. Unfortunately Breath of the Wild has neither. At the end of the day it sold and will sell thousands of copies because Nintendo but if you want a better exploration game so long as the Bethesda games are available that's where you should look. Better combat, better world, better game.