If you've read my review of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, then you noticed that one of the areas I pointed out as potentially divisive is the difficulty. Breath of the Wild is full of quick and easy deaths for players. Some of those are from poor planning, but others are from situations that Nintendo has built to be damned hard.
This is a direct part of the Breath of the Wild experience, according to Breath of the Wild director Hidemaro Fujibayashi.
"There's actually kind of a fun to be had from falling and dying," Fujibayashi explained about tuning the game's towers. "You learn to be careful and to be cautious. And we felt that that gave a lot of players the emotional preparedness to take on the rest of the world. So we ultimately decided that we should let them die."
That feeling extends to the rest of Breath of the Wild, especially in the face of certain encounters. I've avoided writing about those encounters until now because of spoilers, but now that folks have had a chance to dive into the game, I feel it's a good time to dive in.
The director of the latest Zelda is all about letting players suffer their failures.
Let's talk about Thunderblight Ganon. Good ole' Thunderblight is one of the five bosses you have to fight in the game. He guards the Divine Beast Vah Naboris, the giant mechanical camel that wanders the Gerudo Desert causing vicious lightning and sandstorms.
Thunderblight was the second to last Ganon aspect that I fought and the one had me going, "Huh, this is going to be a high barrier to climb for some folks." He's definitely the hardest of the four aspects, and that's mostly down to the fact that defeating him requires rather precise timing for a Zelda game.
Thunderblight has three phases. The first is all about his zig-zag Shadow Step attack: either you block it with a shield and counter, or you dodge at the right moment to set up a Flurry Attack. This phase is pretty easy and feels more like it's setting you up to succeed in Phase Three. Phase Two involves Thunderblight calling down successive metal spikes and striking them with lightning. I died here once, but only because I wasn't moving fast enough and took a bolt of lightning full-on.
Phase Three is the cliff you have to scale. Here, Thunderblight returns to using his Shadow Step attack, but this time you can't just block it. He's charged with lightning in Phase Three, so blocking the attack causes Link to get shocked and lose his equipped weapon and shield. You have to perfect dodge his strike and Flurry Attack him to get anywhere. If you don't have the timing, you're screwed.
I later found out you can just use a wooden shield during this phase, but I'll assume that most other folks probably ran into the same issue. I died twice before I finished Thunderblight off, but he represented a pretty strong spike in difficulty. The other Zelda bosses I've really broken a sweat against were perhaps Dark Link or Thunderbird in Adventure of Link or Puppet Ganon's third phase in Wind Waker. But they were rare and nothing that particularly required the kind of precise reflexes Thunderblight wants; the closest I can remember is Darknut from Twilight Princess, who isn't actually a boss.
DAY ONE: Nadia learns some hard lessons about this newer, more brutal version of Hyrule after moblins use Link's head as batting practice.
Another facet of difficulty that pops up in Breath of the Wild is of the situational variety. Given the open-world, you'll occasionally blend together groups of enemies that would be easy on their own, to create an encounter that will test you. As an example, I was hunting Guardians in Hyrule Field so I could craft their body parts into valuable Guardian armor, but while I was facing a mobile unit, I crossed path with two Bokoblins riding horses. Both were using bows with elemental arrows. I was dodging and weaving like a madman, but the enemies aren't kind enough to stagger their attacks and eventually I fell to a combo of Shock Arrow and Laser.
Breath of the Wild will throw combinations like this in your direction, mostly for wandering too far afield during combat. Running from a Moblin may find you up against a pack of Lizalfos. Avoiding a different group of Lizalfos may find you in combat with them and a Wizzrobe. Breath of the Wild's open world nature means the player needs to have a certain degree of battle awareness at all times. Some folks have compared this to the Dark Souls series and I wouldn't say it's that difficult, but it's harder than most Zelda games, especially since it can creep up on you.
Hey! Listen! Finished with Breath of the Wild? Wondering if you should start elsewhere? Read our guide to Nintendo's legendary series.
That combines with the fact that even later in the game, many enemies can hit incredibly hard. Moblins and Lynels both wield massive two-handers, while Lizalfos archers tend to have high-level bows. There does seem to be a mechanic in the game that prevents one-shot kills - the resulting attack takes you down to a single quarter of a heart rather than outright sending Link to his grave - but it's damned vicious otherwise.
And all that's before you get to the named world bosses. The Hinox are mostly battles of attrition, staying alive and whittling down a foe that can squash you if it catches you. (The hardest one is in the shadow-shrouded Typhlo Ruins, but that's because of the enviroment, not the fight itself.) The Lynel are a bit more difficult, with elemental arrows requiring good dodging skills and fairly quick two-handed swings up close. There's one section at the base of the Lanaryu mountain where you can fight both at the same time if you're not paying attention, which turns two very manageable fights into one very hard one.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild isn't impossible by any stretch, but it's one of the few games in the series where things can get hard very, very quickly. It's a game that I think will separate the enthusiast player from the mainstream one. The average non-gamer will enjoy much of what the game has to offer, but when it comes to actually completing the game, Breath of the Wild is meant to test you. So far, it seems to be working out for Nintendo, but I'll be interested in seeing the reception to the game six months, a year, or more down the line.
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