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You Don't Need to Finish The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

You don't have to pay a single scrap of attention to Ganon to fall in love with Link's latest adventure.

Analysis by Nadia Oxford, .

When I selected The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as my Game of the Year for 2017, I talked about how individual parts of Link's latest adventure aren't perfect—but Breath of the Wild as an experience is incredible.

While the response to Breath of the Wild remains overwhelmingly positive, the deluge of end-of-the-year accolades (including some from us) brought the game under very close scrutiny and re-evaluation. People found cracks, and they didn't hesitate to jab at them while exclaiming 2017's Game of the Year honors were far more deserved by Nier: Automata / Horizon Zero Dawn / Super Mario Odyssey / literally any other game.

I still believe most of the popular criticisms for Breath of the Wild come down to opinion. You don't like the fact weapons wear down and break; I believe breaking weapons forces me to fight smarter (and the game indulges you by leaving all sorts of traps and goodies for you to exploit). You don't like how rain makes cliffs too slick to climb; I like how I'm forced to pay attention to the game's little "weather report" and equip myself accordingly before I go spelunking.

Or I just rip off all my clothes. That's fine, too.

Even attacks on Breath of the Wild's status as a Zelda game are understandable, but maybe don't hold as much water as the detractors believe. 2006's The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess came under fire for failing to innovate very much over Ocarina of Time, and while 2011's Skyward Sword has some clever ideas and wonderful dungeons, it was criticized for its compact, rigid overworld.

Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma realized The Zelda games were in danger of growing stale and predictable. Aonuma was subsequently motivated to tear everything down and take the series back to its roots. Way back to 1986 when The Legend of Zelda series was newborn. Back when tutorials were restricted to instruction booklets, and every decision you made while exploring Zelda's sprawling overworld and dark dungeons was your responsibility.

The original Zelda game lacked puppers, however.

When Breath of the Wild received its first big reveal at E3 2016, Nintendo made the original Zelda's influence clear from the start, and I still argue Breath of the Wild's kinship with its progenitor is its greatest strength. Wandering the game's overworld for weapons, supplies, and for the sheer fun of discovering new areas is what continues to draw me back to Breath of the Wild from time to time.

But Breath of the Wild's admiration for The Legend of Zelda comes with a consequence: Neither game has strong dungeons. Sure, we look back on The Legend of Zelda's dungeons with nostalgic fondness, but when I play the Father of all Zelda Games, I just dutifully cut down Keeses and Darknuts until I find the labyrinth's key item squirreled away in the cavern's dark halls. I don't navigate the reams of identical-looking rooms and bomb every inch of wall because it's my idea of a good time. I just want the Raft, or the Ladder, or whichever item helps me dive a little deeper into the game's cool overworld.

Breath of the Wild's dungeons aren't even that useful, and that's probably why the adventure's harshest critics challenge the notion of it being a "true" Zelda game. Everything you need to technically complete the game—namely, the Parasail and the Runes downloaded to your Sheikah slate—are given to you within the first hour of gameplay. Anything else you find when you leave the Great Plateau, anything you do, is simply an item or an exercise that makes it easier to defeat Calamity Ganon. Even the original Zelda game requires you fetch a few items from dungeons to finish the game, and, of course, you need to defeat each boss to nab the piece of the Triforce it's guarding. But if you don't want to take on the dungeons / Divine Beasts in Breath of the Wild, you only miss out on acquiring supplementary powers, a cache of the Champions' weapons, a bit of story exposition, and a leg-up on Calamity Ganon whenever you decide to take him down. All useful, but not vital.

Who needs Ancient Guardian Armor when you can just pick up a pair of pants some weird kid dropped?

In other words, you can tell Breath of the Wild's main story-based quest line to take a hike if you so desire. No dungeons? No problem. Breath of the Wild's overworld alone offers hundreds of hours of the game's strongest content. I especially adore the "Memories" sidequest that challenges you to recover Link's scattered memories using only small, sometimes blurry snapshots of landmarks as your guide. What a wonderful way to encourage you to just get on your horse and ride for ages. Oh, look! Here's a big hill! Maybe if you climb it, you'll get a better view of any special landforms in the area. Oh, look! Here's a long trench that stretches across a quarter of Hyrule! What's at the end? As Doc points out in his excellent breakdown of the game, nearly every distraction in Breath of the Wild is packed with meaning and discovery. For example, when I find Shrines on my travels, I invariably enter, see what's what, and earn rewards for my 15 minutes or so of effort.

But the Divine Beasts, each guarding its corner of the world, forever feel insignificant and far away unless I make a concentrated effort to travel straight to them. Frankly, the Beasts' existence feels almost antithetical in Breath of the Wild. This is a game about wandering, searching, and exploring. Having to put all that on hold and fast-travel to the Beast (because, let's face it, hoofing it to your destination puts you up against innumerable distractions) is like suddenly hitting the brakes on a smooth ride.

"Imma use this fine hunk of horsemeat to pick up the ladies workin' at the Drive-Thru."

But when I say I prefer the Zelda series' overworld experience to its dungeon-exploring experience, I'm not saying I think Nintendo shouldn't bother making the dungeons for the next open-world Zelda game more interesting. Dungeons have come to define the series as much as the Master Sword, and their potential shouldn't be left to rot.

In fact, I believe Nintendo has a lot to gain if it bases its next open-world Zelda title on The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds as much as it based Breath of the Wild on the first Zelda. A Link Between Worlds marries a somewhat-open overworld with imaginative dungeons and clever environmental puzzles that effortlessly bridge said dungeons with the game's fields, forests, and deserts. The next 3D Zelda game will benefit greatly if it, say, cuts back on Breath of the Wild's smaller shrines in favor of a few more large-scale dungeons with themes and puzzles relevant to whatever part of the world they occupy.

It's going to be some time before we hear about a new 3D Zelda title, though. For now, I'm just saying there's no shame in exploring Breath of the Wild's iteration of Hyrule without harboring any plans to save it. It's clearly what Nintendo wants you to do.

Don't even worry about the good people of Hyrule. They'll be all right.

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Comments 21

  • Avatar for VotesForCows #1 VotesForCows 5 days ago
    This really makes me want to play it. I've tried only one Zelda before and didn't enjoy it - but looking forward to this when I get it.
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #2 chaoticBeat 5 days ago
    Thank you for this. It is highly validating of my experience with BotW so far. So much of what I love about it is how the world is laid out and leaving the player to mess around with it all and figure out their own solutions. The boss dungeons have been my least favorite part. Not that they were bad just, for me, requiring a strategy guide to navigate (which is a bummer).
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  • Avatar for Tetragrammaton #3 Tetragrammaton 4 days ago

    10 months in and I'm STILL learning new things. That's one of the marks of a brilliant game.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #4 riderkicker 4 days ago
    I don't plan on fighting Ganon. There's that.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #5 LBD_Nytetrayn 4 days ago
    @VotesForCows Which One did you play, out of curiosity?
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #6 NiceGuyNeon 4 days ago
    I keep saying this to everyone who lets me ramble on about Breath of the Wild. Whether it's friends, family, or acquaintances of either. It is something different for every person who plays it, and to me that makes it the best game.

    You can ignore the quest, you can focus on it, you can hunt down every Korok, complete every shrine (that's what mattered to me, I was a shrine fiend and lapped up that second expansion like my life depended on it), defeat powerful enemies, or just explore for the sake of exploring. It's a fantastic game.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #7 VotesForCows 4 days ago
    @LBD_Nytetrayn Phantom Hourglass. It was a good game, don't get me wrong, and I played about half of it. Just not really my sort of thing. Didn't really enjoy the combat or traversal. Nice world though.
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  • Avatar for Fourfoldroot #8 Fourfoldroot 4 days ago
    I used to love the zelda games, but the last one I played was wind waker (largely because the Gamecube was the last Ninty console I owned). I have been vaguely planning to get the Switch and Zelda, but this article has put me off a little.

    As a kid I would have lapped this up, but as an adult with family and tedious responsibilities a game about "wandering, searching and discovery" in which you find nothing essential is no longer as appealing. I prefer a game with a beginning, middle and end and a strong narrative these days. One with clear goals rather than a sandbox in which I just mess around with mechanics in an open world. I also prefer not to have to juggle things like weapon durability and be at the whim of randomness like weather.

    Not saying its not a fantastic game, it clearly is, but I'm a little sad that this might not be for me any more.Edited 4 days ago by Fourfoldroot
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  • Avatar for realchris2011 #9 realchris2011 4 days ago
    I am not even halfway done with Zelda BOTW yet but love everything about it, true, I hated the weapons breaking at first, but once I played it, I understood why it had to be, then Master Mode came out when I was half way done, then started over within that new mode and loved it, the weapons break faster, longer life span of enemies, and love it SO MUCH, now when I go back to normal, I hate it, too easy, I prefer a challenge thats thats the point!!! Its a challenge and that's what I paid good money for.
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  • Avatar for realchris2011 #10 realchris2011 4 days ago
  • Avatar for Minkukel #11 Minkukel 4 days ago
    @VotesForCows, Phantom Hourglass is probably the weakest in the entire series, so I wouldn't base your decision to play any of the others based on your experience with that one. I think everyone owes it to themselves to at least try aLttP and OoT seriously.

    Though I do think PH is a perfectly servicable game.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #12 VotesForCows 4 days ago
    @Minkukel Actually now you say it I did try Link to the Past - only about for an hour though. Didn't grab me. Will try Ocarina at some stage I'd say, though I'm probably more interested in Majora's Mask. That looks nicely odd.
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  • Avatar for docexe #13 docexe 3 days ago
    Zelda means so many different things to so many different people, that I don’t think any new game in the series will ever satisfy the majority of the fanbase.

    Still, while BotW definitely abandons many of the conventions and traditions of the series, I think it still retains the “core essence” of Zelda, which to me means an Action-Adventure game where you explore a massive fantasy world full of secrets and mysteries, solving puzzles and defeating enemies by using tools that double as weapons.

    Now, while I do think that many of the most common complaints about BotW (like the issue with the destructible weapons or the rain) do boil down to personal preference, there are a few things in the game that I do think merit legitimate criticism. For instance, the UI could be better, and this article explains it better than I could.

    The storyline is also presented in a very fragmented way, but it’s ultimately very simple once everything is said and done, elevated mostly by the cast of characters which are incredibly charming (in that sense it reminds me a bit of FFVII, another game where I found the narrative unnecessarily obtuse yet pretty weak once you actually analyze it, elevated mostly by having a great cast of characters).

    Several of the secondary missions are also forgettable. Mind you, I think the game does have some pretty good sidequests (several of the Shrine Quests for instance, with things like Eventide island or the Typhlo Ruins being highlights of the game). Still, too many of the secondary missions boil down to simple fetch quests of the type “bring me X number of Y”.

    And well, I found the Divine Beasts pretty cool, but also too short. They certainly don’t compare to some of the best dungeons in the series. Hyrule Castle, on the other hand, was actually a pretty great final dungeon, particularly in how you can approach it and tackle it in multiple ways. Easily another highlight of the game.

    Still, despite these criticisms, BotW held my attention for more than 150 hours and easily ranks as one of my favorite games in the series. Its sense of wanderlust and rewarding freedom and exploration is incredible, and it also ranks it as one of the best Open World games I have played. I just hope that, for a possible sequel, they improve the UI, add better sidequests, and a couple of dungeons on the scale of Hyrule Castle.
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  • Avatar for mrhumble1 #14 mrhumble1 3 days ago
    Geez when are gaming sites going to stop swinging on Nintendo's nuts here?? Why the hell are you still talking about BOTW?? The damn game came out almost a year ago. You think it's great. We get it. Please move on and talk about something else.
    *NOTE: Before you call me a troll, this is legitimate criticism. BOTW is HIGHLY flawed yet every site seems to overlook every issue. We've seen article after article about this. MANY games have come out over the past 10 months. Who is still talking about any other game that came out that long ago?? NOBODY. There's got to be a reason for this, and that answer makes me uncomfortable.Edited 2 days ago by mrhumble1
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  • Avatar for swamped #15 swamped 3 days ago
    Finishing the game was incredibly anticlimactic. For once my strategy of taking as long as possible to finish the main story felt justified.
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  • Avatar for docexe #16 docexe 2 days ago
    @mrhumble1 Except that PUBG also came out around the same time as BotW, yet gaming sites continue to give it coverage. The reason is the same: They were among the most popular and most important games of last year, and people still play them and talk about them.

    These are not extraordinary cases either. Just at the top of my head, games like Overwatch, Red Dead Redemption, The Last of Us, Grand Theft Auto V, Dark Souls, Bioshock, Destiny, Splatoon, Final Fantasy XV, the Mass Effect trilogy, Hearthstone, COD Modern Warfare, and a long etcetera have also accrued continued coverage and think pieces several months (or even several years) after they launched.

    Of course, if it was a game you liked, you wouldn’t be complaining right now about its continued coverage. Nevermind the fact that you could avoid said coverage by simply not clicking on the article in question. It’s not as if the front page of this site (or any other of the major gaming sites, for that matter) was saturated with nothing else but Zelda.
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  • Avatar for JamesSwiftDay #17 JamesSwiftDay 2 days ago
    @VotesForCows Maybe try a good Zelda game next time?
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  • Avatar for JamesSwiftDay #18 JamesSwiftDay 2 days ago
    @mrhumble1 I think BOTW is overrated too, but I'm not going to tell people to stop talking/writing about it if they want to.
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  • Avatar for Toelkki #19 Toelkki 2 days ago
    I'm not good enough of a roleplayer to just blow a raspberry at Zelda and Hyrule. But at least with BotW the shrines and divine beasts have an excuse in that they're helpful for the end goal.

    Not so much with Mario -- collecting more than the bare minimum of moons to advance to the next place actively made me feel bad.
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  • Avatar for Frosty840 #20 Frosty840 19 hours ago
    @VotesForCows I'd go for the game that Nadia mentioned, A Link Between Worlds. It's a remake/reworking/reimagining of A Link To The Past and the modern trappings make it a touch more approachable than the twenty-something-year-old ALttP (though I would advise you that the "Danger, Giant Beast Ahead!" sign is possibly poorly phrased and you should investigate that entrance fairly early in the game).
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #21 nadiaoxford 7 hours ago
    @mrhumble1 Actually, we’re re-visiting games like BOTW this month *because* they’re a year old and we’ve gained new perspectives over that time. Thanks for reading!
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