Ok, I’m going to talk about Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

…like a lot.


Due to there being a bit of a snowstorm on Tuesday, our office was closed and I spent the entire day playing BotW.  I happened to finish the main campaign.

All told, I did the four Divine Beasts, about 30 or so Shrines, and found a negligible number of Korok seeds.

I was also severely disappointed.

For all the hype I had coming into this game, and for all the fun I was genuinely having when I started playing, I was so pumped because I thought BotW’s super cool open world was also going to have traditional Zelda dungeons.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has zero dungeons.


“But Alex, that’s hyperbole!” you say, “BotW has tons of dungeons!”

I disagree.  Breath of the Wild has a huge amount of Shrines, which are more or less one room puzzles, one room fights, or one room with literally a chest and that’s it.  Those are not dungeons and anyone who tells you otherwise is frankly being dishonest.

“But Alex, that’s hyperbole!” you say, “BotW has the four Divine Beast dungeons!”

Couple of things about that.

First off, I’ve spent a long time lambasting Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker for essentially having only four dungeons.  In the interest of being consistent, even if I considered the Divine Beasts to be actual dungeons, only four is not enough.

As for the Divine Beasts themselves, let’s be honest here, they suck.  They suck hard.  They can be completed in any order and as such they are incredibly simple.  So simple that they can all be beat in five to ten minutes if you know what you’re doing.

When Rich and I race Ocarina of Time, even though we know how to complete all the dungeons in advance, they still take a while.  BotW’s Divine Beasts are less like dungeons and more like speedbumps.

A dungeon needs to be memorable.  Everyone remembers the Water Temple.  Everyone remembers the creepy Forest Temple, or the Palace of Twilight, or the Arbiter’s Grounds, or the back in time Pirate Ship thing.  All of those dungeons had a unique look and numerous clever puzzles.

The Divine Beasts… all you do is activate five switches in each one.  That’s it… no keys, no boss key, no item to find, nothing.

Even more problematic, they all look exactly the same.  When you’re inside these things the design is not just similar, it’s basically identical.  Without more than a passing glance, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the inside of the Water Beast from the Fire Beast, or the Wind Beast from the Desert Beast.

That’s… well, frankly… that’s lazy.  I get that they’re mechanical monsters so how different could they be, but… geeeze they’re same-y and boring to boot.

Each dungeon in the other Zelda games had unique dungeon design and they could instantly be told apart from each other.

I can’t believe I even had to type that.  Obviously dungeons should be unique and be able to be told apart from each other.  Somehow, Breath of the Wild didn’t get that memo.

As a function of the Divine Beasts having no unique items to find, the puzzles themselves are super bare bones, many of which can be cheesed through.  Each dungeon rewards Link with a special ability upon completion.  By the merest accident of choosing to walk in this particular direction, the Wind Beast was my first win.  For my meager efforts I was granted the ability to jump fifty feet in the air and instantly pull out my para-glider…

…which I then used to jump over most of the puzzles in the game, as well as completely leap over a number of challenges where I was supposed to slog my way through crowded areas.

If the player can literally “peace out” of half the content and be rewarded as if he’s legitimately completed it, that’s bad game design.

Speaking of bad game design, let’s talk about the boss battles.

Remember in the Arbiter’s Grounds where you had to use the spinning top thing to slide down the sand slope to hit the spine of the dragon skeleton?  Remember how cool that was?  And then afterward where you had to jump from track to track dodging attacks and spikes in order to climb high enough to launch yourself from the track to hit it?  That was awesome!

How about the flying boss in the City in the Sky where you had to climb up with the double hookshot?  That rocked.  They were scripted in the sense that there were limited methods to win, but they were super creative and, more importantly, fun.

Bosses in Breath of the Wild?  Timed dodges.  That’s it.  No wacky cool mechanics.  Just timed dodges over and over and then wail on the thing once you stun it or there’s an opening.

Basically, totally forgettable.

Gannon himself at the end of the game?  Literally just a big bad.  No talking, no character at all.  He appears, goes “rawr!,” and the fight begins.

I’m sorry, but that’s embarrassing.

Breath of the Wild, for all it’s open world awesomeness, is much smaller than it seems.  There are tons of Shrines and random items to find, but that’s all window dressing.  The core of the Zelda franchise is dungeon crawling.  Without this fundamental ingredient, Breath of the Wild left me feeling severely dissatisfied.

This game is getting perfect scores from a not insignificant number of people.  I have no idea why that is.  In my opinion, anyone who says that Breath of the Wild is a 10/10 game is either:

  • In the honeymoon phase and wearing rose tinted glasses that are letting him/her overlook BotW’s major flaws
  • a Nintendo fanboy/girl who believes they can do no wrong

That’s it.  I’m sure there are a few people out there who genuinely think BotW is a perfect game, but anyone who does think that has a fundamental disconnect with what makes Zelda gameplay special in the first place.  Without any meaningful dungeon crawling to speak of, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a Zelda game in name only.

As cool as it is, and it is super cool, I think this is one of the weaker entries in the series.

If the next Zelda game finds a way to mix the open world with traditional dungeons, then I’d argue that’d be a perfect Zelda game.

…at the very least, it would be a Zelda game.

Someone the other day asked me to give BotW an “out of ten” rating.  I think I said it was a 6/10 for me at the time.  The more I think about it though…

5/10?  That sounds about right.

If you love the Zelda franchise, you will love the design of the open world, the immersive environmental sound design, and all of the goodies to discover, I know I did.  Unfortunately, you will hate the fact that it has zero dungeons, I did that too.

If you can overlook that flaw, then I’d argue we love Zelda for different reasons.

I wanted to love it, I really did.  I just can’t.