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10th Jun 2023 | 1,350 views
This is bullet point styled review of Nintendo's latest Legend of Zelda game.
* Gorgeous world to look at and explore
BotW had great art style, TotK follows up on it and improves it using additional juice that Switch provides compared to Wii U for more details and much improved draw distance. Technically still very limited due to hardware it runs on, but clever and beautiful art more than makes up for it.
* New areas to explore
BotW had wonderfully made world to explore on foot (or horse), TotK retains it and adds sky islands, cave systems and underworld to scratch even more of that exploration itch.
* Improved narrative structure
BotW had very lax narrative structure, barely any at all. TotK improves on that and gives more of the classic Main Quest narrative for those who appreciate that in their Zelda games.
* Physics systems get additional upgrade
BotW was praised for its physics systems, TotK improves on them giving option for even more "Shenanigans in Hyrule", for those who like that, through new abilities you get. Ultrahand, in combination with Zonai devices is at the forefront of that.
* New abilities
Depending on your playstyle and what you expect from Zelda game you can end up anywhere from loving them to hating them. Ultrahand is better than Magnesis, Fuse fixes some of the inherent problems of BotW weapon design, but Ascend and Recall too often cheapen the exploration (more on that later).
* “Fixed” weapon durability
BotW’s glass weapons are as divisive now as they were when it launched. TotK improves on them giving you ability to Fuse items to your melee weapons and increase their durability. It is not best solution, but it is something – at least for melee weapons.
Advertised as being much more similar to classic Zelda Temples, they unfortunately fall short in comparison to them. Goron Temple especially stands out as throwback to classic Zelda, but unfortunately, like so many things in TotK, it can be easily cheesed with new tools, so if you’re craving for that classic experience you have to deliberately not use some of the tools at your disposal. Some folks tend to think of getting to a Temple as part of the Temple experience (and there are some really good ones), but classic Zeldas have that part as well and it would be more honest to judge Temples on its own merit. Generally, they are too short, too simple and with too easy boss fights, so all in all, while not inherently bad, they are not that great either.
* Physics and Chemistry are still selective
While getting some upgrades in TotK, these systems are still limited to developer approved objects in the world, which, depending on how much you care for consistency, will or will not bother you. In other words, it works great…when it works.
* “Magitech” (AKA Zonai Devices)
Depending on your view of Zelda games, “Magitech” in them can range anywhere from Great to Horrible. This was present in BotW as well to a degree, but TotK steps it significantly up. If you don’t mind that Legend of Zelda has Airplanes, Rockets, Lasers and Mechas that you can use and build, then you’ll enjoy TotK a lot in this regard. But if you feel that Zelda should retain more of its original idea of being “medieval tale of sword and sorcery”, as per Miyamoto, inspired by The Lord of the Rings (as per Takashi Tezuka) then TotK is probably the worst mainline Zeldas in that regard.
* Exploration is cheapened
While there was nothing wrong with BotWs idea of “try to climb anywhere”, actual implementation that allowed you to very easily climb even the highest cliffs could often lessen the actual sense of accomplishment and allow player to cheaply bypass some of the content (emphasize being on cheaply here – there’s nothing wrong with bypassing content in open world game).
TotK gives you additional tools to bypass even more cheaply lot of the content on the main land map, by using Skyview towers to sling you into the air, or by using Recall on frequently falling boulders from the sky and then using them as sky elevators. Due to that, both land traversal and finding Shrines becomes trivial, something that was almost never trivial in BotW. Rubbing salt into the wound is Ascend, that gives you instant vertical elevator through any terrain, if you can find suitable place to activate it, which you usually do.
Exploration in Depths at first feels intimidating and very intriguing, due to pitch black environment and Gloom that is everywhere and eats temporarily your hearts, both on ground and on monsters. But overabundance of Lightbloom seeds in Hyrule’s caves and easy to figure out positioning of Lightroots on the map quickly removes lighting restriction, and, along with frequent Zonai device stashes, makes another part of the world too easy to traverse.
Sky is probably the most difficult to traverse, due to how far away some of the islands can be, both horizontally and vertically, and although upgrading Batteries is not overly difficult (so Zonai device contraptions become easier to get further and further away), it somewhat retains its difficulty to reach certain points even later in the game.
Last but not least thing that makes exploration too easy is free use of Runes – they are endless resource, and just like in BotW, they way too often provide you with shortcuts that should cost something in game that has most other things cost you something. Autobuild at least costs you Zonite, if you don’t already have required components, but other Runes come free of charge.
* Shrines are worse than BotW
Shrines were controversial method of progression in BotW, given that they forced the player to go and solve them in order to collect orbs, so they can upgrade health and stamina. This was for many a step back from earlier Zelda games that organically awarded exploration with Heart containers, especially since Shrines are mostly short Rune puzzled-based “dungeons” that you have to finish in order to get your orb reward. In best cases, there were more organic and incorporated into the world itself, thus feeling more satisfying than “oh, another Shrine - should I bother going there for orb or not?”. And given that you were on foot most of the time in BotW, at least you really had to pay attention and actively search for shrines, if you wanted to progress.
TotK shrines are, in most cases, the same short Rune puzzle-based affairs, but not only they are way easier to find (due to aforementioned cheapening of exploration), but they are often too reliant on Ultrahand (if they are not Ascend or Recall based) and simply a test of your patience, given that solutions to them are, more often than not, immediately obvious, thus only putting your mastery of gamepad in controlling Ultrahand to a test. They very often simply boil down to being pure tedium for little reward, either in the way of player feeling clever or concrete reward.
* Game is very easy
BotW was not a hard game, but overall, TotK seems to be even easier. Temple bosses are exceptionally easy, most, if not all, “mini bosses” around the world are trick based threats that come down to whether or not you need some material they drop and if you’re willing to use enough of your resources for that. Even the BBEG, Ganondorf is way, way too easy, even if you’re only halfway through your hearts and armor upgrades.
* Collectible based exploration
BotW made you go after Korok seeds as a must collect resource if you wanted to upgrade your weapons/shields inventory space and go to Shrines for orbs so you can upgrade Hearts/Stamina.
TotK adds Zonite for batteries upgrade and as Autobuild resource, if you care about that.
In addition to that now there’s also Bubbul gems as a reward for “completing” a Cave, that you can exchange for some gear and Poes that you can exchange for some gear as well in Depths.
Then on top of that, there is Hudson Sings Ultrahand Puzzles all over the land, Wells quest and I’m sure I forgot few more. Honestly, this is pretty lousy way to nudge players toward exploration. Which brings to last, but not least entry:
* Gameplay loop is essentially broken, just like in BotW
BotW was (and is) game praised for its freedom of exploration first, which it offers in abundance. However, rewards for that exploration are very often either bland and obligatory, like in case of Orbs and Korok seeds or something that is even worse than what player had to use to get to it, like in case of fighting many monsters. This is due to several core design choices, such as easily breakable and not repairable weapons, tying Health/Stamina progression to Shrines and weapons/shields inventory space to Korok seeds.
TotK is almost the same in this regard to BotW. Fuse ability does help alleviate some of the durability problems, but doesn’t completely fix what was fundamentally broken mechanism from the start, in the name of experimentation. Nintendo somewhat backpedals on this in TotK, giving players a way to save your Fused material and attach it again to base weapon of your choice (not that you ever need to do that, given overall overabundance of materials), so maybe next Zelda game will finally go with more standard approach of weapons that have durability, but can be regularly fixed (and not in limited capacity via certain creature). If weapons could be upgraded as well, just like armors can be, it would give players actual incentive to go searching for specific materials, thus exploring and getting into encounters, instead avoiding them for not wanting to break their weapons. It would also give players option to focus on certain playstyle, depending on the weapon of their choice. Maybe there’s also a way to improve ways for getting Health/Stamina and inventory space instead of current obligatory Shrine/Korok mini puzzle approach.
Currently what this formula offers, in its TotK incarnation, is magnificently designed world in which you want to go to a lot of places once you start the game and look everywhere around you. World is beautiful and its brimming with exploration opportunities. Then, after 15-20 hours, you’ve got to know most of mechanisms and what is required of you to progress, and then when you see something interesting in the distance, it is hard not to feel sort of disappointment that you pretty much know what the reward will be. Another Shrine. Another Korok, Another Bubbul gem from Cave. Another armor piece that you probably don’t even need, given how easy game has become (at least BotW’s armor was useful). Yes, there’s occasional pleasant surprise, but they are far few and in-between.
When it comes to world itself, TotK does fix some of the things from the BotW, giving you more things to explore, Sky, Caves (which were sorely missed in BotW) and Depths. Sky is good overall, Caves are mostly good, though they could do with lot more variety and length, and Depths, although personally most interesting at the beginning, fairly early boil down to lot of empty space with nothing much really. Honestly, I find BotW to be better exploration game, given how much all the stuff you are given in TotK cheapens most of exploration.
I found narrative structure to be improvement over BotW, if somewhat cookie-cutter, but it kept me going. There’s plenty of side quests and side adventures if one’s up to that – I did some of them, but in games that don’t have much of actual consequences or choices (BotW/TotK are open-world, but not open-ended games), with reward system that is in place, side quest often seem like a waste of time, if you personally don’t find them entertaining for some reason (I did Master Kohga for fun and one full Labyrinth to see what’s in there in the end – not much, unfortunately).
I don’t find any appeal in playing engineer in Zelda game – there are games to go to for such experience with much better systems and the whole Magitech feel it heavily resonates with is not what I want from Zelda game.
Overall, I felt somewhat empty after finishing it – I didn’t like it much, but I didn’t dislike it as much as I’d expected. It is BotW Part II and not actually completely new Zelda game, so lot of stuff, both good and bad from BotW, are still present. Some of the things are at least somewhat fixed, like weapon durability, some things that many fans asked for, like classic Dungeons were not fixed. It’s fairly solid game and one’s enjoyment will vary depending on what one expects from open world game and from Zelda game. YMMV, I guess.
My final verdict would be somewhere between Decent (A qualified success; the positive aspects still outnumber the negative, but the weaknesses noticeably hinder the experience) and Good (A solid adventure that is generally enjoyable, though it lacks enough polish, consistency or ambition to recommend without caution).
* these are Adventure Gamers descriptions of 3 stars (Decent) and 3.5 stars (Good), the system I use to score video games as well.
Machina posted 17/05/2023, 05:43
10 million in 3 days
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Machina posted 15/05/2023, 08:01
Just French sales only so far - 500,000 launch there.
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