Friday, March 3, 2017

Breath of the Wild Adventure Log, Entry 1

The Great Plateau

Breath of the Wild aims at breaking the traditions of the Zelda series and you already notice this, when booting the game. It takes you right in, you hear the words "Wake up, Link" and you're in the game. No title screen, no savegame menu, no intro sequence. That's unlike any other Zelda game and probably also unlike most games. Instead you will be greeted with the game's title upon leaving the Shrine of Resurrection and embracing the view of the vast Hyrule before you.

(The "Wake up, Link" voice has a British accent, by the way, which sounds weird at first, but might fit the whole medieval theme.)

The first part of the game is exactly what we've already seen in full detail at last year's E3. And not much has changed since then. The only difference that I could make out was the absence of the Fire Rod weapon and the hidden Rupee stash - you just get some Fire Arrows and Ancient Screws instead. Well, they probably added the Fire Rod to the demo just for showcasing reasons. And usually the E3 demo levels end up quite different from the actual product, but not in this case.

And with this I felt somewhat underwhelmed, when I got into the game, because I knew the whole thing already and with the surprises gone, it all just seemed like some glorified junk collecting simulator, instead of a solid Zelda experience. I made it my mission to replay all 3D Zelda games in the last two months as a preparation to Breath of the Wild and I probably got used too much to the standards of these games. And there you usually start in the shelter of some village or town and you quickly get your trusty sword that stays with you. Here you're left alone with some spooky old man in the wilderness and collect swords that break after a couple of strikes...

It doesn't mean that the new system is bad, but I seriously feel like this is a game that starts being fun, after you are more familiar with everything. At the beginning it is more trial and error. But this might be a good thing, where there is some actual replay value after mastering the game. However, it makes me mad that there's seemingly only one savegame, because it doesn't really allow for experimentation. For example on the east side it seems possible to climb down the Plateau without the Paraglider. And it would be fun to try this out right in the beginning, if it didn't erase your current savegame. (You can create new profiles, however.)

Anyway, while you don't get a solid sword right away, you have the Sheikah Slate at your side, which impressed me with the fact that you can use it for teleportation so early in the game. Usually you unlock a teleportation song or ability much later, but it's nice to have this available right away. And the same goes for the different Runes. Like in the demo you get the first four Runes from the Shrines on the Plateau. And at least Bombs seem like a good way of attacking even without any other stuff, you just can't let the enemies get close to you or else you will die...

And dying seems like quite the thing. Normally with Zelda games my goal is not to get a Game Over. There were exceptions like Tri Force Heroes, but for the most part it was a considerable goal to not die in a Zelda game - certain titles like Link's Awakening even encouraged so. With Breath of the Wild I quickly gave up on that goal after plunging to death from the top of the Temple of Time thrice. And getting smashed by Steppe Talus. Or drowning in ice water after getting stuck under my own raft. Or trying to fight a blue Bokoblin for the first time. It's easy to get killed, but with the auto save feature it seems like a part of the experience. Die and try again.

In that regard it reminds me of Don't Starve in many ways. Of course that game is a 2D topdown adventure with randomized worlds and if you die there, you will have to start over from the beginning. But the way how you collect lots and lots of resources to survive and how you do inventory management, as well as how you can die anywhere in the silliest ways really reminded me of that title. (Dying even leaves a "R.I.P." mark on the map, but sadly it only shows your latest death. It would be nice to display all your death marks.)

But all the fighting and dying isn't for nothing. After clearing the Bokoblin camps on the Great Plateau, they stay empty afterwards. The more enemies you defeat, the more peaceful it gets, and I quite like this system. Combat strains you, where you couldn't keep going at it forever. At one point you just want to explore the area and get on with your goals. Luckily, most resources seem to regenerate. Like trees that you cut earlier will "respawn". Even weapons seem to re-appear at Bokoblin camps, if you need some. But treasure chests will go away permanently and so do certain things like Arrows that you were able to find.

On the Plateau you could potentially do the shrines in any order, but I went with the most obvious one: Magnesis, Bombs, Stasis, Cryonis. The last one requires you to enter the freezing areas of Mount Hylia, where you have the option to either keep yourself warm with food and fire or just get some warm clothes from the Old Man, who seems to be everywhere at the same time, where I had some good laughs. I especially liked, how you can keep asking him, what he's doing.

But this whole part turned out to be a very natural tutorial. You're not forced to do anything, but you can follow the guidance of the Old Man and learn all the basics for the game, like hunting and cooking. And there are always options. There is this little quest to get the warm clothes, where you have to find the right recipe from the Old Man's diary, but if you don't like this, you can just eat some Spicy Peppers. The goal are the Shrines, but how you get there is entirely up to you.

How the Sheikah Monks dissolve, after you get the Spirit Orb from them at the end of each Shrine, reminds me of Impa at the end of Skyward Sword. It might even be the exact same thing: their souls are just waiting there to fulfill their purpose. Collecting four Spirit Orbs and bringing them to the Goddess Statue gives you then a choice between a Heart Container or a Stamina upgrade. I went for the Heart Container, because it seemed like the more natural option, but I wonder, if this ends as up as some savegame changing choice like in the original The Legend of Zelda, where you could potentially miss some Heart Containers. Or maybe it will be like the Pond of Happiness in A Link to the Past, where you can upgrade either Bomb or Arrow capacities, but in the end you will have maxed out both. With 120 Spirit Orbs you could potentially receive 30 upgrades in total, where there might be 17 Heart Containers and 13 Stamina boosts... But let's see.

Even after I got the Paraglider, I still decided to stay at the Plateau for a while to fully scavenge the entire area. For the most part I just wanted to find all three DLC chests (I purchased the DLC later on, which is why I didn't immediately find them), but I also got my revenge on Steppe Talus and found a total of 6 Koroks. I really enjoy this collectible sidequest, because they can hide anywhere in very different means. It's fun to search for them and that there's 900 of them is simply amazing.

It's just bad that the map doesn't keep track of them. Maybe this is a feature, which gets unlocked later on, but to fully collect all 900 it would be nice, if you could display the ones that you have on the map, while there also should be a per-area counter like with the Poes in Twilight Princess HD. (Update: The locations are in fact displayed on the lowest zoom level, so don't mind me.)

Calamity Controls

My biggest gripe with the game so far are the controls. It really took me quite some time to get used to them. The classic A button has essentially been split up into four different buttons... And it's not always intuitive, what button does what. For example in order to shield surf, you would expect to use the shield button while in the air. But instead you have to shield, then jump and then press A. And that's a more complicated example, while it already starts with the simple stuff like pressing Y to attack with your melee weapon, instead of B, which now puts your weapon away. I often have to think about the controls, which takes me out of the game.

And I shouldn't have to get used to them like that. Simple options for the controls would be a solution, but you can only switch the run (B) and jump (X) buttons, which isn't exactly helpful. The game also has the same terrible camera controls options as Twilight Princess HD, where the setting goes for both 3rd person and 1st person camera. As someone, who is used to the controls of The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess on the GameCube, where the horizontal camera is inverted in 3rd person, but not in 1st person view, I have a hard time adjusting to this game. And I shouldn't have to. Just add some more options, Nintendo!

The Magnesis Rune also doesn't allow you to rotate objects, which makes placing things in the right spot needlessly complicated.

Story Time

After completing the four Shrines on the Great Plateau, the game beyond the E3 demo finally starts and the Old Man reveals his true identity and important chunks of the story to you.

Leaving the Plateau

While the game gives you a clear goal after beating the Great Plateau, you don't really have to follow it. You can just try to go to Ganon right away or you can go somewhere else. The Old Man tells you to go to Kakariko Village in the east, where you should talk to Impa. So, out of spite I decided to take off to the west, where you have some canyon area. But it didn't seem like it was easy to travel there, so I wandered down south into some savanna-like area with wolves and horses. And one of the horses there looked a lot like Ganon:

I wanted to tame it, but had no success. It even kicked me for some serious damage at times. And I didn't have any luck taming any of the horses in the area, so I got frustrated and decided to simply walk. It kind of made me regret that I didn't went for that Stamino boost, because the Heart Container didn't make any bigger difference here. With the wolves around and me not properly equipped it was a dangerous endeavor anyway, where having a horse would have been the most helpful.

After a certain time it even looked like the air was on fire and the "blood moon" cutscene rolled, which had me seriously spooked. It seemed like back at the Plateau the monsters will have returned in bigger numbers, but I haven't checked yet...

Later down the path there was even a giant monster, probably a Moblin, which looked so dangerous that I decided to take a route through the cliffs instead. And it was there, where I met my first real person in the game: Moza, a girl with the passion to cook Dubious Food. She likes to mix meat with things like minerals or ancient technology...

But I didn't only meet my first NPC in this area, but also my first shrine outside the Plateau: the Ishto Soh Shrine. This one had a nice puzzle, which reminded me of the Desert Palace in A Link Between Worlds, where you keeping switching the red and blue blocks by having the crystal switches activated by traps. It was similar here with a block that fires a laser, which reminded me even more of Portal.

While I didn't have any luck with taming horses earlier, I met my first horse right after the Shrine. It came right at me with a Bokoblin on its back, trying to kill me... So, I hit the horse, killed the Bokoblin and befriended the horse. :-D It might be because the Bokoblin already tamed it, but you don't look a gift horse in the mouth. There was even the "Highland Stable" not far from this point, where I could register my first mare with the highly original name "Firsta".

This requires 20 Rupees, where up to this point I never found a single Rupee. Which is also a big difference in Breath of the Wild, where you can't just find Rupees or Hearts under grass. It's more "realistic" here, where you eat to heal and trade to make money. All the Amber that I've collected on the Great Plateau could be sold for 30 Rupees a piece to the new and improved Muscle Beedle, which allowed me to participate in all the Horse Stable activities, including some annoying obstacle course riding minigame... Sigh, it had to be back. But there was also my first official sidequest here, where you have to take out a gang of riding Bokoblins.

Very close to the stable was the Ka'o Makagh Shrine. And in general I like having these shrines as some puzzle pauses. It's nice to do something else after all this surviving on the overworld, but this particular shrine had two Mini Guardians, where one of them had quite a lot of health and a Guardian Spear. After two tries I managed to kill the thing and get the nice spear, but I somehow would like it more, if the Shrines were entirely peaceful and give you something to relax from the horrors on the overworld.

Well, after the stable and the shrine I found myself being drawn more and more to the game's given destination. It's curious, how I tried going into the opposite direction, but with the dangers around I still got "guided" back to where I was supposed to go. I ended up at the "Lake Tower", which was heavily guarded by Lizalfos and Bokoblins, but I managed to sneak around and get a scan of the area that I've been exploring: Faron Grasslands. In the north of the area you have the massive Lake Hylia with its giant bridge, leading back to where I'm supposed to go.

At night around the hill near the Lake Tower some spooky ghosts appeared that shoot fireballs. Those are probably either Poes or Wizzrobes, but they are definitely scary... I just ran and used the Paraglider to get to a spot that was marked with an X made out of small rocks. However, I only found a Stal-Moblin there, which was surprisingly easy to defeat.

And now I'm faced with an awkward decision. Will I "give up" and ride over the bridge at Lake Hylia to follow the game's direction or will I continue running around aimlessly and unprepared into dangers...? The choice seems obvious...

End of Day 1 Progress:
  • Shrines: 6
  • Koroks: 7

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