Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Criticism of Criticism: Sterling's Breath of the Wild Review

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the game that took up the better part of my last few weeks, even commanding greater presence in my gaming life than the constant, personal nag to do world quests in WoW. It also probably contributed to the lack of articles but to be fair, a lot of things cause me to procrastinate from writing articles so in that case, playing a new game I've been keeping an eye on is nothing new. Within a week, I had managed to reach all the game's endings and was thinking about publishing some thoughts since discussion on the game seemed to become increasingly polarized and while I thought the game was excellent, probably one of the best I've played, it wasn't entirely a masterpiece. A few days later after returning from some a trip involving personal affairs, I found out about the Jim Sterling review.

This review seemed to cause quite a stir over the internet and out of the largely overwhelming number of strongly positive reviews about the game, this review stood out, calling it a good game but bringing forth a laundry list of negatives. After managing to access the site because it had trouble loading and reading the review a few times, I found it to be an interesting, mentally engaging read. While I can't really agree with his way of getting points across, as someone who is guilty of being highly critical to the point of being difficult to socialize with, I did find the mentality driving the review relatable in a sense.

Ultimately, the review has led me to do the following with what will likely be my only article on this game for the foreseeable future. Instead of just tossing my thoughts out there in the form of a shorter article listing my likes and dislikes, I will instead review Jim Sterling's review of the game, which should help me get my own thoughts on at least the Nintendo Switch version of the game in order as I agree and disagree with the various points he's made. Doing so should kill two birds with one stone in a sense since I rather enjoy trying to create a discussion of sorts by deconstructing and addressing the points of others. Considering how I tend to post on forums when I engage in such discussion, this post will basically be a super long forum post where I quote points subsequently throughout his review and acknowledge them, providing some semblance of a summary when I can. To prevent the article from being even longer and basically copying over half of the review in question, I will quote a paragraph or more at a time and truncate some of the quotes. Because of this, I would recommend reading the review in question

Finally, before starting, it's worth mentioning there will be spoilers and this article will be very long.

"Unfortunately, it makes you work harder for it than you should, buried as it is under a pile of small but constant irritations that collaborate to form a thick crust of frustration around a delectable center. Breath of the Wild is a delightful adventure, one that tries its utmost to be as big a pain in the arse as possible."
This paragraph isn't that long, so no need to trim. This point will help to serve as a base for a lot of the points Sterling makes later in the review, so it's worth keeping it in mind for the sake of context.
"Theoretically, it’s possible to march from the starting area to the castle and fight Calamity Ganon..."
Not even theoretically. It was routed and done within a day of release. Some of the people running Any% of Breath of the Wild may have had copies prior to the actual release, but it's a point that may be worth keeping in mind.

With that said, not everyone's going to try to speedrun the game and kill Calamity Ganon within the better part of an hour, so I guess the point is fair to say. Besides, the point comes off as more of a segue into...

Dungeons, Shrines, and Puzzles
"To stand a believable chance against Nintendo’s favorite canned evil, Link must travel ... subduing the Divine Beasts..."

"These beasts each have their own detailed quest lines ... also serve as the closest thing to traditional dungeons in the game, though they’re more akin to four gigantic puzzle rooms with concluding boss fights than the intricate, deadly sprawls offered in past games."
This particular detail on the Divine Beasts is true. Despite my puzzle-loving background thanks to games like Golden Sun, I couldn't help but feel that these dungeon equivalents seemed a little small and short even when accounting for the journey to enter them. Furthermore, the dungeons could've stood to showcase more of what the game had to offer especially in the way of combat since there were issues like a lack of enemy variety. With that said, they were cleverly designed and I liked the way that each dungeon could be manipulated to change the layout.
"Puzzles are the central component to the unbelievable amount of Shrines littering the world..."

"...they become a handy fast travel point and offer a unique puzzle or (rarely) combat challenge, usually short but often just tricky enough to stimulate the brain..."

"...the rewards are crucial to both survival and long-term enjoyment of the game."
I had to cut out a lot here in particular but basically, Sterling is describing the Shrine system that, for all intents and purposes, all award a Piece of Heart at the end. I would add, since Sterling didn't really point it out, that the side quests that can open up shrines can vary from completing an overworld challenge to playing one of the many minigames and some of the side quests can even be skipped, which helps to highlight how flexible the gameplay of Breath of the Wild can be. It's also worth mentioning that some shrine puzzles may serve as something of a tutorial that leads to players learning new tricks that they can do in the game with the tools they have.

On a side note, I was amused by the little quip at motion controls. However, outside of a couple challenges, that feature in particular isn't that bad and if anything, aiming with the motion controls for archery and the usage of Sheikah Slate runes seems a lot easier to do than with the right Joycon stick (even at high sensitivity).
"Nevertheless, it’s an odd decision to constantly break immersion and flow by halting the player and giving them yet another weird little puzzle bunker that seems like it doesn’t quite belong in this world and reeks of a game that knew it needed traditional Zelda dungeons but didn’t know quite where to shove them."
This is about the closest Sterling gets to criticizing the dungeon formula in Breath of the Wild. Before getting into that, I can't say I agree with the point that shrines break immersion, or at least not that much. While the change in scenery can be a little jarring, it was pretty clear there was going to be some mingling of a technology theme early in the game with a wilderness-like overworld, so the transition makes a bit of sense there. In addition, side quests flow pretty well into a shrine that gives Link some rewards and sends him on his way. In other cases, the shrines can be seen in the distance due to player scouting and reaching and completing the shrine becomes something of a goal, with braving whatever the overworld throws at the player being part of the trial. This process isn't perfect and in some cases a player may be distracted from another objective, but even then I'd argue that the player could unlock the shrine and fast travel back to finish it later.

As for the point on dungeons, after thoroughly playing the game and watching various speedruns of it including an All Dungeons category, I can't help but feel that that aspect of the main story is a little lacking. Four main dungeons of modest size plus (maybe) a handful of shrines found near main quest-related settlements plus some overworld challenges plus a final dungeon that can basically be skipped with a lot of creative climbing doesn't seem like much especially when considering past games like The Wind Waker. I understand that Breath of the Wild isn't meant to be the same but I really wish there was a bit more to the main story than to free the four Divine Beasts, acquire the Master Sword, and go on a memory hunt that, while great for promoting exploration, only offers bits and pieces in the way of story. Personally, I would've liked a couple more dungeons to become available after acquiring the Master Sword that, when completed, empower the blade in some way (faster self-repair, indestructible, increased damage against "evil" enemies, etc.) since it might make sense to do so when considering the game's story. It would add a lot more substance and has great potential to fit thematically on the path to the true end much like it did in some past games.
"Yes, every shrine is technically optional ... but if you want to have a solid chance of actually succeeding, the proper way of handling shrines is to complete them on sight ... finish as many of them as possible, as close to all 120 of the bloody things as you can."
I understand what Sterling is getting at here since I basically completed all the shrines on sight as he said, but I think whether players do or need to will vary. Not everyone needs to maximize their Heart Containers and Stamina Gauge. For instance, while I did go out of my way to try to find shrines, I still haven't found all 120 yet and I had found about half by the time I reached the true ending of the game and I started out as a complete newb who died a ton. While he's not necessarily wrong, the statements in this paragraph seem a little hyperbolic.

Combat, Especially Weapon Durability
"Given the additional “difficulty” of Breath of the Wild, it’s more crucial than ever to have a solid health supply, ... the main way in which this game tries to be tough is to make most enemies highly absorbent and more than capable of dropping Link in one or two hits."

"Rather than fully mimic the Dark Souls combat it half-heartedly aims for, Breath simply pumps up the monsters’ ability to do damage ... It’s a cheap and dirty way of making any game more “challenging” and I can’t say I find it particularly edifying."
For the sake of length, I had to trim a little bit out of the two paragraphs, but it basically boils down to Sterling criticizing the difficulty of Breath of the Wild, mostly based on the monsters having a lot of health and damage output. I find this claim to be more of a half-truth that requires some detail to explain. On damage output:

Firstly, difficulty and reward seems to scale upwards as the game progresses. I'm unsure as to what exactly the game uses to determine it, but I've found that enemy varieties and the weapons they used changed as I finished quests and Link gained more power. This isn't consistent everywhere and some enemies may even remain unchanged, but even in the starting area of the Great Plateau, one might end up running into painful damage sponges like the Silver Bokoblin later on which can drop gemstones that sell well. Prior to that, there were few enemies in the early game that had me wish that Link started with 6 hearts like in Skyward Sword (maybe the Stone Talus, which is a boss, and Blue Bokoblins, which appeared rarely). I probably did more damage to myself via Remote Bombs early on.

Secondly, the game's difficulty varies a little bit between main quest content and optional content. Following up on the previous point, I noticed a lot of enemies that are optional to fight, like the Igneo Talus, Molduga, and Lynel, are the ones that seem to do a high amount of damage and even then the heavy damage seems to apply only to specific attacks that are better explained in the next point. Story bosses don't seem to hit quite as hard and enemies like Guardians are generally meant to be fought later when Link has more health and better equipment to engage them.

Thirdly, the game is fairly consistent with telegraphing lethality. For instance, with a large number of weapons, some being more powerful versions of others, there's going to be a fair amount in the way of visually determining of the enemy has a powerful weapon by how sophisticated and deadly it looks, especially since the game starts the player off by fighting enemies using rather crude weaponry. Such visual cues are also consistent with other attacks like a massive enemy's melee attack or a horseback enemy's charge since in such scenarios it should not be a surprise if the attacks severely injure, if not outright kill, an unprepared Link. Some aren't as immediately apparent but make a bit of sense, like the fact electric damage tends to drain a lot of Link's hearts without sufficient protection. While there may be a little too much in the way of this sort of mechanic, the deaths at least aren't usually brutally unfair.

Finally, there are a number of defensive options available. I think Sterling undersells armor a little in these two paragraphs on the combat system since I thought similar until I stopped using threadbare Sheikah Armor in favor of something that actually had a decent armor rating that helped cut down incoming damage a bit more. A number of these sets are available fairly early on, as is the ability to upgrade the equipment at least once. However, while wearing a full set of armor that gives a collective defense of 84 at maximum power is a good option that helps to keep me safe from even Silver Lynels, specialized protection, shields, and various other tactics are also fairly good options.

In the case of specialized protection, these can come in the form of consumables and armor. For example, there's a set of armor that reduces damage from the attacks of Guardians, while another reduces electricity damage. Consumable benefits can be stacked on top of this for bonuses ranging from a generic defense increase to elemental resistances to increased movement speed. Speaking of consumables, players can carry around a plethora of healing items, including many Fairies (this time without the need for bottles).

In the case of shields, I'm under the impression they might be the most overpowered equipment in the game. They can stop many types of attacks, including lasers, and can even have their durability preserved by doing a parry with it, which is essentially a Skyward Sword-styled shield bash bound to an action that is thankfully not also the Spin Attack.

Other tactics can range from sprinting around to avoid attacks to targeting an enemy and using jump to potentially create an opening for a Flurry Rush. Aside from being evasive in nearly every conceivable way that doesn't involve rolling, Sheikah Slate runes, the environment, and other options are available for the player to use to get an upper hand.

As for enemies that have a load of health, this varies in itself though the only one that seems to border on unfair are Lynels, which basically seem to be boss tier mini-Ganons in centaur form best fought from the midgame onward, and silver enemies, which seem to show up much later in the game when the player has access to more powerful weapons that somewhat prevent the fight from becoming excessively lengthy to the point of overstaying its welcome. It probably doesn't help that the most enemy healthbars are small and barely appear to decrease. On a related note, I actually wish Calamity Ganon's health wasn't cut in half if all the Divine Beasts are saved since the player gains so many other benefits from saving the Divine Beasts as it is. The difficulty variance on that fight is wild to the point I think of Mecha Ridley from Metroid: Zero Mission.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that this criticism of the combat system is a little exaggerated by pointing out some of the more extreme circumstances players can run into in the game. Furthermore, while I can't speak for the Dark Souls comparison, there's a fair amount of depth in the Breath of the Wild combat system that can lead to a number of tactical decisions ranging from careful preparation to skill-based actions on the fly that doesn't just involve constantly having to dodge attacks, hoping to never get instantly killed. To put it another way, I didn't really get the impression that the people working on Breath of the Wild just arbitrarily "took the difficulty and doubled it" which I also loathe, but rather that was some care put into determining the game's difficulty. It's not perfectly fair or balanced, but when accounting for the options players have to approach enemies, it's probably at a tolerable level of fair and sure as heck doesn't seem punishing.
"The other major point of contention holding back combat is – and you know I have to say it – weapon durability."

"It’s hardly surprising the people of Hyrule can’t definitively put Ganon away ... their swords are made out of glass and wishes ... They break a LOT..."
I knew this was coming since it was controversial even as far back as the earlier previews of the game. Let's see what he has to say.
"Weapon durability systems are never fun, and Zelda goes out of its way to make it as excruciating as it possibly can. While others have claimed that late game weapons are durable enough for it to not be a problem, I maintain that some of the more powerful weapons in the game are still miserably brittle, able to withstand maybe a handful of enemies before players get a nagging pop-up notifying them their fun with the weapon they might have been loving is about to conclude."
He's not wrong in the sense that some late game weapons do have very low durability. Then again, the item descriptions for those pieces of equipment explicitly mention they are pretty fragile and a number of them are found in Hyrule Castle, which is one of the best sources of early endgame weapons. In that context, intentionally making them a little low on durability might make a bit of sense and at the very least, makes a speedrun of Calamity Ganon even more challenging. Furthermore, this doesn't change the fact there are a number of weapons that are generally acquired in the mid-late game that have fairly high durability, so turnover rates go down by a lot. There's even some fairly durable early game weapons. I would probably consider having bonus weapon effects, like increased durability, show up sooner to alleviate the issue of early game weapons having a high tendency to break though.

On a side note, the first statement of this particular paragraph doesn't do any favors in terms of Sterling shelving his bias to try to understand the system but rather the game may have made him more immovable on the topic. It's understandable, but I have to admit the strong negative bias makes it harder to take him seriously even though a game review has plenty of reason to be opinion-based since it can limit how well of an informed decision a prospective player can make about a game.
"Once the weapon embarrassingly shatters, players will need to pause their combat ... and select a new weapon ... or scrabble for something on the ground, even if it’s one of the hundreds of crap clubs..."
I agree that the game could stand to have less pausing in the middle of combat in at least this sense. It does mess with the gameplay flow a bit and while all of the buttons are bound to some action as is, there are still ways to minimize the amount of pausing needed in combat. Personally, I would have Link automatically switch to the next available weapon he has when a weapon breaks, with pausing to switch weapons being more of a fine-tuning action. As for scavenging weapons off the ground, the options are definitely a lot more varied than "crap clubs" (though there are many especially earlier on and are at least handy for lighting on fire) and there's plenty of durable weapons one can find even from the hands of the enemy.
"Also, don’t get too excited when you find the handful of weapons that can be 'repaired.' They can’t be. They break like everything else, and will need exorbitant resources spent with specific NPCs to reforge – exorbitant to the point of literally not being worth it. The only truly lasting weapon is the Master Sword, which itself comes with caveats."
This is largely true to the point I wish the game had a more extensive crafting system when it comes to weapons since there's a lot of underused materials.

Anyways, in the case of weapons that can be reforged, I generally found that the most expensive material, Diamonds, wasn't the limiting factor since there were many ways to trade in for one in addition to other acquisition options to the point a player may have several at any point in time. If anything, I had trouble finding the weapon needed to reforge the special "repairable" weapons. It is worth mentioning these weapons all have very high durability though so it might be worthwhile if one happens to get the lesser weapon needed. As for the Master Sword, the caveat isn't terribly bad considering its durability, especially since it seems to drain far slower on enemies that the weapon is effective against.

It's worth mentioning that there is a crafter in the game that can make Ancient weapons, which are very durable. These are really more of an endgame thing since it's still more effective to craft the armor but that option does exist and the materials needed all come from Guardians, which are fairly accessible.
"Weapon durability has become a controversial talking point for this game. Some ... [claim] ... it 'encourages variety.' I’m firmly among those who believe that it doesn’t encourage variety so much as it discourages..."
I'd say I'm on the side that defends the weapon durability system though at the same time I could see a system working either way since I've played somewhat similar games that have utilized both. I do think a weapon durability system encourages variety in a sense that without turnover, players are more likely to just use the most powerful weapons available. This isn't a bad thing considering I really enjoy swinging my Meowmere in Terraria or the like, but it does limit variety purely on the merits of equipment performance, and incomparable mechanics are tough to balance and may not suffice to improve the situation.

Meanwhile, while it's a little forced, players do get a sense of how a wide array of the weapons work in a game with a weapon durability system since they generally have to use whatever is on hand. It's not perfect and not necessarily desirable by all players, but with a decent balance in the abundance, variety, and turnover rate of weapons, players can typically keep to their preferred choice and style with room to branch out. If the information in the chart I linked above are even remotely correct, I think the balance is probably decent enough.

In addition, I think the strength of a durability system is it encourages other types of gameplay. Again, while it may feel forced, players may consider more creative ways to kill enemies that preserve weapon durability, such as by dropping a metal box on enemies or using bombs (my preferred method). It also helps that the game encourages the usage of alternative methods without coming off as punishing by providing scenarios where certain methods are highly effective. There are also various styles of attack with weapons themselves that can be used to help preserve durability further, such as by using charged attacks, appropriate weapons, or strategizing the usage of nearly-broken weapons since when a weapon breaks or is thrown, the attack is considered a critical strike. Archery is also a solid option since weapon durability is a lot less of a problem there mostly because arrows seem to be more of a limiting factor. Ultimately the point is durability makes gameplay depth in Breath of the Wild a little more approachable, albeit in a bit of a heavy-handed manner.
"Opening a chest to find another disposable weapon that I can’t get attached to is a letdown, not a reward. Never have I been so happy to just find 100 rupees at the end of a trial..."
I have a similar view on this but not so much because I'm upset that I'm getting another weapon that'll inevitably break. Instead, I proceed to get the message informing me that my inventory is full even after I've upgraded my inventory many times. Maybe it's because of my playstyle, but even relatively early on I've found there is an enormous abundance of weapons and more durable ones equates to less turnover. To be fair, I also keep a couple tools on hand (like a flaming blade to light fires and a torch), but it is annoying to have to loot a chest again after dropping one of my many fairly powerful weapons for the sake of completion. I'd rather the weapon I loot drop to the ground instead, allowing me to pick and choose a little faster. This is even worse with shields and bows in particular since the turnover rate for those types of equipment are a lot lower.

Personal ranting aside, the abundance of weapons works well with weapon durability since it means players can get their hands on cool, powerful weapons often and generally won't find themselves unarmed. This in turn can encourage players to use up those cool weapons since they know they can get more. I guess when that point is considered, I can't be too upset about looting weapons from chests.

Just in case of fringe scenarios where a player finds themselves unarmed though, I do think Link could stand to have an unarmed attack that deals a very low amount of damage. It's awkward as is to press the attack button and Link checks his back for a weapon that's not there. The unarmed attack could even be something that's improved throughout the game and a nice throwback to the Oracles games (or I guess it could be replaced with a fairly weak indestructible weapon).
"When actually smacking enemies around, the game is quite satisfying. The monsters themselves are a big part of why, expressive and vivid as they are ... If you disarm and steal their weaponry, they’ll react with horror or outrage..."
"...they’re up to all sorts of chicanery..."
"The way they move, sound, and behave is fantastic, and they react hilariously when slapped about the place."
I cut out a lot since the next three paragraphs laud praise at the monsters themselves. I'll concur that there is a fairly good bit of attention to detail and yes, they are fun to smack around and otherwise mess with. My general preferences are to bomb them off cliffs, set them on fire, or knock non-aquatic enemies into water, drowning them.

Survival, Exploration, and the Stamina System
"While not a survival game by any means, Breath of the Wild does take some elements from the emergent genre ... Hyrule is filled with animals to slay, fruit to pick, and bugs to catch, all of which can be turned into various meals and elixirs that ... grant temporary buffs..."

"Despite the awkward way in which food is cooked ... it’s surprisingly fun to combine various foods and see what you get..."
The next three paragraphs address the cooking system of the game. The third paragraph has been cut out since it and the second half of the second paragraph mostly discuss Sterling's recommendations of what to cook and I don't have much to say about it. Actually, most of why I'm quoting this is to show Sterling acknowledged the system, which is also something I did above when discussing the game's combat difficulty. The remainder of why is that I agree that the way cooking is done is a little awkward since it requires a substantial amount of menuing to cook even a few of the 60 meals Link is able to hold. It would be really nice to have the option to interact with the cooking pot and cook meals in a manner similar to Skyrim's alchemy labs. At least the cooking cutscene can be skipped though.
"Incidentally, I cannot recommend enough finding as many “hearty” foods as you can..."
Sterling goes on to explain the strengths of the hearty food, which fully restores Link's health and provides extra hearts, serving as a buffer against some of the more damaging attacks in the game. The secondary effect is useful, but I'm concerned about the existence of hearty foods because they basically serve to obsolete normal heart restoration foods, which requires an extensive amount of materials to make even a meal that restores 20 or more hearts. Meanwhile, only a single piece of hearty material, which can be bought from some vendors, is needed to cook a meal that potentially restores just as much in later stages of the game. That seems quite unbalanced and it isn't the only disappointment related to the otherwise decent cooking system in this game. For instance, many recipes found in books and the like yield rather underwhelming food that could stand to be a lot more useful since they only seem to restore a few hearts.
"Horses are found in the wilds and can be snuck up on and mounted for a cheeky ride ... You’ll be able to equip them with gear, though the finding and even use of this gear is obtuse and poorly explained..."
This paragraph is in regards to the horse system. Personally, I'm not big on using mounts in open world games since I tend to find the controls awkward and they seem more like a compromise between fast traveling and exploration. This is especially apparent for me in this case since exploration in Breath of the Wild often involves using the paraglider or climbing, both of which are horse-unfriendly. I probably wouldn't change it because of my personal playstyle though, so all that's left here is to concur that finding and using gear for the horse does indeed seem rather cryptic, though to be fair I haven't been trying too hard to find such gear to begin with.
"Now let’s talk about stamina."
That's the mechanic that drives core gamers away from mobile games, right?
"...A garish stamina wheel appears whenever Link runs, climbs, swims, or uses his paraglider, and not only is it ugly, it’s woefully inefficient to the point where even my fat ass could outrun this easily winded little sack of nothing."

"It took four stamina upgrades – and remember these come at the cost of new heart containers – to get the stamina wheel to a point I’d find acceptable as the starting amount..."
I don't think Link's stamina usage is that inefficient and I think his starting amount is fine. Paraglider usage is pretty efficient since Link can go a fair distance even with the starting amount, so I'm not sure what's going on there. In the case of climbing or swimming, stamina drains pretty slowly by default, but the actions are a little slow without a movement speed buff and dashing trades a huge amount of stamina to do the action faster with low efficiency, so I can understand if there's a bit of an issue there and I'll discuss it in further detail when reviewing the next paragraph. In the case of running, Link is basically alternating between a jog and a sprint so as long as one isn't draining the stamina meter entirely, which causes Link to move slower for a time, the overall speed isn't too bad.
"Climbing and swimming ... will eat up stamina fast and you’ll be wanting elixirs on hand if you plan any major vertical traversal ... an excessive amount of time can be spent slowly plodding up mountains, watching that ugly green circle tick itself down."
I somewhat agree that climbing and swimming are troublesome parts of the stamina system, but there's a lot of ways to improve that part of the experience. Stamina-restoring consumables, which were mentioned and are accessible very early in the game, is only one example though probably also the most effective. There's also gear sets that can not only improve the speed of climbing and swimming, but also when the set bonus is active, greatly drain the stamina usage when "dashing." In the case of swimming specifically, the Cryonis rune provides platforms to restore stamina on and with experience, I found it faster to use Cryonis (or a raft) to travel across water than to swim. In the case of climbing specifically, abilities like Revali's Gale and the Stasis rune, along with items like Octo Balloons can help gain some height. Finally, there's usually plenty of ways to reach a location, so there may be a path that doesn't involve a rigorous amount of climbing or swimming, with the act of climbing or swimming potentially serving as a shortcut.

The point is that environmental features such as cliffs, pools of water, and the like can serve as obstacles placed as part of the level design, with stamina being only somewhat of a limitation when it comes to players traversing the vast world of Breath of the Wild. Much like with weapon durability, the limitation seem to be there to encourage players to think of the many possible solutions the game has to offer.

However, I do think the way the climbing gear and swimming gear set bonuses scale is a little extreme since the set bonus greatly reduces the stamina cost of climbing and swimming but dashing during climbing by default drains a little too much stamina. I would reduce the stamina drain for dashing while climbing to about 25% of a stamina gauge (from ~33%) to make climbing a more attractive option. In addition, the set effects for swimming and climbing reduce the dashing cost by 40%, 60%, and 80% as the gear levels increase to 2, 3, and 4. Something along those lines would be nice, I guess.
"Mountains and other high places become even more annoying when it starts to rain ... when it rains, you can’t climb... It’s one of those Nintendo things, where a silly little detail was implemented simply to have more silly little details regardless of how it actually affected gameplay."
I get that the rain is annoying considering there's been some "jokes" made on the topic, but that final statement doesn't seem accurate since I think Nintendo intended for the rain to affect gameplay in the way it did. This is because to reach one of the Divine Beasts in the game, Link must travel through an area of eternal rain that generally follows a single path surrounded by cliffs. Linear as it may be, it can be bypassed somewhat but considering the cutscenes that take place if the player goes the way the developers most expect them to (along that path), it's clear that the idea of having rain make climbing difficult was an intentional one. The game even provides a nice reward for completing a major leg of the endeavor: a piece of armor that allows Link to swim up waterfalls, which allows him to "climb" in some areas even when it is raining. I recall rain is also intentionally used as an obstacle in some other situations to create a challenge of sorts, much like a number of other game mechanics.

The point is that rain serves as another constraint much like lightning in the game does since that particular form of weather makes it deadly to use metal objects and I'm surprised that wasn't mentioned in the review at all. As to whether such constraints are liked by players is another story.
"If you were already halfway up a mountain before it started raining, you’re buggered. You’ll either need to hope you landed somewhere sheltered so you can start a fire (in another awkward bit of menu management and item holding), or abandon all your progress and paraglide to an inn or somewhere else that passes the time."

"If none of those options seem viable, you can always wait. Just wait, wait, wait until the game decides you can play it again."
Didn't want to abridge these points since there's a fair few statements made against rainy weather in the game here.

In regards to the first paragraph: it does suck to have a climbing session disrupted by rain but it's not entirely unexpected. I learned recently that the UI (in Normal mode) displays the weather forecast, which might help in that regard, though it would help if there were a couple tips mentioning its existence or something. As for having to deal with menuing to make a fire, I'm unsure if there's a better way to handle that action with the current control scheme.

However, the options listed above aren't the only ones available for dealing with climbing in the rain. While it would be nice to have a set of gear or some other benefit that prevents slipping in the rain or even a way to stop the rain entirely, it's possible to climb in the rain since Link only seems to slip at very specific points (after several steps or after jumping). With a rhythm of taking a few steps and jumping, slow progress, but progress nonetheless can be made as long as Link has the stamina to sustain his actions. Otherwise, the aforementioned alternatives to climbing that were pointed out above (Revali's Gale, Stasis, waterfall climbing, Octo Balloons, and possibly more) are especially useful in rainy weather, though some are a little more limited to use than others. The point is one doesn't necessarily have to wait out the rain to climb - it may be less efficient to do so, but it isn't impossible.

Summary of the Previous Sections
"These are the sorts of annoyances Breath of the Wild is full of. Minor inconveniences and shows of disrespect toward the player’s time."
This is the start of several paragraphs summarizing Sterling's points on his grievances with the game and how they affected his experience. Considering the counterpoints I've made above, many of the annoyances he has with the game aren't quite as bad as they sound considering there's plenty of ways to work with or around the systems in question.
"Enemy encounters that suck up your resources, cluttered menus that are a hassle to get through, the same old fucking cutscenes every time you open, enter, and complete shrines. Frequent interruptions when monsters respawn during a “blood moon” – the modern equivalent of Castlevania II‘s notorious 'curse' text box."
To briefly address the grievances listed in this paragraph:
  • Many enemy encounters can take basically no resources at all if the player wants to. Runes come to mind if a player wants to be efficient in that way. Also, Breath of the Wild enemies tend to leave a wealth of resources of their own, whether it be weapons one might desperately need or parts that can be sold or used for crafting.
  • I can't disagree with the menuing, though I guess if there's any solace the inventory screen does use a fairly large grid interface of 30 items at a time instead of forcing the player to scroll through a list. Actually, I'm surprised a similar interface isn't used when switching equipment since after some equipment inventory upgrades, I'm finding myself scrolling through a long list of weapons I want to use in the heat of combat.
  • While it would be nice to disable the cutscenes, they can be skipped. I swear the loading times probably take more time overall (on the Switch version, at least).
  • The comparison between blood moons and Simon's Quest's text box isn't that good. Short of having a glitch where blood moons occur more frequently and at random times, the blood moon is supposed to occur rather infrequently as opposed to every night. Furthermore, the cutscene that plays can be skipped and the loading time, which is probably to account for all the respawning enemies and items in the world, once again seems to be more of a time "waste." On top of all this, it's pretty nice to have an indication of when all the enemies respawn since until then, one is safe to go through an area that's been cleared of enemies.
Aside from menuing, an issue I generally agreed with in the previous sections, it seems none of these issues sound all that bad.
"Added to the weapon breakages and pitiful stamina meter, these otherwise inconsequential grievances amount to one huge collaborative wall between me and my enjoyment of the game."
I've already thoroughly addressed both of these systems, but it's worth pointing out once again that these systems are not as punishing as Sterling is making them out to be. The sheer amount of alternative methods the game provides and allows for, plus statistical aspects of the game (like weapon durability values) seems to strongly support this point.
"I hate that this fresh Zelda is so committed to tripping its audience up and forcing frequent detours and stoppages rather than encouraging the variety others so adamantly laud ... when I reflect upon the overall game, the most memorable portions were notifications about how fragile my swords were and bright green wheels, because these 'features' were inextricable built into almost all of it."
This paragraph was quite a mouthful and I feel pretty bad cutting out the positivity that Sterling brought up here, but I didn't have much to say about it and it doesn't add much to the point he's making either.

What remains comes off as a case of negativity bias in my eyes. What he sees as detours, I see as one of the many "intended" paths to take and even if there is something stopping a player, it's just one more obstacle of adversity that the player can try to surpass. As for encouraging variety, the game definitely does so even if one disagrees with how it's done. The game provides scenarios that show the strength of some method or at least will have some variance of effectiveness between the possible intended methods. The game also rewards the observant but also the impulsive with its many systems and the tricks they can provide. If Sterling disagrees with how the variety is encouraged in Breath of the Wild, such as through its systems, that's fair enough, but there is definitely an encouragement of variety despite implications otherwise in regards to concepts like the criticized systems.

Presentation and Miscellanious feat. Technical Issues
"All that said, this is a good game ... Simply exploring the world, climbing trees, hunting boars, all of this is terrific stuff. It’s amazing to finally roam a Hyrule that feels alive and lived in, more than just a hub or set dressing. I particularly love how NPCs can be found throughout the world, traveling to sell wares or fighting random monsters in the woods."
To balance out the positivity I cut out of the last paragraph, I cut out the negatives here since I already addressed it. I don't have much to add to the points made here besides noting that I am happy to explore a seamless Hyrule, especially since my last major Zelda-related experience was Skyward Sword. Without the Zelda factor considered though, the world does feel pretty seamless compared to some other games I've played that tended to feature a series of separate hubs that may even lack zones to interact with.
"Varied environments, from deep forests to large deserts to the ever-present Death Mountain offer not just visual diversity but unique climate hazards. Link will need to eat meals with elemental resistances or otherwise find and wear special armor to withstand harsh areas..."

"I fought my way to the Goron village without flame resistance gear ... it was an enjoyable kind of tough. I could have obtained some elixirs and done it more safely, but it was genuinely thrilling to survive the harshest climate possible..."
I was wondering when Sterling would bring up climates, which are another obstacle the player has to deal with. While the negative reinforcement factor probably isn't as strong as having to dealing with stamina management or weapon durability since they're not present at all times and the gear to handle them is more accessible, climates are definitely a form of it. As Sterling's anecdote shows, it's possible to get around it in a way, which leads me to wonder whether he applied these methods to other forms of adversity he ran into like the aforementioned systems. It seems that he's clearly okay with dealing with such challenges from time to time at least.
"A personal anecdote like that is part of what makes Breath of the Wild an accomplished production. There are so many little touches, so many optional paths, that players inevitably wind up with experiences unique to themselves...."

"Try and get a Moblin to hit a Cucco. You’ve maybe seen the video already."

"There’s so much to love it’s hard to list all the pleasing revelations... If you can imagine doing it, there’s at least half a chance Breath of the Wild anticipated your imagination and offered a reaction to your action."
Sterling lavishing this kind of praise seems oddly contrarian since he previously criticized systems that help to allow for these experiences and potentially create more options. As I mentioned before, he doesn't seem to see those systems that way and there are indeed constraints created by the system, but those can generally be worked around and there's so many other ways players can be hampered that other factors have to be considered. For instance, the weapon durability system and stamina system especially can create more possible design options to compensate for potential constraints. In the context of climbing, for example, the variance of steepness can alter stamina consumption and strategic alcove placement can provide spots for players to catch a breath if needed. I could've probably brought this up more explicitly before, but it seemed more appropriate to do it now since I can point out that the systems Sterling criticized have their own depth to the point of adding substance to the game despite the detriments they may have.
"Presentation is, unsurprisingly, as high as it possibly can be ... Breath of the Wild proves art direction beats horsepower by remaining gorgeous throughout, while the soundtrack is arresting as ever, employing familiar Zelda tunes only sparingly while offering some lovely original music."
The game is fairly nice-looking though I had to change some television settings to get the most out of it initially. I like the soundtrack as well but I think the background music could be improved considering how other games like World of Warcraft have decent background music that isn't too imposing but still prominent enough to make an impression. A lot of the soundtracks I happen to enjoy from this game that I think carried to game's soundtrack were the ones able to make such an impression from notable jingles, boss themes, and the more prominent background tracks.
"Framerate chug lets the side down ... In one particular fight, the framerate struggled so much I was getting full-on freezes ... it’s worth noting the game does perform markedly better when the Switch isn’t running picture to a television."
Unfortunately, I can also confirm this was the case. I revisited some of the locations Sterling mentioned (that I cut out) and noticed the framerate issues immediately, but even without Sterling's mention of it I ran into some major technical issues of my own on this front. I might be unlucky, but I've gotten several freezes and major frame drops. Strangely, I rarely get the slideshow that is 2-3 FPS but more something within the realm of dips to 0-1 FPS or something far less extreme. I can also confirm the Switch runs better in its handheld mode, but there are still some dips in FPS.

Ultimately, it's bad enough that I wish the options menu was more extensive to allow players to turn down lighting effects and the like. I personally found some of the effects too extreme to the point it's difficult to see especially when weather and fog effects are present and while it might just be my television, it would be nice to kill two birds with one stone by having a smoother visual experience that I didn't have to squint at.
"Draw distance is a problem too ... it’s hard to surveil an enemy base when you’re too far away for the enemies to appear in it...."
This is also a pretty big technical issue as well. I've encountered much of what Sterling brings up in this paragraph, which I've cut out for length. What's left should provide a good idea of the issue of draw distance though, but let's just say there's another reason I don't use horses.
"Oh, and the voice acting? Those performers using American accents are all pretty good, while the English accented ones are frigging shameful. Zelda especially sounds like such a wet blanket it’s almost depressing..."
I wasn't really expecting much when it came to the voice acting myself, even if I do find some enthralling (see: The Witcher 3). Maybe it's because it's a series that didn't have much in the way of voice acting up until now, but some awkwardness is not surprising. Still disappointing though, unfortunately.
"One should be warned also that Breath of the Wild officially turns amiibo into the overly expensive DLC they were always criticized for being ... If you want good costumes or special armaments, expect to buy a lot of plastic."
On one hand, nothing the amiibos offer is as ludicrous as the Day 1 DLC for Mass Effect 3 and even some of the most ridiculously powerful goods are arguably in more of a grey area for what's "acceptable" as DLC in a single player-oriented experience. On the other hand, they seem to be causing quite a bit of discussion over their usage in the speedrunning community at the moment and it feels awful to lock Epona behind an amiibo and the like when there could've been questing content potential. Personally, I haven't felt like I've been losing out on much but still think the practice is a little questionable since I doubt everyone feels that way considering some of the discussions I've seen.

On a related note, I'm interested in what the Expansion Pass brings and whether I should consider buying it.

"There is a laundry list of smaller complaints and points of praise that I could just trot out, but such comprehensive detail isn’t particularly necessary at this stage. It should be quite clear by now that this is a game I truly enjoyed and wanted to love far more than I did, held back considerably by frequent tests of patience that I more often than not failed."
I would've liked a more extensive review to be honest. As it is, I'm more under the impression the problem with the game is attributed to your impatience instead of the game being unreasonable in what it expects out of its players. To be fair, my expectations for the patience of individuals can sometimes be unreasonably great.
"Yet it’s an adorable game, a frequently exciting game, one with lots of cool armor pieces to wear and little secrets to uncover. Its menagerie of monsters is incredible and its massive, complex map is inspiring."
I almost agree with the points made here since I actually think there's an issue with enemy variety in this game. While normal enemy variety is pretty decent especially due to the numerous environmental variants, there's a lack of boss-type enemies. Boss battles mostly consist of some variant of Hinox, Stone Talus, and arguably Lynels. There could stand to be more area-specific boss encounters like Molduga, which can only be encountered in the desert. Story bosses also feel a little thematically on the samey side, not to mention the fact they're short-lived since each can only be defeated once, which makes boss enemy variety seem even more underwhelming especially considering the last 3D Zelda game had a boss rush feature. For a game that otherwise does a pretty good job maintaining the interest of the player, a lack of boss variety certainly contributes to the limitation of encounters a player can face, which is already a problem in a static world.

I guess it would be cool if the Cave of Trials DLC in the first pack will be a randomly generated dungeon minigame or something since it would alleviate the broader issue associated with a lack of boss variety.
"Truly, I wish I could say I understood what all the critics were raving about in their onslaught of 10/10 reviews, but I don’t. I see too many things getting in the way of the brilliance, too much repetitive busywork and full-on dick moves for me to say this is even close to my favorite Zelda game, much less in the top five."

"Close, but no Triforce."

"Also, it has Ubisoft-style radio towers in it. Really dreary, long, climby ones. Go figure."
It's unfortunate you see the game in that way. Can't really say I envy your perspective - I thought mine was pretty awful.

Also unfortunately, the Ubisoft reference is lost on me, but at least the towers can be climbed in the rain apparently, not to mention climbing each isn't a straightforward affair.

Final Statements

While Sterling did cover his bases when it came to reviewing Breath of the Wild, I found myself drawn to his strong criticism of the stamina and weapon durability system and considered it the meat of the review. While I can understand why he might not like the systems, I don't think it's that justified. Based on the information gathered related to Breath of the Wild that ranges from statistics to the world-building to the plethora of options available to designing depth out of systemic "flaws," the facts don't seem to jive with how upset Sterling is with the aforementioned aspects of the game. That isn't to say that I disagree with him at every turn since the game certainly isn't perfect. In the case of some issues he mentioned, I found myself in agreement to the point of suggesting possible "fixes" which are what all those italicized phrases were for. I also pointed out issues I had with some parts of the game he praised.

Overall, it was pretty satisfying to review this review even if it didn't provide quite as much detail or analysis as I would've liked. It helped me to consider what I found good and bad about the game and as I said near the start, the game is excellent, but not necessarily a masterpiece; I would prefer not to give it a score, but instead a strong recommendation if one happens to own a Wii U or enough money and willingness to buy a Switch. I wish there was somehow a PC port of this game in the works but the chance of that ever happening is ludicrously low.

With all that said, I'm not quite finished yet, since I am concerned about Sterling's motives when it comes to his review of the game. For example, some of the other content that came out around the time served more as a reminder as to why I rarely view his content, but instead favor individuals who at least try to sound level-headed and understanding. It also doesn't help that instead of trying to promote some intelligent discussion, a comment like this is pinned instead, further escalating conflict related to this game. At least there's some degree of civility in the discussions taking place in the wake of the review, even if a good bit of effort has to be made to find it. Ultimately, I'm not surprised there's some who think that Sterling reviewed Breath of the Wild the way he did and scored it a 7/10 to stir up some controversy.

At this point I've probably long overstayed my welcome though. I have a couple other articles I need to publish in the span of a week and I've spent way too long writing and proofreading this one. There's a good chance I screwed up my argument somewhere or the like and hopefully someone will come along to correct me if I did or maybe even strike up a discussion. If you managed to get to the end of this article, thanks a ton for reading it.

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