Breath of the Wild ruined traditional Zelda for me

Breath of the Wild feature image
(Image credit: Nintendo)

I have never replayed The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. That’s not a scathing indictment of the game’s quality. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. I have never returned to BOTW’s stunning rendition of the Kingdom of Hyrule because my first experience was so magical, I’m worried a revisit would taint those memories.

To give some context, Breath of the Wild was my first-ever Zelda game on my first-ever Nintendo home console. The experience of finally getting to play a title in a series I'd only ever admired from afar was a special one, and not just because of the quality of the game itself.

However, my adoration for BOTW has had an unforeseen knock-on effect over the last few years. In many ways, the latest entry in the franchise actually ruined the Zelda series for me.

 A breath of fresh air 

Breath of the Wild was touted as a radical departure from the traditional Zelda style, so there was some skepticism pre-release from the gaming community at large. People needn't have worried, though. Nintendo knocked this one out of the park, and then some.

Moments like gliding off the Great Plateau, unlocking the mysteries of Eventide Island, and taking down a ferocious Lynel for the first time are among the most memorable I’ve had in all of gaming. 

The sense of exploration in BOTW is something that no game since has matched. It felt incredible to just run in any direction and see what I discovered. The individual puzzle shrines were a delight to solve as well. While longtime Zelda fans seem to think that the Divine Beast dungeons are among the weakest in the franchise, I personally enjoyed them immensely. 

Breath of the Wild screenshot

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Not my Zelda

Straight after finishing BOTW in March 2017, I was dying for Nintendo to port over as many Zelda games to the Switch as possible. I needed another Zelda fix, and I needed it quick. 

Unfortunately, unlike on the Wii and Wii U, Nintendo has never actually launched standalone Virtual Console games on the Switch. VC, which let users purchase and play classic games on newer Nintendo consoles, is a glaring omission on the Switch to this day.

Instead, Nintendo has granted Switch Online subscribers access to a selection of classic games, which includes the very first Zelda game, originally released on the NES. However, a close friend advised me that I might find the step from BOTW back to the very fist Zelda a tad jarring. As such, I decided to wait for a more recent Zelda to make its way to the Switch. 

In 2019, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening debuted on the Switch. While this game is a remake of the 1993 title of the same name, I assumed the modern coat of paint would ease the transition. I dove in expecting to have another magical experience. 

Zelda Link's Awakening switch port

(Image credit: Nintendo)

That didn’t happen. I found Link's Awakening's structure to be rigid, its dungeons to be dull, and its endless backtracking tedious. At no point did I lose myself in the game world. I always felt like the game placed very strict limits on how I played. 

I told myself that my feelings were due to playing a 2D Zelda — one that originally came out on the Game Boy, no less. If I gave a classic 3D Zelda a chance, I would find the same spark that BOTW ignited.

I decided to try The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess next, and was convinced that this time, my experience would be a positive one.

But it wasn’t. I certainly didn’t hate my handful of hours with Twilight Princess, but again, I found it frustratingly restrictive and struggled to lose myself in the world. The joy of exploration that fueled my BOTW addiction wasn’t there. Instead, I was stuck following a fairly plodding path that had already been laid out for me.

Playing the waiting game 

Earlier this month, Nintendo announced that Skyward Sword is getting remastered in HD on Switch. Rather than being overjoyed that I would have the chance to play a classic Zelda game, I was just disappointed that there was no news about the BOTW sequel. 

breath of the wild 2 screenshot

(Image credit: Nintendo)

The pre-BOTW Zelda games are not in any way bad. The vast majority of them are considered gaming classics for good reasons. Even as someone who struggled to connect with them, I can respect their positions within the gaming lexicon.

I suppose it comes down to the fact that BOTW is my Zelda. Some players held strong connections to the traditional Zelda formula, and struggled to handle BOTW’s blatant disregard for it. For me, it’s the other way around. BOTW is my baseline, and the classic formula is the radical departure.

While I won’t be checking out Skyward Sword this summer, and my interest in further classic Zelda ports has waned, I’m eagerly awaiting any scrap of information about the sequel to BOTW. I cannot wait to lose myself in that version of Hyrule all over again.

Rory Mellon
Entertainment Editor (UK)

Rory is an Entertainment Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on gaming and streaming. When he’s not reviewing the latest games, searching for hidden gems on Netflix, or writing hot takes on new gaming hardware, TV shows and movies, he can be found attending music festivals and getting far too emotionally invested in his favorite football team. 

  • bhffs
    The only other game in the series that comes close is The Wind Waker. Check it out if you can. Hopefully it comes to Switch soon.
  • Cinemint
    Going to be honest here, Breath of the Wild just hasn't and I don't think it will ever be fun for me. I enjoyed Zelda primarily growing up for its linear storytelling and characters, and came to love its setting, music, and gameplay as a result. Breath of the Wild has seemed to be an accumulation of everything I didn't like about Zelda, and now I appreciate the older games more (and am starting to get back into them)
  • ClanPsi
    Pro tip: If you want to play a good Zelda game, play the most highly rated ones. Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past should be your first stops. Twilight Princess is absolute garbage.
  • duo2000x
    This article is a prime example of what's wrong with the kids today (goddamn whipper snappers). The kid picks up a remake of an old Gameboy game and wonders why it's rigid. Not Ocarina of Time, not Majora's Mask, not Twilight Princess or Wind Waker, no, he plays Link's Awakening and says it doesn't live up. Yeesh.

    See, alternatively, I severely disliked BOTW. It ruined the series for me. It's short, but has a lot of chores so it makes you think it's a long game. It has a lot of items, but it has little need or use for the majority of them. It has a big world, but it's mostly empty and has limited enemies. It has lots of weapons, but they all shatter like glass.

    I could go on all day rehashing the common complaints (rain, broken weapons, lack of direction, ect), but honestly my biggest complaint is simply the lack of imagination from the game and it's fans.

    The first area I actually liked. The plateau gave me purpose and direction, it used it's survival mechanics well, it fully grabbed me and pulled me in. As I was running around, I stopped at the cliff side and noticed all these interesting things in the distance.
    My mind went wild. What underground lava filled catacombs would be out there? What kind of forgotten castles steeped in the woods to be explored? How many legendary weapons and unique items would there be, and what would they do? What kind of magic powers would I find? Just how many dungeons are there?

    F'n none. The answer to all of the above is F'n none. At best, I get a pathetic version of the master sword that I use more for breaking rocks because it will repair later on, and their dumb wiimote gimick crap with locking time and lifting things (hello fotnite). No hookshot, no magic boomarang, no classic tunic (the blue was shit), no dungeons no hidden areas, shit a quarter of the map are just empty cliffs lining the play area. NO IMAGINATION.

    And honestly I'm a little pissed. Zelda is the only Nintendo property I cared about and followed, I would purposely seek out every one despite otherwise not even looking nintendo's direction. I'm less angry the game is what it is, but more or less pissed off that a game series I grew up with and loved (The first game is only 2 years younger than me) has been hijacked, it's named ripped off and glued to some Monster Hunter/ Dark Souls/ Fortnite rip off Nintendo wanted to make, and now there's no coming home for me. Every Zelda game will look like this now. And that is honestly extremely sad to me. There are already plenty of brain dead "open world" games with more map than character, nintendo really could have left our quaint, linear dungeon experience alone.

    Good news is, I won't have to seek these games out anymore. I always borrowed my buddies nintendo's for the Link experience, and now I won't have to lol. Honestly... I feel like if more fans hadn't basically dropped 4 Benjamins to play the game, they wouldn't have liked it so much. Cognitive dissonance is a beach.