When it came time to start a new Traveling Thoughts subject, I was stuck on what to do. What is something that I could play through that could take up a large portion of my time, interests me, and can be split up into various parts for further exploration?
Then, I looked down at the controller in my hands, looked up, and saw the remains of a Lizalfos camp up in Gerudo Highlands. Duh.
So we have the first edition of Traveling Thoughts with our current subject: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (for Wii U. Felt that should be pointed out). This first post will include the ins-and-outs of the first area of the game: The Isolated Plateau. What it contains, my own experience with it, and my criticism and thoughts regarding the its entirety. As always, by the end of this chain of posts, I will write a review for the game, hopefully giving me more clarity by that point. Two quick notes of clarification; as of my writing this, I am not yet complete with the game. I still have one more Divine Beast to conquer, and I’ve found myself exploring and Shrine-seeking more than anything. The other thing is that, as always with these posts, there will be spoilers.
The story begins with you waking up in an illuminated cave. A female voice is calling out to you. It gives you directions as to how to proceed and that you’re the hero the world needs and all of that “Been there, done that” jargon of Zelda lore. Immediately after leaving the cave, Breath of the Wild reminds you that it is big, with a full view of exactly how much the player is free to explore (and more to come). This sense of freedom is one that has been welcome to fans of Zelda in most games, however this entry gives them the liberty to search anywhere they want at any time, regardless of how difficult the zone… after going through the trials of the Isolated Plateau.
Something I wasn’t expecting with this game (though I really should have) is that it doesn’t just throw you into the wild for you to explore and learn at your leisure. Its first area serves as a trial basis for what to expect from the rest of the game—teaching the player about the base necessities of survival and the ultimate goal of the adventure. With every new weapon, item, or maneuver received, the game will instruct you on what buttons to press and useful tips as to what they can be used for. In addition, the entirety of the Isolated Plateau is essentially cut off from the rest of the world, hence the name Isolated Plateau. One cannot get off of it without death, so the player is trapped there until they can manage to do all that they’re required to do.
While I acknowledge that this is simply a stepping stone for players to get accustomed to the game, it also defeats a lot of the purpose of the game’s selling point: freedom. Once again, the game bogs you down with (subtle) tutorials and constant messages and pop-ups about various things. It gives you the freedom to explore the Plateau, but there isn’t much there to behold, mostly the remains of a ruined civilization and some foreshadowing of what’s to come. Not to mention, the Old Man who accompanies you throughout this first step process is basically a teleporting tutor, jabbering on about things to know and the importance of your survival. It makes the opening shot to the rest of the world feel like a cocktease, knowing full well you’ll need to spend an hour or two tumbling around the Plateau before you can get to that. And due to this, I was kind of bored with the opening sequence. It didn’t really grip me as much as it could have. My pleasure with playing this game didn’t come until after I flew the coop, but more on that for future entries.
Of course, many would see this as nitpicking, as its simply the start of the game and the creators didn’t want the players becoming so lost that they die continually until they get somewhat decent. For me, the beginning of a game is important—it serves as the hook, the gateway into what the player will be looking forward to doing. And though I openly state that the game becomes far more fun afterwards, does that mean I can disregard how “Meh” I felt while on the Plateau? Some would say so, though I can’t quite overlook it. A lot of that “Meh” feeling for me came in the form of the Old Man.
He serves as a handholder. Fine. He supplies you with the items you need to make the game more accessible. Fine. He tells you about how Calamity Ganon destroyed the world and that you’re struck with amnesia (Initial reaction: Ughhhhhhhh). Fine. What caught me off-guard was how long he would go on for, how trivial the story was, and how terrible the voice-acting is. If the Old Man were cut from the Plateau altogether, I’d likely have a better time with it. I didn’t mind him so much guiding me around and giving me tasks, but once push came to shove and he revealed he was actually the long-passed King of Hyrule and Zelda’s father, accompanied by a horrendous vocal performance, I zoned out. It’s one thing to have a boring story told to you, but to have a boring story told to you by a boring (and borderline cringey) voice is next to torture.
Negatives aside, my experiences within the Plateau were generally positive (and frustrating). I found myself awakening Stone Talus within the woods, only to die against it about six times because I don’t know how to quit. After finally taking it down and realizing it only provides me with various ores, I became incredibly disappointed, because I saw no use in ores at that time. “A lot of effort for some rocks. Thanks, game,” I thought to myself. If only I knew. As sad as it may sound, I literally had to be told how to cook things. I didn’t think “Hold” was something that would eventually lead me into cooking. It took me a while to get the hang of the Option menu, too. One of the other major changes from the Zelda formula is how frequent the player has to go in and out of the Pause menus. Checking the map, organizing items, recovering hearts and adding stat boosts; cooking, changing weapons, clothing, and shields. It was something of disruptive change, but I found the comfort of perusing items and doohickeys to be rather accessible and non-intrusive. I never even received the Warm Doublet, or cooked the recipe the Old Man wanted. I just cooked up some Spicy Peppers and blazed my way through the icy mountains naked (Okay, not naked, but may as well be).
Something else of note is the change in combat procedure. There are only two variations of weapons: one-handed and two-handed. There are also elemental rods, but I’ll get into those later. One-handed weapons are quick and allow Link to use his shield in combat, but are generally weaker. Two-handed weapons are stronger, but are slower and don’t let Link use his shield in combat. One’s best means of attack is spamming the attack button, because there’s little else to really do with it, aside from holding down the attack button or throwing it. This little variation in combat is disheartening, though it’s never really bothered me. I find the variation between primary weapon, bow and arrow, and SPAMMING THE SHIT OUT OF BOMBS to be enough to hold me over. Combat also isn’t something that comes across too often—not like in past Zelda titles. Enemies (up to a certain point) don’t feel like nuisances, but rather something one has to strategize for in order to defeat them as effectively as possible, which is a huge plus. What Breath of the Wild lacks in intricacy it makes up for with effective simplicity and making the enemies genuine threats to your safety. The Isolated Plateau serves as a great starting point for taking down red Bokoblins with basically sticks and clubs as weapons.
One annoying thing is weapon durability, which I’ll get a little more into in later posts. Many of the weapons will break upon defeating three or four enemies in combat, assuming one only uses their primary weapon. I understand the logic of wooden weapons and rocks not being too durable, but to some extent it gets irritating to always have to switch out other weapons in the middle of a fight. And the constant fear of running out of ammo, which is better suited for early segments of the game, only becomes a drag in harder zones.
Looking back, this post is a little unorganized, and I started criticizing things that don’t necessarily correlate to the Isolated Plateau. Nevertheless, I hope I managed to clarify that the Plateau is the “Obligatory Training Section” of the game, and that the best things are yet to come. Overall, if not for the Old Man, I would have no major issue with it, despite feeling like a rat in a cage. It wasn’t until after flying from the Plateau that I eventually stumbled upon… well, in due time.
(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of MKIceAndFire.)