The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review: Compelling story, but little annoyances hold it back

Nintendo has plenty of revered franchises: Super Mario, Metroid, Pokémon, hell, even Animal Crossing is well-liked. But no other franchise has garnished the type of respect and admiration that The Legend of Zelda has in its existence. With 19 titles spanning across numerous Nintendo systems, gamers have battled against countless evils on their quests to save the kingdom of Hyrule and Princess Zelda. Due to so many entries and seeing other properties evolve with the times, Nintendo properly gave the franchise a much-needed breath of fresh air (pun intended) in the latest entry, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Before I begin pouring my thoughts about this game, I would like to mention that while there have been 19 titles, I have only played one Zelda game. I know, it’s blasphemy. Luckily, that one game was arguably the greatest game of all-time in Ocarina of Time. Now that we’ve addressed that elephant in the room, let’s dig into what makes and breaks Breath of the Wild.

First and foremost, the story was amazing. Waking up in the Resurrection Shrine and discovering that Ganon had essentially defeated Link and the other four Champions of Hyrule was a shot to the gut. To make matters worse this is all happened 100 years ago. As I made my way through Hyrule, many inhabitants loved to remind Link how he failed to defeat Ganon a century ago. Initially, I felt this weight of disappointment knowing that I had failed everyone. People all across Hyrule have had to suffer 100 years of Ganon’s evil and Zelda has been in Hyrule Castle fighting the good fight, all while Link slept. Nevertheless, that feeling of disappointment turned into determination. I was determined to save everyone in Hyrule, to save the princess, and to defeat Ganon. At the end of the day that’s exactly what Breath of the Wild is: a story of redemption.

The Legend of Zelda franchise have all been role-playing games; Link goes out into the world, finds weapons and pieces of armor that gradually increase over the course of his adventure to save the day. Breath of the Wild takes that formula and cranks it up a bit. The popular genre nowadays is open-world. Developers are creating worlds that allow players to explore freely and not be restricted to a linear experience. Open-world games aren’t for everyone; some games may seem a bit intimidating and intense. I’m generally a fan of them, but this was an instance where I felt a bit overwhelmed.

After you leave the Great Plateau, you’ll make your way to Kakariko Village to speak with Impa. She tells Link what’s transpired 100 years ago and what he must do to save Hyrule and the princess. Impa explains how there are four Divine Beasts being controlled by Ganon. These Divine Beasts were colossal machines that were intended to be used against Ganon, piloted by the four Champions of Hyrule. Before the beasts could engage Ganon in battle, his calamity killed the Champions and took control, wrecking havoc with the beasts throughout Hyrule. Impa instructs Link to seek out each Divine Beast and restore them from the calamity infection to help in the final battle against Ganon. There is no “correct” order of Divine Beasts to restore, so you can pick whichever order you’d like (I went Zora’s Domain, Rito Village, Gerudo Town, and Goron City).

Exploration throughout Hyrule is where Breath of the Wild shines, but fails. At the beginning, the map is blacked out until Link activates Towers across the kingdom to reveal sections of Hyrule. Unlocking the sections doesn’t necessarily mean you can fast travel to other areas (you can only fast travel to Shrines and Towers), but it’s a nice sense of accomplishment to fully unlock the map by the end of the game. Along the way, Link comes across many cooking pots in Hyrule. This where you can combine various materials to produce health-regeneration food items and elixirs to buff stats or provide resistance toward certain weather elements. Breath of the Wild does a horrible job explaining how exactly to create elixirs. Most times I found myself compiling random items together to see if I got lucky; it never worked. Sometimes you may come across a book of recipes or someone will tell you how to cook a certain item, but the overall cooking experience was very frustrating.

Many people tend to compare Breath of the Wild with Sony’s exclusive Horizon Zero Dawn, because both games are “in the wild” and feature two characters that happen to wield a bow and arrow. The big difference between the two, other than that they are nothing alike to begin with, is free climbing in Breath of the Wild. Link has the natural ability to climb near any surface in Hyrule, any explorer’s dream. There are some restrictions: if it rains Link will slip, and Link is unable to climb the walls in Shrines. Link will also slip and fall if his stamina wheel runs out. I understand the notion behind the stamina wheel, to try and bring realism to the game, but why? Yes, you can increase the duration of the wheel (at the expense of possibly gaining a heart), but it feels like Nintendo is being sticklers about it. If you’re going to let players free-climb nearly any surface, then let them. You got the realism when it rains and Link slips, which happened to me many times, so why continue to put handcuffs on the players?

Going back to what I said before, The Legend of Zelda games are role-playing games where Link finds weapons, shields, and armor. This might be the first game I’ve ever played where weapons and shields break and disappear when fighting enemies. Again, just like the stamina wheel, I understand the attempt at realism. But at what cost? The only way players can acquire weapons is from picking them up after defeating an enemy. If you don’t have a weapon, then Link has to resort to most likely using bombs from the Sheikah Slate. Not that using the bombs aren’t effective, but why include a mechanic in the game that destroys the players weapons when fighting enemies but have the main method of obtaining weapons be through enemies (weapons can be found in chests). I’d be more receptive to this mechanic if Link was able to purchase weapons, but the only thing that can be purchased are arrows. The only weapon that cannot break is the Master Sword, but there’s a catch. While the Master Sword cannot break, it can “power down”. Once the Master Sword powers down, it’ll take 10 minutes to recharge. However, if you complete the Trial of the Sword DLC the Master Sword will stay powered up forever.

In a year that’s been blessed with high-quality games, Breath of the Wild deservedly has a seat at the table. Link’s journey on the road to redemption is an epic one. Essentially coming back from the dead 100 years later to defeat Ganon might go down as Link’s greatest triumph. While I still believe Ocarina of Time is the best game in the franchise, Breath of the Wild gave it a run for its money. If not for little annoyances that stunted my gaming experience, such as, the stamina wheel, weapon degradation, and lack of cooking instructions, this game would be high on my list of the all-time greats. Regardless, Nintendo has added a quality title to its treasure trove and delivered yet another compelling tale in this storied franchise.

Final Score: 8.75/10

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Destiny 2 Review: Incredible improvements, still a ways to go

Three years ago, Bungie introduced an interesting, but somewhat empty, world in Destiny. Players were tasked with defending mankind against enemies such as the Vex, Fallen, and Hive on various planets in the solar system. Over the lifespan of Destiny, the developer addressed these concerns and added appealing new content, starting with The Taken King. Many had high hopes for Destiny 2, but still felt the need to have some reservations about the sequel so they wouldn’t get burned again. Luckily, Bungie has continued to learn from their early mistakes and Destiny 2 is in a much better starting point than its predecessor.

The biggest improvement, and quite possibly the most important, is the campaign. There were countless times during the first game’s campaign when I questioned what exactly I was doing and how this helped the overall story. Why did the Traveler select humankind to guard? How did the Vex, Fallen, and Hive come to our solar system? Why do they hate humanity? Granted, some of these questions might have been answered via Grimoire cards. These cards were meant to provide more in-depth background lore about Destiny, but the problem was that they only appeared on a specific website. Destiny 2 does a phenomenal job of constructing a very fluid and engaging story that makes you actually care about what’s going on.

One major factor in establishing an engaging plot is the villain. Destiny 2’s big baddie, Dominus Ghaul, is the Cabal leader of the Red Legion, hell-bent on obtaining the light powers of the mysterious Traveler. Ghaul believes the Traveler picked incorrectly in bestowing its powers on the human race, and is determined to change its mind. The opening mission, the same mission from the beta, shows Ghaul and the Red Legion utterly destroy the Guardians’ Tower and securing the Traveler. This leaves the Guardians powerless, weak, and virtually unable to mount a counter attack. Not to mention, Ghaul has a Death Star-type weapon aimed directly at the Sun with means to wipe out the entire human race.

The second major factor that complimented the storytelling is the soundtrack. The music from the Tower siege up to the final showdown against the Cabal leader is absolutely engrossing. Not once did the music feel out of place or unnecessary; on the contrary, the sound selection felt perfect for every given scene throughout the campaign. Tremendous credit to the sound team at Bungie for further enriching the experience.

Bungie’s sequel does not do away with all of its faults. An important cut scene in the campaign showed the Speaker possibly being killed by Ghaul’s mentor, the Consul. The Consul was worried that Ghaul was becoming soft after he had insinuated that the Traveler must be reasoned with and not to take the light by force, as originally planned. Subsequently, Ghaul seemingly crushes the Consul’s skull. The main issue here is, we don’t know for sure if the Speaker is dead because they fall to the ground semi off screen. Not exactly sure why Bungie would showcase it like that, especially because the Speaker is a pretty important supporting character. If the Speaker is indeed dead, I wish Bungie would’ve given him a more impactful sendoff.

Once the campaign has been completed, the end game offers plenty of activities for players (much of the side activities, otherwise known as Adventures and Public Events, can be done side-by-side of the main campaign). The downside though? Much of the end game activities are simply not worth doing. During my run of the campaign, I completed a lot of the available Adventures that increased my Titan’s levels exponentially. Players have two different levels: overall level and their power level. There’s a cap of 20 for the overall level and roughly 300-305 for the power level. Around 265-270, it becomes extremely difficult for players to gain additional power level. Currently, the only ways to obtain more advanced gear and weapons is to either get lucky during loot drops in Public Events, completing the Leviathan raid and the Trials of the Nine Crucible mode, or waiting for the milestones to reset every week. The milestones are typically easier to achieve powerful gear, they either revolve around completing Public Events on a certain planet or participating in Crucible.  After those milestones, however, it becomes a bit more difficult to raise your power level. Exotic Engram drops are extremely rare and odds are that the gear or weapon you decrypt from it won’t be useful to you. One solution to this is to infuse different pieces of gear together to increase the level of it, but even that is a bit more challenging than what it seems. Trying to secure loot from the Trials of the Nine mode and the Leviathan raid are equally as challenging. In order to participate in either Crucible mode or raid, you must have a Fireteam of four and six respectively. You cannot simply go into matchmaking and randomly hook up with another Fireteam. This can be very frustrating for players that don’t have any friends who play Destiny, effectively restricting them from playing through important end game content.

Other than the Trials of the Nine Crucible mode, normal quick play and competitive Crucible modes have returned. While I fully expect Iron Banner to return, the Crucible mode where the players’ guns and armor stats take effect, there isn’t much incentive in playing Crucible. While Destiny 2 does incentivize the player in completing Crucible modes through milestones, after those are finished it’s hard to return until the milestones reset. I imagine players can get engram drops, but that’s the same possible reward for completing Public Events. Maybe if Bungie incorporated some sort of ranking system with the competitive Crucible mode alongside the milestones that would make it a bit more appealing, but in its current state I don’t see any reason to spend much time in it.

If there’s one word that I would use to describe Destiny’s existence it would be “evolution”. Bungie did an amazing job of listening to criticism early on with the first game and has built off that criticism to deliver a solid sequel. The storytelling and soundtrack are a major improvement from the first entry. Destiny 2’s biggest fault is the sudden plateau at power level 265-270, especially because it’s relatively easy to reach that milestone. The insistence of completing the Leviathan raid and Trials of the Nine is expected, but the necessity of being a part of a Fireteam is a major downer. Hopefully Bungie increases the level cap, allows solo players to join up with random Fireteams, and ushers in more compelling and rewarding end game content. Otherwise, Destiny 2 might fall into another case of redundancy that vanilla Destiny fell victim to until the release of The Taken King.

Final Score: 8.25/10

Disclaimer: I have not yet participated in the Leviathan raid and Trials of the Nine Crucible mode. Score may change after completion.

IT Review: Stephen King’s Pennywise floats to success

The list of classic horror movies that I’ve seen in my life thus far is embarrassingly short. I’ve only recently watched Child’s Play, The Nightmare on Elm Street, The Shining, and most importantly, IT. In a world full of reboots, it was only a matter of time before Stephen King’s frightening dancing clown was redone with modern technology. Luckily, the new adaptation separates itself enough from the original to be viewed as a terrifying standalone thriller, but at the same time still gives homage to the 1990 miniseries.

One of the main differences, for good or for bad, is the appearance of Pennywise. Tim Curry’s iteration of the clown in the 1990 miniseries was more friendly-looking, using his charm to entice the children of Derry. Bill Skarsgård’s approach to the character was a bit darker than his early 90s counterpart. While Curry went with the seemingly “catch more children with honey” strategy, Skarsgård was just plain creepy throughout the entire movie. The 2017 version of IT was not meant to be a direct reboot of the miniseries, but it is understandable to mentally compare the two, especially during the infamous Georgie scene.

In both adaptations, young Georgie is as happy as a clam when his brother, Billy, helps build him a paper boat to sail in the rainstorm. The boat sails for quite some time until a sewer grate swallows it up. And that’s when the young boy encounters Pennywise. Being a six-year-old boy, Georgie may not fully realize how absolutely disturbing it is to find a clown hanging out in the sewers during a storm (if not in general). The scene continues with Pennywise tricking Georgie into reaching for the boat, the clown biting the boy’s arm clean off, and then pulling him down into the sewer. Here, it’s easy to compare the two scenes and come away wishing Skarsgård’s form as the clown appeared a tad bit more welcoming like Curry’s, but the tone of the 2017 movie is more suited for Skarsgård’s Pennywise.

Other than the appearance and personality of Pennywise, the biggest change between adaptations is the flow. The 1990 miniseries was centered on the kids already grown up in 1985, with flashbacks to their first battle with the clown in the late 1950s. The new IT, also known as Chapter One going forward, revolves around the kids entirely, but in this one, they were kids in 1989. We see from start to finish how each child comes into contact with Pennywise, how the children band together to form the Loser’s Club, and how they overcome their fears to defeat the clown. After the kids have seemingly vanquished the clown, they make a blood pact to return to Derry if Pennywise ever returns. Chapter Two will assumingly pick up 27 years following the kids’ first battle with Pennywise. Director Andy Muschetti has also confirmed that the sequel will return to the 1980s (presumably through the use of flashbacks), and may also touch on the clown’s origin. I hope Muschetti does go into a little more detail on the background of Pennywise and the lore behind the clown’s existence.

Skarsgård’s portrayal of the dancing clown was not the only bright acting spot of the movie. The child actors were all phenomenal in their own unique way. Finn Wolfhard, best known for his role in Netflix’s Stranger Things, was amazing as the smartass, joke-cracking Richie Tozier. At times, Tozier’s comic relief may have felt a bit excessive at times, but overall, having him there to deflect the dread of Pennywise was a nice touch to the film. The other standout performance to me was Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh. Lillis depicted a slightly different Bev compared to the miniseries, with her counterpart having a bit of cool, badass vibe to her. The 2017 film stressed that her father sexually harassed the young girl. It’s amazing to see a young actress have the ability to perform under those types of circumstances.

Stephen King’s work has terrorized, frightened, and drawn immense success over the years; nothing’s changed with IT. The 2017 adaptation racked in an estimated $123 million, breaking numerous records along the way: biggest opening weekend in September, biggest opening weekend for a horror movie, and biggest opening weekend for a Stephen King adaptation. I fully expect the dollars to continue pouring in for the film, because IT was a horrifying experience. Skarsgård’s take on Pennywise is a chilling performance; seeing him terrorize the kids by exposing them to their greatest fears is masterful and chilling. Also, seeing the clown’s disembodied victims literally floating in his sewer liar is enough to induce night terrors. With an overall great cast performance by the Loser’s Club and impressive CGI work, IT is poised to be one of the best movies this year.

Final Score: 9/10