As a sort of celebration of the Switch’s first birthday, I’ve been playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild again. As a preface, I would like to note that despite the probably 100+ hours that I sank into the game last year, I came nowhere close to finishing it. Sure, I defeated Ganon and saw the ending, but I didn’t find all the shrines or complete all the side quests. I didn’t even reclaim all four Divine Beasts. I never got around to exploring any of the DLC, either.
This time around, I’ve invoked the DLC Master Mode, which is this game’s version of Hero Mode, which is Zelda’s version of Hard Mode. Hero Mode, in most cases, makes Link take double damage and removes heart drops, so you have to heal with potions. I don’t know if the double damage thing is true here because I didn’t bother to do any testing, but Master Mode does make a few more noticeable changes. For one, it levels up every monster that works on a scale. So red bokoblins/mobilns and green lizalfos are gone forever. This alone makes the Great Plateau the most dangeous place in the game. Tree branches are basically useless against blue bokoblins, and Hylia help you if you accidentally run into a black one. It’s basically one-hit kills all the way, so the best strat until you get off the Plateau is to stay far, far away from all monsters. Apparently there is also a new “gold” enemy class, but I haven’t seen any yet. And considering that the silver ones are already extremely difficult to defeat, I expect the gold ones to be impossible.
You’ll also notice that throughout the world, there are floating platforms scattered all over the place. They usually hold a bokoblin and/or a treasure chest, and quite often you just need to snipe one or two of the octo balloons holding them aloft to send the boko to his death and claim your sweet prize. Sometimes they’re so far off in the middle of the sky though, that you need to glide over to them. One of my favourite moments of Master Mode so far was gliding above a platform, and launching into a jump attack with a sledgehammer, which smashed the platform itself to pieces, sending Link, the bokoblin, and the treasure chest all falling to their doom. Of course, Link still had some stamina, so I was able to glide to safety and collect all the spoils.
I think the last new thing about Master Mode is that monster health now regenerates if you stop hitting them for about three seconds. This makes the technique of whittling them down with arrows or bombs nearly impossible, but it can potentially cause huge issues with certain bosses and mini-bosses. Kohga, for example, has a long period between his vulnerable phases, but it seems like his regeneration was slowed to account for this. Moldugas, on the other hand, can’t be lured out of the sand for some time after they recover from being stunned, and they get a massive portion of HP back during that time. This makes them chew through your weapon inventory faster than ever, which almost makes it not worth engaging them in the first place. The increased numbers of black and silver monsters cause the same problem, so it makes it more important than ever to keep a large stock of strong weapons.
Difficulty level aside, this experience has been significantly different from my first adventure in this version of Hyrule. Obviously I spent a little more time on the plateau, stubbornly trying to defeat enemies I had no chance against and wandering around, hoping to find places that I’d missed before. Instead of making a beeline for Hyrule Castle immediately after getting the paraglider, I meandered my way over to Kakariko and then Hateno Villages, as the story wanted me to. Not because I particularly cared about progressing the story, but rather because I wanted to get all my Sheikah Slate upgrades right away. Even that didn’t quite pan out because I lacked the materials necessary for the stasis upgrade. Ironically, that one probably would have been the most helpful. More helpful than the camera at any rate. This “quick” pit stop dramatically altered my first few hours in greater Hyrule, as the first time I played, I didn’t get these upgrades for a long, long time. There was that horribly failed run at the castle, then a trip to the desert, and then all the way around to Zora Village, and then I think finally after that I hit up Hateno for upgrade times. But life is so much better when your bombs have a reasonable cooldown timer!
I have also found that I left a lot of the map uncovered my first time around. I don’t know the ratios of actual new discoveries to places that I’d just forgotten about, but I have had such a strong feeling of discovery and wonder that it almost feels like I’m playing a new game. And that’s quite an accomplishment, considering how much time I spent with it last year. I’m just finding so many new things, from shrines to beaches to mini-bosses to stables to ruined villages. I think I may have even discovered a way of finding Koroks that I hadn’t found last time. I certainly know that being able to hide in a large barrel to avoid detection (a la Wind Waker) is a feature that I didn’t know was in Breath of the Wild.
What I have found throughout all my hours wandering through Hyrule is that Breath of the Wild is just as fun the second time around. Yes, the added challenge does help, because every combat encounter is just that much more thrilling (and there’s still basically no penalty for death). That’s such a small part of it though, because so much more time is devoted to simply exploring this massive world. From climbing up spires in the desert to running through grassy plains to sloshing through the lizalfos-infested swamplands, it’s fun just to move around the world of Breath of the Wild. Taming a horse helps you get from place to place, but it’s so much more interesting to simply pick a destination, start walking exactly in that direction, and then arrive three real-life days later because of all the distractions along the way. Even if I don’t unearth any treasures along the way or find another shrine at the summit, I feel so much joy from the simple act of scaling a mountain (and subsequently gliding down) that I honestly believe that I could play this game forever and never get bored. Guess I was right in calling it my Number One Game of 2017.