I finished BOTW finally, got all of the memories and all of the shrines. Honestly, I probably won't ever do all 900 Korok Seeds, it's too grindy, and the incentive isn't there anymore. I collected enough to get all the weapon slots, most of the bow slots, and a few shield slots. My shield inventory slots are basically useless now anyway because of the Hylian Shield, which has 10x the durability of any other shield in the game, the highest defense, and can be purchased from the collector in Tarrey Town when it breaks.
Honestly, it took me a long time to love BOTW. Not because it isn't a good game, but because it's not a Zelda game. BOTW is Nintendo's attempt a massive-scale open world RPG along the vein of The Elder Scrolls and The Witcher, it just happens to take place in the Zelda universe. But now that I've invested nearly 250 hours into it, I'm ready to make a genuine review.
I'm one of the few people who actually enjoys the oft-reviled "Zelda Formula". I love the process of entering a new world, learning my setting, travelling to dungeons and meeting new people, collecting new gear to unlock progression, and working my way through that kind of curated experience. Each game brings new gimmicks and features that change the way it plays, and I never felt bored of it.
BOTW is a knee jerk-reaction to the negativity surrounding Skyward Sword, and for good reason. Skyward Sword failed in a lot of ways, it distilled a lot of the more criticized aspects of modern Zelda and doubled-down on them (hand-holding, mandatory motion controls, revisiting the same areas, "shoot the glowing weakness" boss fights, etc.). I'll admit that while I'm a fan of modern Zelda and its tropes, SS felt bogged down and unenjoyable for me too.
Enter BOTW. The game does nothing for you. You're thrown into a world you don't know, given only the smallest breadcrumbs to follow, and the world is yours to explore at your own pace right out of the gate. it's a totally different experience. You have to gather materials and weapons from the world around you, supplies are a precious commodity, and food and shelter and protection are a constant priority.
Traversal is fantastic. the free-climbing system is amazing, and the use of the stamina wheel (unlike Skyward Sword) makes sense, and it incentivises you to visit as many shrines as possible so you can get stronger and climb faster and farther. The paraglider is PERFECT and fits into the world as naturally as breathing. Horseback riding is nice and simple, horse control well and the automatic pathway following is excellent.
Combat is the best its ever been in a game of this kind. You can approach any situation however you wish. Stealth, divide and conquer, head-on assaults, whatever you want. And the varied environments and freedom of movement make for amazing and creative uses of the world, and the runes and other abilities allow for an unbelievable amount of freedom. The way elements and weapons interact with one another makes it worthwhile to experiment and try out different combinations. There isn't just one single best option, every situation calls for a unique approach.
Visually, this is the best Zelda has ever looked, and not just because of the new hardware. It's a lovely evolution of Skyward Sword's painted aesthetic. It's simpler, cleaner, and allows for crisp lines and models without sacrificing resolution or texture fidelity. Enemy designs are amazing, they all have unique silhouettes that allow the player to quickly recognize from a distance what kind of enemies are on the horizon. The world bosses are fantastic as well, each having multiple weaknesses and explotable patterns, allowing for even more creativity when facing them down.
The story bosses do fall a little flat, as they all have a similar cycle of "Attack Pattern>Stun>Free Hits>Repeat". They all have a glowing eye weakness that stuns them when shot with an arrow, they all shoot big lasers that can be parried for a free stun, and they all have large telegraphed swings that can be parried or dodged for a flurry attack. Each one has a gimmick ala typical 3D Zelda (a vacuum attack that sucks up a bomb, a whirlwind that throws you off but can give you a free gliding bullet-time shot, filling the arena with water that you can freeze platform in, and metal rods that will conduct its own electrical attacks back at it) and these are refreshing, but aren't actually necessary to win. Every story boss can be beaten by just shooting the eye, dodging the attacks, and swinging your sword.
The final boss as well is veru similar, following the same tropes. There is the classic Zelda FINAL Final boss after the real fight, and while it's extremely cinematic, climactic, and visually stunning, it falls short on the gameplay and is nearly impossible to lose unless you really try to die.
The story of BOTW is also lacking in some areas. The biggest shortcoming is the fact that BOTW takes pace in a world where everything interesting has already past. Without getting into too many spoilers, this game takes place after what could have been any other game, but instead the hero fails to defeat Ganon. There are 4 groups of people with four champions, who all come together as a team alongside Link and Zelda to fight Ganon. The game repeatedly tells you that these Champions were your best friends and that Zelda means so much to you, but they never acually allow us to experience anything that makes us feel that way. The memories do a good job of showing pivotal moments that show us flashes of the relationship between these characters, but they're all dead and gone and all we have to go on is how the game tells us we should feel about them.
Ganon is also barely even a character in this game. He is literally just a mindless embodiment of evil that is threatening the world with imminent destruction, but we aren't given any motivation outside "You are our champion and you must save us!"
Ocarina of Time made us afraid of Ganondorf by showing us what he's capable of and how much stronger he is than us. Twilight Princess showed him as the Puppet Master behind everything that harmed our friends and ruined our home. Wind Waker created a villian who was not only ambitious and driven, but acually sympathetic in his motivations and history.
Calamity Ganon is a faceless boogeyman, and BOTW suffers for it.
This doesn't ruin the experience however. BOTW is so full of content that even with a simple story, the game is more then enough of game to motivate you to play in other ways. Getting new gear, collecting materials for upgrades, getting shrines for hearts and stamina, finishing sidequests and discovering hidden areas and world bosses all create an a amazing adventure RPG that will keep anyone playing for hours past the main quest.
Overall I give BOTW a 8.5/10. It's an amazing game, and this is what Nintendo wants to do with Zelda in the future, then count me in.