The only thing I'm inclined to disagree with is the "too much stuff" idea. This is kind of the antithesis of the "excessive encounter reuse." TotK is freakin' huge. If you're gonna throw one Russia's worth of game space at the players, you can't just have a Lichtenstein's worth of content variety to fill it. In my experience, this is a universal failing with the open world genre, and TotK really, really suffers from this. It has twice the gamespace of its predecessor, but nowhere near twice the content variety, and Breath of the Wild...? Coming back to your original point of over-reuse of enemies, BotW had a smaller bestiary than the original Legend of Zelda, released nearly 40 years ago.

So the fact that TotK has a wide variety of stuff is a good thing.

That's not to say there isn't a problem here, just that it needs a far better interface to handle all that stuff. The game did some dabbling with favorites ala the auto-build, and some "most used" sorting from time to time, but ultimately, you still end up staring at a sprawling grid of icons, scrolling, selecting, reselecting... cooking goes from fun and whimsical to navigating through a massive spreadsheet like Link is doing his taxes or something.

And the "constantly pause the game to fuse arrows one at a time" design was utter madness.

In short, a better, less cumbersome means of handling cooking and fusing would have counteracted the issues of having so much stuff. The stuff isn't the issue - the means by which you interact with it is. This is one of the issues of the genre change - the Legend of Zelda has always had a relatively limited scope and offering of items, weapons, etc. The more simplistic, direct means of interacting with it wasn't a problem because the scope was so limited. The fact that BotW/TotK's offering of items and inventory has exploded same as the world space is appropriate, but they just haven't adapted for that scope in terms of controls and interface as necessary.

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I thought the story was pretty good, especially for a Zelda game. But it really did lose its luster quickly after hearing it over and over.

My other big gripe with both games is the Koroks. There are just too many, and only about 10% of the puzzles are fun or interesting. The ‘i need to reach my friend’ ones especially take way too long for so little payoff. I just mark them on the map when i see them in case i ever decide i want to waste time moving them around.

But one thing I love in this game and in BotW is the pro HUD. Not having anything on the HUD most of the time makes the exploration so much more immersive. My gameplay style in this game (and in Elden Ring) is basically “That thing on the map looks odd, let’s go see what it is”.

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Having more prerequisites is something a lot of stories could benefit from. If it off putting to suddenly jump to the middle of the story, it then backs the start worst as you already learnt the plot twist. I had this problem with the adventure quest series of games and it put me off continuing with them.

Over focusing on open worldness makes telling a deep story almost impossible as game can't reliably know who is there and what situation they are in. This is a problem in the octopath traveller games as making it so the chapters can be done in any order meant the other 7 travelers had to just wait to the side until it is time to fight something as the game has no idea who will be there for any scene outside the hero of the path and it would be impossible to write the scenes for all the thousands of possible options. This is fixed in the concluding arc as game finally knows who is there (everybody) and what they've done (all the quests).

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OK so I feel like I have to ask about the level of junk in Avernum...in light of what you say here, would you do that differently now? (For reference, I played the remake of Avernum, and I don't recall the junk being quite as prevalent in King's Wish.)

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It sounds a bit like the problems I had with BotW. I love open world games in theory, just like MMOs. For years I’d buy any game with either label. But they so rarely click. Too much space with not enough unique content.

BotW was much better than most, but still: after the 20th shrine I start to wonder why I’m playing.

Love your Substack. If you wanted to do reviews where we could get discussions like this going more often I’d be down.

Right now I’m struggling with BG3. I want to really dig the game just like I wanted to really dig Divinity Original Sin 1 and 2. But something is making it frustrating and impossible for me to really stick with any of them, and it’s interesting that I’m having trouble articulating what.

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The Breath of the Wild games reinforce my impression that Nintendo has recuited and cultivated really great game designers over the years, but they have no great writers and even in games Zelda or Pokémon the story is almost non-existent. The same goes for character design. I was disappointed when the series went 3D and almost everyone looked grossly cartoonish.

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I haven't got anything to say on the subject of Zelda games, since I never played any of them (not my genre - I want my RPGs to be isometric and turn-based). Actually, this might be the reason for the low popularity of your posts on the game - your usual audience probably doesn't intersect much with Zelda players (thought I might be wrong). But I really wanted to mention that if you, or anyone reading this likes long-form game analysis, I recommend the late Shamus Young's blog, for example his excellent (and very, very long) series on Mass Effect (https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=27792), or, for a lighter reading, his let's play of LoTR MMO (https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=30811).

I'd be very interested to see a similar examination of games I worked on (Kingmaker and Wrath of the Righteous) in text form (can't stand videos), so if anyone can point me that way, I'd be grateful.

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