Critical Play: Is this game balanced?

Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild (BotW) takes many unique and interesting approach to game balance.

Many open world adventure games (Skyrim/The Witcher more specifically) suffer from a lack of balance. Even though these games have seemingly endless variety for ways to play, there is always one strategy that seems much better than the rest. In Skyrim, it always seems beneficial to sneak around with a bow-and-arrow. In The Witcher, none of the carefully crafted potions/magic systems beat using a shield spell and dodging/slashing. Once these optimal strategies have been discovered, it makes the combat feel less unique and rewarding. BotW uniquely solves this balance issue by not allowing one strategy to be used repeatedly for the whole game. In BotW, weapons can break, and they break often. This forces the player to experiment with new tools and playstyles out of necessity. Using a worse weapon has the benefit of saving a better weapon for later, and some weapons that seem worse to begin with just need some getting used-to (like the boomerang and two-handed weapons) before they emerge as an even more rewarding experience than the previously-thought optimal strategy.

Another interesting approach BotW makes when it comes to balance are the ways to traverse the world. In The Witcher, there are no faster methods for getting place-to-place than riding your horse along a path. In doing this, though, players can miss out on loads of interesting content hidden off the beaten path. BotW features many different types of terrain with different strategies for traversal. Horses are optimal for wide-open planes but they cannot climb, making them useless on mountains and ravines. Link can run, glide, shield-surf, climb, and ride a raft in addition to horseback riding, which allows the player to experience more and not converge on one optimal gameplay strategy.


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