I am taking a break from playing the game today to summarize my impressions so far on the new play mechanics in TOTK.
The Sheikah Slate in BOTW has been replaced by the Purah Pad, and it’s basically the same thing, but has different powers replacing the ones that were in the previous game.
In BOTW, I mainly used the Sheikah Slate for bombs. I heavily relied on bombs, especially in the early part of the game, and often wasted vast amounts of time standing uphill, way out of range, doing long range bomb attacks on enemies to keep from wasting weapons on them, or getting killed while I was still low on heart containers and not well armored. I felt this was an unsatisfying way to play the game but I played it that way anyway, and I feel like this is Nintendo’s fault for making bombs be unlimited. Nintendo tried to nerf bombs by having them have a cooldown so you could only generate one every 10 seconds or so, and by having them do minimal damage at best to most monsters. Bombs were meant to be a physics tool, used to create an impulse to move an object around with their blast, or blow up an obstacle, not really to be relied upon as a weapon, although they could serve in that way if need be. Ultimately, though, I felt that they were off the mark in the way they were implemented. They were useful, had a lot of cool possibilities, but I think that making them unlimited, weak weapons wasn’t the best way to go with their design.
TOTK replaced Sheikah Bombs with Bomb Flowers. Basically they’re free bombs that you can pick up as forage, and are pretty rare, which limits their use rather well. The game seems to try to not count on you having them at your disposal at all times, or ever, really. But I think it seems like they do a bit better damage, making them OK to use as weapons, although I really haven’t found many other practical uses for them otherwise. I did use them in lieu of wasting weapons when I was mining, and bombed my way into a Discovery! cave, but it doesn’t really seem like they put as much bombable walls and rocks in this game, and I’m really pretty OK with that. Bombs are classic from the OG LOZ to present, but they can play a minor role or not appear in a Zelda game, and I’m fine with that.
The Map, Telescope, Camera, and Compendium powers are pretty much the same. Although, sure, the map towers work a bit differently in TOTK, and I like the way they’ve been changed. In BOTW the map towers were there to provide interesting climbing challenges, and they were reasonably well designed in the way their challenge curve increased the further you got from central Hyrule. But they were all somewhat limited, and once you figured out climbing and resting, there wasn’t all that much to them, other than maybe clearing obstacles or defeating some enemies. In TOTK, the map towers have been overhauled, and I like the changes. Most of the towers have some fairly easy problem with them that you have to fix, but it requires a bit of problem solving, and isn’t simply a challenge or a softlock to prevent you from using it until your stamina bar is big enough. I also really like the way they integrate the towers into the world design by having them shoot you up into the sky, giving you access to the sky world level, and a beautiful view of the world below at the same time, and multiple options for how to proceed from there — stay in Sky Level, glide and descend to a distant point in the region, fall straight back down, or fast travel to some other waypoint. Being launched into the air like a rocket may not be safe or plausible, but it’s fun and well done as a gameplay mechanic.
I like that TOTK has added a Character Profiles section so you can better keep track of all the names and faces you encounter in the world. It’s like Contacts in our smartphones, but with more robust profile background and less contact info. I think it really helps, since there’s so much world in the game to explore, and so many people you may run into.
The other BOTW Sheikah Slate powers were Magnesis, the ability to manipulate metal objects telekinetically, Stasis, and Cryonis. In TOTK these have been replaced with powers that are maybe a bit similar, but distinctly different. And they are actually powers granted to you by your prosthetic arm, rather than Purah Pad powers.
So, instead of Magnesis, we have Ultrahand. Ultrahand is more versatile and advanced. We’re not limited to metal objects, but any virtually any type of object: Rocks, boxes, weapons, any item that Link can pick up basically. But not anything and everything you see in the game. You can’t use it to uproot trees or bend them to create spring tension, and so on. The power is mainly intended to serve as a way to manipulate in-world building blocks to create vehicles and contraptions or whatever the situation seems to call for, and gives you pretty nearly limitless potential for creativity. It’s most people’s favorite power, and can be used in so many different ways, most of which seem to be intentional by design, few of which seem to be truly game breaking or glitch based, but the power is very ripe for abuse, and I think the game encourages you to be as creative as you wish to be.
So far, my own use has been more limited and less imaginative. I’ve been trying to avoid spoilers, and I’m trying to play the game “straightforward” to experience the story and adventure, rather than as an open world sandbox. I basically see the objects that the game offers you to manipulate and mess around with, and I try to do obvious things with them. I usually succeed quickly or give up quickly, because I don’t want to waste a lot of time on an experiment that doesn’t pay off. I also took some time to get used to the controls to manipulate things, and now that I’ve gotten some hours into the game and have done it a bunch of times, I’m warming up to it and finding it more enjoyable, and will probably be more open to playing around with the mechanic more.
If I was playing differently, or in a different mood, I might have gotten deeper into this, sooner. I think the main reason I haven’t is because I know in the back of my mind that the objects I build, however cool they might turn out to be, will only be temporary. I can’t save them, or put them into inventory, and when the game requires that I put them aside and walk away from them, the time I’ve invested in creating them will have in some sense have been discarded as well, wasted. If I had a more “zen garden” mentality about it, I might regard this temporary, ephemeral nature of the creations differently, be detached from the inevitability of losing them, and in turn find more enjoyment in the act of creating and using them.
I would very much like for the game to have a “freeplay” or “storyless” mode where all you do is play with parts and put them together without restrictions, and with ability to save them so you can return to them, work on them more, and not always have to start over from scratch. I’d like the ability to create permanent objects in this mode as experiments, and then go back to the “real world” mode and see where I can produce them for some end that plays well in the story/mission part of the game.
I also have not gotten very far with exploring the various building blocks and pieces that you can use to create your constructions. I think in part this is because the game threw too much at me too quickly. I remember in the opening act of the game, getting introduced to all these new Zonai terms and I think for me it was too much, too quickly, and I didn’t have patience to take my time to read the descriptions fully, digest them, and let their implications sink in so that I could appreciate everything that the game was giving me. Again, this was in part to the dual mechanics of “everything is temporary” and “your assets are limited so you have to grind and farm for stuff” combined with “but it’ll break, or you’ll have to discard it and you can’t save it, and anything you accomplish with it will be erased by the next Blood Moon anyway, so really how much do you want to sink your time into this right now?”
So, I think introducing concepts and parts more slowly, and allowing me to absorb and learn at a bit slower pace, and build up and elaborate would have worked better for me. I have a ton of Zonai stuff in my inventory and I don’t really know how it relates. I have a vague understanding that I can turn some raw material Zonaite into refined Zonai material, and then maybe turn that into Zonai tech, but I don’t know what all the things are or how to do it all. It just seems like I’d need to break a billion rock hammers pounding out lumps of Zonaite, to trade in for Zonai capsules or convert into Zonai batteries, and in turn cash those in at the gumball machines to obtain bits of Zonai tech, use that to build things, or use them as augmentations for weapons, or who knows what all you can do with it. There’s too many possibilities, and, again, a slower introduction and walkthrough for them would probably have helped me enjoy them better and get deeper into them.
Stasis in BOTW was a time-stopping ability that enabled you to put a kinetic charge into a time-frozen object, or just freeze something in place for a temporary period so you could manage some situation you found yourself in. In TOTK, the time-themed power is Recall. It’s cool, but I bet there’s so many ways that you could use it, that you don’t even realize. There are puzzles that are intentionally designed to require you to use the ability, and those are generally obvious, but there are potentially a lot of non-obvious ways to use the power that will be discovered by inventive and creative players. It’s not natural or intuitive to think in terms of time moving backwards, for one object of your choosing, and think about how manipulating that object in that way can create possibilities. The world is so dynamic as it is, and this is a new dynamism that layers on top of everything and makes it even more complex. I probably use Recall the least, simply because I’m so accustomed to not having an ability to reverse something’s motion through the axis of time, that it’s unnatural for me to think of it and see opportunities.
Cryonis is gone, and I hardly miss it or think of it. It was a weird ability: the ability to, wherever there is water, create up to three giant ice cube that lifts out of the ground like a solid pillar that you can land on or lift things with. It was an entirely inconvenient way to cross unswimmable bodies of water, one stepping stone at a time. It was actually a surprisingly useful and versatile ability and BOTW did an amazing job of providing opportunities to get the most out of it, but it’s also just a pretty weird thing to be able to do as an adventuring swordsman.
Replacing it, apparently, is the Ascend power, which is also weird but useful. Being able to shoot upward, phase through solid matter like swimming through some kind of opaque jell-o, and pop out through the top to rapidly get to the top of virtually anything you can get underneath is a hard one to come up with in a brainstorming meeting. I wonder why Nintendo’s designers decided that this was an ability that they wanted to put into the game. It certainly beats the hell out of climbing.
As a power, it most closely resembles the Revali’s Gale ability, which instead of working in solid rock, would create a powerful updraft that could lift you into the air. That at least makes sense. But how can Link pass through solid matter? Why only vertically and up? Why not horizontally or downward? Why only when standing, not when crouching or falling? What’s the range limit on overhead ceiling clearance? I do use the ability a lot, and appreciate that I can use it, but it’s still really weird. Ascend, combined with Fast Travel, make LInk basically impossible to imprison, it would seem. So I would like to see parts of the game where this capability is taken away from you, and you suddenly have to struggle without it. I do find that I use the ability a lot more than I thought I would, and I am pretty actively looking for opportunities where it will be useful most of the time. If I want to get on top of something, rather than spend time climbing, I look for a way to get under it, then Ascend. I’d like more in-game narrative logic to explain why Link gains the ability, and a fantasy-plausible explanation for how it works and why it has the limitations that it has.
The last ability that I’ll talk about, Fusion, is so integrated with Ultrahand that I really feel that they are inseparable. I guess technically with Ultrahand by itself, you would only be able to move stuff around. But with Ultrahand active, you can use it to glue movable items together, which is really the Fusion ability. But there’s a separate Fusion ability that allows you to fuse the currently-held weapon or shield, or an arrow, with virtually any other item in the game, opening up a staggeringly uncountable number of possible combinations of this+that. So the ability you have when you select the Fusion power from the menu is basically the same ability as the glue ability you have active when using Ultrahand to move stuff around, but Fusion works specifically with things laying on the ground in the environment around you and something you can put in your inventory. This gives the stuff you can craft using Fusion a little bit less temporary nature than the stuff you can craft with Ultrahand but not really save, and must have out and be using the the entire time you own it.
I like the Fusion ability, and even though it allows for some really oddball combinations, the game designers went with that rather than disallow the weird stuff. This gives the game a less serious, more playful feel, and in a good way. Stuff that just shouldn’t work in the real world, like a claymore (two-handed sword) glued to another claymore end to end work just fine in TOTK. Adding a fusion object also seems to add to weapon longevity, as the fused item will break from the end first, and then the object in hand. And weapon durability seems to be a little bit less fragile, and also given more in-game justification by the way the Demon King’s awakening caused all the weapons in the world to deteriorate and crumble. But even so the better weapons seem to last longer than they did in BOTW, where it was pretty common to go through 2-3 weapons in a single decent melee. In TOTK, you can carry a decent weapon through several, even many encounters, before it wears out and eventually shatters. And the better quality stuff seems to last longer than the poor quality or improvised stuff, like I was asking for. Tree branches still break in 2-3 hits, but a zonai weapon will last through many combats. Normal weapons fall somewhere in the middle. This makes me tolerate the breaking system a lot better than I did in BOTW. So I really appreciate this tweak. I feel like Nintendo more or less got this part of the game right, this time around.