Fix Technical Issues
Nothing kills my desire to get creative with combat like framerate drops and freezes. Tall grass is common in Breath of the Wild, and it causes framerate drops. It gets worse if you use anything that starts or spreads fire: fire arrows, bomb arrows, remote bombs, wooden weapons, etc. This is a shame because fire has a variety of uses in combat. Fire on grass causes an updraft. You can use that updraft to get a strategic view on the battle, and rain arrows from the sky. Setting an enemy on fire can distract them from the battle, or make them more deadly by giving them fire weapons. Explosive barrels can be ignited with fire. You can even use fire as a zoning tool in grass. All of these fun things are made less fun because you may experience significant frame drops while you do them.
The egregious pop-in also discourages strategic planning. If you can’t see enemy positions, items, chests, or landmarks before you are close to them, it’s hard to plan a route to attack an enemy camp from afar. The first barrier in the way of combat creativity is the punishment players receive for trying anything outside of straight-forward melee combat.
Improve Flurry Rush
Flurry Rush is activated by dodging while close to an enemy’s melee attack. Flurry Rush suspends the enemy in slow-motion while you can mash a button to get free hits in with whatever weapon you have out. The first problem is how Flurry Rush feels. If you use a short sword or pole-arm, the near synchronous weapons strikes and button hits are satisfying. Heavy weapons don’t feel as good, though, because their swings are slower. Despite you furiously mashing the button, Link will get only a few sluggish swings in.
More importantly, Flurry Rush is too simple. Flurry Rush does allow for a modicum of freedom because you can switch weapons once the slow-mo has started. Once you’ve got one hit in with that weapon, though, you’re locked into it for the rest of Flurry Rush. It would be better if players had more freedom during slow-mo. Players should be able to take advantage of all the other tools the game gives them like bows, runes, Chuchu jelly, etc.
Critics have suggested that healing should be real-time, so that it carries some risk. Otherwise, players have access to a massive health pool by pausing the game and eating a meal. If healing was real-time and Flurry Rush allowed more freedom, players could use Flurry Rush as an opportunity to heal. Instead of mindless button-mashing, Flurry Rush could have been an opportunity to leverage more depth that the combat normally doesn’t provide.
Balance the Bow
Almost all enemies can be stunned with a headshot from the bow. They can also be frozen with an ice arrow, and they will stay frozen for quite a while. While they’re frozen, you can walk into them and they’ll slide to their death off a cliff or into a river. The freeze effect is also useful for keeping one enemy waiting while you face its ally. Elemental enemies can be instantly killed with their opposite element’s arrow. Fire enemies will die to a single ice arrow, for example. Enemies will be stunned for a second and drop their weapons if you hit them with a shock bow.
The uses of bomb arrows are too numerous to name. Aside from their high damage, they also bring havoc to enemy camps. Their explosions separate enemies from their allies and weapons by sending them all flying into the air. Enemies will scramble to regroup and find their weapons in the midst of fire and more arrows from the player. It’s good for a weapon to have many uses in combat, but enemies in Breath don’t have enough ways to deal with the power of the bow.
All the bosses are vulnerable to arrows, too. I focused on bow combat early, putting most of my rupees into buying as many arrows as I could. The first four bosses died without much resistance. They can be stunned with normal arrows and bomb arrows do high damage. Once I got to Ganon and had a five-shot bow, there wasn’t much challenge left. None of the bosses seemed to have any counter-measures for a bow-focused strategy, except for three instances.
Thunderblight Ganon and Fireblight Ganon both have puzzle-like sections where they are invulnerable to arrows. Thunderblight’s puzzle phase actually gave me some trouble, though I understood what to do right away. I just had trouble executing. Of course, I was in no danger since I had a stockpile of meals I could eat without risk. Fireblight Ganon’s puzzle section doesn’t pose much of a risk, either. It just takes a second to realize you’re supposed to throw a bomb at him. Calamity Ganon also has a phase where he is invulnerable to arrows, during which his attacks are highly-choreographed and easily dodged. You need to parry his energy attack back at him (the timing is generous) and you’re done with the fight.
Some enemies have counter-measures to the bow which aren’t as useless. Moblins can turn on a dime to avoid arrows, and will sometimes hold up their shield to protect their head and torso. Hinoxes will cover their eye, making it harder to shoot it. These counter-measures are good to have, but they aren’t enough. When Moblins hold up their shield, you can shoot their groin or legs. Hinoxes will stop guarding their eye if you wait a second, and they’re too slow to kill anyone anyway.
The economy also has a counter-measure against using the bow. If you have too many arrows of any elemental type (I think it’s around 100), then vendors will very rarely restock them. This counter-measure isn’t effective because elemental arrows are too abundant. There is a vendor that sells elemental arrows in each of the four main towns, as well as Hateno Village and Kakariko Village. They can also be found in chests, in boxes, and on enemies throughout the world.
The game has counter-measures to the bow, but they don’t add up to enough to change the fact that it monopolizes combat. A hard limit on elemental arrows may have been wise. I also don’t see why bows that shoot three or five arrows at once shouldn’t actually take three and five arrows out of your inventory. A more fun solution would be to increase enemy variety, and make some new enemies that have interesting counter-play when threatened with arrows.
Do Something Interesting With Knockdown
Knockdown lasts too long in this game. Combat would have less pointless waiting if, before you hit the ground after being hit by an enemy attack, you could hit a button and immediately stand back up–similar to teching in Smash Bros.
It would also be interesting if there were a way to reset enemies after they’ve been knocked down. Instead of waiting for them to get up, maybe you could use a shock arrow to stand them up. You can already hit enemies with arrows while they’re on the ground, but it only deals damage. It doesn’t make them get up any faster. Using a shock arrow would let you continue your combo if you run to the enemy in time, while punishing you with splash damage if you are too close when you reset the enemy.
There are a lot of other problems with the combat that I could have addressed, but some of them don’t need much explanation. Here are two examples: You can easily run away from most enemies, even without whistle-sprinting. Pole-arms make melee combat trivial. They they do less damage, but you can continually stunlock enemies because they attack so fast. There’s also the lack of enemy variety, but that problem has been mentioned so much I figured I didn’t need to touch on it. I think the combat in Breath of the Wild is a step-up for 3D Zelda games, and I hope it continues to improve.