Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
I really loved The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild. I might have even spent 100 hours playing it and writing thousands of words about it on this very website. I’ve long since moved on from it, but the game has been lingering in my brain—all those shrines left incomplete and bits of armor un-upgraded. The Master Trials, the first of two major downloadable updates for the game, just dropped last week, and it’s been exactly the thing the game needed to draw me back in. The big addition is The Trial Of The Sword, a gauntlet that strips you of all your gear and pits you against 45 rooms full of monsters. Like the brilliant, self-contained challenge on Eventide Island, it forces you to scavenge for everything and use every bit of combat knowledge you’ve accumulated to survive. Without access to your Divine Beast powers or vast food stores, you have to approach each situation with more untraditional tactics, sneaking around and taking advantage of your surroundings. It encourages the kind of creativity BOTW was designed for but seldom required, and it’s definitely a rough, lengthy challenge.
Master Trials also includes some special new gear for players to collect, all of it based on previous Zelda games. Nintendo could have easily dumped this stuff into your inventory as a thank you for dropping $20 on the BOTW expansion pass, but it did the most BOTW thing possible and built a little treasure hunt for each bauble. You’re provided with a written clue—some more vague than others—and sent off into the world to hunt it down. While the items themselves have pretty limited effects and can’t be upgraded to offer better protection, the act of finding them was a pleasure in itself. Similar to seeking out the photograph locations in the main game, the scavenger hunt-style quest plays on the very natural connection players have to the geography of Hyrule, and having not played the game in a few months, it was nice to be able to just bounce around and revisit some places, as well as discover a few new ones. Plus, now I can prance around dressed like Tingle and freak everyone the hell out, which is about as solid a reward as it gets.
I tend to like video games with some kind of clever storyline, even if it’s not entirely successful—which is probably why I’ve spent so much time defending my favorite parts of the BioShock series—but the 2016 Doom reboot is almost an explicit rejection of the idea that video games need stories at all. Actually, that’s not quite true. Doom does have a story, it’s just that Doomguy (or whatever you want to call him) doesn’t give a damn about it. I’m only a few hours in, but there have already been multiple instances where he just smashes a computer monitor and keeps charging through the hordes of monsters instead of sitting for a moment and listening to someone give exposition. It reminds me of the justification Valve gave for Chell’s silence in the Portal games, which was basically that she’s so annoyed by the evil AI and its dumb puzzles that she refuses to acknowledge any of it.
Doom is only partly about not paying attention to the story, though, as it’s mostly about brutally slaughtering unholy abominations with your fists and guns and a chainsaw. I really like how fast the combat is, and the “Glory Kills” gimmick adds an interesting layer of strategy to the shooting, since it will sometimes behoove you to hold back on your firepower so you can get a health bonus from one of those extra-violent executions. There may not be enough tortured musings on the nature of reality for my tastes, but it’s very fun.