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It’s Rockstar vs. Nintendo, Giant vs. Giant, Open World Innovator vs. Open World Innovator. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today doing the most unthinkable thing on the Internet since “Superman vs. Goku”, by pitting The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild against Red Dead Redemption 2.
For the sake of a fair comparison, we’ll not be taking Breath of the Wild’s DLC content into account, nor Red Dead 2’s online mode±mostly because it's not out as of the time of writing. Since both games currently hold a 97 on Metacritic, however, we can't hold back any punches in deciding which is best. No flaw will be glossed over. No feature will be underrepresented. Prepare for the toughest scrutiny these two games will face on the Internet. Let’s start the battle!
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Round 1: Story
At the heart of Red Dead Redemption 2 lies its story; and, oh boy, what a tale it weaves! It’s the end of the 19th Century and times are changing in America. No longer the open frontier of the Wild West, civilization (and trains, lots of trains) are sweeping across the country at a staggering pace, causing a previous way of life to be all but extinct. The endangered species is the Dutch van der Linde gang, a notorious group of outlaws, and the story heartbreakingly details these ruffians coming to grips with losing their way of life.
Breath of the Wild’s story, on the other hand, is much more fantasy-driven. After 10,000 years of peace, the battle for the soul of Hyrule is fought between Calamity Ganon versus Zelda, Link and the Champions of Hyrule. Ganon is struck down and sealed away in Hyrule Castle, the Champions are slain, and Link is gravely wounded and placed in a restorative sleep for 100 years. After awakening a century later, Link sets off to finish Ganon once and for all.
One of the main complaints about Breath of the Wild was its lack of story. Though the world of Hyrule contains tons of lore, once the game begins there’s little in the way of plot development due to the fact that most of the story is told through flashbacks. On the other hand, Red Dead 2’s storyline rivals that of classic Westerns like The Wild Bunch and Once Upon a Time in the West”in telling the tragic tale about the death of the American Frontier. Dutch and Arthur may be killers, but damn if they’re not fascinating portrayals of men coming to grips with their own mortality. This one isn’t even close.
WINNER: Red Dead Redemption 2
RDR2 1 / Z:BOTW 0
Round 2: Gameplay
Gameplay in Red Dead is a cycle of setting up camp; completing story missions; solving side quests; upgrading and crafting; interacting with others; and exploration. As mentioned, the storyline is a highlight in the game, so completing missions is where most of the excitement is at, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t had a blast talking to the townsfolk either. And, if our conversations should get unruly? Well, there’s Dead Eye for that! The gunplay and combat feels more brutal and violent than any past Rockstar game, despite complaints of its default control scheme.
Breath of the Wild’s gameplay cycle is similar to “Red Dead’s” but is heavier on exploration and puzzle solving. Finding towers to unlock the map’s layout is crucial, as is filling in its villages, stables, and shrines. The main missions move the plot forward while Link’s memories fill in the backstory. It all works extremely well. Not to mention the excellent combat that’s as refreshing for its simplicity as it is challenging for its dodge and parry mechanics.
It’s really a close call when it comes to whose gameplay is better, but we’re going with Breath of the Wild seeing as there’s just so much variety. Better combat, the best exploration in gaming, The runes add a greater layer of strategy, and a refreshing mixture of puzzle solving that keeps the open world from getting too stale (yeah, we’re suckers for puzzles!). Breath of the Wild’s weapon degradation may be harsher than Red Dead 2’s, but with so many attack styles at his disposal; Link runs circles around Arthur Morgan here.
WINNER: Breath of the Wild
RDR2 1 / Z:BOTW 1
Round 3: Graphics
Red Dead Redemption 2 sets a new standard for realism in video games and may just be the best looking game ever made. It raises the bar moving forward on just about everything in terms of graphics—from lighting effects, to environment details, and facial textures. And… yes… growing and shrinking horse testicles that we can’t show here without getting flagged.
We have to give a ton of credit to Nintendo for making Breath of the Wild look as good as it does considering it’s running on a vastly underpowered console. The art style they decided to go with here just suits the game to a tee and fits this new envisioning of Hyrule like a glove. Breath of the Wild is a beautiful game in its own right, and its anime-like visuals actually stack up against many realistic open world games of this generation.
While we could technically make an “apples to oranges” comparison here because Red Dead 2 aims for realism while Breath of the Wild focuses on artistic style, it’s clear that Rockstar’s Western Epic is the better looking game with its immaculate attention to detail. Sure, Breath of the Wild looks great too, but its lower quality textures just don’t hold up to scrutiny compared to Red Dead 2.
WINNER: Red Dead Redemption 2
RDR2 2 / Z:BOTW 1
Round 4: Missions & Quests
The main missions in Red Dead 2 come with a heavy cinematic element, which leads to some incredible story moments. This also means that they’re very scripted and don’t allow for much freedom in terms of completing missions, however. It’s basically like watching a movie. The same holds true for side quests as well, but they’re less restrictive overall. Also, the structure of taking cover and popping out to gun down enemies can get a little repetitive over time.
On the other hand, Breath of the Wild prides itself on being truly non-linear. Missions, memories, shrines, and Divine Beasts can be completed in almost any order, greatly affecting gameplay in the process, and there’s little handholding in the process. The freedom given to players in exploring Hyrule is staggering, and at times can even be frustrating, but overall it makes the satisfaction of completing missions and fining items that much more thrilling.
Although we love the tale that Red Dead crafts through its missions, the less restrictive nature of the missions in Breath of the Wild give it the clear upper hand here. Also, the game’s shrines and other puzzles allow for more experimentation and trail and error, making for a much more involved process than simply activating a mission and following prompts to completion. It’s not even close.
WINNER: Breath of the Wild
RDR2 2 / Z:BOTW 2
Round 5: Open World
The fictitious states that make up Red Dead’s open world feel truly alive, filled with people, plants and wildlife, and each region has a very distinct feel to it. It’s also filled with many things to do like hunting, fishing, gambling and treasure hunting. As mentioned, the level of detail in this world is awe-inspiring and it’s probably the best looking open world ever made. Some finicky environmental hit boxes make it slightly harder to interact with at times, however.
Breath of the Wild also has a world filled with wildlife, plants and people, as well as a dynamic weather system, distinct regions, and lots to do outside of main missions. Though the world can feel a tad empty at times, Breath of the Wild adds features not found in other open worlds like the ability to climb anything, and the act of paragliding to quickly get from Point A to Point B.
This is a super close call. So we’re going to have take a deeper look.
While both maps are incredibly large and diverse, Red Dead Redemption 2’s is much bigger, and even goes as far as to include the original map from the first game. However as the old saying goes: (“It’s not the size mate, it’s how you use it”) and this is where Breath of the Wild reaches ahead. The game’s world feels more interactive and more responsive to our actions. Whether using rune elements to find hidden caves or cutting down trees with your sword, or finding Korok seeds, the world never feels like anything is out of bounds or off limits.
However Red Dead 2 does bounce back, with the wide variety of random NPC events scattered across the map, to keep it from feeling empty. Some of which, even have effects later on in the game. Breath of the Wild has these too, usually in the form of attacking travellers or mini-bosses, but they’re nowhere near as varied compared to what Red Dead offers. Plus while both games offer diverse towns and cities that feel distinctly different, the city of Saint-Denis (French pronunciation) stands out for its dense architecture and sprawling populous. Even if Rockstar failed to deliver on their promise that all the buildings would be explorable. Something that Breath of the Wild does hit.
But then there’s traversing the open worlds, and Breath of the Wild has the clear upper hand here, because while both game’s main mode of transportation is horseback riding. Link’s Paraglider that allows him to glide long distances, is something that Red Dead 2 cannot match. Not to mention the fact that Link is a mountain climber and can surf deserts on his shield.
So… with EVERYTHING laid out on the table. The winner… but only just: is Breath of the Wild.
RDR2 2 / Z:BOTW 3
*Phew* So Breath of the Wild takes the win. But it was so close, that we almost ended this in a draw due to that last round. That should speak volumes of how great both titles are.