The highly anticipated, highly delayed Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is finally here. For Zelda fans it’s been a long four year wait since Nintendo promised a new instalment with the Wii U’s launch in 2013. Now it’s ending the promised console generation and starting the next on the Nintendo Switch. The Legend of Zelda franchise in recent years has been criticised for the lack of change to the formula that’s been in place since Ocarina of Time. Each game has tried something different and added new mechanics, take Skyward Sword’s upgrading and stamina mechanics for example, and while they’ve all been solid instalments none have broken the mould in a big way. That is until now.
Breath of the Wild is a complete departure from the traditional formula and the most ambitious Zelda title to date. Nintendo has given players the freedom to explore a beautiful, truly open Hyrule and tackle the dangers of the world in any way they want while still managing to weave a traditional Zelda tale.
From the darkness a mysterious voice calls out to you, waking you from your slumber. Upon finding yourself lying in a strange chamber the voice calls out to you once again prompting you to retrieve a device from a nearby pedestal and step outside. Awaiting you are the ruins of a civilization and an old man huddled next to a campfire. Perhaps he knows what is going on? The old man explains to you that this is Hyrule and 100 years ago an ancient evil known as Calamity Gannon awoke wreaking havoc on the land, killing those that meant to keep him at bay. Champions that could control beings known as Divine Beasts and a Hero who carried a sword to seal the darkness. Throughout this time Princess Zelda has kept the demon sealed at Hyrule Castle, awaiting the arrival of a hero who could restore peace to the land.
With the way the game is setup you could just make a beeline straight for Hyrule Castle and try to take on Ganon ignoring the story almost entirely. But then you’d be missing out as Breath of the Wild weaves one of the series greatest and darkest tales. The story is very well written with a lot of depth to it if you’re willing to work for it. While you are given nudges on where to go now and again you’re largely left on your own to explore. This lack of direction can be disorientating early on but eventually the thrill of discovery draws you in. Meet a bard and they may recite tales of the old hero and tracking down locations from photos of old Hyrule rewards you with flashbacks.
The Great Plateau, the location in which you’ll begin you adventure, is your training ground. Here you’ll get to grips with combat, learn to hunt and forage, cook your first meals and make your first fatal mistakes. The combat has evolved as without his Master Sword Link must rely on whatever else he can find from tree branches to rusty shields to fend of the growing waves of monsters. Gradually every weapon will buckle and break so you’ll have to stock up and find more even if that means bludgeoning enemies with their own arms. Micro-management plays a part then as you have to make decisions mid-fight, such as should you use your best weaponry or flee and save it for a stronger foe. There are other ways though to take control of a skirmish. Time a dodge well and you can follow up with a flurry attack or wait for enemies attacks and counter with a shield bash. Alternatively you can employ more stealthy tactics to pick enemies off one by one, perhaps there’s a conveniently placed boulder you can push downhill to crush them with or maybe you can take advantage of your new found powers and beating them down with the nearest metallic crate.
The shrines and enemy encampments on the plateau do very well to get you used to the controls and mechanics at your disposal, but in the early game you are of course going to make mistakes and with Links initially weak state you are going to get punished badly. This game is tough, so get used to seeing the game over screen in those first few hours. With every fail though you learn from your mistakes and you can approach the problem in a new way, and with auto-saves being fairly regular you never have to worry about losing too much progress.
Shrines now replace the traditional dungeon formula, challenging players with one off puzzles. The plateau is home to four such shrines, gifting and teaching Link of technologically advanced (or magical if you’d prefer) abilities. Bombs that can be remotely detonated, power of metallic objects, Ice Pillars that allow one to walk across water and creating localised time stops to manipulate objects. Your mastery of these is then tested in the following shrines through clever little puzzles. Best of all they don’t feel like a chore. They’re satisfying as they never really take more than 15 minutes to solve and occasionally they have multiple solutions so you never get bogged down with them.
Bokoblins and Lizalfos litter the land, waiting for the chance to take your life but there is a more unusual opponent you must face, that is Hyrule itself. Snowy peaks and infernal volcanoes take their toll on not only Links condition but his weaponry. Wood weapons burn and metal ones attract electricity so again you’ll need to micro-manage your equipment to the varying harsh conditions. Plus while you can go anywhere, you’ll start blind and without a map. To fill it in you’ll need to climb towers inserting your Sheikah Slate into the pedestals that rest at the top. This unveils a segment of Hyrule and thus points of interest. Not only that but they act as fast travel markers and the elevated view allows you to survey the horizon and so you can plan out your next path and mark down landmarks. There’s also nothing better than taking in Hyrules sheer scale from atop these vantage points. To add to that if you see it you can reach it. This is the biggest Hyrule to date and no matter which direction you choose there’s always something to find from enemy encampments, playful Koroks, fast travel Shrines, and stables for boarding horses.
Gone are the days of smashing pots and mowing down grass in search of precious hearts and rupees. Food is your new life source, munching down an apple will give you half a heart but as your life bar grows you’ll need to expand your food palette. Sit at pot and you can create numerous recovery meals, combine different food stuffs and there’s also the possibility you’ll gain some nifty bonuses such as extended stamina, boosted stealth or heat resistance perks. This whole mechanic is one that isn’t actually explained in detail but like the rest of the game it leaves you to discover and experiment.
The ‘Adventure Log’. Side quests, shrine quests and main quests are numerous, this log tracks them all, quests can range from delivery of certain material, defeating enemies at specified location or snapping pictures of foes. Tackling quests as soon as you’re given them is not always wise as their difficulty varies, it’s best to take your time with them, grab any quests you can find and complete them naturally as you explore. With 120 shrines, hundreds of weapons and a compendium to build players are sure to find lots reasons to keep playing for a very long time.
Amiibos are back with the Switch. The Zelda ones are the key figures and Breath of the Wild brings with it an additional 5 Amiibo taking the Legend of Zelda Collection up to a massive 15 and each one has their pieces of exclusive in-game goodies. To reap the rewards they hold you’ll need to first enable the Amiibo feature from the setting or main menu. 14 of the Amiibo unlock a selection of rare ores, foods stuffs, flowers and armaments but they also hold a couple of exclusive items from The Legend of Zelda’s long history from green tunics (several different styles), weaponry and even a certain trusty stead. The Wolf Link Amiibo offers the most interesting feature as it summons Links Twilight Wolf form to accompany you on your new journey, fighting enemies and finding loot. And the Amiibo aren’t the only thing giving nods to previous Zelda games. I mean just look at the map. Does Linebeck Island or Sarias Wood sound familiar to anyone? These nods are guaranteed to put a smile on any fans face and they’ll surely enjoy finding all of the nostalgic references Nintendo have put in.
As for the games appearance well, just look at it. Breath of the Wild looks stunning! There are a couple lower quality textures that have come across the Wii U development but they’re counteracted by some fantastic art design. With such a large map some areas can feel very barren and empty, but then you stumble upon a little pocket of civilization and there’s a great contrast. Busy, bustling with something always going on and each person you meet, from your key characters to those that run the shops stand out (Can’t get enough of how good the Zoras look). Changeable weather effects are also utilised to a good degree switching up the mood of any area, fields that at one point feel serene in the sun can suddenly feel bleak and sluggish when the rain comes down. Then there are the little details like the way the grass sways in the breeze or how lizards scamper away when they’re spotted.
The game is of course at its best when viewed on the TV which has an increased draw distance and is displayed 1080p as opposed to 720p on the Switches 6 inch screen. Still it’s perfectly acceptable and if anything you’ll find frame rate drops and pauses are less frequent then on the TV. Of course the Switch gives you the freedom to play however you want but I’d recommend saving the big moments for the big screen.
I’ll admit I was sceptical of the voice acting, however there isn’t actually as much as the trailers initially have you believe. It’s actually a very nice blend that they’ve managed to pull off. The voice acting is reserved mostly for the larger story segment so you’ll still spend a great deal of time scrolling through endless reams of dialogue. The performances though are a bit harder to judge. While I did enjoy them I also got a sense that some of the performances were out of place and I would have liked the option to be able to listen to the Japanese voices. Musically though the game is spot on as Zelda games usually are, although this time some of it is more subtle as it lets you soak in the ambience of the world around you.
I’m over 50 hours into my adventure, there are still large portions of the map that have gone unexplored and I’m discovering more and more every time I delve into it. I could continue rambling about how much I enjoyed this game but looking at the 2000 word count I’m thinking I’ve already gone on too long.
Breath of the Wild is a dramatic switch up to the Zelda franchise. It’s nice to see that Nintendo are trying new things yet still managed to keep the essence of a Zelda game. We’re treated to a traditional Zelda tale, Shrines gift us satisfying quick fire puzzles and all enemies big or small present a decent challenge. The huge open world offers hours of exploration and completionists will have their work cut out for them tracking down everything the world has to offer. Whether you’re a die-hard fan or complete newcomer The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is tittle that deserves a place in your gaming library.