Breath of the Wild is an absolute essential for owners of the Nintendo Switch, and one of the better Zelda games to date. The grand experience that awaits the adventurers in this version of Hyrule is unlike other games of the franchise and shows both the quality and the guts to stand out from both its predeccesors and its contemporary competitors.
You gaze into the distance from atop one of the many peaks that are scattered throughout the Kingdom of Hyrule. Among the lush fields and forests, you see the nation’s once beautiful castle in the distance, enveloped by the miasma of Darkness that is only known as Calamity Ganon. Hyrule has suffered a great deal from the disaster that struck when the dark power of Ganon terrorized the land a hundred years ago. People still try their best to live their lives, but peace is in danger at all times. It is time to step up to the challenge and free Hyrule of the evil that plagues it. Link has awakened.
That is the premise with which The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild releases you into the adventure it presents. It is the most important game in Nintendo’s limited Switch launch lineup, and absolutely the one that most eyes are directed towards. Expectations of a new Zelda game are always high, and people have waited for a long time for the next console release of Nintendo’s most critically acclaimed series. Luckily, Breath of the Wild is without a doubt the best launch game one could hope for. It is fresh yet familiar, challenging yet accessible but most of all absolutely phenomenal.
Breath of the Wild is not a Zelda game like games you have seen before. If anything, it probably most closely resembles games like the original Legend of Zelda or A Link Between Worlds in regards to the freedom it offers you while exploring the world. It parts with the traditional pace and structure of earlier Zelda games that had you travel from dungeon to dungeon to collect various new weapons and power-ups needed to progress through the game and reach its final stages. The only mandatory part of Breath of the Wild is right at the beginning when you are stuck on the Great Plateau, which is effectively the game’s tutorial area. You have to visit four shrines and solve the puzzles within to be awarded a Paraglider that allows you to float off the Plateau and venture into the wide world of Hyrule. Finishing four of these also allows you to add an extra heart to your health total or adds an extra segment to stamina bar. And even within this relatively structured first part, you enjoy a lot of freedom to explore and take your time to breathe in the colorful and atmospheric world around you. Never is anything required right there and then, yet you still have learned all the basics once you leave the Plateau. It’s one of the least intrusive and best tutorials to date.
And then the great adventure begins. Where to go first? The game certainly points you in the right direction through quest logs and markers, but in no way forces you to actually go there. You can literally go anywhere anytime you wish, without ever being stopped or unable to progress. Things may be more difficult depending on where you go, but you can do so if you want to. You can even straight up go to Hyrule Castle to beat Calamity Ganon and finish the game (if you have what it takes because that is pretty challenging). There is so much to see, to do, to explore, to experience. The game’s art direction is beautiful and compliments the overall feels of the game really well. The entire world of Hyrule is full of character – even the most empty fields have their own details that catch your eye and feel wonderful to travel through.
This sense of freedom may be overwhelming at first, especially to people used to a more linear structure. But that is the beauty of the game: that it is you, the player, that decides which adventure to go on. Will you go out to solve the puzzles in all of the more than 100 shrines scattered across Hyrule and add some more life or stamina to your bars? Do you wish to discover the cities of the many colorful races scattered across Hyrule and relieve them of their troubles with the Divine Beasts, mythical machines that run rampant across their home territories? Or do you go out and collect the memories you have of your adventures with Zelda some 100 years ago?
When you set out on your own chosen objective, you will undoubtedly be distracted by many unforeseen things you encounter on your way there. There may be a fierce monster patrolling through your route that you have to overcome. You may sneak or travel around and avoid it, but fighting the urge to try and take it down will be difficult. And the feeling you get when after many tries and a hard fought battle you finally best the creature and collect the spoils is one of the best feelings you’ll have as a gamer and not completely unlike the sensation a game like Dark Souls invokes.
There are several departures from traditional elements in Zelda games. Firstly, there is a new equipment system that is much more reminiscent of traditional RPG’s, with countless different weapons to collect and use in combat. These weapons break eventually and can’t be repaired, forcing you to find new weapons when they do, which is often done by defeating enemies that wield them or finding them within treasure chests that are found in shrines, enemy encampments or just lying around hidden in the world. It takes getting used to that you can’t simply wail away at your enemies indefinitely, but it adds some depth to the otherwise traditional combat system that the game offers. There are also several different armor sets to find, and almost all of them can be upgraded several times by the fairies found in Great Fairy Fountains, of which there are four hidden in Hyrule. Upgrading them can add set bonuses to armors, the effect of which you can only enjoy whilst wearing the entire set.
Besides new equipment, there are many other materials that can be found besides the traditional arrows and rupees. There’s a whole encyclopedia worth of food, minerals, monster parts and small animals that can be collected and used to craft new weapons or accessories at specific vendors, cook meals or brew elixirs that can heal and/or grant special powerups to Link when eaten, traded in return for useful items or sold for rupees.
The cooking system replaces traditional health management found in other Zelda games: no longer are there hearts that pop out when you cut a piece of grass, throw a vase or defeat an enemy. Instead, you heal through consuming either the raw food you find or from the dishes you’ve cooked up yourself, adding another interesting RPG and survival element to the game that rather than being a necessary chore, actually encourages you to experiment and regard every new thing you find as a precious resource.
There’s also no dungeons in this game. The closest things to a dungeon in Breath of the Wild are either the shrines, which are essentially small temples that have between one and three puzzle rooms you have to solve, or the Divine Beasts. These giant robotic animals can be entered and require solving several puzzles to complete. They are sometimes missed, but their absence ultimately can’t spoil the many things that are to be found and done in the game.
No game is perfect, and neither in Breath of the Wild. The game experiences some minor frame dropss every now and then, more often on Wii U than on the Switch. Even though they aren’t persistent enough to ruin your experience, they deserve to be mentioned, as they are definitely there, especially in larger areas or more crowded battles. The world is also very large, and only key points have fast-travel points so you’ll be doing a lot of walking, climbing and horseriding just to reach a certain far-off destination you want to explore. On land you can shorten your travel time by riding a horse, but horses can’t scale cliffs or swim, and most of the more curious landmarks are hidden behind such natural barriers, often making a horse mostly useless during exploration. It is one of the times when a world as big as this can actually be a burden.
The game’s controls take getting used to, can’t be customized and are plagued by the fact that there are so many different things you have to do that it can be hard to memorize exactly what does what. Autosaves are frequent and often useful, but sometimes screw you over. There have been times when the game autosaved in the middle of a fierce battle. If you lose that battle and die, it reloads putting you and the enemy back into a neutral position. The enemy will have all their health back, but you will still have used up all your healing items and lost all the weapons that have broken before that savepoint.
Also, for the first time there has been real voice acting in a Zelda game, if only during cutscenes, and it isn’t very good (for purists, rest assured, Link remains silent).
All of these minor flaws keep the game from being a perfect experience. The notions that this Zelda is the game to rise above all others are mere illusions of grandeur. However, what remains is still a very, very enjoyable experience, and probably still one of the best Zelda games to date, and definitely a contestant for 2017’s game of the year.
Never before was a Zelda experience so overwhelming and yet so hard to put down. Playing Breath of the Wild is never boring, and with the massive amount of content that lies within, it will keep you busy for quite some time. The game is the perfect fit on the Nintendo Switch, where the adventure is just as much fun while you are away from home as it is while you are relaxing in your living room. You simply can’t own a Switch without also owning this game. It is an essential title, a true systemseller. It is just as phenomenal a game on the Wii U, with both versions differing very little (just a slight difference in visual fidelity and performance, but not much) apart from losing the option to play the game while traveling. That said, Wii U owners can still enjoy the experience as well and are just similarly encouraged to do so.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is already one of the best games in recent years, and may very well be the next Ocarina of Time.