For over three decades, The Legend of Zelda series has given players a sense of exploration that many games have been inspired by. Nintendo has been in long development for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which was first shown off at E3 2014. While initially shown as a Wii U exclusive, the game’s delays eventually pushed it back to launch simultaneously on Nintendo’s new console, the Nintendo Switch, as a launch day title. Is this new Zelda one that was worth the long wait?
Link awakens after a 100-year slumber, unaware of what has happened in the land of Hyrule. Leaving the Shrine of Resurrection, he eventually crosses paths with an elderly man who helps guide him on the right starting path. Calamity Ganon has taken control of the land of Hyrule and it is up to Link to stop him from destroying the world. While that may sound a bit cliché, it is how Breath of the Wild’s story unfolds that is remarkable.
Link suffers from memory loss, so he doesn’t recall anything of what’s happening in the land of Hyrule. Throughout his journey, he will have to venture through the massive land to acquire his strength back, as well as his memories. Unlike many other games (or even prior installments in this series) where heavy exposition is provided in the opening act of the game, the game throws you in control mere minutes upon starting up. There is not even a main menu upon startup. The story opens up to the grand sense of mystery, providing numerous questions to the player. While there is a natural story progression, recalling all of Link’s memories (which is optional) is how the story is further fleshed out. It’s through here that we find out exactly what happened 100 years ago.
The amount of detail that is put into the lore of this universe is astounding to say the least. All of the NPCs provide plenty of personality and help bring out life in this massive world. Even the historical Sheikah language actually has meaning to the world when translated. There is a ton of lore to be discovered and learned, and everything connects to make this world truly flourish.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has a sense of scale and exploration in a way that no other game has achieved to date. For starters, this isn’t a Zelda game that follows the same conventions we’ve seen over the past 30 years. This is a new way to experience Zelda; a way which feels similar to what we first experienced on the NES, and the way we first experienced Ocarina of Time. In short, this is a Zelda that provides a truly unique experience that elevates the series to new heights.
Unlike earlier entries, we are thrown right into the gameplay with very little exposition. You will be granted a Sheikah Slate and some clothing to set off on your journey. After leaving the Shrine of Resurrection, it is here where the game opens up to how you want to set forth on your quest. This is a true open-world experience to witness. There are many games nowadays where open-world is a somewhat monotonous style, with a checklist of things the player can do. Breath of the Wild reinvigorates this tiresome style by not throwing filler into the world just for the sake of having something to do. Everything placed in this massive land of Hyrule is meant to be there and has purpose. You have the utmost freedom to tackle this game in any way you’d like. You can literally spend countless hours venturing the land, finding shrines to tackle, side quests to partake in, and hunting for resources.
For those wanting to focus on seeing the story unfold, there’s a quest log system in place to show you where to go. On your way to main missions, you will be easily distracted from your path, as seeing Shrines and Towers to unlock will certainly pull you off the beaten path. As mentioned, these are not filler content. Towers will unlock regions of the land to appear on your map, as well as fast travel points. Shrines are mini-dungeons with specific puzzles and challenges to complete that award you Spirit Orbs. Acquiring four of these Orbs will allow you to visit a Praying Statue that lets you either upgrade your health or stamina meter. Choosing between the two is actually quite difficult since both are so integral to your survival. Honestly, I haven’t been this conflicted making decisions upgrading since Resident Evil 4, where every upgrade is a necessity. There are 120 shrines across the entire map. Finding these Shrines across Hyrule is both exciting and addictive. The only minor gripe I have is that some shrines have the occasional motion controls implemented for certain puzzles that proved to be a bit imprecise. Luckily, there weren’t many of these and didn’t hurt the overall experience. Also, it’s worth noting that shrines act as fast travel points as well.
Combat handled differently than other Zelda installments. No longer are you attached to a single sword as your main weapon. Instead, you are capable of wielding practically anything as a weapon; tree branches, axes, swords, spears, boomerangs, and bows all behave as weapons. While boomerangs and bows are common in the series, all the weapons mentioned have a ton of various types. Weapons’ materials are also a factor;or example, during lightning storms, having metal weapons (or clothing) equipped will attract lightning to strike you. However, throwing a metal weapon towards enemies will attract lightning to them, providing a clever method to utilize the environment in combat. Weapons do break quite easily, so you’ll be scavenging weapons constantly. It’s not until you find better-made weapons where they are more durable.
Aside from weapons, acquiring specific clothing is absolutely essential to your survival. Not only do these affect your defense attributes, but they have specific perks as well. Breath of the Wild’s environments are not static. Climbing a snowy mountain will make Link freeze to death if he’s not wearing the proper clothing. Venturing into the desert in the daytime will make Link grow weary of the heat, but he’ll also freeze at night. Going into a volcano will even set Link on fire unless he has the proper equipment. It’s this level of care and authenticity that changes the way you explore in Zelda. Thankfully, you’re not restricted to having only specific clothing and gear to get through these extreme temperatures. You can also hunt animals and resources to cook food or brew elixirs that will provide you resistance to certain climates. Speaking of cooking, it’s your main means of recovering health. Gone are the days of cutting through grass or objects to find hearts to acquire. You will need to hunt and cook if you are going to survive.
The game’s four main dungeons are also some of the best level designs I’ve seen in a Zelda game. Taking a page from Shadow of the Colossus, the Divine Beasts serve as the main dungeons in the game. Each Divine Beast will have to be approached differently, consisting of unique action experiences as Link tries to make his entrance. Once inside the beast, the puzzles truly flourish and require you to really think about how to advance. The development team have really shown their puzzle design mastery here. Additionally, boss battles are both engaging and challenging. You will have to really experiment with everything you have at your disposal to defeat these bosses.
The most remarkable achievement is how much detail the land of Hyrule has. The wildlife, the environment, the towns, the weather…they all have this sublime detail that sets an entire new standard for open-world games. Many open-world games feel like a drag to venture through, full of filler content just to get to the next point of the game’s story. Instead, Breath of the Wild achieves an open-world that has substance. It’s so easy to lose countless hours exploring before even tackling the game’s main story. This game is truly a revolution.
The Legend of Zelda series always had vibrant, lush visuals, with each installment using unique art styles. BotW approaches a more watercolor-like style and provides a truly breathtaking visual experience. In the opening moments where you view the land of Hyrule, you will be introduced to an immense draw distance. You can literally see everything in the distance: Shrines, Towers, towns, mountains, and more. It really is a sight to behold. Grass blades react to your movements and glisten based on the lighting from the sun’s position. Heat haze effects appear in desert and volcanic environments. Lightning strikes cause fields and trees to light on fire. These detailed visual effects are truly jaw-dropping. Texture work is quite sharp as well.
The game is also built heavily on a full-fledged, interactive physics system. Moving boulders will react precisely to the environment’s geometry, trees can be cut down, logs can be chopped, grass set ablaze will cause an updraft you can ride with your paraglider, and more. Every little thing in the game is interactive and has purpose. Character animations are fluid and react believably to the environment. Link has a plethora of animations that truly reacts to anything and everything in the world: how he climbs, mounts horses, surfs, glides, attacks, takes damage, and so on. While the framerate can occasionally drop here and there, it rarely posed an issue that hinders the grand scale of everything happening on-screen here during the 40+ hours played. It truly is a beautifully-stunning game.
The sound design team over at Nintendo have certainly gone with a different approach with Breath of the Wild. Instead of constant overworld tunes, the game relies more on subtle music that capture the sense of mystery and exploration at the right moments. It is more low-key than previous installments, but its piano tunes really work perfectly in exploring the land. More constant music is played in towns, shrines, dungeons, and boss battles. Town music makes you feel calm, giving you a reprieve from the dangers that lurk out in the fields. Shrines have a mysterious theme, taking inspiration from the cave music from Link’s Awakening. Music played in dungeons is interesting, as it starts very low-key, but once you complete certain objectives, the music picks up in a more dramatic style. Boss battle tracks are much more intense as it captures the moment of a one-on-one battle. While the musical style is different, it’s done so in a masterful way.
Sound effect quality is also superb. There are a ton of ambient effects to be heard, whether it be the sound of Link’s gear swaying back and forth, the creatures roaming Hyrule, the powerful lightning strikes, the volcanic lava, or leaves and trees moving with the wind, there is an unbelievable amount of audio being played. Combat sounds powerful and visceral with weapons clashing, striking and breaking. Naturally, the iconic Zelda sound fanfares are in place when finding/collecting items.
Breath of the Wild features full voice acting, a series first. While not everyone speaks, there are times when cutscenes take place with actual voiceover work for various key characters. While Link is still mute, Zelda and the Divine Guardians all have voices and are admirably effective at bringing these characters to life in a way the series hasn’t done before. There’s no question that the sound design was given the same intricate attention as the rest of the game, because what’s here truly immerses you further.
Overall Score: 20/20 = 10 out of 10
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is not only an experience that matches the caliber of Ocarina of Time, it’s an experience that will forever remain in my thoughts. Nintendo has taken the Zelda franchise in a new direction, and that risk has more than succeeded. In an era where gaming has an oversaturation of open-world games, Breath of the Wild revolutionizes this genre and sets the bar to a whole new high. No other game provides a world as engaging and mystifying to explore. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is very well one of the finest achievements in gaming, and one of the most striking launch titles since Super Mario 64.
+ Immersive, substance-filled world
+ Visual style and unparalleled draw distance
+ Challenging combat
+ Fantastic sound design
+ Open-ended nature of the entire game; Giving full freedom to the player
– Occasional frame drops
– Motion-based shrines
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