To say The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has a lot riding on its success is an understatement. It has been six long years since the last console release in the mainline series and the hype for this iteration has reached a fever pitch. It has to live up to Nintendo’s promises of a new “open air” experience – one that would simultaneously usher in a slew of new gameplay mechanics to allow players unprecedented freedom, while also reworking the formula from the original The Legend of Zelda and repurposing it in a new 3D world. On top of that, the game had to be good enough to successfully launch Nintendo’s new console: the Nintendo Switch (no pressure guys!). Miraculously all of the puzzle pieces fit together to form not only the best Zelda game ever created, but also one of the greatest software titles of all time.
Breath of the Wild begins like many prior Zelda games have, with Link waking from a deep slumber. This time, however he wakes up in a strange bathtub-like contraption with Princess Zelda’s voice beckoning him to begin an urgent quest. The player immediately takes control of Link and soon discovers the first in what will be hundreds of different items at his disposal: the Sheikah Slate. This ancient technological wonder is able to unlock doors and can be upgraded with new abilities as the game progresses. It also contains vital information and serves as your equipment and item selection menus, as well as giving you access to your map.
After you open a door you’re free to leave the dark cavern and emerge atop a sunlit hill overlooking the starting area, The Great Plateau. Off in the distance are instantly recognizable landmarks, with Hyrule Castle miles away and the ever-looming Death Mountain spewing out lava and smoke. Cue the title screen and some music, and now the world is yours to do with as you wish. The camera pans over to give you a hint of where you should probably head next, but in reality you can wander off in any direction you please.
You literally start off the game with nothing but a pair of boxer briefs. Assuming you opened a few treasure chests in the cave before leaving you should have access to basic clothing, but you’re still without items and weapons. The game leaves it up to you to gather important items like Apples and Mushrooms to replenish hearts or a Tree Branch to slap enemies across the face. Or perhaps you want to light it on fire and use it as a Torch? The choice is yours, and it soon becomes apparent that the game allows you to pretty much do anything you like. And the kicker is – it all makes sense. Slicing some grass with the Torch will start a wildfire. Want to jump in the lake with your newly found Torch? Sure thing, but the fire will go out. Finding new weapons, like the Woodcutter’s Axe will allow you to chop down almost any tree you see. Use the giant logs for making your way across chasms that are too vast to jump over. Or you can simply chop them up for firewood so you can create a campfire.
For the first time in a Zelda game, Breath of the Wild utilizes a complex set of behind the scenes algorithms and systems to create a realistic, living world. It combines a new physics engine with a dynamic weather system and merges those with smart artificial intelligence to deliver a completely unique experience for each and every player. At the very start of the game some players may notice a huge boulder on the top of a hill. If it’s pushed in a specific direction, it will roll down and crush two enemy Bokoblins that were just hanging out having a good time. Of course, if the boulder is pushed in a slightly different direction it could miss them entirely, or in my case, hit one Bokoblin, while the other ran for its life.
This type of randomness has been seen in other recent games, such as Far Cry 3, but here it’s taken to a whole new level thanks to the combination of gameplay systems. Let me give you an example of something that happened to me fairly early in the game. Although the game does point you in a general direction, I quickly found myself completely overwhelmed with a sense of wonder and discovery. Every few minutes I’d see something new off in the distance and head that way to see what was there. Would I find a treasure chest? Or, maybe a camp full of enemies would be waiting for me?
As I made my way across a huge bridge spanning a vast lake, for the first time in my adventures I heard a soft rumbling in the distance. I looked up at the sky and noticed dark clouds rolling in. This is nothing new, as I had been through rainstorms in the past, but way off on the horizon I saw some lightning flashes behind the looming clouds. A few seconds later, I began hearing claps of thunder and the rain came pouring down. I had been making my way toward a nearby tower, and I wasn’t about to let a little thunderstorm get in my way. The tower was located on a hill, and as I attempted to climb the side of the rocky slope, I began sliding back down because the terrain was too slippery thanks to the rain. “No problem!” I thought. I’ll just go around and attempt to reach the tower from the other side. As I took the long way around a huge bolt of lightning hit right in front of me, almost giving me a heart attack! Rocks went flying, dirt was scattered to the air, and the nearby grass caught ablaze. It seemed as if the Hylian Goddess was blocking my way to this tower.
Then something strange starting happening – my feet starting buzzing and I could see small lightning bolts appearing on Link. I was about to get hit by a lightning bolt! I quickly entered my equipment screen and took off everything, stripping Link back down to just his boxer briefs. I nervously came back out of the menu and breathed a sigh of relief as the sparks were now gone. Undeterred, I made my way for the tower and began climbing the side. Luckily there were ladder-like rungs on the side for Link to hold onto as he ascended the gigantic structure. About halfway up I noticed something glowing off in the distance. I couldn’t quite make out what it was, but as soon as I got to the top of the tower I immediately ran to the edge to look out across the dark stormy night and my mouth dropped. It was some sort of electrical serpent/dragon slowly flying through the sky. It glowed a bright yellow and it was lighting up the entire night sky as it fluttered effortlessly through the air, snaking its way under the massive bridge I had just crossed. I watched, mesmerized by what I was seeing – the creature was huge! I shuddered at the thought of having to one day do battle with it. Then, as quickly as it began, the rain stopped, the creature disappeared into the distance, and the bright moon lit up the surrounding terrain. Good thing I have a 200GB SD Card in the Switch – I must have snapped like 30 screenshots while up on that tower.
That is just one of the many memorable moments I’ve experienced with Breath of the Wild. One of my favorite things to do in any video game is to explore and get lost in the world. This Zelda’s world is masterfully crafted to entice gamers into venturing forth and discovering what lurks over a hill or in a nearby forest. The game’s world is absolutely staggering in size, but it never feels completely void of stuff to do. There are ancient ruins to navigate, different climate zones to conquer, massive mountains to climb, and countless enemy camps to raid. Never before have I experienced a world so cohesive and amazingly put together as this one. Hyrule is a living, breathing place and I love how subtly the different zones of the map meld together. As you make your way through a winding mountain pass to a new area lower in altitude, you’ll slowly see the pine trees give way to leafy foliage until eventually palm trees emerge as you enter a more tropical region. Each segment of the map looks unique and as I became familiar with the various locales I began knowing exactly where I was in the world without having to resort to the map.
Another awesome feature of Hyrule is that the overworld is littered with new discoveries and things to do. Harkening back to the early 2D Zelda games, this one rewards you for your curiosity. Do you see something that just looks a bit off, like maybe a circle of rocks or perhaps a strange structure on the wall of a mountain? Chances are there’s something you can do to alter it and solve a small puzzle. In fact, the entire world feels like a puzzle, with treasure chests hidden everywhere and secret areas to uncover. Of course you’ll see the obvious cracks and rocks that are just begging to be bombed, but there are plenty of other curiosities to find and unravel. That’s pretty much how my entire game of Zelda played out – with me wandering around, looking at something in the distance, and then venturing forth to see what awaits.
So many times the environments in this game reminded me of my childhood, where I’d study the instruction booklets of The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Back then the graphics on the NES were so primitive that the instructions sort of filled in the blanks of what the world was supposed to look like. Now we’ve reached the stage where the entire game looks like it’s been illustrated for a comic book or a cartoon. If you’ve ever seen movies like Princess Mononke or any of Studio Ghibli’s other animated films, you will immediately make the connection to Breath of the Wild’s artistic vision.
I got chills as I stepped out of a mountain pass and entered an area with huge stone structures. The entire place looked like it had been desolate for hundreds of years, with ruins jutting out of a nearby river. Off in the distance was a huge waterfall and monsters were just waiting for me incase I dared to jump in. This vista evoked memories of classic NES games like Castlevania, because it left me both awestruck and nervous at the same time. Many NES games were hard as nails with brutal difficulty, and this new Zelda game shares some of that DNA. Enemies can easily wreck you, especially near the beginning of your adventure before you have access to more Heart Containers and advanced equipment. So many times throughout my quest I would find myself near death and barely holding onto life as I sliced my way through enemies or just tried to run away from danger. I haven’t had this many Game Over screens in a Zelda game since Zelda II, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s downright refreshing to play a Zelda game with some bite to it, especially since it always seems fair. Thanks to the physics engine, you might meet an unexpected death or two. Several times I was hit by an enemy’s spear and I flew backward, only to hit something else, roll off of it and then down a hill and off a cliff to my death. Of course, this slices both ways and has happened to enemies just as often.
Accidental deaths are one thing, but there’s a very real danger surrounding many of the monsters throughout the entire game. Some of them can kill Link with a single blow. That’s where the game’s reliance on collecting materials plays a huge part. Not only are there tons of vegetables to find, animals to kill, and ingredients to forage, but every single creature you manage to slay will also drop multiple items. Some will be weapons that you can then pick up and utilize yourself, but most of the time there will be monster parts that you can collect. Each item will have unique effects when mixed and cooked with others. These not only replenish hearts, but they can also provide status effects.
For example, very early in the game you will encounter a snowy region that’s too cold for Link’s standard wardrobe. He begins to lose health almost immediately without the proper attire. One way around this predicament is to cook up some food or potions that give him resistance to cold. So, he could, for instance, find some hot peppers and cook them with some meat to create a meal that not only replenishes his hearts, but also will give him resistance to cold weather for a period of time. This countdown timer will appear at the top left of the screen, always giving you a reminder of how long you have left to explore this area before Link begins taking damage. There are many other concoctions that Link can eat and drink as well. Some will give him better defense or higher attacks, and some will even increase his maximum hearts for a limited time. Cooking is a vital part of the game’s mechanics and it’s fun to experiment to see what can be created. The only downside is the game doesn’t save the recipes you’ve learned. You can view the ingredients of any dish you’ve fashioned, but once you’ve consumed it, there’s no record of how you cooked it. So, you may want to write down some of your masterpieces for safekeeping.
I found myself constantly grabbing everything in sight because you never know what will be useful in the future. Since you can no longer obtain hearts or rupees by simply slicing grass, every material you can acquire is worth your time. Whether you decide to cook something up or simply sell the supplies for rupees, you’ll want to have a surplus of ingredients in your inventory at all times.
One of the biggest changes to the Zelda formula is weapon durability. Each weapon that Link uses will eventually break after so many uses. Obviously some are stronger than others and can last for longer periods of time, whereas some will only get a few swings out of them before they break. Luckily, there are weapons scattered about everywhere in the game. Nearly every enemy will have a weapon that you can steal off of them and use for yourself. In addition, there are countless treasure chests to be found that often contain new weaponry. I thought at first this could become frustrating or tedious, but I never found myself hating the durability aspect because I was constantly finding new weapons. Plus, to be honest, it can be fun changing up tactics all of the time depending on the weapon currently in use.
Some armaments require two hands, so you can’t use a shield to defend and it takes longer to swing, but often deal more damage. Others will have elemental effects added to them, so you can burn or shock a monster with every swing of your sword. There’s a bit of inventory management that has to take place to keep the most powerful weapons cycling through your collection, but it never got tiring.
One cool aspect of the weapons and shields is that they behave like they would in the real world. If you come across an electrified enemy, hitting it with your metal sword will result in Link getting shocked and dropping his weapon. Switching over to a wooden club will dispatch the monster will no problems, but if that enemy were made of fire your club would go up in smoke! Drop a wooden item in the water and it floats, a metal one drops to the bottom. All of these little details add up to make a believable world.
In a move harkening back to the original game in the series, dungeons are no longer required to be conquered in any specific order. The game is littered with a bunch of mini-dungeons called Shrines. Each one will reward Link with a Spirit Orb upon successfully completing the task at hand. These orbs can be exchanged for Heart Containers or an increased Stamina Meter. More stamina allows Link to run further, climb higher, and swim longer without having to rest. Each Shrine will have its own set of puzzles or objectives to complete, and they also serve as fast travel points so Link can quickly get around the massive world. There are still some traditional dungeons to explore in the game as well, containing many rooms and a boss to defeat at the end. In many ways the entire overworld of Hyrule feels like a big dungeon, with puzzles, treasures, and secrets at every turn, but having the Shrines peppered throughout really helps to challenge the mind. Some puzzles are more difficult to solve than others, but they’re all satisfying in their own ways and constantly made me feel good about myself when I figured them out.
If you’ve seen any screens or videos of Breath of the Wild, you’ll know the game is simply gorgeous. The visuals feature amazingly detailed environments and characters with highly stylized graphics. Flowers and grass sway in the wind, the clouds roll by in the sky, and the colors are so vibrant and beautiful throughout the game’s lush world. The day to night cycle can be breathtaking at times with the sunrises and sunsets lighting the sky all shades of orange and red. Even at night, the white glow of the moon reflecting off of nearby lakes and streams is simply a sight to behold. The wind seems to be constantly blowing, giving the world a life all its own. Particles can be seen flowing through the air, and little flourishes like embers from a fire billowing into the sky are commonplace. Everything reacts to the wind, including your hair and clothes, nearby trees, and even ornaments hanging in various villages. You may even come across a double rainbow after a rainstorm if you’re lucky.
The terrain and scenery are spectacles to behold. Not since Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles X have I been so smitten with such fantastic views in a game. From flat, grassy plains to haunted woods to snowy mountaintops, every climate looks unique and beautiful. The world feels lived in and the various towns and villages all have such attention to detail that it’s astonishing. The interiors of buildings look fantastic and each different location has houses and structures that make sense for that culture and temperature zone. People act appropriately to their surroundings (including how Link is dressed), the time of day, and even to the weather. In one town, a kid was showing me the way to some ancient ruins, when all of a sudden 5 p.m. hit and he had to run home for supper so his Mom wouldn’t be mad. I curiously followed him back to his house, and sure enough, supper was ready and his Dad and siblings were already at the table digging in. Another time I was outside and a rainstorm hit and everyone ran inside a building for cover. As if that wasn’t cool enough, they all had different things to say while the rain was coming down!
While the game does look amazing artistically, it does have a few hitches in frame rate, especially when docked and played on the television. I personally didn’t have any issues with the slowdown in some places, but others take greater issue whenever a frame rate dips. During most of my adventure I didn’t notice the game chugging too often, but there are certain instances (especially in a particular forest) where it is very apparent. It wasn’t terrible enough to impact my enjoyment of the game, but it’s unfortunate that it takes place at all.
As impressive as the graphics are, the music and sound in Breath of the Wild are even more triumphant. The game takes a more minimalistic approach to the music this time around. In fact, many times you won’t be hearing any tunes at all, just the sound of nature all around you. The sound effects in the game are crisp and I love the sensation of being alone in the forest with nothing but the sound of crickets, the wind whistling through the trees, and the rustle of a deer in the bush behind you. The piano cues that play here and there are beautiful and the game does feature some recognizable tracks throughout the adventure. Ride on a horse long enough for a nice surprise! Music plays constantly in places like Shrines, dungeons, and towns. Plus, as is typical of prior 3D Zelda games, when you get near an enemy the battle theme revs up to get your blood pumping.
One of the first things you hear in this game is Princess Zelda’s voice calling out to Link. This marks the first time in a mainline Zelda game that voice acting has been utilized. Link doesn’t talk, but many of the other important characters do. Some of the story will be told through cinema scenes and these are usually fully voiced. There is still plenty of reading to be had in the game, as pretty much every other non-playable character will have text bubbles, but it’s nice to see Nintendo catch up to the times and up their production values for Zelda. I enjoyed the majority of the acting, but I do think even more characters and lines could have received the same treatment.
In addition to all of the gameplay mechanic changes to this newest Zelda, the control scheme is also more complex than longtime fans may be accustomed to. At first I was thrown for a loop, as the controls seem very un-Zelda-like. After a few hours, they became fairly natural, but it did take me awhile to become comfortable with them. The game doesn’t use the Nintendo Switch’s touchscreen in any way, so inventory management is done the old-fashioned way via going into a menu.
To speed up the changing of weapons, shields, bows, arrows, and your special abilities, Nintendo mapped each to the D-Pad. This is helpful in the heat of battle as you simply press and hold right on the D-Pad to bring up your inventory of weapons. You can change a weapon by highlighting it with the right Control Stick and letting go. Simple enough, except it gets a little confusing when you’re using your Bow. Here, you engage by holding the ZR button, pressing and holding right on the D-Pad to change the bow, and then using the right Control Stick to select the bow you want to use. Basically you have a lot of buttons being pressed at the same time. If it sounds awkward, that’s because it sort of is at first, until suddenly it isn’t. At some point it clicked for me and I didn’t have any issues changing my arsenal on the fly.
Really the only thing that still bothers me now is when I open a treasure chest and there’s a cool new weapon in there, but it says my inventory is full, and the chest is closed. I then have to go into my inventory, drop something, and then go through opening the treasure chest again. It would have been nice to just have a prompt come up asking me if I wanted to swap an item out.
If you’re like me and love games that allow you to explore, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will be a dream come true. It’s a game that I can totally get lost in with no in-game prompting whatsoever yelling at me to go here or there. I can’t count the number of times I simply stumbled onto something cool and amazing. One thing I totally respect the game for is the way it implements the map system. They obviously borrowed a page from Ubisoft’s “How to make an open world game” playbook by placing a tower in each territory of the world, of which you climb and activate to fill in the map for you.
However, they didn’t then drop down hundreds of icons or quests to dive into. In fact, it simply fills in the map with names of areas, lakes, mountains, etc. It leaves it up to the player to then mark the map with beacons or stamps as he or she sees fit. I’m thankful that Nintendo didn’t add a bunch of markers showing me where I should go next. Some main quests and side quests, when selected from the Adventure Log, will put a marker on your map, but that’s completely optional and up to the player to decide if that’s necessary. So many times I had an objective in mind, and two or three hours later I still hadn’t made any progress toward it because I was sidetracked with my own discoveries. The ability for this game’s world to keep me captivated and surprised over and over again is a true testament to the game’s programmers and creative designers.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild somehow manages to change so many aspects we’ve come to expect from previous Zelda games, while at the same time remaining very much a Zelda game. The sense of exploration is unmatched by any other game I’ve ever played. The sense of scale is incredible and the world is massive. Longtime fans of the series will be thrilled to see how many classic enemies make a return to the game. Combat is fun and the excitement of sneaking into a Bokoblin camp or taking on a Wizzrobe never gets old. This game does not hold your hand, instead allowing you to make remarkable discoveries on your own. I’ve been absolutely consumed by this entire experience and cannot recommend it enough to every person out there. It’s the best Zelda game ever made and a perfect launch title for the Nintendo Switch. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a score to settle with a particularly hostile Lynel.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review
- Graphics - 9.5/109.5/10
- Sound - 10/1010/10
- Gameplay - 10/1010/10
- Lasting Appeal - 10/1010/10
Final Thoughts: OUTSTANDING
It’s not too often we give perfect scores, but if ever a game was deserving of one, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is definitely it. Amazing gameplay mechanics, an enchanting world of discovery, and stunning visuals come together for an unforgettable experience.