Original review here
A new Nintendo home console is here, and with it is one of the biggest games to ever come out for a Nintendo system launch: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Yes, it's also on the Wii U, but as that system has had its life support pulled out, most gamers have moved on to the Switch. A new Zelda hasn't really been a gaming event for a long time. Now, with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, not only is a gaming event, but the game is one of the best Zelda games in the series 30+ year history and one of the most amazing open world games of all time. Am I spewing hyperbole here? Read on and see why I think I'm not.
Breath of the Wild begins with Link waking up in a dank and dark chamber from a deep slumber. A familiar voice calls to him, urging him to wake up and move forward through the chamber. There, Link acquires the Sheikah Slate, a tool that will allow him a vast number of different abilities as the beginning of the game progresses.
From there, the cave door opens and the world of Breath of the Wild reveals itself in all of its splendor. Despite being an open world game, you as the player are limited to where you can go at the start. The game begins at the Great Plateau, and without a means to get down from there safely, you're temporarily stuck there. Nonetheless, the plateau is large and is bigger than many overworlds of past Zelda games such as the openness of Ocarina of Time's Hyrule Field or the large but segmented overworld of Twilight Princess, so there is plenty to explore.
However, the main goal at the start of the game is to talk with a mysterious old man, which has a direct feel to the very first Zelda game. This is a common theme throughout Breath of the Wild, a feeling of familiarity with a tremendous feeling of newness. The hooded old man eventually tells you about climbing a tower and activating it with Link's Sheikah Slate. In doing so, towers all around the world, far beyond the reach of the Great Plateau rise up from the ground, as do many shrines, the first four (the only ones in the Great Plateau), the old man asks you to recover treasure from in exchange for a paraglider. This paraglider will allow Link to travel to areas beyond the plateau.
My best description of a shrine is a miniature dungeon that has the same blue aesthetic as every other shrine in the game (of which there are over 100) that you must solve one large puzzle or a series of puzzles in order to reach the end. At the end, you're rewarded with a Spirit Orb that, when four have been collected, can be traded at various spots in Breath of the Wild for additions to Link's health or stamina gauge.
The first four shrines in Breath of the Wild not only give Link the requirements needed to trade the old man for his paraglider, but they also give Link all of the necessary functions of the Sheikah Slate to solve the puzzles and challenges of other shrines. From remote bombs in both round and cubed form to the ability to use Magnesis to move steel objects around, the Sheikah Slate is Link's one stop shop for useful abilities instead of having different abilities associated with different items like past Zelda games. The other abilities of the Sheikah Slate that Link earns include the ability Cryonis, used to make frozen pillars rise from liquids like water and oil as a means to cross rivers, and Stasis, used to temporarily freeze objects in place. Many of the abilities have multiple uses, too. You can use Stasis to freeze a platform to have a ball roll down it instead of having the ball weigh the platform down so much that the ball falls. Likewise, you can freeze a barrel and then attack it multiple times with your sword. Each strike will make the barrel fly farther when the stasis period ends.
It's absolutely amazing how many different ways each power from Link's Sheikah Stone can be utilized, and it's with great applause I give to the developers for coming up with so many puzzles built off a handful of powers (though the gyro-based tilt puzzles do more harm than good). Many of the shrine puzzles have multiple ways of solving them as well. A particular electric-based shrine had me moving metallic barrels and boxes to serve as a conduit, creating a charge from one central location to various other locations with each one opening up a different door. However, instead of just using the available barrels and boxes, I was also able to just drop metallic weapons in a line to create a flow of electrical energy from the central conduit to another location, opening a doorway that way. Experimentation is very much encouraged in the world of Breath of the Wild.
Speaking of which, I haven't even gotten into speaking about the world itself. It's immense and massive in scope, but that wouldn't mean diddly squat if it wasn't interesting enough to explore. Not only does it not suffer from being uninteresting, the world of Breath of the Wild is a delight and pleasure to explore. It's also extremely open ended. Once you get the paraglider and are told what your major mission is, you can either opt to head straight to the final boss and beat the game, or you can go the recommended way of following the story. The former is nigh impossible with Link's current amount of hearts, weaponry, and armor, but it IS possible (if you can even make it there alive). Doing the latter allows Link to accumulate and amass a collection of stronger armor, weapons, and build both his health and stamina. Even if you follow the story, you can decide to face the final boss at any time, and after the initial trip to a certain village, your mission story-wise opens up to have you go to anyone of four locations. Through completing the major objective at one of the four given locations, the final boss's power weakens. Doing all four weakens the final boss considerably to take him on and give Link a fighting chance.
With the world in Breath of the Wild, producer Eiji Aonuma stated that if you see a mountain, you can go there. That is most definitely true in the final product. In most open world games, when you are pitted against a mountain, you're stuck with either going around it or looking like a fool trying to jump up it (usually futilely as well). In Breath of the Wild, Link can climb basically anything, as long as the wall, whether a mountain, cliff, building, etc. isn't too steep and isn't too wet and slippery from rainfall. Of course, not only does the topography matter, but so does Link's stamina. Like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Link has a stamina gauge that depletes when he runs or climbs. When climbing, if the gauge empties, Link loses his grip and falls. When running and it empties, Link slows down to a saunter and needs time to recover his gauge. Finally, when swimming and the gauge depletes, Link drowns, losing a bit of health when he's transported to a nearby shore.
Ubisoft has led a bad example with its open world design in many of its games. Usually when one thinks of the word "tower" in an open world title, the thoughts aren't usually positive. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's towers are handled well. Many of them are puzzles in themselves as to how to successfully climb them. Some require a good deal of stamina from Link to reach the top, others require some thought on how to reach them. I recall one such tower being surrounded by painful thorns. I then thought, "Okay. How do I reach this baby safely?" I had two options (at least in my mind at the time): 1) I could light the thorns ablaze with a fire arrow, or 2) I could find a higher elevation and use the paraglider to float down over the thorns and grab onto the tower. Since I lacked fire arrows since I was early in play-through, I did option #2. Finding a nearby hill that overlooked the tower was pretty easy due to the ability to press in the right stick to use the Sheikah Slate's scope. There, I could press the A button to set down a pillar of light as my destination (something that is extremely helpful whenever you see a suspicious or noteworthy place in Hyrule that you want to reach or want to go to later). I then headed to the hill, leaped from it, and glided my way to the tower.
Activating a tower reveals all of the geography in that given region, including all area names, such as nearby forests, rivers, lakes, and other points of interest. It helps you get a lay of the land. You still have to do the exploring for shrines, notable areas, and the like.
In my tower anecdote I talked about using the Sheikah Slate as a scope and a means to mark interesting locations I saw with a point of light. You can do this while looking through the scope, or you can bring up the map and directly place markers on the map. Different icons like stars, skulls, treasure chests, and more can be placed to help you remember where they were for if you didn't have the necessary equipment at the time or just to want to investigate later.
Traversing Breath of the Wild is a lot of fun, and there are a multitude of ways in which to do so. Obviously there's on-foot through running, climbing, and such, but there are also other ways. A notable one is gliding across the world by using the paraglider from a tall height and then gliding along the sky, slowly to the ground.
If Link's got a case of acrophobia, he can stick to the ground and sneak up slowly and stealthily (emphasis on slowly and stealthily) on various ride-able animals like horses, moose, or rams and jump on them. You'll need to calm them down as, you know, normally animals don't take it too calmly when someone out of the blue jumps on their backs and rides them. Trust me. By soothing them, you'll eventually get them to settle down, and with improvement in how you ride them, they'll learn to trust you more and more. At various stables sprinkled around Hyrule, you can register horses, so when Link whistles, you can call on your faithful, trusty steed instead of walking. Additionally, in hilly areas of Hyrule, Link can hang ten and jump on shield. Yes, you read that right. Link can shield surf down grassy hills and snowy slopes. Cowabunga, Link, you crazy mother...
Exploration is key in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Beyond simple pleasures like coming across ore that you can mine and sell or finding a treasure chest, there are many hidden shrines in the environment. You're given a shrine indicator early in Link's adventure that pulsates when you close in on a shrine. Many are in some rather tricky locations while others are in plain sight. Some require the discovery of an NPC to start a quest that eventually reveals the shrine after solving some form of environmental puzzle or simply fulfilling that NPC's needs. Other NPCs have desires as well, whether they sit in established towns, of which there are plenty in Breath of the Wild, or are out in the wilderness. These side quests have some nice rewards as well. Even if they didn't, so many of the characters you meet across Link's quest are a charming and endearing as any in past Zelda games. They provide a great deal of character to the game world.
Furthermore, there are glowing spots throughout Hyrule that when interacted with by Link will reveal some of his memories and encounters with characters from his past. Obviously there's the big one, which most series fans should know (and those who can read the title of the franchise), but there are also other characters that Link interacted with so many years ago. These story sequences bring some back story to Link's adventure, and they're quite welcome.
Finally, the world of Hyrule sports 900 Koroks throughout its expanse and immense stretches. While it's totally unnecessary (or even worth it) to find them all, in finding some you'll get some very beneficial rewards. Many are found from interacting with suspicious elements in the environment, such as seeing a ring of rocks that is missing one, find a nearby rock, and putting it in the missing space to have a Korok appear and give you one of its seeds. Alternatively, you can pass over a twirling flower and have it spawn a flying target. Popping it with an arrow with have a Korok appear as well. There are many other ways Koroks appear in the world, and getting their seeds is massively helpful.
Although there are friendly faces like the various people of Hyrule and the Koroks around, the world in Breath of the Wild is a dangerous place. Enemies thrive in Hyrule and roam the land in both small and large forms. Enemy goblins often set up camps throughout the land, and if Link isn't careful, they'll take him out with a few swipes of their clubs or shots from their bows. (And some enemies will even take Link out in one shot. That's the world Link inhabits.) You can sneak up on enemy camps, taking a bow and attempting to pick off some foes from far away before the melee attackers get wind of you, or you can perform my early tactic of running from foes, dropping bombs behind you and detonating them as the enemy chases you.
When all else fails, close quarters combat is an option, though a really silly one if you're just starting off. As I stated, many enemies can take Link out with one hit, especially with the paltry three hearts that Link starts the game with. Melee combat, whether with swords, clubs, spears, or whatnot, has been fine turned compared to past 3D Zelda games. There is still the ability to target a foe and try to circle around them, but this time, other enemies won't just stand there and let you take out their comrades. Enemies are smart in Breath of the Wild and will crowd around you if need be to take you out. Enemies you have a lock on will also move around you, too, as well as leap back to avoid your sword strikes, spear thrusts, club swings, and any other melee weapon you attempt to attack them with.
Combat is more than just wildly thrashing at foes with a weapon. In a move to make players use lots of weapons, weapons break in Breath of the Wild, something that can be annoying at times. You're encouraged to pick up weapons, and weapons are readily available so you'll never be needing to actively search for one when you're all out. That isn't really ever a worry. Instead it's the opposite. You'll usually have so many weapons that you won't have room to pick any more up. This is the major annoyance I have with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. So many times I'll be in the world or in a shrine or dungeon, come across a treasure chest, open it, find a sword or whatever, and have to put the weapon back in the chest because I have too many. Then, I go to the inventory screen (something many players will be seeing constantly) and have to decide which one of my weaker weapons to drop in order to open the chest again to pick up that new weapon. Thankfully, I talked about finding Koroks, which are the way to add new inventory slots for weapons, bows, and shields. However, playing with the inventory screen was a big part of my Breath of the Wild experience in the early going regardless.
Nevertheless, monsters are smart, so you and Link need to be smart, too. Like in Ocarina of Time and other games where you can lock on to enemies, you can jump to the side to avoid attacks. This is made more important in Breath of the Wild, as if you time your dodge or evasion (either to the side or by jumping back), you get the opportunity to unleash a flurry of attacks on your foe. This not only saves your weapon from degrading as much as by just button mashing, but it takes enemies down faster. You can also catch a foe while your shield is out so when an enemy attacks and you press the button right when the attack connects, you can stun the foe, also allowing for some time to attack them.
As stated, Breath of the Wild's version of Hyrule isn't the friendliest place around. Not only can monsters take you out rather easily, but so can the elements. For the weather, storms can rage in an instant, meaning if you're wearing any metal equipment, you better take it off, 'else you'll find yourself shocked to death by a lightning bolt. Different regions of Hyrule have different temperatures as well. Areas to the north and high up in the sky are positively frigid while sun-soaked deserts and volcano areas are absolutely hot to a dangerous level. This requires Link to dress and drink for the occasion. Various armor have effects that assist in not only defense from enemies, but the elements as well. In addition to different armor, Link can eat and drink a variety of dishes and elixirs to provide him with cold or heat resistance.
Cooking is a big aspect of Breath of the Wild. Link can find ingredients all over Hyrule, whether it's apples from trees, flowers from the ground, meat from animals, objects from fallen enemies, bugs and insects, and more. At various cooking pots around the land, Link can combine up to five ingredients to create a smorgasbord of helpful dishes and elixirs. Many have a great variation of effects, such as restoring lost hearts (and adding temporary yellow ones to Link's health), raising his attack, defense, or stealth, as well as making him less vulnerable to heat or the cold, or even electricity.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a huge game, but it somehow manages to not be overwhelming. Sure, there's over 100 hours easily that you can get lost in the expanses of Hyrule, but the menus keep track of everything-- shrines, quests (story-related, shrine-related, and side-related), as well as main dungeons completed, regions filled out, Koroks found, et cetera, et cetera. If you forget where you need to go for a specific quest or its details, you can just go to the menu, hit the quest you're concerned about, and get everything you need to know, including the whereabouts about the quest-giver (as the time of day effects where NPCs are). So even when you have a place you want to go in mind and you get constantly side-tracked like me by going, "Ooh! That place looks interesting. I think I might go there for a few moments... [this turns into two hours getting distracted from that place to another place, to another, to another, etc.]" you won't lose your mind.
Breath of the Wild is a visually pleasing game, offering a style that is a mix that is part cartoon-y like The Wind Waker and something more realistic like Twilight Princess. The mix is an art style that is absolutely stunning most of the time, showcasing how even non-powerhouse hardware can deliver exhilarating beauty. Being able to stand atop an extraordinarily high mountain and see miles upon miles in the distance is nothing short of amazing to me. The postcard and picture perfect moments in Breath of the Wild are some of not just Nintendo's best, but gaming's best. Style over power indeed.
Unfortunately, Breath of the Wild isn't perfect performance-wise. There are some frame-rate drops that can be slight in some cases while severe in others. For a brief second, Breath of the Wild offered moments where I thought the game had completely froze before returning to normal. This usually was brought about by a big enemy being felled into a ragdoll situation such as Moblins.
On the sound side of the game, the latest Zelda is much more subdued than the bombastic scores players of the series are most likely used to. Subtle piano harmonies are mostly heard throughout the game when exploring while battles, towns, and events in the game have specific melodies with much more to offer. The music isn't in-your-face as much as past Zelda games, but it's delightful all the same and a good approach for Breath of the Wild overall.
While certain things like weapon degradation, limited inventory, and tilt-centric shrines do more harm than good for the game, overall The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild successfully reinvents a series with amazing results. It doesn't just make The Legend of Zelda franchise noteworthy again; it makes The Legend of Zelda franchise important enough that game developers will be taking notes on and being inspired by this game much like they did with the original Zelda on the NES, A Link to the Past, and finally Ocarina of Time. Zelda is fresh again. Zelda is new again. And while Zelda as a series seldom failed to be awesome, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is what gamers and critics will look back on as one of the genre and industry-defining games of our time.