The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild sees Link return to the Kingdom of Hyrule in order to save it from the clutches of the evil Ganon. After a number of delays as well as a number of significant key changes to the game-play mechanics has Breath of the Wild been worth the wait?
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the first major console Zelda game that I have played since Twilight Princess released on the GameCube back in 2006; a fantastic game that still sticks to what I have come to appreciate as the ‘Zelda format’. Linear story progression, dungeons, progressively more difficult bosses and enemies as well as unlockable items. It works well and has done for many years, but at the same time, it may well be intimidating for potential new players to the franchise.
I wanted to take my time with Breath of the Wild before writing my review. It’s a gigantic adventure with a lot to do; it’s no simple ‘play for eight hours and you’re done’ type of game. At the time of writing I have spent over 80 hours with Link and the decimated Kingdom of Hyrule and I can now say I am ready to impart my thoughts, feelings and experiences with Nintendo’s latest video game masterpiece.
Breath of the Wild takes everything it is to be The Legend of Zelda but shakes it up in a way that entices new players to the series as well as veterans who may have lost their way. It keeps many gameplay aspects as well as characters that have made the series so great but tweaks bits in subtle ways to make it more accessible. Something that has been needed for a long time. Nintendo has succeeded in making Breath of the Wild feel so familiar and comforting, but at the same time it’s a new experience and it wants you to explore.
From the get go Link is equipped with nothing more than a strange device called the Sheikah Slate – an ancient tablet device which seems to some sort of ancient technology from long ago. He has no memories of who he is and no recollection of the past. A mysterious voice instructs him to wake up and begin his journey, not knowing what awaits him. This not knowing truly connects the player and Link. Both discover what it means to be the chosen hero as they progress through the game. Unlocking secrets and past memories. It builds up the game into a grand finale and makes the player feel a part of the unique universe that Nintendo has created. It allows Link to live up to his name’s sake and pulls the player into the story. As Link remembers, we remember. As Link learns, so do we. It might be a little cliché, but it works well and kept me captivated from beginning to end.
Breath of the Wild is the biggest game in the series, the opening section alone “The Great Plateau” is larger than the entirety of Ocarina of Time. From the very start, players are free to roam wherever they please, tackling the game in their own way and at their own pace. There’s no lack of side quests and hidden challenges to face and I often found myself getting sidetracked in favour of discovering what the world had to offer; be it Shrines, the hidden Korok, mazes or mini-games such as shield surfing. In such a vast land there’s so much to do.
The new pivotal part of Breath of the Wild is the Sheikah Slate, a tablet type device which acts as Link’s compass in a world he no longer understands or knows. It allows players to track their progress, take pictures as well as view the map and pin locations of curiosity, but it also features new “Runes” which act as the game’s replacement for items you would normally find in temples.
The challenges of such an open world for the developers is not only the story but also player progression. Apart from the opening hour or so, everything is free-roam. In the first 4 shrines that a player encounters a new Rune is unlocked on the Sheikah Slate. The Bomb Rune gives Link access to both round and square bombs. The Magnesis Rune allows Link to move metal objects such as boxes, doors and treasure chests while the Stasis Rune allows Link to lock certain items (and later enemies) in time for a short while. Lastly is the Cryonis Rune; this allows Link to create pillars of ice in water, waterfalls and muddy pools.
These four Runes essentially replace the items normally found in the more traditional dungeons; while at first, I found them to be alien and often found myself thinking a hook shot would get me where I needed to be, in time I began to appreciate how versatile they were. With each shrine built around a particular Rune, it’s a testament to the developers who have managed to make each one feel fresh and challenging using such a simple pool of items.
Shrines also serve as a means to upgrading Link. Gone are the customary heart containers and replaced by Spirit Orbs. Completing one of the many Shrines that can be found around Hyrule will present the player with a Spirit Orb; four of these can then be traded for either a heart of health or an extra wedge in the stamina wheel. A step away from the norm but a welcoming change. Not only does this give the player a reason to conquer each of the Shrines it also encourages exploration; a number of Shrines are hidden from plain sight and need to be discovered. In addition, they act as waypoints for fast travel around the gigantic map, so they’re worth seeking out.
Although having not played Skyward Sword, it is my understanding that the durability system for weaponry was first introduced here. As this was the first time that I had experienced this mechanic I felt at first it was unbalanced. With weapons doing little to no damage to the monsters I encountered or breaking within moments. I only had to so much as look at a Bokoblin and my sword would shatter into a thousand pieces, I found it to be incredibly frustrating. With this being said, however, I grew to enjoy it. Discovering new weapons had a purpose while saving stronger weapons made more sense. Adding in a durability system allows the developers to throw in more powerful weapons knowing that the difficulty balance of the game will remain intact.
It’s not to say that players are limited to physical weapons. Nearly anything can be picked up to despatch Link’s enemies. The skeletal arm of a Stalfos, a tree branch or even boulders pushed from a ledge can be used to take down the scourge of Hyrule. I feel that Nintendo has really thought hard about the environment with the last point. Shooting a fire arrow into an overgrown meadow will start a fire that spreads while the updrafts from the flames can be used to soar higher using Link’s glider.
Other environment additions also add more depth to the game. For example the higher you climb up a mountain, Link will begin to feel the effects of the cold where being in the heart of the Gerudo desert he’ll be affected more by the heat. Unless equipped with the correct clothing he’ll gradually lose health. Players can of course use elixirs and food items to stave off the cruel effects of the wilderness – helping Link survive a little longer in the harsher areas of Hyrule. The added weather cycle also adds greater death to Breath of the Wild. The vast vistas of Hyrule field look beautiful bathed in sunlight, while during a thunderstorm it’s dull and dreary with Link’s soggy footprints squelching in the rain.
Voice acting has never really played a big part in the Zelda series. Traditionally, Link would serve as the connection between the player and the game so he’s never had a voice – His voice is, in essence, the players own. In Breath of the Wild, while the majority of the game keeps in theme with its predecessors and offers text to divulge the deep story there are a number of key scenes, or memories, which have been voice acted. And while I never expected Princess Zelda to sound as she does, it’s a welcome change to the ageing series and works well in the capacity that it has been utilised. Some of the lines feel forced which takes away from the atmosphere, but not so much that I’d opt for a silent game next time around.
As well as voice acting, another new feature is the ability to cook food. No longer does Link find random hearts to increase his health but instead he now needs to cook food and create potions and elixirs from ingredients, critters and mob parts scattered around the landscape. Each ingredient has a specific effect and mixing them can create more powerful restorative items; from increased stealth, stamina, cold and heat resistance. Mix together the ingredients in a cooking pot and away you go. Often I find cooking mechanics in games to be rather tedious, but Nintendo has made it so simple in Breath of the Wild that I often found myself stocking up on ingredients to make the best dishes.
In conclusion The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a vast and ambitious adventure into the unknown. Its huge landscape is littered with sidequests and new discoveries allowing the player to venture forth at their own pace. It allows them to take their own direction to the end point; even the Master Sword, a staple of the series, can be missed completely – a fact I really liked. Over the course of 80 plus hours I never felt I had to finish the main quest, nor did I feel that I was aimlessly wandering. There’s plenty to do and see, so much that I can’t possibly cover everything in this review. I can honestly say, however, without any shadow of a doubt, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the best games I have ever played. If you’re a fan of freedom, I’m sure you’ll agree.