The latest iteration of the critically acclaimed Legend of Zelda series is finally here, and it appears to have undeniably set a new standard for both the series and open world adventures moving forward.
What Is It?
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the latest entry in Nintendo’s beloved series, released for both the WiiU, to mark the end of an era, and the newly launched Nintendo Switch, to make quite the first impression.
The game puts players in control of Link who, once again in typical Nintendo fashion, has to traverse the land of Hyrule to save Princess Zelda from the likes of Ganon.
Or does he?
That’s the thing about Breath of the Wild. It takes things a step further than what the last adventure did in A Link Between Worlds. Breath of the Wild puts Link in a more vast and open version of Hyrule with a renewed focus on the journey of exploring the unknown.
Why Should I Care?
Ever since the release of The Wind Waker on the GameCube, Zelda games have seemingly stressed the importance of the series’ plot and narrative. Now it’s no secret that I’ll spend hours on end watching Zelda timeline videos on YouTube, but it isn’t the reason I like playing Zelda games. The main reason I like playing Zelda games is because the series does what I believe is the best job at immersing players in its worlds. Whether it’s the land (or seas) of Hyrule, the parallel world of Termina, or even Labrynna or Holodrum, the worlds in The Legend of Zelda have always been a pleasure to explore.
And Breath of the Wild‘s Hyrule is the best of them all.
The nature of an open world atmosphere doesn’t have to be explained. All gamers have seen them. There’s Grand Theft Auto, Watch Dogs, The Witcher, Skyrim, Horizon–the list goes on. Even A Link Between Worlds was an open world game, so again, this isn’t anything new. What makes Breath of the Wild different?
It’s tough to explain how, but it feels like Nintendo rewrote the book when it comes to open world exploration.
Breath of the Wild literally lets you go anywhere and lets you do almost anything, provided that you’re prepared to do so. If you see mountains off in the distance, you can scale them. If you see an island surrounded by a body of water, you can swim there. Annoyed by the birds in the sky? Shoot them down. Want to snowboard off a powdered mountain? You can use your shield as a snowboard. Want to ride a wild horse? By all means, giddy up! You can even ride a bear if you want to. Not kidding. You probably shouldn’t do half these things, but you can if you want.
When you start the game, in typical Zelda fashion, you have limited health and no equipment–just the Sheikah Slate, a mysterious device (initially made to look like the WiiU GamePad) which we’ll cover in a bit. After solving your first puzzle, which is simply climbing the boulder blocking your exit to the world, you’ll be greeted by a character who recognizes your Sheikah Slate as the key to unlocking the mysteries of the Sheikah Shrines and Towers dotted around the game’s huge world.
The beauty of Breath of the Wild‘s exploration is it acknowledges the fact that you don’t know where you are. This only makes you want to explore the world even more, so you can grow and understand it. So what’s the easiest way to get an idea of your surroundings? Find a vantage point (that’s what the Sheikah Towers are for). Each Sheikah Tower you climb uncovers a portion of the map in your Sheikah Slate, giving you a better idea of where you are and what’s around you. As you look at the world from atop a Sheikah Tower, especially early on, you’ll get a good glimpse of how huge this version of Hyrule is. You’ll also see a lot of orange, which correspond to all the Towers and Shrines you have yet to activate, once again making you want to explore even more.
The game’s first four Shrines house abilities called Runes which are essentially all you need to complete the game. They include the Remote Bomb, of which you’re given two types–round bombs and square bombs. The round ones roll when thrown, and square ones stay where they are. You have Magnesis, a magnet ability that grants you levitating control of just about any movable steel. There’s Cryonis, which allows you to create ice blocks you can climb from bodies of water big and small. And the last rune is Stasis, which temporarily stops an object from moving, even if it’s affected by gravity. Completing these first four shrines will also grant you the paraglider, opening up even more exploration possibilities.
The 120 Sheikah Shrines in Hyrule are micro-sized versions of a typical Zelda dungeon as most of them only feature around three dungeon-style puzzles to solve. When you solve the puzzles, you gain an audience with the monk the shrine honors, and you’ll be rewarded with a Shrine Orb. When you collect four of these orbs, you can exchange them for either a heart container or an extension to your stamina wheel. In addition to that, every Shrine you complete also becomes a warp point on your map–a necessity when it comes to traveling in the game.
Aside from warping and fighting, climbing is easily the most essential skill at your disposal. As long as you aren’t in a Shrine or dungeon, you can climb virtually anything, provided you have enough stamina for it. It’s the main reason I elected to upgrade my stamina more often than my heart count. I could’ve traveled on horseback more, but I found it a whole lot more fulfilling to climb mountains I didn’t think Link would actually be able to scale. The only time climbing isn’t an option in the overworld is when it’s raining, because the rain makes it too slippery to do so. In those situations, I just waited for the rain to stop. There’s no better feeling in the game than climbing a tall mountain, getting to the top, and seeing a tower and three more Shrines in the area, further rewarding the thirst for travel.
By doing this, Nintendo has virtually ensured that no two playthroughs will be the same. Maybe people will have the same outlined path that leads to Ganon, but the journey will definitely be different because of the nearly limitless ways you can reach a destination. I have a few friends who got the game at launch and still haven’t completed a single dungeon yet because they’re afraid they don’t have enough hearts to take out the dungeon bosses. That’s a legitimate concern because Breath of the Wild is also the most challenging Zelda game in years.
With the exception of the motion-based Skyward Sword, combat in the Zelda games has been ridiculously easy thanks to its targeting system. While the targeting system is still very much alive in Breath of the Wild, it really isn’t all that helpful because oftentimes you’ll be outnumbered. The typical strategy in action games of focusing on one enemy will hardly ever work because the enemies in the game are not afraid to turn loose, so you’ll have to find other murderous methods. Maybe you can attack from afar with a bow or sneak up from behind and perform a stealth kill. You can even steal their items to use against them, or you can do what I do–keep the items and run away.
Contributing to the game’s challenge is the fact that you won’t be able to find hearts lying around. Instead, the game forces you to be resourceful by cooking. While exploring you’ll undoubtedly come across different kinds of sustenance. Whether they’re apples growing on trees or meat left behind by wildlife you decide to slaughter, all this sustenance helps keep you alive, so you’ll want to scavenge whenever possible.
You can increase the heart value of the food by cooking it, and you can even combine different ingredients to create different dishes and elixirs. As fun as it is to discover new possibilities with the cuisine, the process of cooking them is actually pretty tiresome. Everything you collect will end up in your start menu, and you have to choose what you want to throw in the pot before cooking. The game really could’ve benefited from an RPG-style cooking system where if you figure out how to cook a dish, the recipe would be saved and you could just choose to cook any dish you’ve learned to make. So while cooking is definitely a welcome feature, it’s also one of the game’s very few blemishes.
Speaking of blemishes, the most obvious one is in the design (or lack thereof) in some of the game’s Shrines. The Shrines are arguably the best part in this new Zelda experience seeing as how there’s 120 of them, which easily makes up for the fact that there’s only four dungeons in the game (all of which, though, are excellent brain teasers). As stated earlier, each Shrine has a small number of puzzles, and they’re simply a joy to solve. However, there’s also a few Shrines that have no puzzles in them–just a chest and the monk saying you’ve already proven your worth, essentially making that Shrine’s orb a freebie. Granted, most of these Shrines are a result of solving a puzzle outside the Shrine to even discover it in the first place, but it can still be disappointing to come to a Shrine that doesn’t have you do anything in it.
The last major gripes I have with the game are with its menu system and inability to customize the control scheme. There’s just way too much going on with the menus. When you press the (+) button, it leads to your inventory which includes melee weapons, bows and arrows, shields, apparel, ingredients, food, and quest items. You have to cycle through pages of your inventory with the right stick when it would make more sense to use the shoulder buttons–except the shoulder buttons bring up your adventure log and system options. To make matters worse, you can’t even use the touch screen on the Switch’s handheld mode, and the touch functions in the Wii U version were removed since the decision to bring the game to the Switch.
The problem with the menus also carries over to the main game, especially during combat. When you have your melee weapon out, you can use the D-Pad to choose which weapon or shield you want to have equipped. The same thing goes for when you have your bow out, except instead of choosing your weapon and shield, you’re choosing your bow and whichever type of arrows you want to fire. I often found myself confused as to which function does which.
That’s where the control scheme comes in, especially on the Switch with a Pro Controller. The Pro Controller has the same exact button layout as that of the PS4 and Xbox One controllers, but because the A, B, X, and Y buttons are in different places, it’s extremely easy to assume buttons are in different places. Of all the things to complain about, this is probably the most nitpicky thing, but the Switch is going to be a second console to a lot of gamers, so it had to be mentioned. The ability to remap controls would’ve easily solved this problem, but it isn’t there.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
It goes without saying, but this is a Zelda game. With this series, you often get what you pay for, because Nintendo can seemingly take victory laps every time they release a game in this franchise since they have the formula down to a T.
The art style makes the game look absolutely fantastic both on screen and as a handheld, and while the score is more subtle, the whimsical sound of The Legend of Zelda is as impressive as it is nostalgic.
The dungeons, in addition to the shrines, feature some of the best puzzles and level design we’ve ever seen from the series. All of them are designed so that the player can manipulate the interior in certain ways, making Ocarina of Time‘s Water Temple seem easy.
What makes it all the more impressive is that Nintendo did take the risk and really broke down a lot of what we thought we knew about the series and essentially threw it out the window. From the lack of a guide like Navi or Midna, to the fact that dungeons can be done in any order and they no longer contain the weapons you need to beat the dungeon’s boss, to letting exploration tell the story rather than narrative forcing it down your throat–these changes are huge, and the game is all the better for it because it doesn’t have to use nostalgia to get its point across even though it’s still there.
It took me over 50 hours to complete the main quest, and at the time I had only finished 44 of the game’s Shrines, so I’ve only scratched the surface as far as the game’s length goes. The endgame doesn’t have anything to offer other than continue to explore the world to find the Shrines you missed, but that’s okay. We’ll even get treated to a new story in the form of DLC out later this year.
Eiji Aonuma has finally outdone Shigeru Miyamoto, and if I were Aonuma I’d just retire considering the success Breath of the Wild will undoubtedly have. It isn’t without its blemishes, but simply put, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a masterpiece that can easily be considered the new defining entry in Nintendo’s beloved series. It’s the reason you want a Switch, and if you can’t, it’s the perfect sendoff for the WiiU. If I had to choose between the two, I’d pick the Switch version in a heartbeat because the layout of the Pro Controller is the most ideal for this kind of game.