There are few series as big, as legendary, and as beloved as The Legend of Zelda. Each entry is different from the last but there are consistencies that never change. There is always a hero and there is always a villain, and when there is peril spreading across the land, Link is there to defeat Ganon and bring peace to Hyrule.
That isn’t so with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as Nintendo and game producer Eiji Aonuma have crafted an experience far removed from what we’ve learned to expect from Nintendo. Instead of something old, we get something new – something that turns all the things you know about the Zelda series on its head and into new territory. The drawn path so many Zelda games in the past relied on to tell a story sits on the sidelines and allows players to create their own path to experience this story.
Eiji Aonuma has put Zelda in the best position it’s been in since the original Legend of Zelda, a game that looks archaic today but at the time was the cutting edge in game design. The world of Hyrule was 80 percent imagination in 1986, today, it’s a fully realized sandbox teaming with imagination and secrets to uncover.
For the first time, ever, The Legend of Zelda strikes down its traditions for a better tomorrow.
Link has awoken 100 years in the future, his future to be exact, by the disembodied voice of Princess Zelda, asking for him to wake up. A brief lull and Link emerges into a land he does not remember. Breath of the Wild’s intro rolls and immediately you’re swept up by the Nintendo magic.
Hyrule is something special in Breath of the Wild, we’ve seen countless versions of the famous fictional kingdom but nothing like this. The landscape is vast and unfamiliar, asking for you to come to see all that there is to see. In the dozens of hours, I’ve spent roaming and exploring there’s one thing that still hasn’t gotten old and that is the freedom to go anywhere and generally follow my own path. Freedom tastes good.
I’d be remiss to not mention to details like the trees bearing fruit or the grass being flammable if you put a torch to it. The details stand out even more when sitting back and observing the world around Link. The ways animals move and react to Link or enemies is believable, by getting the small details right, Nintendo allows Hyrule to flourish as a truly magical world to explore.
Within the world of Breath of the Wild are shrines, a total of 100 of them to discover. These shrines often provide thoughtful and satisfying puzzles to solve in addition to rewards to receive for completing them. The shrines also serve as fast-travel stations in Hyrule, often serving as waypoints for you to discover and return to as Link pushes further into unknown territory. On the Nintendo Switch, these shrines make for perfect quick plays while going about your day-to-day, often taking no more than a half hour to complete.
Most shrines found will have treasures to uncover and provide additional gear to collect for Link, the amount of gear found will eventually get to a point where some time in the menus is spent clearing your inventory and managing which items to keep for Link to use in his travels.
Expanding on the idea from A Link Between Worlds, instead of renting items as needed, Breath of the Wild gives you all the tools you’ll need to succeed from the beginning. The tutorial is disguised as an open sandbox that requires you to get all the necessary tools to venture out into the world. Once you’re done with the opening area, Hyrule becomes a playground to discover, but be weary as you will face monsters, unlike any other Zelda game.
Admittedly, I have died numerous times in multiple ways in Breath of the Wild, this is hands down the most challenging Zelda game I’ve played since The Adventure of Link. This is in part due to the new mechanics brought forth, but the enemies are smarter, hit harder and generally attack in numbers. Don’t be upset when you see the Game Over screen, it’s something you’ll find yourself seeing often and has been set up to be somewhat forgiving to the player. The most you’ll ever have to do is to journey back to where you were when you died.
More times than I want to mention I would smugly decide to face an enemy I assumed wouldn’t take me long to strike down, little did I know that I was unprepared and went from a full health to a quarter of one heart by a single strike against me. Many times, I would die, restart and try again to equal results.
A series first, weapons now come with durability and the assorted swords, clubs, tridents, and hammers eventually break due to usage. During the first hours of Breath of the Wild, not having a weapon at hand because it shattered means there is a good chance you’ll die and all the preparation beforehand won’t help when you get swiped by a monster that can wipe you in a single swipe.
The art style in Breath of the Wild is among some of the best I’ve seen for a Zelda title, add in character design that is easily the best the series offers.
Speaking to the NPCs in Breath of the Wild often brings some hilarious results, many of the people who populate the land of Hyrule are quirky and have the general Zelda goofiness to them. Many of these characters have something to offer Link, some provide a clue to a shrine, while others charm you with their personality, the staples of a Zelda adventure are here, they just show up in new ways.
The biggest issue faced during my time with Breath of the Wild has been framerate issues. Performance dips when docked. Digital Foundry notes that this is most likely due to the game being 720p undocked but set to 900p when docked and on the TV, the bump in pixel density causing the CPU and GPU to take away power from the processor cores. This in no way makes Breath of the Wild unplayable but it certainly detracts from the experience.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a stunning game and serving as a launch title for the newly released Nintendo Switch will help sell tons of units. That said, this isn’t an ordinary Zelda title, it’s something else, something more and it’s the first in 20 years that Nintendo has brought a game that respects your time and rewards you for being open-minded.
Creating a masterclass featuring a smart open world with new and thoughtful challenges is something that is respectful of a player’s time and energy. Nintendo has once more proven that with the right amount of time, what’s old can be new once more. There is much left to do in my time in Hyrule so please excuse me as I return to explore every inch of Hyrule.