“It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.” was the only instructions given to Link when we were first introduced to the character, and series, back on the original NES. That all too brief bit of advice actually told us quite a bit. The world was in peril from some sort of evil, and that Link would need to be well prepared for it. It is that same underlying message of being prepared that is introduced to us all over again in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and it couldn’t be truer. Breath of the Wild is not only the most wildly ambitious and incredibly polished entry in the Legend of Zelda series, it’s quite possibly the greatest Legend of Zelda game to date.
I consider myself a fairly big Legend of Zelda fan, despite not fully completing a few entries in the series. My favorite, up until Breath of the Wild, was Wind Waker as not only was it as near perfect to an adventure game as you can get, it just had a level of polish that most developers can only dream of having in their games.
Right from the beginning of Breath of the Wild, you are told very little. You are given a few hints on the plot and then set on your path. You know that Princess Zelda is out there somewhere and that Ganon, or as he is called here; Calamity Ganon, has taken over the kingdom. You’ll come across a few gameplay hints via the loading screens or from various NPC’s that litter the world, but a lot of it, and I mean a lot of the what’s and how’s, are left up to you to figure out, and the creative fun that comes with doing so.
I’ve heard a few stories about how some players tackled certain objectives, despite how complex or simple the more traditional methods would be. One such example left me rather impressed. During one of the Dungeons, a player couldn’t find a second power node to open a door. They noticed that both platforms required electricity to run and they, in an act of desperation, came up with a rather impressive trick. When Link is out in a rain storm you have to be worried about wearing metal when you hear thunder about as you can get struck by lightning. Using this logic, they placed metal weapons from one node platform to the next. Upon placing the node on the platform, it transferred enough power to the adjoining platform and powered the door. During my playthrough, I had no problem finding that second node, but it’s nice to know that no matter the player, you can find your own way. I lost track of how many times I had an idea and it paid off, with the game at no point telling me I could play that way or forcing me down one direct path of reasoning.
It is in this creative ingenuity that makes the open world of Breath of the Wild so fresh and original. Sure, the world abides by a few open world gameplay designs like collectibles strung everywhere and points of interest allowing for fast travel and map revealing, but it is the way in which you interact with this world that is unlike anything I have ever seen. Want to bake apples? Hold a torch under an apple tree. Want to cook some fish or sear a steak? Throw it on the ground while visiting Death Mountain. You can freeze meat with an ice arrow or throw a metal weapon at an enemy in a storm to have lightning finish the job. There are so many different ways that the environment will affect either Link or the materials of his weapons or items that I could just go on and on, but I’ll leave the rest for you to discover on your own.
As you explore the massive open world around you, you’ll often rely on your paraglider, an item you’ll earn within an hour of starting the game, should you stick to the main path. The paraglider allows you to glide on the wind currents to essentially fly around the map. Should you need to reach a higher location you can simply just scale the surface. These feats of exploration are held in check via a upgradeable stamina system that also limits how far you can run without becoming winded or swim without drowning. The wall climbing is also limited to outdoor areas as climbing up walls in dungeons or shrines are just not possible, it’s also worth noting that rain will prevent you from scaling surfaces as well, but oh, we shall talk more about the “rain” later on, don’t you worry. The game also has a 24 minute day and night cycle that changes the locations of various NPC’s, merchants and even what types of items and enemies you can find nearby. Even certain side quests and various shrines are only accessible at key hours in the day.
Before I get too involved talking about the story, weapons and various other systems the game has to offer, I want to take a moment and talk about how gorgeous this game is. While I am playing on the Nintendo Switch, the game still looks rather impressive on the WiiU. As I mentioned above, Wind Waker was my favorite pre-Breath of the Wild Zelda game and a lot of that had to do with the art direction. Breath of the Wild grabs ahold of the look that Wind Waker contained and finds a nice middle ground between that and the previous Skyward Sword. The game has an almost anime inspired look to it, with characters looking fully animated and having remarkable detail even among how simple their designs can be.
Regardless of traversing cliffsides above lakes of lava or racing through the forests of Hyrule on the back of Epona, the widespread environments of Breath of the Wild are stunning in their beauty as well as the secrets that hide around almost every corner. The lighting and shadows that come with the day and night cycles can drastically change the look and feel of your surroundings and standing on a mountaintop to see the fog creep over the mountains is something else.
The Switch runs the game at a modest 900p, while both the WiiU and the handheld nature of the Switch run it at 720p. The WiiU version does have a bit of slow down even at 720p and the Switch, while docked on the tv at 900p has comparable slow down as well, mostly in areas that have lots of shadows in play. I never noticed any slow down while playing via the handheld mode of the Switch, but this could be due to the game running on Switch hardware at 720p. I also noted that playing Breath of the Wild via the WiiU gamepad’s screen is mostly blurry and I would recommend sticking to the TV mode for that console if at all possible.
The Legend of Zelda has always had tremendous sound design and Breath of the Wild ranks up there with the best of them. Each selection of music or sound effect is absolutely perfect and they even throw in a few classic sounds in some really interesting places. I love the musical melody that plays when your Sheikah Slate is scanning the map, or the ping your arrow makes when you get that critical headshot. Several characters of the game also feature some terrific voice acting that I wish happened more often throughout your journey.
As the characters you’ll interact with all have remarkable animation and detail, so do the various enemies you’ll encounter during your 60+ hours with the game. While there isn’t a staggering variety in types of enemies, the small details that encompass them will make you enjoy each encounter despite how repetitive it can get. Should you disarm your foe and then pick up their weapon, they will lash out with surprise and anger, pointing at you and shocked at what just occurred. I had an enemy retreat to set his wooden club on fire to attempt a better tactic against me, except I threw an explosive barrel at his face and he flew off the cliff. The personality given to many of the game’s foes is fascinating and can lead to some rather fun ways of dealing with them. One of my favorite moments was when I took a Cucco from a nearby village and caused a Lizalfos to indirectly hit the Cucco four times causing a massive army of Cuccos to unleash chicken hell on it, he didn’t last long.
After you break away from the basic Bokoblin’s and Moblin’s, you’ll start to encounter the Guardians, giant pillar looking enemies that can be stationary or mobile, should they still retain their spider-like legs. At first, they can be incredibly intimidating, but once you figure out a neat trick you can do with your shield, I started to go on a killing spree collecting all the rare items they would drop upon their destruction. Also, upon upgrading my stasis rune to freeze enemies, I found that I could halt them in their tracks for a few precious seconds and start chopping off their legs, crippling them in sheer delight.
There has been some talk about the weapons in Breath of the Wild as for the first time in the franchise, we have weapons that can break during combat. Each weapon has a variable limit to how many fights it can withstand and this can make or break your experience. Early on you will find weapons that will break after an enemy or two and later on you can find weapons that can outlive dozens of foes with even the Master Sword needing a small recharge after a certain amount of abuse. Eventually, you’ll find weapons that can be repaired, but I didn’t find them to be that much better than the disposable ones littering each and every battle. I often would revisit shrines to grab a few more Guardian weapons; glowing blue spears, axes, swords, and shields, as they can last fairly long and deal out some nice damage, plus it helps that they look really cool. Breath of the Wild has a vast amount of weapons for Link to wield, which is a huge change of pace from prior entries. I never found myself bored with combat as there was just a tremendous amount of variety in how to dish out damage to an unsuspecting foe and attempting to master the dodge and parry systems can be rewarding as well.
With the world being much bigger than anything else Nintendo has ever made, closing the gap between you and a nasty little Bokoblin can be made much easier with a solid arrow to the face. Link’s bow is far more essential this time around than ever before in a Legend of Zelda game. Arrows come in regular, fire, ice, shock, bomb and the ancient Guardian arrows that can one-shot almost anything. Jumping in the air and unleashing your bow will freeze time as long as your stamina holds out. I approached a small Moblin camp that had 2 of them sleeping while another kept guard. I paraglided in from a nearby mountain and dropped from the sky with my bow at the ready. The added time the slow down mechanic gave me allowed me to headshot the guard and fire off two arrows at explosive barrels that were just a few feet from the sleeping duo. Needless to say, the camp exploded in a flash of yellow and orange.
Working alongside your arsenal of swords, axes and bows, are Runes. These are special abilities that Link has access to via the Sheikah Slate, an ancient tablet that can learn new skills and be upgraded later on. These Runes are all available within the first few hours of the game so that you can freely tackle any of the Dungeons or Shrines in whatever order you see fit. The Runes that Link will have access to are Bombs, Magnesis, Cryonis, and Stasis. Bombs are pretty self-explanatory, but it’s the other three that really shake up the Puzzle dynamics here. Magnesis lets you lift and move metal objects around, Stasis lets you stop time to objects and enemies, and Cryonis creates ice platforms out of bodies of water. Several areas of the game force you to use these powers in tandem to one another and can lead to some very creative methods to solving puzzles. Later on, you will use the Sheikah Slate to take pictures or utilize the Amiibo compatibility.
Breath of the Wild’s large open world has a lot to explore and you’re going to be picking up a ridiculous amount of items and resources everywhere you go. The room you have for weapons is fairly small early on but can be upgraded to allow more space, which is great considering how fast some of your weapons can break. The resources you gather like fruit and meat can be used to cook meals that grant more health, temporary hearts and other buffs like extra stealth or boosted stamina. You can use monster parts like tentacles and bat eyes to create Elixers that do roughly the same things but without the health recovery. The cooking is incredibly addictive and the music and charm of the food bouncing around in the pot makes this a system that you’ll want to use, rather than need to. You will also outfit Link in a variety of outfits that have some sort of stat like extra defense, better stealth, or surviving harsh climates. Several outfits and weapons are also locked behind the use of Amiibo’s, which also work as a method of collecting resources as well.
Breath of the Wild changes up the themed Dungeons of Zelda’s past by making them giant mobile animal shaped mechs from a long passed civilization. These animal shaped fortresses are called Divine Beasts and there are four of them. As you progress from the start of the game, you’ll find that Link shares a history with the custodians of these Beasts, a group of warriors that attempted to help Link and Zelda stop Calamity Ganon 100 years ago. Considering the world is currently ruled by said evil gives us a clue as to how well this attack went.
While the Dungeons are very creative and well designed, they sadly don’t last too long and can be cleared in well under an hour. Once you discover the map in each Dungeon, you can alter sections of the Beast to allow access to sections of the Dungeon that are normally blocked. The Divine Beast Vah Medoh, the Bird, as an example, can tilt left, right, or just remain straight flat. Despite the disappointing length to these locations, they are still very engaging experiences that I still rather enjoyed. I would say that my biggest complaint regarding them is their lack of variety inside each of the Divine Beasts as they look nearly identical from one to the next.
While the Divine Beasts were once used to destroy Ganon, here they are actually tools to be used by Ganon himself and conclude with a boss battle with one of his minions. Each Boss has an elemental effect that is paired with the type of Divine Beast they inhabit. While these encounters are fun and engaging, I had harder battles with some of the Lizard enemies found in various areas of the map. Each boss has a few phases that are rather easy to figure out and I honestly can’t remember if I died once during these encounters, or had much of a challenge provided to me. I still think they are rather entertaining, I just wish the fights were a little more challenging.
Despite the short length to the Dungeons and somewhat disappointing Boss battles, the real stars of the show in Breath of the Wild have got to be the Shrines. These 120 locations offer up combat challenges, puzzle rooms or just a simple room containing a chest. The combat challenges range in difficulty while the puzzle rooms are where the Shrines truly shine. These elaborate puzzles make great use of the motion controls that Nintendo has perfected here. I’ve had to tilt my controller almost entirely around to solve a few rolling ball puzzles or swung it like a golf club to send an orb flying. I’ve been stumped by a few puzzles like one where I had to transport an Ice Block from the start of the Shrine to the end, carrying it in my arms until I had to drop it to use Magnesis to block a wall of fire. I sat there wondering how I could move the Ice Block with my hands full using Magnesis until I figured out that I had to fail certain aspects of the objective to succeed.
I wish I could say that the underwhelming Dungeons and Bosses were the only issues I had with this near perfect masterpiece, but sadly, no, there are a few more problems with the game I need to mention. I’ll start with the biggest problem I had with the game; the rain. While I really loved the elemental effects that the game can offer with regards to creative game design, the rain can become more bothersome than anything else in the game. See, you can’t climb during the rain and often upon nearing the top of a mountain or needing to climb to find a Shrine or some other motivation for the tough climb, I’ve had rain storms show up suddenly and cause Link to just slip and fall off the mountain. While I didn’t find this to be game-breaking, it did lead to much frustration and often I would just give up on that area and move on to something else. Had some type of climbing claws or a climb-during-rain perk for the upgraded Climbing gear been made available later on in the game, I could have dealt with it, but as it stands now, rain can put a damper on how fun this game can be.
As for Link himself, he can be quite the problem as well. I’ve had to run away from various enemies and have had him auto-climb a tree or a rock or if you got too close to the camera and initiated the auto-climb, it can be a split second mistake that can cost you your life. While the auto-climb is great when you’re falling to your death and glide into a wall, it can be disastrous during a combat encounter, especially against enemies that can one-shot you. I also had an issue with the recovery speed of Link when he gets knocked down. Many times I would be knocked down by a Guardian or one of the Lion flavored Minotaurs, and before I could get up I’d be blasted or hit all over again. I don’t mind challenging combat, but at least let me get back up and get injured due to my own mistakes and not poor game design.
I’ve spent the better part of three days writing this review and wondered if I would award a perfect score to this game or not. While it has its flaws, it still is a game that I constantly think about and count the minutes in my work day till I can get home to play it again. I converse with friends and co-workers endlessly about this moment or the next, eager to see how someone tackled a particular foe or puzzle. Yes, the rain can be bothersome and yes Link can cling to a tree or rock during a crucial battle, but in the end, Breath of the Wild is a fantastic experience and worthy of the highest score I can possibly give. A game like this, one that raises the bar in so many areas, needs to be awarded praise and recognition. This is a game very untypical of Nintendo and it can be rare to see this type of genre redefined. Even after beating the game and tackling every Shrine the game has to offer, I am only just getting started, and until then, you’ll catch me east of Hebra Tower playing Snowball bowling for another 300 Rupees.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was reviewed on a retail copy of the game, and comments regarding the WiiU version were from observations of seeing it in action. All screen captures were taken from the Nintendo Switch via its upload to Twitter function.