The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review
The Legend of Zelda series is one I’ve always been fond of, less so for the stories (though some of them are great, too) but more so for the gameplay, puzzles, and sense of wonder. These aspects are especially prevalent in the original Legend of Zelda on NES as well as A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time. After what I found to be a disappointing entry in Skyward Sword, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an exciting and bold new step for the franchise and will forever change what gamers expect from a Zelda game moving forward.
I don’t want to spoil anything story related so I’ll keep it brief in that regard but know this; Nintendo has crafted an epic. Breath of the Wild features a narrative that looks back and connects to past games in ways long time fans will really enjoy while also being self-contained enough to not totally alienate newcomers to the series. A new addition to the storytelling this time out is voice acting and while many fans have wanted this for a while, myself included, I’ll admit I’m a little disappointed with the execution. Some characters suffer from weak line readings and surprisingly, Zelda, in particular, is graced with a slightly grating performance. Thankfully, these voiced moments are rare and a vast majority of the dialogue is presented in classic text form. The writing itself is constantly witty and charming, bringing a steady stream of smiles.
“… an exciting and bold new step for the franchise and will forever change what gamers expect from a Zelda game moving forward.”
Nintendo has a way of subverting expectations for better or for worse and Breath of the Wild may be one of the best examples of this in recent memory. The Zelda gameplay loop was starting to feel a little routine and tired but being such a sacred series for Nintendo, who often plays it safe on the software side, I never expected things to change much. Was I ever wrong. Nintendo has taken one of their most revered series and totally flipped it on its head. Breath of the Wild still feels like a Zelda game but manages to also feel entirely new and fresh at the same time. The moment I left the opening shrine and stepped into the vast open world, I felt I was in for a treat and Nintendo did not disappoint. Everything I love about the Zelda franchise is here but it’s been rethought, retooled and fleshed out incredibly to catch up with more modern RPG design, all the while remaining uniquely Nintendo.
Take the world itself; it’s absolutely massive. Intimidatingly so at times and it’s populated with crumbling ruins, wildlife, fellow travelers, and oh so much more. It all just feels so well realized and alive. As an example; I was just riding my horse across the countryside when I heard a cry for help. Upon investigation, I found a pair in need of assistance and took down their attackers. In return, I was offered some useful items. Another time my horse was frightened by a surprise attack from an enemy and I was bucked off as both the horse and I splashed into the marsh. Exact moments like these will be uniquely my own and its a feeling I have never had in a Zelda game before.
Pre-planning and knowing your environment and enemies is a necessity for survival in this latest adventure. There’s no hand holding here. Not once was I really pushed along a path and I appreciate that. The world is open to explore from the outset, so much so that the very first mission you receive is to defeat Ganon. If you were to choose, you could run right to him but you’d face certain death. Instead, it’s best to take the time to explore, meet the locals, upgrade Link’s health and stamina and create some handy elixir.
Yes, you read that right. Crafting and inventory management play a huge part in Breath of the Wild. Cooking and mixing ingredients creates all kinds of beneficial concoctions, like an elixir that boosts cold resistance or a hot meal that refills your hearts while also boosting low-level attacks. All of these new elements and many more I’m leaving for you to discover on your own, give Breath of the Wild more of a survival aspect than past entries and the Zelda series is better for it.
“Nintendo has taken one of their most revered series and totally flipped it on its head.”
If you’re like me you’ll spend countless hours just roaming the countryside and, also like me, probably learn all too quickly that Breath of the Wild can be quite challenging if you fall into old Zelda habits. With nothing locked off, it’s very easy to accidentally wander into an area filled with enemies that can destroy you with one hit. In fact, through my own curiosity and blind exploration, I’ve seen the Game Over screen more times than I would care to admit. Through experimentation, I’m constantly engaged and offered new ways of looking at combat, traversal, and puzzles.
Speaking of puzzles, Nintendo has outdone themselves here not only in quantity but also quality. Spread over the gorgeous landscapes are dozens upon dozens of shrines that act like mini dungeons. They often organically teach you new puzzle solving techniques and each and every one of them has been a joy to best. There’s been a lot of mystery surrounding proper, full sized dungeons in Breath of the Wild and I’m genuinely happy Nintendo kept them a secret. They are absolutely incredible not only in design but in execution and without spoiling anything when you first realize how dungeons are represented in Breath of the Wild your jaw will hit the ground followed by a giddy giggle of excitement. They are expertly intertwined into the story and given great context.
Combat has seen a nice overhaul too. Z-targeting is back but loses the dated letterbox effect while most other returning combat mechanics such as dodging and back flipping from danger have been tightened up. Parries can lead to some exciting combos as well. It’s in the new weapon system and physics that Breath of the Wild sees the biggest combat changes, though. You now carry numerous melee weapons and bows at once each with various durability and attack stats. Weapons breaking down and constantly having to be managed at first sounded like a bad idea to me but in practice, it works well and creates a new element of strategy. Do I use this powerful weapon I have now for an easier kill at the risk of breaking and wasting it, or do I save it for an unknown more powerful enemy? Varying weapon types come with their own quirks as well. Boomerangs, for example, must be manually caught upon their return flight.
The new physics system only adds to the intensity and thrill of combat. In one instance, I was engaging in a horseback joust against an enemy when we both landed attacks, knocking each other off our horses. My weapon had broken during the ordeal so I ran to pick up my enemies and then proceeded to whoop him with it.
Villages and towns return from past games as well but are now filled with more believable citizens going on about their business and also offer much more in the way of side quests and activities. Ten hours into the game and I realized we had known next to nothing about what Breath of the Wild would actually offer players.
There are constantly little details revealing themselves, so many rules and systems in this world working seamlessly together. When it rains, climbable surfaces become slippery and hard to hold. It’s dangerous to wear metal armor or carry a metal sword during lighting for fear of being struck. Dogs can be bonded with, for what purposes I actually don’t know yet. So far they just follow me around. In fact, after all the hours I’ve put into Breath of the Wild, I still have so much to find out about myself. I keep seeing meteorites crashing to the ground and have yet to explore a crash site to see what they’re about. I’ve also been running into small little metal cubes and strange paper windmills. The purpose of these items still escapes me.
“It’s not just the best Zelda game yet, it’s quite possibly the best game Nintendo has ever produced.”
All this talk and I haven’t even touched on the hunting for resources nor have I talked about the Hyrule Compendium which allows for extensive cataloging of animals, enemies, items and more via photographs taken in-game. Bosses are another mystery I’m leaving for you to discover which were often surprising and always a blast to figure out. It’s best to face bosses as blind as possible so I’ll leave you with just one little nugget of info; like many of the ideas seen in Breath of the Wild, they are some of the series’ best so far.
I could go on and on about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It’s Nintendo firing on all cylinders. Like an interactive studio Ghibli film, it’s at times stunning to look at. It plays incredibly well with challenging, exciting combat and through exploration, you’re organically taught the world’s rules and mechanics. It’s not just the best Zelda game yet, it’s quite possibly the best game Nintendo has ever produced. Breath of the Wild is nothing short of a masterpiece.
*** Nintendo Switch copy provided by the publisher ***
- Beautiful visuals
- Massive and engaging world
- Exciting combat and puzzles
- Potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay
- That Nintendo polish
- Some questionable voice acting