The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild review
[Ed. note: Portions of this review previously appeared in our pre-review for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The contents of this review are applicable only to the Nintendo Switch version of Breath of the Wild at this time.]
With The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, one of the longest-running, most beloved video game franchises of all time feels like it’s finally moving forward.
It’s debatable whether or not Zelda as a series has been in a rut, and for how long, but it’s almost certainly fallen into a predictable pattern: an overworld with dungeons that offer items, which in turn allow access to new dungeons and means of traversal. Sure, each game had its own twist — a dark world, lycanthropy, sailing, flight — but there was a predictable path for each. It was a familiar loop, and a successful one, given the series’ regard.
Somewhere in the transition from the overhead perspective of the 8- and 16-bit Zelda titles to the third dimension added with the Nintendo 64’s Ocarina of Time, Nintendo seemed to lose faith in players’ ability to figure things out. One of the worst offenders: relentless, unskippable introductory sections that could drag on for hours as each game made absolutely sure you understood how to play it — by having you perform the same basic mechanical tasks in numerous mundane ways.
But five and a half years since 2011’s Skyward Sword, Nintendo apparently rediscovered that faith.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the biggest, most open Zelda game ever made, but it also brings with it a massive change in design philosophy, and the way it treats players. Breath of the Wild is the first main Zelda title since 1991 (2013’s Link to the Past sequel A Link Between Worlds notwithstanding) to feel like it respects its players implicitly.
In return, Breath of the Wild demands your respect. And if you forget that for longer than a few minutes, it’ll remind you by knocking you flat on your ass.
Breath of the Wild isn’t without some of the same basic Zelda foundation. You play as Link, the hero of fantasy world Hyrule, though what that means and who Link is differs from previous games somewhat (as it does in every Zelda game). The story opens as a confused Link awakens to a world he doesn’t recognize. Mystery is everywhere, from the hint of hyper-advanced fantasy technology to the evidence all around of a disastrous, society-ending war.
The narrative setup is more or less perfect for a Zelda game, because it provides just enough familiarity to feel like it’s supposed to for old fans, and leaves enough holes to instill a real sense of mystery. Link moves through the world like a ghost, and it suits the voiceless character well.
New spins on familiar Zelda archetypes are typical from game to game, but Nintendo’s EPD team has also retooled many of the basic character tropes and ideas that have remained a constant for the series’ existence. There are character relationships at work that are not what you expect, and I was genuinely surprised by a number of implied stories and relationships. I expect Breath of the Wild’s narrative and character departures from Zelda precedent to stir at least some amount of controversy, which is mostly a good thing.
All of this is painted in the most sophisticated visual style and presentation Zelda has ever seen. The Wind Waker and Skyward Sword were striking in their own ways, but Breath of the Wild is their clear culmination. It is a frequently stunning, consistently striking visual achievement, evocative of legendary Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli’s films in a way that seems lovingly influenced rather than derivative. It also happens to include some of the best, most varied music the series has ever had, and, for the first time in a Zelda game, voice acting for a number of characters.
In all likelihood, Nintendo could have made a traditional Zelda game with Breath of the Wild’s art direction and production values and received the biggest accolades the series has seen since 1998’s Ocarina of Time. It looks that good.
Of course, that isn’t the game Nintendo made.
If you’ve played any previous Zelda game, the following statement should rock you on your heels: Every mission-critical tool and item in Breath of the Wild is obtained within the first hour or two of play in an expanded sandbox that acts as a tutorial without mindless compulsory tasks.
Breath of the Wild’s various locations are gated behind specific kinds of equipment less than in any other third-person Zelda game. The geographic options in front of me felt almost overwhelming right from the start, and that was just in the opening space. Once you obtain a specific item that allows you to leave that plateau, Hyrule is your oyster. It just happens to be an oyster full of really angry monsters and ancient death machines that will murder you if they see you.
Breath of the Wild is, without question or debate, the hardest Zelda game of the last 20 years. The first 20 minutes or so are pretty low-key — you can kill the scrub Bokoblins and other minor enemies you meet without much trouble, using nothing more than a tree branch picked up off the ground. But once you leave the initial learning spaces and venture into more typical zones, you’re probably going to die.
You’re probably going to die a lot, honestly. Often without much warning. Or at least I did.
Often, the only indication Breath of the Wild might give that you are under-equipped for the space you’re in is an enemy taking you from, say, six hearts to a quarter of one in a single axe swipe or spear lunge (assuming, you know, they don’t just kill you outright). Or, like I said, they’ll just kill you with no real fanfare or warning, and the game will reload you fairly close to where you were, with you hopefully having learned an important lesson about Hyrule’s ecosystem and its desire for you not to exist in it.
Comparisons to games like Dark Souls are probably inevitable, but they’re not exactly fair. You don’t lose anything when you die, other than the time lost getting back to where you were. You do have to contend with equipment with a finite life span, however, and resources will often be scarce unless you gather ingredients to make potions and meals.
A side note: While I wholeheartedly approve of Breath of the Wild getting out of its own way immediately, I really would have appreciated any tutorial whatsoever on cooking, something the game doesn’t care to elaborate on in any meaningful way until well into the experience.
Cooking and crafting is something I’ve typically avoided in open-world action RPGs in the last several years; I find this kind of thing incredibly boring. But for whatever reason, cooking and mixing in Breath of the Wild feels a little more loose and a little more immediately rewarding, and, well, it’s an absolute necessity.
There’s a practical reason for this. While spaces in Breath of the Wild aren’t item-gated, exactly, aside from the aforementioned enemies that will smash you, they can be beyond your physical capabilities. While Link is physically capable — he can climb most walls and use a sort of hang glider, and he can swim right away, no items required — more strenuous activity depletes Link’s limited stamina bar. However, if you cook the right things together, you can create meals and elixirs that, say, refill your stamina completely, or even give you temporary extra stamina that might allow you to reach a spot you otherwise couldn’t.
Also, if you don’t make meals that give you more than a heart or two back — or, eventually, that give you bonus temporary hearts — you’re not going to survive against more powerful common enemies you’ll find out in the world.
At first, this all feels like a lot to keep track of and consider while playing a Zelda game, but it quickly became second nature for me. And it all ties into the first idea I talked about above: that Breath of the Wild feels like the first third-person, big-budget Zelda game to eschew a meandering, elaborate, incredibly extended tutorial section. Breath of the Wild teaches you to play it, don’t get me wrong. The plateau you start on gives you the powers and abilities you’ll use for much of the game’s puzzle solving via shrines, and each shrine is a series of instructional scenarios for a particular ability. But you can also screw around and kill Bokoblins and climb and explore the area to your heart’s content, if that’s what you want to do, and you could spend hours doing it before you left for the rest of Hyrule.
That respect radiates outward. The puzzle logic in Breath of the Wild feels legitimately logical, and smartly physics-based. There are optional shrines scattered throughout Hyrule that act as mini puzzle dungeons, and almost without exception, they’ve all been a lot of fun to figure out. By the end of most Zelda games, I’ve felt that the game had just about exhausted its ideas for puzzles and dungeons. After solving 50 shrines over 60-70 hours in Breath of the Wild, I’m still looking for more.
Shrines aren’t the only place where Breath of the Wild invites quick thinking. Hyrule is full of emergent opportunities to push your basic understanding of the world and its rules, which only works because of how clever it all is. Weather and elements play a key role, and each act the way that they should, and, as importantly in a video game, Nintendo EPD goes out of its way to explain in multiple instances how that environment works. Many games — many Zelda games, even — are plagued by "video game logic," rules that masquerade as common sense but are, more often, the solutions a designer thought a problem should have. But Breath of the Wild teaches you again and again how things work, and the end result was a feeling of achievement in figuring things out that didn’t just seem like guesswork.
Breath of the Wild isn’t just difficult for the sake of it, or unnecessarily complicated. All that discovery and progress is deeply, intensely rewarding, and it builds on itself many times over as the world opens up. I struggled to force myself to push toward the game’s conclusion for this review — a conclusion that could have come much sooner, as players are free to try skipping much of the game’s quest for a straight-shot gambit at Breath of the Wild’s main threat.
That sense of consistent achievement and discovery is incredibly important, because it’s the driving force behind Breath of the Wild. Combat is functional, and I rarely died because of systemic inadequacies — and can I just, for a moment, appreciate playing a console Zelda title whose controls were not designed around motion input?
It’s really nice to not have to swing a Wiimote to use Breath of the Wild’s arsenal.
Even combat is subject to the same sort of discovery that makes Hyrule such a pleasure to explore, and subject to Breath of the Wild’s experimental proclivities. Weapons are no longer permanent companions. This means you’ll need to learn how to use various options presented to you, and getting attached to any one thing is inviting heartbreak when it literally shatters on the last enemy you’ll ever hit with it. This includes bows, by the way.
Other series staples have gained additional utility with their temporary life spans. Example: Boomerangs are now dual-use tools that can be wielded as melee weapons or thrown in traditional Zelda fashion, but if you do the latter, you’ll need to be quick and catch it on the way back.
This adds another notable source of excitement to Breath of the Wild, which is important in part because of what the game takes away. While this new take on Hyrule is crawling with dungeons and full of treasure chests, the dungeons lack the same kind of reward loop that proved so deeply satisfying in every other Zelda game. Set-piece dungeons in previous Zelda titles yielded key gear required to advance in the game, providing new abilities and opening up new areas of the map. In Breath of the Wild, those chests have weapons that will eventually break, or Rupees or, perhaps most anticlimactically, crafting materials.
I can live with that kind of compromise, even if it was an absence that became more and more apparent over time. Breath of the Wild’s other minor issues are less understandable. While the controls are generally excellent, especially on the Switch’s Pro Controller, the camera can occasionally be a real jerk, particularly while using a bow around trees or fighting multiple enemies in tight quarters. And from a technical perspective, while Breath of the Wild is beautiful, playing the game docked on my TV often resulted in severe frame rate drops. It was never unplayable, but it was distracting.
These problems never manifested while playing Breath of the Wild on the Switch undocked as a handheld. While that wasn’t my preferred way to play — when the Pro Controller is an option, the Joy-Cons’ layouts feel like a punishment by comparison — there is something impressive about a full console Zelda experience on a handheld.
I guess, in the end, it’s not just that Breath of the Wild signals that Zelda has finally evolved and moved beyond the structure it’s leaned on for so long. It’s that the evolution in question has required Nintendo to finally treat its audience like intelligent people. That newfound respect has led to something big, and different, and exciting. But in an open world full of big changes, Breath of the Wild also almost always feels like a Zelda game — and establishes itself as the first current, vital-feeling Zelda in almost 20 years.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was reviewed using a pre-release physical copy of the game for the Nintendo Switch provided by Nintendo of America. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild review
The moment I realized The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild might actually be my favorite Zelda adventure ever struck me like lightning — literally.
While running through the picturesque green fields of Hyrule, a massive storm unexpectedly rolled in. As heavy rain began to pour, a strong wind rustled the tall grass, and in the distance I could hear the crack of lightning. The sharp sound rapidly came closer and closer until zap! I was electrocuted to death by a bolt. Every time I restarted, the same thing would happen. I couldn’t understand why the lightning was targeting me, the helpless hero, until I realized that both the spear and shield on my back were made of metal. With the steel unequipped, I was able to safely make my through the storm.
Breath of the Wild has something that’s been missing from the series for years: surprise. Most recent Zelda adventures have become formulaic, abiding by a rigid and proven structure that offers nostalgia and familiarity, but little room for revelations, either big or small. Breath of the Wild is more open and natural than its predecessors, letting you discover things — like how lightning works — through experimentation. It isn’t always as curated and cinematic as other Zelda games, but the unpredictability makes it feel like a true adventure, where you’re uncovering your own path, instead of hitting your marks and following the script.
Zelda games have always been large, but Breath of the Wild feels uniquely grand, a massive open world filled with so much to do that I suspect most players — even those who complete the main story — will miss large swaths of the map. The scale could have been daunting, but the joy of discovery and the satisfaction that comes from finding your own way make it inviting instead. I want to go the places I’ve yet to discover. I want to uncover new secrets and abilities. I want more.
At 50 hours into the game, I still haven’t reached the end of Breath of the Wild. In some ways it feels like I’ve only scratched the surface. But even still, these bold changes have profoundly altered my expectations of what a Zelda adventure can be. And I’m entirely convinced that this is the best Zelda game I’ve ever played.
This review contains light spoilers for the early hours of Breath of the Wild.
Breath of the Wild opens with series hero Link awakening in a dark cavern. A mysterious disembodied voice guides him to a tablet that has a passing resemblance to both the Switch and Nintendo's maligned Wii U controller. The tablet helps to navigate this version of Hyrule — the fantasy realm that has long been the heart of Zelda adventures. As you learn in the very early parts of the game, a century ago, powerful evil destroyed much of the world, allowing nature to reclaim castles, and littering the land with abandoned machines of war. People still exist, in small towns and stables, but much of Hyrule is beset by hordes of monsters who have bivouacked into the hills. This is a dangerous place. Naturally, your job is to set things right.
One of the game’s greatest strengths is how it goes about explaining how you will do that — or just as often, not explaining it. Breath of the Wild rarely gives you explicit directions as to what to do. Instead, it tells (or shows) you what needs to happen, and lets you fill in the rest. One line of quests tasks you with uncovering shrines (more on those later) using only lines from a poem or a riddle as guidance. Another presents a series of images of scenic Hyrule locations from before the calamity, and asks you to find them as they are now. In order to defeat Ganon you’ll need to first uncover four “divine beasts” scattered throughout the world. Of course, the game doesn’t even tell you what a divine beast is.
This lack of direction can be disorienting at first. I played Breath of the Wild immediately after finishing another huge role-playing game, Horizon Zero Dawn, and it was a jarring transition. After spending 40 hours playing a game that literally pointed me in the right direction at all times, now I was forced to fend for myself. But it very quickly turned into a liberating sensation. Instead of worrying if I was following the correct path, for the first dozen hours or so, I largely ignored the story altogether. Instead, I trekked across Hyrule activating the specific towers found in each region, which not only help fill in the details of the map but also provide crucial fast-travel points.
Even the act of filling out Breath of the Wild’s map instils a deep sense of adventure. In most open-world games, particularly Ubisoft titles like Far Cry or Assassin’s Creed, your map is overburdened with icons from the very beginning. You can spot where everything from a city to a treasure chest is located before you even start exploring. It can feel overwhelming. Breath of the Wild, meanwhile, does the opposite. When you first start out, the map is almost completely empty. You can see the dividing lines between the various regions that make up Hyrule, but none of their details. It’s only once you start exploring that it fills out. A town won’t appear on your map until you actually go there, which you can only do by finding it on your own. Discovering a new place or thing truly feels like an act of discovery.
Breath of the Wild features two significant additions that completely changed how I viewed the world around me. In addition to the usual methods of traversal — foot, horse, and fast travel — Link now also has the ability to climb nearly every surface you come across. If you spot a mountain, a castle, or virtually anything else, you can climb it. The only restriction is Link’s stamina — which expands over time and can be augmented with things like potions — but even then there are ways around it if you’re clever. This marks a fundamental shift for the series. Instead of an impediment, walls and mountains are now just another potential pathway. Often I would bypass monster-plagued roads altogether and simply climb the comparatively safe mountain instead.
Link’s climbing ability is made all the more useful and important by a seemingly innocuous paraglider, which lets Link temporarily soar through the air. In short order, it became a pivotal part of the game, and my main method of transportation. Instead of walking or riding to a new location, I would climb the nearest high point — a mountain, or maybe a tower — and then glide in the direction of where I wished to be. The act of getting somewhere became exciting in and of itself. There’s a certain pleasure that comes from just having enough energy to reach the top of a tower before losing your grip, or sailing peacefully above enemy camps as the monsters sleep below, unaware.
Not only is Breath of the Wild’s map large; it’s also dense. I was constantly discovering new places and puzzles, both elaborate and diminutive. One of my favorite additions to the game is the shrines — glowing caverns scattered liberally across the map. Each one is like a miniature, self-contained Zelda dungeon. Early on these shrines serve as tutorials, showing necessary details about Link’s powers — like his ability to temporarily halt time or use bombs — but later they essentially become puzzle boxes, which approach Portal-levels of cleverness. The shrines also simplify the Zelda dungeon formula in an almost mobile game-like manner, resulting in satisfyingly quick puzzles that can usually be completed in less than 15 minutes or so. Even better, unlike typical Zelda puzzles, those in Breath of the Wild’s shrines often have multiple solutions.
Many other additions help bring Breath of the Wild in line with contemporary open-world games like The Witcher or Skyrim, while also contributing to its overwhelming focus on adventure and discovery. Link can now cook, for instance, gathering ingredients in the wild, using them to make food that replenishes health or buffs abilities. I found myself especially taken with this feature, scouring the world for new vegetables and meats, and seeing what I could make of them. Again, cooking isn’t really explained, making it all the more compelling. Whipping up a tasty mushroom rice ball or meat-stuffed pumpkin using guesswork instead of a recipe is satisfying. I especially love the way ingredients dance and jump in the pot as you prepare a meal.
There are also survival elements, forcing you to protect Link from extreme heat and cold. You’ll often find him shivering or sweating because of the weather, his health depleting. Weapons, too, give way. For the first time in a Zelda game your swords and shields degrade as you use them. But weapons are everywhere. You can even pick up a downed skeleton’s arm to bludgeon beasts, its fingers still twitching as you swing it about. Using your best equipment becomes a risky choice, not an assumption.
Even though Breath of the Wild introduces RPG-like elements such as crafting and a greater focus on gear, it’s missing a very distinct kernel of the genre: experience. In most RPGs, numbers determine almost everything you can do. If you’re a level 5 character in a typical RPG, you definitely don’t want to head into a dungeon filled with level 10 enemies, and there’s a whole range of items and abilities you can’t use until you grind long enough to meet the appropriate level. This effectively walls off large portions of the world until you’ve achieved a numerical level of success.
Breath of the Wild scraps this logic. Link gets more health and stamina as you progress, and you can acquire stronger weapons and armor, but he never gets stronger himself. He doesn’t learn to swing a sword or shoot a bow any better. But you do. Breath of the Wild offers a more open and expansive world to explore, but it also demands more of its players than other Zeldas, forcing you to get better and smarter to survive. It’s the most challenging Zelda I’ve played in many years, but also the most satisfying. (Though it never approaches the daunting difficulty of games like Bloodborne or Dark Souls.)
All of these many changes fundamentally alter the Zelda formula. But what’s perhaps most remarkable about Breath of the Wild is that it still feels like a Zelda adventure — and it’s more than just the familiar setting and characters, or the stirring rendition of the Zelda theme that plays in the background. Breath of the Wild may be the biggest Zelda game to date, but it’s also an experience that distills the essence of the series into something more pure. More recent Zelda games have become bogged down with needless hand holding, an overabundance of tutorials, and overly complicated narratives. Breath of the Wild gets away from that. It changes the Zelda formula in dramatic ways, yet paradoxically it feels more Zelda than almost any game in the series before. By going big and open, Breath of the Wild gets at the heart at what a Zelda game should be.
This new direction, and shaking up of the age-old formula that has come to define the series, helps Breath of the Wild return to what made Zelda so beloved in the first place. More so than just about any game series, Zelda’s heart lies in exploration, that moment of seeing a towering mountain in the distance and realizing that eventually you’ll be able to reach the top. Breath of the Wild takes this idea, cuts out the fluff, and expands upon it. It pulls ideas from other games, like crafting or survival, yet makes them feel perfectly at home in its beloved universe. It’s exactly the Zelda game I’ve been waiting for.
Just watch out for lightning.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild launches March 3rd on Nintendo Switch and Wii U.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild review
Switch's debut and Wii U's demise are marked by a radical reinvention of The Legend of Zelda that will go down as an all-time great.
Here's an unusual admission for a reviewer to make. I haven't finished The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I've yet to uncover swathes of its vast map. Much remains for me to do and discover, and my game is still rife with rumour, mystery and surprise. This is partly because my life is no longer compatible with monstering a giant open-world game in a week, even when it's work. But it's also because of the kind of game that Breath of the Wild is.
The reason I feel comfortable telling you this is that this isn't a game that any one player can just know. You can map it out, sure - spend weeks or months enumerating all its components and secrets. But the game's magic resides in its combination of sheer size with sheer openness, with apparently freewheeling yet meticulously interlocked systems, and with a scarcely credible level of detail and craft in its making. When a game world like this meets players, alchemy happens. My meandering and half-complete run, full of digressions and doubling back, feels as meaningful as the game of a completist, or of a player who skipped the main quest to take a run straight at the end boss with armour and weapons scavenged from the map's darkest corners, or a player who chose to ignore the storyline altogether in favour of unlocking the mysteries of Hyrule's most elusive Shrines, or of a player who simply headed north to see what lay there. Rarely has a game been so tempting to restart while you were still playing it.
Our hero Link awakes on a high plateau in the middle of Hyrule's rugged vastness. Sheer cliffs drop off all around, which conveniently confines us here until we've learned the ropes and earned the paraglider that will guide us safely down to the world below. But those cliffs are also there to give us an unhindered and honestly breathtaking view over the world we're about to explore, from cursed castle to hazy wetland, boiling volcano to parched desert. Amid the misty watercolour washes of this fantasy landscape, you can pick out the sharp glow and alien forms of ancient Sheikah technology: towers that fill in the map, and Shrines that house combat tests and physics puzzles. It's an incredibly promising view, and not a misleading one. Nintendo's first open world is up there with Azeroth and San Andreas as one of the greatest game worlds ever created.
Link, it turns out, has been asleep for 100 years, having failed with Zelda to defeat the apocalyptic evil known as Calamity Ganon. Ganon is contained at Hyrule Castle - as is Zelda - but it's up to Link to take a second stab at him. If he wants help, he must journey to the four corners of Hyrule to rehabilitate the Divine Beasts, giant mechanical creatures originally created to defeat Ganon that have now run amok. This is what you would consider the meat of a regular Zelda game - yet, while strongly advised, it's entirely optional.
On your travels you will meet the charming and familiar tribes of Hyrule: the aquatic Zora and avian Rito, the tubby rock-munching Gorons and the fierce Gerudo matriarchy which excludes all men from its desert city. The Korok - cute, rattling woodland sprites that first appeared in The Wind Waker - are here too, and they are vital to the tapestry of Breath of the Wild. But you won't be guided to their well-hidden homeland by any quest marker; you'll have to follow rumours and suggestions to find it and know its importance. That is as good an example as any of the remarkable confidence Nintendo's developers have in their world to draw players in, and the trust they have in those players to explore it freely and inquisitively. Few games in this waypoint-infested genre have that courage.
You'll also learn about the Sheikah tablet you're carrying, a sort of fantasy iPad that summons bombs and ice blocks, and commands the forces of inertia and magnetism. Although you can upgrade it, its core abilities are all unlocked by the time you leave the starter area. Gear-gating - using the acquisition of new items to manage the player's progress through the game - is one of many 30-year Zelda traditions that Breath of the Wild bravely discards, in favour of giving you pretty much all the tools early on and sending you off to find your own path. Bombs aside, the power-ups you get aren't the ones you're expecting, and they upgrade in unpredictable ways, branching off in new directions rather than simply getting stronger.
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You'll also learn more about what happened 100 years ago (Link is an amnesiac, of course) in a series of cutscenes. If Breath of the Wild has one weakness, it's as a story. The grand events of the past seem remote from the teeming world around you, not to mention rather hackneyed, while the English voice acting - sparingly used, thankfully - is stiff and cheesy. Unlike such soulful adventures as Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, Breath of the Wild isn't unduly interested in ordinary people and their stories, and it musters neither the poignant little vignettes nor the strong emotional tenor of those games. It doesn't have the memorable characters and simple, pure narrative purpose of The Wind Waker, either. It's a shame - but it doesn't need these things.
Arguably, a stronger storyline wouldn't have been compatible with Nintendo's decision to grant the player so much freedom. You really don't get this level of openness anywhere else this side of a Bethesda role-playing game. (The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim is an obvious inspiration.) You can do whatever you like, and go wherever you feel, greatly assisted by Link's ability to climb almost any surface. This is a game that wholly rejects artificial barriers. The further away you get from the centre, the stronger monsters are, but there's no grind to meet their level and the means to match them can be found just through exploring. Breath of the Wild also rewards your curiosity with constant and dazzling inventiveness. It's dumbfounding that such a vast space should be so packed with things to find, observe and do.
The designers are squarely focused on keeping you out in this world, and for Zelda traditionalists, that means one major and potentially painful casualty: dungeons. There isn't anything you would describe as a classic Zelda dungeon here, no huge and devious labyrinth of locks and keys, boss fights and puzzles. The gameplay survives in the Shrines, which house the cleverest puzzles in chambers tinged with Portal's austere lab aesthetic, and out in the world, where boss monsters roam and elaborate combat gauntlets await. The Divine Beasts are relatively compact but extremely intricate and rewarding challenges that are probably the closest thing to a dungeon per se. Some Shrines take much longer to complete than others, and are introduced by involved and mysterious quest lines.
Underpinning the whole game is an extremely strong and multifaceted suite of linked systems, including weather, stealth, cooking, and a fantastically fun and convincing physics simulation. (Even item drops from enemies are fully physically modelled.) Cooking, which provides useful buffs as well as refilling your health, isn't the recipe list you'd expect; it's a system where the same dish can be conjured from different ingredients and at different potencies. It's not about collection or rote learning, it's about understanding the rules and then improvising with what you have.
This is true of the game as a whole, especially in combat, where all Breath of the Wild's tools and systems meet. There are so many variables in a fight - what you happen to be holding, what your enemy is holding, if there are any fires or boulders around, if you're in the eye of a lightning storm and so need to unequip everything metal - that it's almost always better to wing it and try new tactics on the fly than to settle into a groove. This is a game that can play like Dynasty Warriors one minute and Metal Gear Solid the next.
Food buffs can help you out hugely if you're under-equipped - and being over-equipped isn't always a good thing. Breath of the Wild's disposable weapons may prove to be the most controversial aspect of its design; weapons wear out fast, and only a few very special ones can be repaired. You're even encouraged to throw them away as they get worn down, as a well-placed lob will earn you a critical hit. It starts out stressful, but it's ultimately a liberating change that's reminiscent of Halo's weapon-swap philosophy. It also has brilliant consequences for Breath of the Wild's sweeping reinterpretation of role-playing game convention.
With no experience points to grind, Link's progression is entirely dictated by gear: clothes for defense and weapons for attack power. A great weapon find is doubly precious for being temporary, so you won't want to waste its short life on weak enemies, and it's always good to have one or two lesser pieces on hand. Thus you're voluntarily scaling your power to the situation at hand, which makes you feel smart and still gives you a strong sense of advancement, without the deadening effect of a level-balancing set-up such as Skyrim's. (Plus, all the equipment looks really cool, and collecting and upgrading Link's outfits is quite compulsive.)
What this all adds up to is superb sandbox game design, free of fiddle or bloat, unencumbered with preconceptions, and executed with the rock-solid reliability, tactile feedback and arcade brio for which Nintendo is justly celebrated. In other words: a total marvel.
In case it isn't clear, this is a very different Legend of Zelda game. Until very recently, Nintendo has made its games in a bubble - not that this was necessarily a bad thing, as its priorities were unique, and its standards were uniquely high, but it seemed quite unconcerned by what other game makers were up to. Zelda, one of the most widely admired, finely honed and carefully iterated designs in gaming, was a bubble within this bubble. Its recurring plots about the hero in green echoed its well-worn, smooth patterns of play: get the boomerang, hookshot and bombs, do the dungeons, save the girl. It was a ritual incantation, a myth that ticked like clockwork.
All that has been either swept aside or remade from first principles. It's hard to overstate the courage and conviction with which producer Eiji Aonuma, director Hidemaro Fujibayashi and their team have rewritten their own work, and the size of the risk Nintendo has taken with a beloved property. Breath of the Wild isn't just the most radical departure from the Zelda tradition in its 30-year history, it's the first Nintendo game that feels like it was made in a world where Half-Life 2, Halo, Grand Theft Auto 3 and Skyrim happened. It's inspired by those greats and others, but it doesn't ape them any more than it rests on its own laurels. And if we're talking inspirations, we have to recognise one game above all others, an uncompromising adventure from 1986 that dared to take gaming off the rails, that put a whole world beyond the TV screen and invited the player to explore it: the original Legend of Zelda.
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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s sheer freedom and sense of adventure is a remarkable achievement. Right from the start, the vast landscape of Hyrule is thrown completely open to you, and it constantly finds ways to pique your curiosity with mysterious landmarks, complex hidden puzzles, and enemy camps to raid for treasure and weapons. The fact that you can tackle any one of these things at your own pace and almost never get pulled to the main path is liberating, but the way all of Breath of the Wild’s systems fit elegantly into complex light survival game is even more impressive. I’ve been running around for over 50 hours and I still have plenty of mysteries left to track down and lots of wonderfully crafted puzzles to solve. I’m in awe of the scope and scale of this adventure, and I often find myself counting the hours until I can get back in.
The untamed, post-apocalyptic, techno-fantasy land of Hyrule is the main character in Breath of the Wild. Not only is it vast, beautiful, and filled with a diverse set of locations from grassy fields to craggy alpine mountains, but it follows surprisingly realistic rules that let you pull off solutions so intuitive that you might be surprised they actually work. The trees bear fruit, grass fields can be set ablaze, and even enemies and animals behave in a believable manner, based on the skittish and aggressive reactions I’ve seen in the wild. But the realistic touches don’t end there. Each object you encounter, from sticks to apples to rocks and metallic blocks, is made of a material, and those materials usually respond to forces like fire and magnetism as you’d expect.
It all sets up a surprisingly fun and responsive sandbox to interact with, and one I’ve rarely seen executed so well in an action-adventure game. If you think something should work, it usually does, and that led me to all kinds of fun and hilarious experimentation. You can stand under an apple tree with a torch and bake the fruit into a quick-healing snack before you even pick it, or drop a metal sword in front of a weaponless enemy and watch it get fried by a bolt of lighting. Meanwhile, Link needs warmer clothes to survive the cold and flame-resistant gear to near the volcanic Death Mountain. It’s consistently amazing to learn how all of these systems interact with each other while you play.
That paraglider is easily one of the most useful tools in Breath of the Wild because it's so versatile. You can use it to effortlessly glide across lakes and gaps or ride updrafts into new areas, and I often used each long trip across the map as a way to scan the marvelously lit horizon in search of clues or meditate on what I need to do next.
From overhead you get a glimpse of what’s even more evident from the ground: each individual area has its own little ecology, and systems built around extreme hot and cold temperatures and high altitudes mean you have to take the time to think and prepare in order to travel safely through them. It doesn’t matter, for example, if you can glide into the chilly mountains if you’ll freeze to death before you hit the ground. Going in with the right equipment makes all the difference.
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As you continue to improve Link’s stamina meter and skills you can reach even more of these varied locations. But no matter how much stronger you get, the world and its resident Mother Nature is always more powerful than you will ever be. Random events like rain and thunderstorms slow down your movement across slick surfaces, and dangerous lightning bolts can strike with little warning if you’re wearing any metal. Additionally, the day/night cycle is constantly running, and makes meaningful differences: nighttime brings monsters that spring up from the ground, it's easier to spot some useful bugs and plants, and other secrets that are best discovered for yourself. These are all constant reminders that you are always at the mercy of the world itself.Yet there are still pockets of serenity and beauty spread throughout the gorgeous, tantalizing landscape. In these moments, subtle music queues matched the tempo of my adventure, swaying between playful piano melodies and ambient sounds of wildlife. In the foreground, Breath of the Wild’s anime-inspired art style is colorful, remarkably lively, and beautifully animated, but it comes at the cost of brief framerate hiccups and object pop-in that’s most noticeable when you’re playing the Switch in TV mode, where it renders at 900p, and when there are a lot of physics particle effects flying around the screen. The issues are less frequent playing on in portable mode on the 720p screen, but regardless of where I played the performance problems never significantly soured my gameplay. Performance on the Wii U version is roughly the same as the Switch, although it's important to note it renders at 720p. This makes the jaggies a little more visible and lighting appear slightly different. Otherwise, it looks good on Wii U.
The art of cooking is a relatively small feature, but like Breath of the Wild’s other components, every piece of this sandbox feels meticulously thought out, and almost every action has a natural consequence that makes sense.
Just the Right Tools
Breath of the Wild’s skillful combat is as approachable as it is deep, but you’ll need to study its nuances if you want to survive in the late game. Link can still use swords, spears, and axes (as well as other amusing blunt objects) he finds in the world, but for the first time in the Zelda series they’ll wear down and eventually break from use, which fits perfectly with the survival angle. Especially in the early game, when most item durability is low, you’re constantly swapping out weapons, never getting too attached to one sword or hammer and always ready to improvise by, say, picking up a bony limb of a downed Stal Bokoblin and using it to finish off the last of a group of enemies.
Archery plays a much bigger role in combat this time around, and it’s for the better. Link can quickly pull out his bow and take aim at enemies at any time, using a wide range of arrow types (like ice and fire) to take advantage of their weaknesses. The metallic ping you hear whenever you land a headshot is an immediately satisfying treat, as are the slow-motion attacks initiated by jumping off of high places and drawing your bow as you fall toward a batch of enemies below. Since the duration of this arrow-time effect is dictated by your stamina, early on it feels like you rarely have a huge advantage. A few stamina upgrades will buy you more time, but the stronger enemies you’ll face on the outer fringes of Hyrule can usually withstand several headshots, which brings it back into balance.
The way you can work the glider into combat is equally impressive and it makes for some engagingly versatile, skill-based action. Link can glide in, let go of the glider, and go into slow motion to fire off a few headshots, then grab hold of the glider again only to fall and downward-stab another unsuspecting enemy. The combat is open enough that it inspires more of the same playful experimentation as the world itself.
On the other hand, dungeon bosses are challenging face-offs you can’t run away from. They’re as big on spectacle as ever, and my favorite ones involve ingenious combat puzzles where you need to use your Shekiah Slate, a powerful tool given to you early on that gives you special abilities like magnetising metal objects or creating bombs, to weaken the boss before you can take it down.
The Sheikah Slate is a major piece of the main quest, which puts Link on a journey to reclaim his memories of Princess Zelda after an apocalyptic event left Hyrule in ruins. It took me roughly 40 hours to slay the final boss and piece together what happened 100 years ago. While most Zelda games are rooted in heavy tradition, this coming-of-age story is anything but and has plenty of charming characters and surprises to reveal. It’s amazing that it works so well while letting you tackle its dungeons in any order you want.
Puzzle shrines yield their own useful rewards in the form of materials and handy weapon upgrades. These shrines involve short, inventive puzzle rooms which present you with a few clues and leave your to experiment in order to solve them. There’s a wide variety of them and a majority are excellent little puzzles to figure out, but a few of the combat-focused challenges are repeated and another handful use motion controls that just don’t feel quite as sharp enough due to wonky physics.
There are even more cryptic challenges throughout Hyrule, some hidden behind riddles, and others are large mazes or other inventive ideas. Even after 50 hours, I still can’t believe I haven’t seen almost everything, but the surprises keep on coming. I estimate it would take over 100 hours to solve every side quest, puzzle, and collectible. It is a truly massive game to tackle.
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The Legend of Zelda has always been been a misnomer, and not only because the franchise’s game has had very little to do with Princess Zelda (or really any women) in any significant way. Since the Nintendo saga’s early 8-bit days, the title has conjured images of grandeur, heroism, and myth—but the reality has always been, in the details, smaller and more intimate.
Instead, the series is best summed up by its second game, Zelda II: The Adventures of Link. It's the title that marks the series' true spiritual birth—and it's the spirit that Nintendo Switch launch title The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild does its best to return to. The lonely journey of a boy without guidance, in a world much larger than he is. He has a friend to save, and a monster to stop. He finds a sword, then a bow, and he takes the rest one step at a time.
A Kingdom—and Formula—Destroyed
About three hours into Breath of the Wild, you receive a paraglider. You've been stuck, up until this point, on a walled-off plateau, hundreds of feet above the rest of the kingdom of Hyrule, which is itself pocked with mountains and chasms. In a land of extreme elevation changes, the paraglider grants freedom, opening up the entire continent to the player. It's a vast, and often desolate place.
The once ascendant kingdom, you learn, has been in disrepair for the past hundred years. Back then, Calamity Ganon---the classic enemy of the series, Ganondorf, reconsidered here as a pollutive, impersonal force of evil---overtook it. Link and Zelda tried to stop it, but they failed: Zelda was magically imprisoned in the castle, and Link was locked in a chamber of resurrection. You play as that Link, the one who died and was reborn, and as you roam over Hyrule's peaceful decay you realize that your job is to save it.
The task of defending this Hyrule is overwhelming. The world Nintendo has built is immense, your objectives scattered over miles and miles of virtual territory. You'll spend most of your time in Breath of the Wild in transit, slowly creeping through the mountains, valleys, volcanoes and wetlands of Hyrule. Wonderfully, the designers largely leave you to it.
Prior 3D Zelda games, beginning with the Nintendo 64's Ocarina of Time, were heavily choreographed experiences. The hand of the designer, instructing the player on how to manage every element of the game, was abidingly visible, usually in the form of vocal companions offering advice and direction over Link's shoulder. In the early days of 3D gaming, this made sense: a digital, three-dimensional space was overwhelming in and of itself, and there wasn't yet an agreed language to communicate meaning elegantly to the audience, forcing the use of heavyhanded narrative propellants.
That approach even blended into the world itself. Over time, the Zelda games evolved to give the player items and tools specifically crafted to open up paths and overcome obstacles in the game world, an approach critic Tevis Thompson called "a giant nest of interconnected locks" and their concordant keys.
For the past 20 years, this has been the order of the day for 3D Zelda games, and as a result they've grown staid, formulaic, and mildly dull. They all have the same scope, the same ambitions, and hit the same story beats. The most successful titles have attempted small, strange experiments in tone (2000's Majora's Mask) or recontextualized the formula in inventive ways (2002's The Wind Waker) but none have bucked the formula entirely.
Breath of the Wild is the long-overdue obliteration of that structure. It has superficial resemblances to its predecessors—scripted moments and familiar plot beats in its vital places—but the body that delivers them could not be more different. It is quiet, beautiful, and remarkably lonely.
Getting Lost in the Wild
What this shift represents, more than anything, seems to be a change in philosophy regarding the series. Let me put it like this: in an interview with WIRED a few months ago, long-time series director who has stepped down to a producer role for Breath of the Wild, said that he used to believe that "making the user get lost was a sin." The role of designer, then, is to be a teacher and a guide, giving the player a controlled tour of a created world.
In Breath of the Wild, I'm lost constantly. The world is too large, too dense, and much of it is unknown until I get there. I climb trees and mountains to get a sense of perspective, tracing paths in the distance. If Ocarina of Time and its ilk are guided safaris, Breath of the Wild is more like cartography. There are familiar challenges in the form of puzzle-heavy shrines and climactic encounters, small dungeons and large bosses, but they're largely secondary to the tasks of exploration and survival.
In an important way, this is a move toward recapturing what was so special about the first The Legend of Zelda, released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1986. That game was all about getting lost. There was no direction, no exposition, and you could even miss picking up a sword if you weren't careful. Its power was in immediacy and solitude, the sense that had to find your way amidst great hardship. This was one of the most profound pleasures of many old games. Technological limitations made it impossible to craft believable AI companions, and so you spent much of your time alone. There's a sweetly anxious joy to that loneliness. In emulating and modernizing that approach, Breath of the Wild gives me that pleasure in a way I haven't felt in a long time.
The price this new Zelda pays for that joy is a clumsiness in design and motion. Make no mistake, the world is beautiful, with subtle sound design and better physics. Your abilities are broader and more interesting, and instead of serving to open gates in a closed-off world they give you expressive power over it. Bombs don't exist here to knock down walls, but to mine rocks for minerals and generate fire. But the task of controlling Link through this vision of Hyrule has a wildness to it all its own. There's almost too much you can do, too many interactions mapped to too few buttons, constrained slightly by the just-a-little-too-small JoyCon controllers of the Switch. Link is a little unsteady, the task of combat feeling more hectic and less elegant than it has in the past. Your weapons are unbelievably fragile, and they break too often. Link is presented as a seasoned, preternaturally talented warrior—but instead he feels inexperienced and young.
Those frustrations are meaningful, but still feel minor in the broader scope of what The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is accomplishing. Because Eiji Aonuma was wrong for all those years. Forcing the player to get lost isn't a sin. In fact, it can be a triumph. Getting lost forces you to build connections with the world, to try to understand it. Losing your way is a universal human experience, and it's not without its pleasures. When we're finding our way, we can be surprised or frightened. We can find things we weren't even looking for.
I haven't finished Breath of the Wild yet. It's scale is unprecedented for a Zelda game, and it encourages you to move slowly. I want to honor that. And while I fear that the sheer breadth of the experience might ultimately push some players away, I'm relishing my time spent in this hushed, half-dead Hyrule. After thirty years of The Legend of Zelda, I'm delighted that the series has finally lost its way again.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
First of all I actually played this game from start to finish on Nintendo Switch. So I believe I can say something that makes sense. I'm not aFirst of all I actually played this game from start to finish on Nintendo Switch. So I believe I can say something that makes sense. I'm not a fan of open world games. I had the Witcher 3 on ps4 and I sold it after playing it for a few hours. So I was scared to start this new Zelda game. But all my fears were not needed. It has a huge map for sure and it has good variety of dense and open spaces. Some people will dislike the open spaces but I love them, The world looks beautiful but the game suffers from some frame rate issues. It's not a huge deal in my opinion but it is noticeable when playing docked. Also the textures, especially on some rocks, look kinda stretched. But I have to say that these 'flaws' don't take anything away from the experience and for me, the experience, is the most important thing.
This is a real Zelda game. It has an amazing story, awesome music, memorable characters, collectibles and you have more freedom than ever before. This game has a user score of 7,6 as of March 6 and That's far too low for this game. The hate and disbelieve is pathetic in every way. Haters gonna hate of course, but believe me when I say that this game is worth your time. JUST HAVE FUN!…Expand
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