There’s something to be said about The Legend of Zelda. A franchise that is rooted deep within the halls of video game history. A series that is undeniably celebrated every time a new entry is released, no matter how long it takes for each game to actually be developed. Nintendo has been hard at work on Breath of the Wild for the better part of six years, as it was supposed to be released on the Wii U back in 2014. In fact, the Wii U didn’t even receive a unique Zelda game to call its own, a statement that cannot be said about any other Nintendo console. But during that long development time, Nintendo did something incredible with the way people think about and play Zelda. Breath of the Wild is a complete departure from the way the series has been made since the Super Nintendo days, and is basically a soft reboot (mechanics and gameplay based, not story and lore wise) back to the original Legend of Zelda on the NES. And it just might be one of the greatest video games, and achievements in gaming, to exist in quite some time. Read on for our full review.
Title: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Available On: Nintendo Switch, Wii U
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: March 3, 2017
Copy Purchased for the sake of this review
The story encompassing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is quite interesting, and ultimately placing it within the timeline of the series is proving to be very difficult. The only bit of information we know to be true is that is takes place after Ocarina of Time, but there is evidence in the game for it to fit somewhere in all three timelines that emerged after that game. Though it certainly feels like this may be the Zelda game that is farthest into the future on one of those timelines. As far the actual narrative itself, it is said that 10,000 years ago, a beast known as Calamity Ganon appeared and was subdued by a hero. In the centuries that followed, the land of Hyrule returned to a more medieval state, and began to toy around with technological advancements. They soon learned that Calamity Ganon would eventually reappear though, and 100 years before the start of Breath of the Wild, that is exactly what happened. Princess Zelda and Link traveled around preparing the forces for the ultimate battle and gathering up the support of the Divine Beasts, but ultimately, Calamity Ganon turned the Guardians and Divine Beasts against the Kingdom of Hyrule, causing it to collapse and gravely wounding Link. Thus, he is taken to the Shrine of Resurrection before he succumbed to his injuries, and at the start of the game, reawakens 100 years later.
One of the very first things you’ll notice about Link’s new adventure is that there is minimal hand-holding involved, with little to no direction as to where to go or what to do, aside from small basic main story pings. As soon as you leave the Shrine of Resurrection within the first five minutes of the game, you’ll technically be able to go off in any direction and try your luck at whatever challenges await in that area. You’ll absolutely need to complete the Great Plateau area first, as it serves as a tutorial section for the different mechanics you’ll be performing, as well as unlocking all but one of the Rune powers that Link can do (the last one coming a little later in the game, so don’t worry about missing it in the beginning like I thought I did) and introducing the combat.
And get used to dying. A lot. Breath of the Wild borrows heavily from Dark Souls and Bloodborne in terms that you’re going to spend plenty of time being dead and reloading. Thankfully, it doesn’t punish you for dying multiple times, as there’s no souls or anything that you could possibly be losing by continuing to die. You’ll get a “Game Over” screen, and be allowed to continue or head back to the title screen. Selecting continue just puts Link back a few minutes to the last time the game auto-saved, which is fairly often. Every couple minutes, in fact. You can also manually save anytime you like by going into the options menu and saving from anywhere in the world, which is really nice. It’s a really good idea to save often, as the difficulty is much higher than Legend of Zelda fans are typically used to.
One of the biggest changes to get used to and adapt to is the weapon durability system and combat style. There are multiple weapon types found within the game, such as the basic sword and shield, two handed axes, two handed great swords, bows, scythes, spears, daggers, and more. The weapon system and combat is very much reminiscent of FromSoftware’s offerings, just like the difficulty. Weapons have a certain amount of times they can be used against enemies and the environment before they become damaged, and ultimately end up shattering. Shields can also be broken, and your bows can become destroyed too. Therefore, almost all weapons you find will only serve you for a short amount of time. The Master Sword is the only weapon where you won’t have to worry about the durability, but finding it is going to take some time. It’s in your favor to always have an assortment of weapons in your inventory, as switching between them and utilizing the correct weapon in the right situation will benefit you more than just sticking to one weapon type. Combat has also changed a bit, with dodging and perfect guarding playing a key role, especially during boss fights and with tougher enemies. Performing a backflip at the very last second before an enemy attacks will slow down time, allowing Link to rush in and do a flurry of attacks before the enemy has a chance to recover. You want to be very mobile, as getting hit by attacks is extremely punishing in Breath of the Wild. It’s definitely a fun system though.
There are a number of unique mechanics that expand Link’s versatility, offering even more ways to explore Hyrule and open up the map. Virtually everything can be climbed, so long as you have enough stamina to either make it to the top or to a ledge along the way. Getting to high ground is important, as it’ll allow you to survey the land and find other Sheikah Towers and Shrines, but more on those in a little bit. Once you’re high up in the air, you can also jump off and use the paraglider to glide around and toward your next objective, but again, you’ll need enough stamina to either make it to solid ground again, or utilize a combination of free-falling and gliding to eventually reach the bottom. Link can also use a shield to snowboard and slide down mountainous terrain, but keep in mind this does damage your shield the more often you do it. Cooking makes an appearance in Breath of the Wild, as Link gathers materials all over the place, which can be used at campfires to create meals and elixirs for him to eat and drink. Eating is how you’ll restore hearts in the game, and you’ll want to cook often, as doing so provides more benefits and greater healing potential than just consuming the raw materials. You won’t find little hearts in pots, by cutting grass, or dropping off enemies anymore though… healing is all done by food.
In order to craft those meals and elixirs, or sell off stuff to vendors, you’re going to need to go on a bit of resource gathering. Unlike in previous open world games where gathering materials and key ingredients felt like a chore, it feels so good in Breath of the Wild. I normally am not a fan of the grind involved when it comes to this aspect of gaming, but there’s just something about it here that doesn’t bother me in the slightest bit. Perhaps it has a lot to do with just how good the game and mechanics surrounding the farming of materials are that makes it bearable. You’ll easily find the stuff needed to craft almost any type of meal or elixir by simply moving from one area to the next. Be sure to pick up as much as you can, as almost everything serves a purpose and will come in handy at some point throughout your adventure.
Spread out evenly throughout the land of Hyrule are little Shrines that can be completed in anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes depending on the complexity of the design or the puzzles involved inside. Make no mistake, you’ll be spending a lot of time seeking out and running through these Shrines. Thankfully, they are all quite enjoyable, and offer just enough of a challenge to keep it interesting from one to the next. Some are even hidden behind certain side quests or puzzles in the world themselves. In all, there are over 100 Shrines available in Breath of the Wild, with the final count being somewhere around 120 or so, offering up hours upon hours of additional gameplay aside from the main story. Doing each one will offer a Spirit Orb as a reward, and it’s these that Link uses at Goddess Statues to upgrade stamina and health. It takes 4 Spirit Orbs to either obtain an additional heart container or piece of stamina. Working on both evenly is typically the way to go so you don’t get stuck in any one particular area, but without spoiling anything, I will mention that you’ll want to eventually focus a bit more on the heart container upgrades as you progress through the story. There will come a point in time where you’ll be asked to have a set amount of hearts, but that’s all the information I’m going to divulge!
Traditional Legend of Zelda dungeons are back… sort of. Gone are the days of the formula where you travel to the first dungeon, find an item, use that item in the dungeon to proceed, then move on to the next. Since you’ll have access to the Runes you need right within the first hour of the game, you can technically go to either of the dungeons at any time. In Breath of the Wild, there are four major dungeons, known as Divine Beasts, and then the final setting of the story is also a dungeon. But you’ll need to wipe your memory of what a Zelda dungeon should be. These Divine Beasts are being controlled by Calamity Ganon, and it’s up to Link to free them and turn them back into allies. To do this, you’ll have to first subdue each one (with the help of the other races in Hyrule) before entering them. Once inside, you have to solve puzzles, defeat enemies, and explore in order to find five terminals that will allow access to the main control unit of the Beast. Activating the control unit will summon the boss for that particular dungeon, and then after that it’s over. All in all, these dungeons will take roughly an hour to two hours to complete individually.
Besides the Shrines and Dungeons, there are a plethora of other activities to partake in. Each individual zone has a number of side quests that you can seek out and do, some providing extremely useful rewards like different sets of armor, while others provide monetary rewards like rupees and ore that can be sold to vendors for a nice amount of rupees. Certain Shrines are locked behind different side quests, so they are worth seeking out if you’re aiming to do as many Shrines as possible. Koroks are back in Breath of the Wild, and there are hundreds of them. 900 in fact. They are all hard to find and hidden throughout the land, with some of the ways to find them being to solve an area puzzle, pick up rocks and find one underneath, jump into a body of water and land through a ring of lily pads, etc. Once found, they provide Link with a Korok Seed, and these can be turned in to slowly increase the space within your inventory for weapons, shields, and bows. There are also fun little mini-games to find, like bowling in the snow and purchasing a house for Link and upgrading it with additional furniture and features. Completionists will have an absolute field day with this game, as shooting for the 100% completion rate will take hundreds of hours.
The Sheikah Slate is what Link discovers upon first waking up in the Shrine of Resurrection. This tablet allows him to interact with various Guardian Stones found all throughout Hyrule, and is the main component for the gameplay, in which you’ll be using this thing almost constantly. All of your Rune abilities are attached to the Sheikah Slate as well, you’ll use it as the map, to solve dungeons, to unlock Shrines. Funnily enough, it closely resembles the Wii U Gamepad, which is a clear indicator that this game was originally meant to be an exclusive to that console until the development time took much longer than the team realized it was going to.
But it took a while for good reason. Hyrule is gigantic in Breath of the Wild. Each zone feels like it could have encompassed the entirety of previous entries in the series, and the fact that this game is so vertical with the climbing mechanics just adds to the depth of each zone and how large the world truly is. Luckily, fast traveling exists and is quite simple to use. Once you have discovered a location that can be used for fast travel (such as Shrines, Towers, Dungeons, and Research Centers), you just need to open up your map and select where you want to go. Quick and easy. No item or crafting is required for it whatsoever, which is nice. Horses are back too for help getting across vast open landscapes, but instead of just being given Epona like in previous games, Link must physically go out and find a horse in the wild, tame it, and bring it back to a stable in order to register it and call it with a whistle whenever it’s needed. It definitely is a bit different than what we are used to, but it works surprisingly well. Epona is still in the game, too, she’s just unfortunately locked behind an Amiibo.
There are a lot of comparisons to draw between what Nintendo is doing here and what Ubisoft has been doing for years in games like Assassin’s Creed. This is a much better formula that the Ubisoft model, even if it is a refined one. Link will still need to travel from area to area on the world map, and you unlock each portion of the world map by scaling a Sheikah Tower. Once at the top, simply inserting the Sheikah Slate into the Guidance Stone will unlock all of the details for that particular zone. But that’s it. It doesn’t then lay out all of the Korok Seed locations, or the locations of the Shrines, or anything of the sort that we became accustomed to in Assassin’s Creed and similar games like The Witcher 3. You never feel forced to go out and do side quests or seek out the collectibles that are hidden. Had Nintendo littered the map with useless information and waypoints to all of the stuff you can find by exploring, it would have felt more forced and not as fun as opposed to just simply wandering from one area to the next, stumbling across interesting mini-stories and lore along the way. Nintendo has seemingly perfected the open world model, and I sincerely hope others take notice and copy it.
Let’s discuss briefly some technical aspects behind it all. For the first time ever in a mainline game, The Legend of Zelda is using voice acting for cutscenes and key moments of the story. Not everything is voiced, and I honestly prefer it that way, but the voice acting that is present is a step in the right direction for Nintendo and where their games need to go in the future. The actors and actresses they grabbed to represent important characters in the story feel sort of out of place, but this is to be expected when a franchise that has traditionally had silent characters suddenly enters the realm of voice acting. I personally am hopeful that this is a sign that Nintendo is going to continue exploring voice acting for future installments of Zelda, as well as some of their other games where it would make sense to have it.
The graphics look really nice running in docked mode on the Nintendo Switch. They also look superb when running in portable mode on the tablet screen. Even though it’s outputting at 720p in handheld mode, it looks gorgeous since it’s a much smaller screen than a standard TV. There were a few hiccups that I encountered in terms of textures, but nothing major that really diminishes the experience of the game. And the soundtrack. It’s magical. Offering a fresh take to the series, and remixing popular Legend of Zelda songs to something fresh and with a more Asian feel to them, it was very pleasurable to the ears. For comparison sake, some of the tunes felt like they could easily fit in with the Mists of Pandaria expansion from World of Warcraft, which is quite the compliment indeed. I will say though, I did miss some of the older and more timeless pieces that are usually present in a Zelda game, but thankfully the new tracks were delightful enough to keep me smiling and my head nodding whenever one was playing.
I’d be remiss to not mention the framerate issues plaguing Breath of the Wild though. While it doesn’t happen all the time, it is frequent enough that it’s noticeable and should have been addressed one way or another. Whether that means lowering the resolution a bit to keep the framerate steady, I’m not sure. But it is something that should have been fixed before the game physically released. The performance seems to really lag behind in lush areas, and when there are multiple animals on screen out in the wilderness. I’m remaining hopeful that Nintendo will correct these issues through a patch sometime in the near future. It speaks volumes though that this is the only negative aspect I found within the game, and it alone is not enough to hold it down from being one of the most well received Legend of Zelda games in history in my opinion.
So here’s the thing that needs to be said after the entirety of this lengthy review and coming off the negativity of the framerate. We got used to The Legend of Zelda as it was and as it has been for thirty years. The previous entries in the franchise can still stand the test of time as some of the greatest games ever conceived. But there hadn’t been a true evolution for the series since Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64. Breath of the Wild is that next step in the evolution and blew open the design of what it means to be a Zelda game, and it feels extremely satisfying. I pray that we aren’t in for another six years before the next game, but even if we are, there’s a ton of content here to hold fans over for a long, long time. Hands down, this is one of the best games ever made. Bravo Nintendo, bravo.