Flatiron Hot! Gamer: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review
Available on: Wii U, Nintendo Switch (version played for this review)
By Max Shapiro
Watch a trailer for the game here.
After two delays, the latest installment in Nintendo’s revered Legend of Zelda series was finally released earlier this year. And because of how long fans had been waiting for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (we first saw it at E3 2014 and had known about its existence since early 2013), it probably had more hype behind it than any Nintendo game of the past 10 years. And that’s what makes the fact that it fully delivers all the more astonishing.
Breath of Wild’s main draw is its absolutely enormous world to explore. For the first time in the series since the original NES title, you can go anywhere at any time, do whatever you want in whatever order you want. Any and all boundaries present in previous Zelda games are nowhere to be seen here. You can climb any mountain, no matter how tall, swim across any body of water, no matter how vast. Here, the world is truly your oyster: if you can see it, you can go there. In fact, the final boss is actually available from the very start—you don’t even have to follow the story. There’s nothing stopping you from waltzing right into Hyrule Castle and taking down Ganon whenever you feel you’re strong enough.
As for the story, it’s a fairly simple one. I won’t spoil anything, but don’t expect the plot in Breath of the Wild to blow your mind with its complexity. It’s also worth noting that this is the first game in the series to feature voice acting during cutscenes (except for Link, who remains his traditional silent-protagonist self). And while it’s nothing Oscar-worthy, it’s passable enough. However, while the narrative is completely serviceable, it was clearly Nintendo’s second priority when developing this game.
Their top priority was creating a masterful, utterly immersive open-world experience that’s unlike anything we’ve seen out of Zelda before. When I first watched Link step into the game’s sprawling world, I was a little intimidated. I had never played a game anywhere close to one of this scale before, but I was surprised at just how quickly I was sucked in. The only real structure Breath of the Wild has is with the first area, the Great Plateau. You can’t leave there until you clear the four shrines and are given a paraglider. But after that point, it’s all up to you. But as massive the world is here, there’s something to see and do at almost every turn. There are seemingly endless amounts of secrets to uncover, collectibles to find, sidequests to fulfill, and enemies to fight. And despite the sheer amount of things to do, almost every task feels unique and incredibly rewarding. It can all get pretty overwhelming, but thankfully the game gives you a very helpful map that lets your mark certain locations and as well as an “Adventure Log” that keeps track of every side quest you choose to take on.
Combat is also as engaging as ever before (though I did find myself missing the motion controls of this title’s predecessor, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword for the Wii, just a little), and due to the huge arsenal of weapons you eventually amass, battles have more variety than ever before, as you’ll need to study the attack patterns of every enemy and decide which weapon will be most effective against each one you fight. Weapons come in three varieties: swords allow for up-close combat, spears have greater distance, and two-handed weapons are slower but pack a greater punch. Not to mention that enemies are far smarter and put up a greater fight compared to previous titles, making battles more difficult but also more rewarding than they’ve ever been.
The recurring theme of Breath of the Wild is the breaking away from the series’ long-standing conventions. Previous Zeldas would give you a sword, a shield and a bow, and you were set. But here, these things have become all but disposable. Throughout the game you’ll pick up loads of different melee weapons, shields and bows from either enemies or hidden chests—and they all break after a certain amount use of use. So if there’s a certain weapon you want to hang on to for as long as possible, you better only use it when necessary and not waste it on weaker enemies that can be taken down with a weaker weapon. This whole system adds a brilliant new layer of strategy to the gameplay, but it’s far from the only shake-up present in here. You’ll also collect various different types of clothing that, when equipped, will grant you bonus abilities like higher attack power, higher defense, cold resistance, heat resistance, and greater movement speed. And and way you amass rupees and restore your health has also been changed. The days of slashing away blades of grass for hearts and rupees are over. Low on hearts? Gather some materials and cook them into meals to heal yourself (certain meals will also temporarily grant you certain bonus abilities). Needs more rupees? Head to a village and find someone to sell those materials to. Both of these elements prove to smart tweaks that inject even more challenge and strategy into an already challenging and strategic game.
In lieu of items like the bombs or the hookshot being obtained from dungeons, you’re given a set of abilities called “runes” almost right from the get-go, of which there are four. You’re once again given bombs, but they’re now in infinite supply and you can choose when to detonate them. The other three abilities are all-new: Magnesis lets you pick up metal objects not matter how large, Cryonis creates ice pillars in bodies of water, and Stasis freezes certain objects in time. The four runes are yet another brilliant new addition that prove to be crucial to puzzle-solving both inside and outside of dungeons.
And speaking of dungeons, they might have received the biggest overhaul of all. Scattered throughout the world are 120 mini-dungeons called “shrines.” Some of them are quite short while others are a bit more elaborate. And aside from a few that utilize clunky motion controls, the all of the puzzles are extremely well-crafted and often mindbending. Finding and clearing these shrines is pretty much crucial because not only are they the only way increasing your maximum hearts and expanding your stamina meter (allowing you to run, climb, and swim for longer amounts of time), but they also act as warp points on your map. This is incredibly helpful given how long it can take to get from one place to another, even on horseback. And then there are the four main dungeons, which work differently compared to past games. The puzzles are now centered around manipulating the structures the dungeons themselves, and while I still enjoyed them, I actually found them to be inferior compared to traditional dungeons. Again they’re by no means bad, but still a little underwhelming coming off the heels of the brilliant dungeons found in Skyward Sword.
But if there’s one department that certainly doesn’t underwhelm, it’s the visuals, because the game simply looks beautiful. It may not be the most realistically-detailed game you’ve ever seen, but Breath of the Wild’s vibrant water-color art style makes it an absolute treat to look at. And while I initially noticed a few framerate drops here and there, an update released a while ago has largely fixed that issue. It’s simply amazing that a game of this sheer scale is still able to look this good.
But no video game, no matter how good, is perfect, and this one no exception. Because of how huge your inventory can get to be, going through everything to find a specific item or material can be a bit of a hassle. Another slightly annoying tick is how the game forces you to manually drop a weapon, shield or bow before picking up a new one if you’re maxed out with that particular item in your inventory. I really wish there was an option to automatically drop the weakest weapon/shield/bow you’ve got when coming across a new one, because the amount of time I’ve spent rummaging through my inventory does add up. But make no mistake, none of these issues come anywhere close to ruining the game and are easy to forgive when you look at how much Breath of the Wild does right.
If I were to go over every single brilliant thing packed into The Legend of Zelda: Breath of Wild, I’d be here forever. But I’ll cut to the chase—this game is one of Nintendo’s finest accomplishments of the past decade and an absolute must-buy for any Nintendo Switch owner. And after sinking lord-knows-how-many hours into Breath of the Wild, I still haven’t seen every single thing it has to offer. In fact, I think I’m gonna go play it now.