Nintendo was going full force (Triforce?) with their newest entry in the Legend of Zelda franchise at E3 this year, and they didn’t disappoint. Packing in over 140 demo stations of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it was easily one of the biggest attractions at E3 2016 as the line surrounded Nintendo’s giant booth, fans wanting to get into the line all throughout the show. Upon entering the booth, visitors were greeted to an extended trailer for the game, showing off new abilities and features like cutting down trees, special weapon strikes, clothing options, and lots of climbing.
Being lead through Nintendo’s Hyrule inspired booth, they presented the game in a two part demo. The first one was a demo that gave players several items to start with and placed them in the middle of The Great Plateau, just a small part of the new overworld of Hyrule. Starting at a campfire, players can take any route they wish and do what they want for roughly 15 minutes. This meant that just about every single demo for the game played differently based on the choices of the player, and that seems to be an intention of the new game too.
Players are encouraged to explore and roam across the large landscape, searching for enemies to battle, items to collect, and ruins to discover. The stamina gauge introduced in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword returns, and this time, it means a lot more to the overall gameplay. Battles, climbing, swimming, running, and more will use the stamina bar and properly maintaining it will help Link to survive this new Hyrule. Speaking of survival, that is the other key to this new game, as the tradition of cutting grass and breaking pots for hearts is now gone, and Link will have to survive with new ways like cooking food and wearing different clothes based on the climate.
Weapons now have a set durability and can break through continued use, so it’s wise for players to pick up weapons and items from disarmed or fallen enemies to keep a good inventory available. Weapons can also be thrown, breaking upon impact of an enemy. Runes can be collected throughout the game to give Link access to special items, in the case of the demo, there were round bombs or square bombs to use. These were unlimited in supply, but had a cooldown period before being able to use them again. They could be used to damage enemies, solve puzzles, or uncover hidden areas, which should be familiar for fans of the series at least.
Other new additions include Amiibo integration, as players with the Wolf Link Amiibo would be able to use the progress they had from the Cave of Shadows in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, and save it to their Wolf Link Amiibo with the amount of hearts they had in the dungeon. The hearts are then transferred to Wolf Link as he is called forth in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which is an interesting and unique way to use Amiibo. The Nintendo rep was kind enough to use the Wolf Link Amiibo in our demo and summon the companion to explore the land with us. When asked if the Amiibo would display the Amiibo name in the game, the Nintendo rep was unsure, but he did say it was a great question, as it would be nice to know that our Wolf Link could be named as our canine companion for the new game. For now though, we were happy to take “Wolf Link” with us through our journey.
We had to take a moment to admire the beautiful cel-shaded visuals, mixing styles of previous games like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and in some ways, even The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Distant areas are desaturated to show they are far away and nearby areas are bright and bold. Colors are incredibly vibrant throughout and interactive items sparkle to make it so it’s easily distinguishable from the environment, which is actually a good amount of items. The day and night cycle seems more natural and the game even added weather effects to make the environment feel that much more alive.
The demo at E3 was clearly full of secrets to discover, as a canyon area had high winds and a large group of Bokoblins guarding it. Upon defeating them and uncovering their treasure, we gained access to the Fire Rod, an item that launched bouncing fire balls, setting grass and enemies ablaze with ease. The Nintendo rep that was with us was actually surprised that we found it, as he had yet to see someone go the path we took. This just goes to show that the game offers plenty of new ways to experience this franchise in ways never seen before.
Going along the path, we did end up coming across a field full of boulders as suddenly, we were attacked by a giant rock monster called the Steppe Talus. With a large health bar crossing the screen, it seemed like this boss was probably too much to handle for having only three hearts of health in the demo. The Fire Rod seemed ineffective against this monster made of stone, confirming that certain weapons are more effective than others against enemies, and it seemed that the equipment we had wasn’t going to be effective, so running seemed like the right strategy. Unfortunately, our Wolf Link was still in the fight and as we were being told how to whistle and summon the canine companion back to us, the Steppe Talus hurled a large boulder at Link, causing him to writhe around on the ground in an animation that expressed just how much pain he was in.
That’s one of the more interesting things about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, as Link’s animations are incredibly charming, bringing back some of that Wind Waker magic despite the more realistic proportions. If Link is in the cold, he will shiver and hold himself until he warms up with thicker clothes. If he has no weapon equipped, trying to draw a weapon will play the animation, only for him to realize there is nothing to grab, and he’ll look at his hand with a shocked expression. It’s minor details like this that show just how much care Nintendo put into the presentation of this game.
As our free-roaming demo ended, we were placed in the 20 minute story demo, placing us at the beginning of the game. The story is still incredibly mysterious, but from what can be seen in the demo, this entry in the franchise takes place much later in the continuity, perhaps even more than any other game in the series. The logo shows a rusted Master Sword and Hyrule is a vast wasteland of overgrown fauna and wildlife. Even the narrative hints that this game takes place far into the future, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
The story starts as a mysterious female voice tells Link to wake up, as Link lies in the Shrine of Resurrection, half naked and confused as to where he is. He is guided to a pedestal that houses the Shiekah Slate, an item that acts as a sort of in-game Wii U Gamepad that utilizes features like the map, a special observation mode, and is even used to gain access to various areas. Upon leaving the first room, Link comes across a pair of treasure chests, the Nintendo rep suggesting we kick one from the side to show that Link actually stubs his toe and grabs his foot in pain when he isn’t wearing any shoes, another nice animation touch. Both chests contained new clothes for Link to equip, both displaying defensive stats to suggest that the game has more statistical properties.
As Link leaves the shrine, the music ramps up and Link runs to the edge of a grassy cliff as he suddenly views the large landscape of Hyrule in a beautiful sight, showing the title of the game in the bottom right corner as the player is given the chance to admire the view. The music in this game is actually very subtle, but very soothing as well, perhaps suggesting the appreciation of nature and the sounds around us. Speaking of sound, that actually plays a part in the gameplay as well, as Link now can sneak up on enemies or wildlife by crouching down, a sound gauge displayed on the bottom of the screen to show how loud Link is as he moves. This comes in handy when trying to hunt various animals for food or even potential collectibles like hightail lizards that can vanish within a split second.
After taking in the view, the camera shifts to a mysterious outdoorsman, making his way back to a campfire. Upon speaking to him, he points to an abandoned temple in the distance, as this temple is the iconic Temple of Time, a reoccurring landmark in various games of the series. It has clearly seen better days as it seems to barely be standing, the entrance blocked off by debris and statues of the Skyward Sword goddess, as well as the new Guardians, placed around it. As the man sends Link on his way, Link has the option to take some roasted apples or other items, making the elderly outdoorsman react with a scolding statement, though seemingly in jest as he lets Link take the items regardless.
Upon wandering out, players might pick up the giant axe cutting deep into a stump, giving Link a heavy two-handed weapon that works much better than the various sticks lying around. The mysterious voice eventually speaks to Link again, directing him to use the Shiekah Slate to check the map for a point he should make his way to. On the way to the waypoint, there will be several Bokoblins with weapons to collect suchas bows and arrows, shields, and even a traveler’s sword. Taking these enemies out makes Link feel a bit more equipped for adventure as he places the Shiekah Slate in a slot on another pedestal to activate the Resurrection Tower, making several other towers sprout up in Hyrule. This tower also reveals the area map and creates a fast travel point for Link to return to should he need it.
Standing on the top of the tower, Link is suddenly told by the voice that he has been asleep for 100 years, waking up in a new time of crisis. His gaze is directed towards what can be assumed to be Hyrule Castle, or what’s left of it as a dark energy emerges from the castle, the voice describing it as a beast that will end the world should it reach its true power. During this moment, the energy takes form and resembles that of the beast Ganon, as one can assume this is one of the incarnations of Ganon, perhaps disembodied as it tries to restore more power.
Guiding Link down the tower, upon reaching the ground, the mysterious old man glides across to speak with you. He asks if you heard something and depending on the players choice, he’ll decide to tell you about the Calamity Ganon, the name of the dark energy above Hyrule Castle. He asks if you intend to go to the castle, and then starts to describe the area as being surrounded by steep cliffs and such, making sure to wave his fancy paraglider in front of you like a carrot on a stick. He offers to give it to you, but only if you recover a treasure from a shrine that popped up at the same time as the towers. Gladly taking on his request, I made my way to the shrine, opening the door and entering, only for the story demo to end.
Nintendo’s demo for the game leaves a lasting impression of beauty and mystery, making the player crave more time with it. It seems intentional, as they want players to see how many experiences can be made with different minds. Seems like Nintendo is really trying to be progressive with the series at this point, and it’s really great to see. Hearing that the final boss can be challenged almost right from the beginning is a huge revelation to show just how much choice the player is given now. With that, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild seems like a huge hit in the making, and it will likely be a top title for most radars when it releases next year for the Nintendo Wii U and the currently named NX.