Review | The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)
It can be a real challenge for Nintendo to develop the latest Legend of Zelda title. A series so beloved by fans worldwide has a reputation to live up to, and it isn’t easy to reach expectations of all those fans. Even while trying to live up to expectations, sometimes Nintendo still wants to innovate and progress the series to new heights. It happened before with games like A Link Between Worlds, and even before that with Ocarina of Time. Who would have guessed that going back to the roots of the original The Legend of Zelda would have helped to create the magnificent world of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Breath of the Wild may not take all of its inspiration from the original title in the series, but it acts like a celebration of the entire series as a whole. Many fan favorite staples make an appearance with sprinkles of new elements as well. There are dozens of character name references, tons of familiar items, iconic races, and more than enough lore to add extra depth to the mythos of the franchise as a whole. The series does away with tradition in many ways as well, venturing into new territory that it has never seen before.
Obviously, the open world aspect is a huge change, taking a cue from A Link Between Worlds and allowing players to explore however they choose, but also allowing them to finish the game however they choose. Breath of the Wild is a game about choice, and it embraces that element so much that it makes it truly feel like your own personal story of saving Hyrule. It breaks a lot of the rules and gives way to tons of new possibilities in the series.
Without spoiling too much of the story, the basic premise is that Link, the hero of the game, has been asleep for one-hundred years. Waking up in a shrine, he obtains the Sheikah Slate, a mysterious item that only a chosen few are able to understand, all while an unknown voice drives him to move forward. Within a short amount of time, he is brought to the realization that he is a champion of Hyrule. Years ago, he and other champions were given the task to put an end to the Calamity Ganon, an ancient curse that remains sealed in Hyrule Castle. The Calamity Ganon’s influence has spread across the land, affecting ancient guardians, including what are known as the Divine Beasts, putting several obstacles in Link’s way. Link must regain his strength and memories to take back the land of Hyrule, and do what he must to protect it.
From the start, the player is given quite a lot of context as to what Link has to do, but how he sets off and does it is almost entirely up to the player. Whether taking a thorough route to gain every tool at Link’s disposal, or rushing straight to the final boss in nothing but underwear, the player is able to take on this quest with complete freedom. Not only is the structure of the plot open to choice, but so is the land overall.
Many elements allow players to use the rules of the game and find their own way to reach their goal. Part of this is giving Link the ability to climb practically any surface. Combine this with the paraglider, and suddenly the world is your oyster. Now, even though Link has this amazing ability, he still runs off stamina. There are limits in place, but there are ways to get around those limits using prepared meals and elixirs. How the player decides to tackle a situation is entirely up to them.
Players are encouraged to think outside the box, using the various tools in ways that aren’t even explained to them. As Link starts in the Great Plateau, he is quickly granted access to the major tools in the game, runes. Remote Bomb is pretty self-explanatory, a variation of a common item in the franchise. Players can use round or cube shaped bombs to damage enemies, destroy objects, or even use them as remote triggers to solve puzzles. Magnesis allows players to lift and move metal objects while Cryonis allows them to create ice pillars on any body of water. Finally, Stasis, the true game changer, allows players to make the physics their toy by stopping time on an object, allowing the player to apply extra force to it. Using these runes grant tons of possibilities, many of which are still being discovered nearly a month after release.
Speaking of discoveries, Breath of the Wild is full of so many details that many would likely miss. From random characters that show up at the right place at the right time to the complex behaviors of the enemy AI, this game is truly well thought out. These little details continuously stack up to show all the charm put into the world. A good example is the way certain food ingredients behave, as dropping meat on the volcanic Death Mountain will roast the meat, or even dropping eggs in hot springs to make them hard-boiled. Meat dropped in cold areas will freeze it and even offer heat resistance as a bonus.
The change of temperature itself is a great added detail, as not only will Link act differently, but so will many objects depending on the current climate and weather. Items can get blown away by the wind, volcanic temperatures can make bomb arrows explode, and lightning will strike anything metal. The various environments often call for a change in wardrobe or the use of special elixirs to survive the elements as well, which brings on a great survival element. Players really have to pay attention to these changes, adding a great sense of adaptability to the gameplay.
Survival is a vital aspect of Breath of the Wild, as the grass and pots no longer drop hearts to regain health. Link will have to collect ingredients and cook meals to survive in the wilderness of Hyrule, allowing not just health replenishment, but other bonuses like added stealth, elemental resistance, speed boosts, and more. Other aspects of survival relate to the weather, as certain weather changes can determine how powerful elemental weapons are. Take fire based weapons for example, as sunny days can lead to lots of fires that spread on dry grass, burning enemies, creating updrafts of wind, and more.
Combat overall has lots of little quirks, as enemies have a large variety of attack patterns, even with multiple tactics with each weapon type. Both Link and his opponents have to utilize their surroundings and tools, as this is still a game of survival. The classic Z-targeting is still a staple, but now there are new elements like the flurry rush, a barrage of attacks that Link can perform when dodging an enemy at just the right moment. There is also the shield deflect ability, which if timed right, can send an enemy projectile right back at them, creating a very satisfying sense of accomplishment.
Players have to be careful when using two-handed weapons, which sacrifice shields for longer reach or more powerful attacks. Link can utilize a number of bows and special arrows as well, using either the right analog stick or the motion controls to aim freely. Overall, combat in Breath of the Wild feels familiar, but advanced at the same time. Just the amount of weapon options alone make this entry stand out in the combat department.
Getting to the Divine Beasts, the Ganon controlled constructs that were once piloted by other champions of Hyrule, they act as the dungeons of the game. While they have their own formulaic pattern, they act as a sort of combat/puzzle/combat sandwich. Usually, entering a Divine Beast requires a challenge where players have to weaken it by navigating on the outside of it. Upon entering the divine beast, players must use the map to control the beast, solving puzzles to access terminals. Once all the terminals are activated, players can fight the boss of the divine beast, and regain control.
While it is unfortunate that the interior of these dungeons feels more or less the same, unlike the many themed dungeons of past titles, it does get points for being almost entirely puzzle based. It feels like a real challenge of the mind to be able to figure out the exact position the divine beast has to be in for a puzzle to work. Straying away from the item-centric setup is also a nice breath of fresh air. The bosses themselves feel a little uninspired, as they all have a similar look aesthetically, though at least their fights are entirely unique, and they make sense with the plot.
The Divine Beasts overall are fun, being short and sweet, though it’s unfortunate there are only four of them. Luckily, this is easy to forgive when the world is riddled with shrines, acting as smaller dungeons. Almost all the shrines have a unique puzzle or challenge as well. The shrines work sort of like the heart pieces of the game, as players enter a shrine, complete the challenge, and then gain a spirit orb that can be redeemed for a heart container once four are obtained. They can also be used to redeem for an extension to the stamina wheel, again giving players a choice of how they want to focus on their version of Link.
Shrines also act as fast travel points in the game, and having over 100 of them, this can be very useful to travel across the incredibly large map of Hyrule. Filling in the map is just another adventure in itself, as Link can discover new areas, big and small, complete with the ability to mark secrets and warnings with the useful stamp feature. Sometimes it can be an experience to just climb the tallest mountain and take in the view… at least when rain isn’t involved. Even when just exploring, it helps to discover more secrets using these methods.
Some of the issues some might have with the game are the certain inconveniences that one may run into. Rainfall tends to be a common complaint among players, though it does add an extra element of challenge. Weapons run off a durability system, similar to the Dead Rising series, as items will eventually break during combat. This didn’t bother me so much, as weapons are plentiful, and I often found myself running out of inventory space, hoping an item would break so I would have a reason to pick up a cool new replacement. It always feels like such a waste when coming across a Royal Shield, only for your shield inventory to be full of already strong shields that just don’t seem to break fast enough.
There are a couple key stealth missions that have also rubbed players the wrong way. Only one in particular is required for the plot, and it was clearly intentional to make it a frustrating challenge for players to be stuck on. While it succeeds in frustration, the added difficulty was pretty welcome considering how many moments are overly forgiving. One more feature worth mentioning is the motion control puzzles. While many have struggled with them, they aren’t impossible to solve, and some even have multiple solutions. This is due to the game encouraging thinking outside the box, and none of them are required to finish the game.
Perhaps the biggest complaint I had in my experience was the amount of repeated dialogue sequences with NPCs. This was most noticeable when redeeming large amounts of collectibles or rupees to reach multiple goals in one go. While the characters can be charming to talk to from time to time, it can grow pretty dull when all you want to do is cut to the chase and skip all the dialogue. Granted some cutscenes can be skipped, it can still take a lot of time to do something simple like increase your inventory. Despite these flaws, they don’t ruin the overall experience and magic of the title.
The sounds and music of Breath of the Wild is full of quite a bit of variety. Nature sounds sometimes take center stage as some of the most relaxing moments can be in a tranquil forest. Classic songs like Epona’s Song in Ocarina of Time, or the theme of Dragon Roost Island from The Wind Waker also have beautiful remixes. Plenty of new music can be heard as well as there is a new orchestral track to fire up players. The music itself also shows cultural diversity, as many songs vary in inspiration from various cultures. The sound and music overall lives up to franchise standards, creating a strong sense of adventure, charm, and in some cases, mystery.
Perhaps the biggest departure when it comes to sound however, is the inclusion of voice acting. Though Link himself sticks to the traditional grunts and yells, many of the key characters have a distinctive voice in many of the major plot points of the game. Some might stick their nose up at the quality of the voices, though I didn’t have much of a problem with them. The voices could have been far worse, and honestly, having little to compare to, the actors did a fine job with their performances, fitting the franchise fairly well. Some of the voices can sound a little corny, but it simply added to some of the charm as they provided more quirks to the personalities that Link will meet in this vast world.
When it comes down to it, Breath of the Wild excels in giving the players more to explore. Every time I boot up the game, I discover new areas, characters, puzzles, etc. The sheer scale of the game and the amount of interactive content within is a real testament to game design in general. The developers at Nintendo deserve plenty of praise for the amount of smart design choices to fill this world. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a true masterpiece, and while it isn’t perfect, it sets an incredibly high bar for not just the franchise, but gaming as a whole.
Final Score: 10 out of 10