On the night before March 3rd, the excitement across the world seemed palpable. It had been just over five years since the divisive Skyward Sword came out for the Nintendo Wii. In 2013 Nintendo announced an ambitious new Zelda game would be coming. Initially slated to release as a Wii U exclusive in 2015, the game suffered not one, but two delays before eventually finding itself as the flag bearer for Nintendo’s newest invention – the Switch. After four years of incredible build, heart-breaking delays and the failure of an entire console generation, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was finally due to arrive, with the expectations of an entire company on its back.
The entire plan of Nintendo’s home-handheld console hybrid was built around the newest Zelda instalment. The fate of not only the Switch relied heavily on the games success, but it also placed Nintendo in a curious position, like that of which Sega found themselves in with the DreamCast. It means that Zelda had to be a hit and it had to hit hard. It will never move a console in the same way a new Mario game would, so the pressure was on for Nintendo to give us something we never thought anyone could produce.
So, the day comes and we boot it up – at this point I think it is fair to say the hype levels have been fuelled to an unfathomably high standard. Breath of the Wild was being touted as one of the greatest games ever created long before anyone had ever had the chance to play it. I guess my initial worry upon opening the game was how much it would hold my hand on my journey throughout Hyrule, and if it would be for frustratingly long periods of times. As it turns out, I was thrust into the world with Link with nothing but some rags for clothes, a stick for defence and a strange tablet like device. I was out in the world with no guidance or goal – and it was one of the most wonderful yet daunting feelings I have ever experienced.
I can only speak for myself when I say one of the most incredible things Breath of the Wild does is; create a post-apocalyptic game world with more life to it than most ‘living’ video game worlds. It was an unreal experience and was a genuine holy shit moment in video games. Very early in the game, I recall seeing a tree, a tree full of apples. I harvested some of the luscious fruit hanging low, but found the higher up one difficult to reach. I thought about climbing the tree to reach my target and was pleasantly surprised to find that it worked, efficiently so. From that point on I found myself trotting around the Great Plateau with more apples than Peter Molyneux had broken promises.
After story advancements and some complex shrine conquering skills from yours truly, it was finally time to leave the ‘tutorial’ area. As you paraglide down (in the direction of Central Hyrule, in my case) you are greeted with an overwhelming sense of joy and nostalgia. That moment when you first gaze upon the world around you will instantly become a moment you wish you could forget, just so you could relive it for the first time. It is not a hyperbolic statement when I say no video game in twenty years has made me feel the way I did upon touching down in the main land of Hyrule during Breath of the Wild.
But Breath of the Wild is not a beautiful game without its fair share of storms. I mean that, in a legitimate sense. It was almost terrifying when I first find myself caught between two large mountains, incapable to scale either side due to the Link constantly slipping back down due to the wet surface. At first, my reaction to this was calm. I glanced round, trying to make an intelligent choice of where to direct myself and how to get out of the tropical thunderstorm tormenting Hyrule. My calmness was battered and crushed as a lightning bolt struck down a nearby tree – burning into nothing but flames and ash. My shield and sword started sparking as well, and the sense of dread and panic were very real. I was not sure what to do – the game had such a friendly, inviting setting to begin with, but now I found myself lost during a terrifying storm, in which lightning was destroying everything around me. My panicked state hindered my thought process, causing me to ignore the now chaotic electronic sparks flying off the weaponry on Link’s back. Naturally, the shield and sword exploded and Link was dead. It was the first of many logical deaths that I could not avoid due to my own concept of ‘video game logic’.
The lightning obliterating poor Link and his arsenal of weapons was just one of many great tales I discovered across my journey of Hyrule. It was the little things in Breath of the Wild that came together, almost like tiny pieces of Lego. Those little Lego gaming pieces ultimately joined together to craft a fantastic world overflowing with interesting secrets that made every discovery feel like the greatest thing ever. When it comes to open world, Breath of the Wild succeeds because it doesn’t create a massive world and fill it with filler fetch quests and tedious tales of frying pans. It succeeds because it creates intuitive and enjoyable discoveries and side quests which then come together to craft the great land of Hyrule. The game does a job of not falling into the ‘checklist’ system we see games like Assassin Creed succumb to, and that is a refreshing change to the open world-adventure genre.
The dungeons, despite not being the series’ best, still find themselves to be a monumental task. Although there are not many (four in total), the 120 shrines do nothing but add fun, challenging puzzles and combat tasks to the player’s journey. Each of the four dungeons feels like their own adventure, with each requiring the player to prepare Link for different environments and traversal challenges by making sure they have plenty of certain foods, elixirs, the correct armour and, most importantly, and abundance of weapons ready to take down any foe. When it comes to the journey of tackling each individual dungeon, Fujibayashi really expands on what he started in Skyward Sword – by bringing the dungeons into the real world, which made the entire quest feel so much more alive. One of the best things about Breath of the Wild was how important the dungeons felt in the grand scheme of things. As Link conquered each dungeon, you could really sense Ganon’s grasp on Hyrule Castle weakening as our hero edged closer to saving Princess Zelda.
Surprisingly, I found the new climbing mechanic to be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding additions in Breath of the Wild. It made traversal around the huge world so much more enjoyable, in addition to allowing designers to find fun ways to challenge the player intuition in terms of finding shrines, Korok Seeds and random bosses to take down. It was the discovery of these, at times, well-hidden secrets that pushed the game to the next level – it took Breath of the Wild from being something incredible to being something you could not put down. There seemed to be something of great interest hidden around every corner, placed on every cliff top or crammed in random mountain ledges. There was just always something, the game constantly gave you a reason to explore, and it worked so well. Without the game placing everything on a plate for the player, the reward of discovering your own mysteries gave a much bigger sense of achievement, whilst still giving the player the craving to explore. Nintendo’s most ambitious game was executed flawlessly.
It is hard to summarise The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in a short conclusion. It relights the fire that Ocarina of Time initially lit inside all of us two decades earlier. It is the prime definition of an adventure game, in the sense of; nothing has ever felt this adventurous before. Breath of the Wild gave me such an intense feeling of happiness at times, by allowing me to do the most simplistic of things. I can recall trying to cook some meat. I set up a fire and left the meat to cook next to it. Before long, a dog appeared and ate the meat before it could be fully cooked and we became best friends – happiness caught a glass bottle.
Outside of nostalgia and feeling great about myself whilst playing Breath of the Wild, I ultimately must summarise the games quality in terms of being a complete package. The game is superb – easily Nintendo’s finest since Twilight Princess – but the game does not come without its faults. The frame rate drops can be jarring and the story tries its best but falls into a generic tale of a knight’s quest to save the princess. That’s what the Legend of Zelda is and always will be about, but it would have been a nice change to see Nintendo shaking up that formula just a tiny bit. In terms of the four dungeons, one is excellent, two are decent enough and the fourth is very underwhelming. The key factor being there is only four dungeons, a small amount when compared to previous entries into the franchise.
At the of end it, I highly contemplated how much those negatives really detract from the games overall performance. In honesty – not much at all. The frame rate drops are infrequent enough for them to be a real issue. In terms of the dungeons and the story, I found that Breath of the Wild achieved its incredibly successful adventure tale by allowing the player to do exactly that – adventure. For years, decades even, we had fairies holding our hands and guiding us round Hyrule, telling the story of Link, Zelda and Ganon. This time the story was for us to interpret and for us to write. It allowed Breath of the Wild to show its innovative creativity in a way that most other companies would have neutered their game to keep solid structure for their linear quests. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild takes the best parts of each previous Zelda title, then sprinkles its own unique flavour on top to create a grand adventure every gamer needs to experience.
Final Verdict: 100%