For the past decade, the Zelda series has gone through an internal struggle to change the conventions of the franchise. A monumental task for Nintendo as the series foundations have typically serve as strong foundations for excellent games. However, despite the critical acclaim of each new entry I have regularly felt that the series could evolve into so much more. Perhaps for me GREAT is no longer good enough. Once you experienced great a few times, it no longer feels great, it feels… rather average. This is how I have felt about the Zelda series as of late. While the newer entries are incredibly solid, the experience can be simply described as “been there, done that,” despite the admirable efforts to change up the formula.
After a lengthy development cycle, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is finally out for the Nintendo Switch and Wii U. It is a game that promises to turn the conventions of the series upside down while delivering the ultimate Zelda experience.
Has the wait for Breath of the Wild been worth it? Does Breath of the Wild deliver upon it’s promise? Read more to find out.
A Wonderfully Crafted World
The world of Breath of the wild is a landmark achievement in open world design. The level of freedom and seamlessness is outstanding and is a testament to the delicate care that went into crafting the world. Hyrule feels organic, it’s living and breathing, teeming with wildlife, filled with interesting thing to see and places to visit, and is complete with a dynamic weather system. There are no artificial barriers that push you along a linear path, no load times to transition you into a new section, in fact there are very few obstructions that hinder your journey. The only limitation is your own ingenuity and dexterity.
Breath of the Wild provides you with all the key abilities during the first hour of the games in the form of Ruins. Ruins are the sort of items that you would typically expect find in traditial dungeons as you progress deeper into the game and have a number clever utilities. Once you leave the starting area of the game: the Ruins, a few weapons, a bow and the paraglider are all that is necessarily to move towards any direction of your choosing. The game provides you all the tools to succeed, it respects the player to make their own decisions and more importantly to leans from their mistakes. It’s a joyous freedom that very few sandboxes achieve.
Most impressive is the pacing in the breath of the wild. It’s not uncommon to see yourself lost in time, what seems to be an hour could translate into four. The time literally flies while playing Breath of the Wild. It’s one of those games that consumes your every being. The world drives you forward to explore, it tangles the proverbial carrot and you can’t help but follow. There is always something around the corner, whether it be a Shrine or an enemy camp. It’s not over saturated with nic nacs, but there is enough to encourage to you discover every inch of the world. Your efforts are not for nothing, the game consistently rewards you for exploring. Shrines rewards you with Spirit Orbs which can be exchanged for extra hearts and stamina, raiding camps can boost your armory and finding Korok’s will allow you to expand your inventory slots. The more you explore, the stronger Link becomes and it is this that drives me forward. It is this balance between exploration and rewards that makes the game so addictive.
The word is realized by the use of a beautiful art style. Nintendo foregoes past art styles and adopts a new design. It’s reminiscent of the Studio Ghibli films by Hayao Miyazaki, more specifically Princess Mononoke. The anime design gives characters a lively expression and draws out the emotion. Hyrule looks gorgeous and distinct. It may not be technical impressive compared to its modern contemporary counterparts, but that doesn’t take away it from it’s beauty.
Survival Of The Fittest
Perhaps, the biggest adjustment to be made for longtime fans of the series is how brutally challenging Breath of the Wild is, especially compared to the contemporary Zelda titles. If you are expecting a cakewalk, then be prepared to be utterly shocked. You will die a lot and this is not an over exaggeration on my part. Enemies hit hard in Breath of the Wild and they don’t fall so easily. The average joe isn’t a mindless sponge, fodder for attacks. They swarm in groups to overwhelm by numbers, they scramble to pick whatever can be found to hurt you and it takes more than a pure bronze to come up on top. The more fiendish monsters takes more dexterity and careful planning. Hyrule is a brutal world and only the strongest survive. The combat is similar to the Souls series in some ways. By that I mean, combat demands precision. Learning attack patterns, dodging and parrying at the right moment and finding that one opening. I haven’t even mentioned the plethora of strategies possible from the complex physics system and the stealth mechanics.
Departing from the series conventions, Breath of the Wild utilizes a weapons degradation system. Weapons break and the break often in the game. The game encourages players to carry a number of weapons in their pockets or risk being unarmed. It is a system that scales Links strength as you progress since there are no Level system in Breath of the wild. Deeper into the world you explore, stronger weapons can be found and there is a sense you have become progressively stronger from your humble beginning. The beauty of the system is that it encourages weapon versatility and not a just the shield and the sword. The three weapon classes offer different tactical advantages and disadvantages. For example, Two handed weapons are suitable to take down large and bulky foes, while not recommended for the nimble Lizalfos. Meanwhile the speedy spears can dispatch nimble foes with ease. The sword and shield provides balance between defense and offense. The system is while designed but still not perfect. In my view, the weapons are a bit too fragile. While the durability of weapons gradually get better late game, weapons break too often in my opinion. Perhaps more fine tuning to the durability of weapons would have made the system perfect.
Combat is tied together by clever survival elements. In breath of the wild, instead of the usual hearts scattered around to replenish your health, Link must forage for veggies and herbs and hunt for protein. These ingredients can be cooked together to create dishes and elixirs to restore health and provide buffs for combat. The system is surprisingly complex and well fleshed with dozens upon dozens of recipes. There’s a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when you have discovered a superb recipe. What I love about the system adds that extra layer of depth into the game. Essentially, it’s one extra activity in the game and I mean that as a positive. Traveling through the dead space of Hyrule is made more interesting by foraging all the resources within the area or attempting a hunt to gather some prime meat. Coooking, as small as it seems in the grand scheme of the game, plays an integral part of the Breath of the Wild experience.
Problem Solving And Dungeon Crawling
From a gameplay point, the Zelda series is known for their well-crafted puzzles and dungeons. While the problem solving and dungeon crawling are still present in Breath of the Wild, but it no be in the form you expect. For starters dungeons are vastly different from previous titles. Instead of grand temples which almost follow a logical paths of locked doors and puzzles, Dungeons in Breath of the Wild are smaller and require a different style of problem solving skill. The four main dungeons, while providing their own unique twist, involve the manipulation specific parts. The solutions to a problem are not always presented to you and require lateral thinking to move forward. Rooms and sections in the dungeon are interconnected and is clever designed to test your skills in problem solving.
Unfortunately, the boss awaiting you at the end of the dungeons are in many ways disappointing. While they do pose a sizable challenge, the Boss fail in comparison to series standards. The aesthetics , the design, the strategy and the scale of the Bosses are disappointing. The coolness of Volvagia, the scale of the Helmaroc King and the epic of Koloktos are missing in Breath of the Wild, replaced by unmemorable set pieces.
The small number of dungeons are offset by the 100 plus shrines. Shrines can be considered bite size dungeons filled with a set of uniquely designed puzzles or combat trials. Shrines are fun nifty distractions that will satisfy Zelda fans, the puzzles found are the sort you would fine in the typical dungeons and they are not too long to destroy the world emersion. The rewards and treasure that can be found are valuable to your journey, so discovering Shrines are always worth your time.
Chinks To An Almost Perfect Armor
Almost every facet in Breath of the Wild is superb, however there are a few chinks in it’s perfect armor. Perhaps the most noticeable is the uninspired side quests. For the most part, side quests are petty fetch quests or involved simple tasks. It pales in comparison to the involved quests of Skyrim and Witcher 3. In even by series standards, they fall short of standards. Take for example, Majora’s Mask. Despite being smaller in scale and limited by technology, Termina was able to come to life with the interesting stories told through sidequests. While you may see bits and pieces of these stories in Breath of the wild, they are few and far between.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a grand accomplishment of game design. Breath of the Wild is sublime by the very definition. Every facet of Breath of the Wild is expertly thought out and masterfully put to together to create an enchanting journey that will be remembered for years to come. It is the new gold standard of open world games. Nintendo has created something remarkable in Breath of the Wild and will join an already impressive lists of classics in the Hall of fame.