For the last 30 years, The Legend of Zelda series has proven to be the pinnacle of gameplay and unprecedented storytelling, continuously evolving and reinventing itself. Breath of the Wild is the culmination of that 30 year journey. Not only does it soar high above every Legend of Zelda entry to date, it is a massive breakthrough in the open world genre entirely. Constantly enticing the player to dig deep into Hyrule’s expansive lands, and coating every inch of play with identity and substance. Almost every action has a reaction in BotW, and every form of story, side-quest, and exploration are pieces to a puzzle you will endlessly seek to solve. This is undoubtedly Nintendo’s crowned jewel.
The story of Breath of the Wild sees our fateful hero Link awaken after 100 years following the devastating assault by the evil entity, Calamity Ganon. We come to find that Ganon has laid wreckage to the beloved Hyrule, destroying peace and serenity across its lands. Link must now summon his courage, and call upon the massive ancient guardians that once protected Hyrule, The Divine Beasts, to obliterate Calamity Ganon. He must cleanse Hyrule Castle from this evil, and save the Princess Zelda.
BotW unravels this tale like the series has never done prior. A certain maturity and somberness blanket the path, and you begin to understand that while the characters may be familiar, this Zelda title is stepping into uncharted territories. This isn’t your typical Hyrule, the land is infused with ancient technology hidden in pockets of terrain as far as the eye can see. It envelops your weaponry, armor, and infrastructure all through Hyrule. There is a new, rich, almost steampunk style lore at play, and its entirely stimulating. You will come to realize Hyrule is the same, and yet, so different from ever before. Peculiar Shrines and skyscraper-sized towers emit from the ground and burst with an ominous glow along its many acres. Begging you to explore and uncover the secrets that this technology inhabits.
BotW marks the very first time the series has taken its step into the open world genre. Leaving behind many of the expected conventions of the series, finally we see the introduction of a mini-map, current objective lists, the ability to drop pins, an excellent physics system, voice-acting, etc. BotW flawlessly executes modern staples we have grown to love from other games. But the glaring difference is, BotW does it better than any one of them. Ever. While countless games boast the typical box quote lines of “you can go anywhere you see”, BotW was the first time I actually wanted to do it. Every thing I saw, every landmark the map could hold, I wanted to discover it and make Hyrule my own.
A new mechanic that helps invigorate this explorative mindset is Link’s new ability to climb and traverse. You can climb virtually any surface you come in contact with, making for ease of exploration and the incentive to really take on this world. One of the first things players should want to do is conquer the gigantic towers the are erupting deep into the sky all around. When you reach the top of a tower, you insert Link’s new favorite toy, the Sheikah Slate, and unlock that portion of your map, allowing you to locate landmarks, cities, and more. Another useful component to this is that it presents you with a birds-eye view of Shrines that may be nestled away.
Shrines in BotW are similar to mini-dungeons, and they are vital to the success of Link’s journey. They contain well-crafted and distinct puzzles that vary in difficulty from one to the next. Each shrine also has the all-tempting treasure chest or two tucked away somewhere in the ancient structure. Now what makes shrines so important is that upon completing them you will retrieve a Spirit Orb. When you collect 4 spirit orbs, you can bring them to various altars and be granted either another heart container, or stamina vessel. Hunting down these Shrines can be just as invigorating and adventurous as the main quest itself. I have spent hours upon hours just scoping out one Shrine to the next and eagerly trekking to each, stumbling across unexcpected surprises along the way.
A large reason to their fun factor is due to their enabling of the new Runes feature. These are special abilities that Link possesses to help guide him through combat, puzzles, and situations within the open world. For instance Magnesis allows Link to manipulate metal objects around him. There’s Cryonis which grants Link the power to construct huge towers of ice in any water source, giving him the ability to platform areas thought to be unreachable. Additionally there’s Stasis that enables Link to stop time for a given period, along with many other Runes that equip Link with the skills he needs to successfully overcome each distinct Shrine. You eagerly anticipate jumping into every new Shrine and what Rune they require to solve, and seeing how they tease your brain to think outside of the box.
Between grinding towers, shrines, and the main story, you will even find the variety, quality and depth of side-quests to be pleasingly overwhelming. No two are alike, and they’re formula has by far exceeded the “fetch quest” stylings you see in numerous games. You initiate relationships with meaningful characters, and form bonds and access knowledge that will only further your hunger for more. Plus, the promise of reward will always peak your interest in the back of your mind. Never knowing what glorious Hylian loot you will be awarded, keeps the thirst of the adventure vibrant and tireless.
For a game on this scale, and booming with this much content, a slick inventory system is a must. BotW engineered such a painless inventory mechanic, you will rarely have to second guess how you navigate. Even when juggling between multiple items, ingredients, armor sets, or weapons, seconds later you are jumping right back into the experience. Maneuvering your way through the Sheikah Slate is just as simple. Accessing photos, the Hyrule Compendium, and the map all can be performed like a breeze.
It’s a good thing that the inventory system is so mechanically sound too because the cooking feature will require some time getting close with it. Cooking in BotW can be a key asset in how Link reacts with his environments and enemy encounters. For example the real time weather effects can bring on dangers to our fateful hero. If you are in a snowy area, Link will actually shiver and begin to slowly drain health from frostbite. Hot, dry areas will also begin to take its toll on Link’s health. You can counteract this by finding exotic plants strewn about Hyrule that will actually combat the weather and effects on Link’s body when cooked. Crafting elixirs can also boost many of Link’s attributes and resistance to elemental damage as well. Cooking these elixirs are vital when attempting to access new parts of the map, or forging your way deep into the story. You will learn that while Hyrule is beautiful and majestic on the surface, it possesses many dangers high and low.
What makes BotW so rewarding to play is it’s deeply gratifying combat system. You will be welcomed back with many of Link’s signature battle tactics from the past, but confronted with new challenges in which to implement them. One of the big changes in this entry is that no weapon can be carried along to the credits. Gone are the days of carrying the same sword and shield right to Ganon, in this tale weapons become damaged over time and eventually shatter. I loved this aspect because it forces you to constantly switch how you attack a scenario, in turn making you more well-rounded with the combat. One of the main reasons this works and doesn’t become quickly frustrating is the pure depth of weaponry at your disposal. You are constantly unearthing new swords, staffs, bows, and shields that all tantalize your interest and how they perform in combat. I noticed I became more of a prepared adventurer and constantly had weapons on deck ready for an assault. If I were to be cast into a dire situation deep inside a dungeon, I would not be left defenseless. There’s almost a meta-game in itself with isolating certain favored weapons for specific battles or bosses. Let me tell you nothing beats that glorious final blow when you ceremoniously call upon a piece of your elite arsenal.
The Legend of Zelda series has always been celebrated for maintaining its own visual identity. Breath of the Wild’s graphics depict a world that is vibrant and blooming with beauty, constantly revealing new awe-inspiring moments. It’s a harmonious blend between a soft-cell shaded style design, mixed with a clean animation overlay. Vast, lush landscapes coat Hyrule and beg you to uncover each and everyone of its secrets. The lighting effects allow you to appreciate the scenery and will lead you to take more screenshots than you ever intended. The graphics flawlessly compliment the entire experience, and help all the other senses of sound, and feel, fall right into place.
In the past, the Zelda series has made questionable design choices when its comes to its controls. BotW takes a step back from the gimmicky nature, and instead gives the reigns back to the player. What could make even a blockbuster of a game pointless, and redundant, would be to taint its controls unnecessarily. BotW understand the importance of this and has what I believe to be the best control mechanics the series has seen to date. Whether I played with the standard controller, handheld mode, or even with separated Joy Cons, controlling Link felt like an extension of myself and he fluidly moved to my will. There were zero instances where I felt Link blundered an input I intended to do. These pristine controls made it easy for extended play sessions, and leaving myself vulnerable to the loss of many hours in my personal schedule. No regrets.
I can admittedly say that audio design rarely has a grasp on me in a video game experience. But, BotW grabbed my attention right from the first moment I stepped out onto Hyrule. The accompaniment is a smooth and sultry layer that adheres itself eloquently to the gameplay. When emotions are high and the action is robust, the soundtrack perfectly follows and enhances every other sense of the gameplay. The sounds of the wildlife are constantly buzzing and chirping in your ear, making you feel that this world is truly alive on the other side of your screen. We also get to finally witness voice acting in BotW as well. The performances are believable and true, and fully flesh out characters in ways the series has never seen before.
In my mind, Breath of the Wild will be the new spectrum to which we will gauge great games moving forward. Nintendo has masterfully crafted a full embodiment of why people should play video games, and experience new ways of entertainment. BotW not only showcases Nintendo’s importance amongst the gaming industry, but illuminates itself far beyond the current state of video games today. It is a pivotal achievement in design, gameplay, and the open world genre as a whole, and may perhaps be the greatest video game ever made.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Wii U code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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