Well, it finally happened. A few weeks back, I succumbed to Nintendo’s charm by purchasing the obsolete console, the Wii U. There was only one main reason for it though, and that was to play Breath of the Wild. The 18th game in the Legend of Zelda franchise, Breath of the Wild promised players a brand new way of play, with a strong focus on surviving in a harsh open-world environment.
My reasoning for purchasing the Wii U was a total surprise, considering how the Wii had affected my opinion of Nintendo as a whole. A Nintendo fanboy through and through in my younger years, I felt let down by Nintendo’s move to the more casual gamer. Having drifted away for some time, was Breath of the Wild the game to pull me back in?
As most people are aware, Nintendo’s Wii U didn’t have the most successful run as a console. It arrived hot off the heels from Nintendo’s biggest selling home console to date; the Wii, and unfortunately, the Wii U failed to make anywhere near the same impact of its predecessor.
Why is that though? There were a lot of factors, but the Wii U seemed to miss the mark in appealing to the casual and core gamers. During its short lifespan, the console saw an upsettingly small amount of exclusives. Sure, some of the first-party games they produced were superb, but with other developers quickly cutting their support, it just wasn’t enough.
There were plenty of other reasons to factor in, such as the insufficient hard drive, the strong competition it faced and the cost of the machine. There’s a whole host of explanations as to why the Wii U struggled, but it at least went out with a bang this year thanks to the innovative adventure game; Breath of the Wild.
The game was announced way back in 2013, and during its development, Nintendo attempted a number of crazy designs that the franchise had never seen before. Concept art revealed earlier this year showed Link playing the guitar, and Hyrule even being invaded by aliens.
Upon its release, Breath of the Wild acted as a major launch title for Nintendo’s latest console, the Switch. It also represented itself as the final first-party release for the Wii U. Unsurprisingly, the game was met with enormous praise, with some critics even naming it the best Zelda yet.
The game follows the standard storytelling structure from the franchise that most gamers should be familiar with; our main protagonist, Link the Hylian, attempts to save Hyrule and Zelda from the evil Ganon. It’s a straightforward plot that appears in most of the games, but each entry in the series has been tweaked in slightly different ways.
In Breath of the Wild, Link wakes up from a century long sleep. Riddled with amnesia, he finds himself in the vast landscape of Hyrule, which is being ravaged by the malevolent Calamity Ganon. Princess Zelda has attempted to contain Ganon in Hyrule Castle, but now she requires the aid of her appointed knight before the kingdom is destroyed forever.
When starting the game, players are thrown into the unknown. Guided by a mysterious figure, Link learns that he needs to reclaim the four Divine Beasts from Ganon. These hulking, ancient machines were once used to fight evil before they were turned against the very people that needed them.
After discovering his destiny, players will begin to get a sense of just how huge the map is in Breath of the Wild. Almost twelve times the size of Twilight Princess, the entirety of Hyrule can be reached by becoming a brave adventurer. Whilst the sheer size of Hyrule seems rather daunting at first, gamers will soon realise there are plenty of ways to explore the vast kingdom.
However, Link can’t just explore without taking the proper precautions. Dangers await Link throughout the land, as he must stay equipped for the right situation. Gamers have to find a way to survive harsh conditions, from the freezing cold and to the scorching heat.
Whereas previous games allowed Link to somehow find heart pieces stuffed into plants and vases, Breath of the Wild now forces the gamer to rely on cooking to keep their health and stamina full. Yes, Link can now be his very own master chef. Expect Link’s own brand of ready-meals in stores soon.
Thankfully, cooking in Breath of the Wild is relatively simple. All players require is a cooking pot, a fire and some tasty ingredients. Those ingredients can range from fresh fruit and vegetables to raw meat and fish. Some recipes can even be discovered in homes and stables, and fairies can even boost the stats of some meals.
The wildlife is rather diverse in the game, but then certain players may feel a bit weird about randomly killing some of the animals in the game, such as the cute foxes. For example, my Link survived brilliantly on a diet of mushrooms, fruits and nuts. He eventually became one with nature. He couldn’t even eat one of those cool frogs.
Cooking isn’t the only new thing that’s introduced to the franchise, as Link’s weapons now have added durability to them! Hooray! Durability is a sore subject with some gamers, as now Link has to carefully use and forage for his own weapons. These can range from swords to spears, bows and even shields.
It’s a mechanic that has been utilised in various games before, such as Dark Souls and Oblivion, but in Breath of the Wild, it’s a brand new concept that may frustrate some Zelda fans that aren’t particularly fond of the idea.
It’s understandable really, but then enemies tend to drop their weapons quite often. Players just have to be careful with the stats of their weapons, so they’re not wasting strong items on unnecessary battles. Shields can also be destroyed instantaneously by some of the stronger enemies if the proper precautions aren’t taken.
This added durability, unfortunately, involves some of the series’ most iconic weapons though, such as the Master Sword and Hylian Shield. Once Link has received the treasured sword, gamers will soon realise that its energy will run out if it’s constantly equipped for unintended use (however, if the sword is equipped for the final part of the game it’s true purpose prevents this).
It can be a frustrating mechanic in some parts of the game, but it wasn’t necessarily a game-breaker here. Weapons were just used correctly, and other methods were utilised to combat enemies and complete puzzles. Having said that though, it is totally reasonable to see where some gamers are coming from, as breakability can become a bit of a chore when you’re struggling.
Whilst exploring the dangerous terrain, it quickly became apparent that Link needs a certain level of stamina to get around. Providing Link with a stamina wheel was first introduced in Skyward Sword, but in Breath of the Wild players really need to keep an eye on their stamina, as it can make the difference between life and death. Just don’t find yourself in the middle of a lake with little to no stamina. You’ll get Sonic the Hedgehog flashbacks.
Due to the inventive weather system that Breath of the Wild employs, players will come to absolutely despise the sight of rain whilst they’re trekking. Cliffside’s become much harder to climb when water is involved, and let’s not even mention the worrying appearance of thunder and lightning. If any metallic weapons are equipped in a thunderstorm, then Link’s in for a nice shock.
The weather constantly changes in Hyrule, and the stark contrast between a sunny day and a thunderous evening is a sight to behold. It’s hard to think of any other game that manages to implement a weather system so brilliantly, and it allows for some truly atmospheric moments. Paragliding across the lands during thunder is always a pleasing experience.
To acquire extra hearts or stamina in Breath of the Wild, Link now has to collect four ‘spirit orbs’, which can be found in shrines that are hidden throughout the domain. Each one has a completely different puzzle or a tough challenger, where players have to overcome the trial to gain one orb.
In total, there are a grand number of 120 shrines which are totally optional to complete. Some quests are also tied to shrines, where players will have to decipher some of the hidden messages and riddles provided by some of the NPCs in the game. There are all sorts of interesting ways to find hidden shrines.
The addition of these mini-dungeons is a neat idea, but patience is essential if players want to complete all the shrines. After a while, it became slightly infuriating to stock up on plenty of hearts and stamina boosts. For instance, some shrines relied on motion controls and it completely sucked the fun out of the game at one point. There is a time and place for motion controls Nintendo, and Zelda is not it.
Some of these shrines rely on an understanding of physics and the new abilities given to Link. New talents are available through Zelda’s very first ‘smartphone’, the ancient and powerful Sheikah Slate. These new skills consist of a variety of ways to help Link survive in the game, which adds a fresh dynamic to the way people play Zelda.
Remote bombs can be created, ‘Magnesis’ can be used to magnetise, ‘Cryonis’ allows the formation of ice blocks over liquid and ‘Stasis’ temporarily stops objects, which can be manipulated with kinetic energy.
As well as being essential in completing some shrines, these functions can also be lifesavers for Link when he’s facing some of Hyrule’s evil inhabitants. An upgraded stasis can completely render some foes immobile for a temporary amount of time, which can change the tide of a fight.
The ancient slate also allows players to explore the map, allowing Link to pinpoint certain locations. Fast travel can also be unlocked via the map once shrines and towers have been accessed. It’s a ridiculously helpful tool, and it’s topped off with the use of a camera (that’s some fascinating ancient tech for you). Using the camera is great fun, but it would be much nicer to export Link’s photos with ease.
Despite being new/old technology, the Sheikah Slate never really feels out of place. It looks great, and it really provides the series with a refreshing change. Most of the skills can even be upgraded during Link’s journey, providing neat bonuses to those who bother to collect the necessary materials.
Even though the game boasts 120 mini-dungeons, Breath of the Wild appears to have done away with some of the huge intimidating dungeons that the franchise is known for. The four Divine Beasts are all accessible and have their own bosses and puzzles, but they never truly feel substantial enough.
The Divine Beasts slightly resemble the goliaths that appear in Shadow of the Colossus, but unfortunately, they’re just not as impressive or imposing. The chambers inside these machinations would feel a little more exciting and perilous if there was more to explore. The lack of diverse enemies inside of them and the easily solvable puzzles result in a bit of a disappointing experience, especially after the exciting series of events that always lead to entering the Beasts.
Bokoblins, Moblins and Lizalfos all make their return to the series, and Lizalfo’s in Breath of the Wild are almost just as annoying as their Ocarina of Time counterparts. As is tradition though, the night often reveals skeletons that will stop at nothing to kill you. They’re amusing to combat though, as Link can easily decapitate them and throw their skulls off high ledges, which was a tactic used regularly for comedic effect.
Some enemies vary based on location, such as the flying Keese, the blobs of goo known as Chuchus, and the inherently annoying Wizzrobes and the Octorocks. Players will discover that Octorocks like to ruin people’s fun by pretending to be tempting treasure chests. They are the worst.
One of the deadliest enemies in the game are the Guardians, ancient beings that were once programmed to protect Hyrule. Now used for evil, players must be more than prepared to face them. They are relentless killing machines, armed with a powerful laser that can destroy shields if Link doesn’t deflect their lasers properly.
At first, they’re simply terrifying to approach. The background music changes whenever a Guardian locks onto Link, and then the heart rate ramps up. They’re really challenging at first, and loads of fun to combat on horseback. When armed with the Master Sword though, they’re a breeze, particularly once stasis has been applied. Just don’t attempt two at a time.
There’s one opponent in Hyrule though that strikes fear into some of the braver adventurers out there, and that’s the Lynel. These centaur-like creatures are the toughest beings in the entire game. Players must maintain a certain safe distance, as these intimidating foes are equipped with a sword, shield, spear and bow.
Lynels come in different forms and they take an awful lot of practice to kill. Still, the Guardians and Lynels are some of the best opponents to encounter in entire library of Zelda games! They have a certain presence about them, and it’s simply exhilarating to face them once Link is properly geared up. If players are feeling bold enough, a well-timed paraglide jump can even help Link mount a Lynel.
There really isn’t a set of rules for completing the game and rescuing Zelda, but it must be noted that Hyrule Castle can be easily accessed and finished if players take specific shortcuts. It’s a bit of a shame really because some skills can stop players from really exploring the castle. Bearing in mind the fact that Hyrule Castle is treated as the most dangerous place on the map, it can be a bit of a disappointment.
Of course, it’s entirely up to the gamer to decide on how they tackle the final quest, and in previous games, Ganon has been a complete pushover with the right tools. If players really want a proper challenge, they can fight Lynels and a huge selection of Guardians on the way. Perhaps the castle should have been a bit more linear? It’s just too easy for some people to skip a majority of it.
There are plenty of references to other parts of Hyrule’s history located throughout the game, and it’s rewarding to seek out some of the hidden secrets of the map. The Lost Woods makes a triumphant return, and it’s home to some of the cutest character designs in the game; the Koroks. Link will discover that the giant Korok Hestu is unarguably one of the greatest musicians of our generation.
Gamers will realise, this is where the game really shines. Breath of the Wild has an outstanding art direction, and it’s one of the most beautiful games of this generation. Zora’s Domain has never looked so outstanding before. The vibrant colours almost burst out at you, and the shrines and Guardians are clear examples of that.
It has a simply sublime art style, and it feels ever so slightly similar to a Studio Ghibli film. When Link manages to climb one of the towers in Breath of the Wild, it’s compulsory to stop and admire the view. If players are lucky enough, they can even witness a beautiful sunset from one of the tall towers. On one occasion, I found myself listening to a Rito playing the accordion as thunder bellowed around us. It was something else.
There are few games that can be considered art. There’s only a small selection that can attest to video games being art, and titles such as The Witcher 3, Bioshock Infinite and Uncharted 4 help prove that. Breath of the Wild though, should be entered as one of the strongest examples of videogame art. It is simply breath-taking in parts, and I’ve often found myself pausing several times to take it all in.
It’s clear that the game borrows elements of previous games, such as Wind Waker. The colourful palette is there, and the cartoonish stylisation slightly resembles it. It’s just been upgraded to keep a level of realism to it.
Breath of the Wild’s map is full of serendipitous moments that help solidify the game’s position as one of the best entries into the franchise. Interactions with all sorts of humans and creatures often results in some simply charming moments, and the finer touches help make this world feel alive. Let’s not talk about how we can’t pet dogs yet though, Nintendo.
The sheer scope of Breath of the Wild cannot be played down, and thankfully it’s not completely style over substance. There are plenty of things to do, and it stands with Nintendo’s modus operandi. It’s essentially pure fun. Sure, there were times where my frustration almost reached peak levels, but then the game provided me with so many mesmerising and unforgettable moments.
If Nintendo does decide to keep the same formula for whatever Zelda game is next, then they may need to do some work on dungeon building. The thought of having to stock up and complete mini-quests before going on dangerous excursions is too good an idea to pass up. The Divine Beasts themselves are superb ideas, but they just need a little expansion.
The survival aspect of Breath of the Wild has some solid foundations for any following Zelda games. Exploring the harsh wilderness was challenging but ultimately rewarding, and cooking was a fun skill. Even the little cooking tune is pleasant. Fans will also be happy to know that a selection of songs featured in the game are simply slowed down versions of old favourites!
My experience with Breath of the Wild resulted in the most fun I’ve spent with a video game in ages. The gameplay was a refreshing change of pace, and unsurprisingly there were hardly any issues or bugs with the game. Unfortunately, there are some slight frame rate problems on the Wii U, but considering the sheer size of the game and the level of physics, it comes as no surprise. Still, there wasn’t a single sign of any glitches throughout my play-through and reportedly, the Switch version works perfectly.
It’s safe to assume that Nintendo won me back with Breath of the Wild. For a while now, first-party releases from other consoles have been brilliantly polished and fun to play, but they didn’t reach the levels of adventure and enjoyment that Breath of the Wild boasted. Uncharted 4 was almost there, but too many scripted events got in the way.
How does it rank though, in the long list of Zelda games? It’s certainly up there with some of the greatest. Personally, Ocarina of Time has never been bested. This might be due to a sense of nostalgia for a game that was replayed countless times in my youth, but then Ocarina of Time still feels like a magical experience that stands up to the test of the time.
Breath of the Wild might be a very strong contender for game of the year though. It reminds us that Nintendo can deliver some of the finest video games ever produced, with a certain polish that most games seem to be without nowadays (here’s looking at you, Mass Effect: Andromeda).
If you haven’t had a chance to play Breath of the Wild yet, then it must be rectified immediately. There’s a reason as to why it’s one of the best-reviewed games on Metacritic. Sure, some players may find some aspects of the game a little unrefined, but personally it’s an experience that I have been without for a long time. Go out there and play Breath of the Wild. Just don’t harm the Cuccos.