Back when I did the Top 10 games list last year I remarked about missing out of Breath of the Wild due to not having a job in the middle of the year, therefore not buying a Switch until Super Mario Odyssey came out, and that I hoped to play it during the middle-of-the-year lull this year… Well, I did! Also: it’s great! Unsurprisingly. Anyway, rather than put up a second Zelda game I decided to make this the game review for the franchise in the Smash countdown, after all the Link in the game is based off of this one! Let’s take a look then, at Nintendo going proper open world…
Wow… it kind of looks like Link’s naked…
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was originally conceived as the Wii U’s Zelda, but after that platform died a quick death, it was moved up to being both a Wii U and Switch game. It was released for both consoles on March 3rd 2017, making it both the Wii U’s final Nintendo published game, and a Switch launch title.
Link climbing a sheer cliff… a long way away from the rather flat Ocarina of Time map!
Where to start? At the heart of it the combat is still very much in keeping with past 3D Zelda games. You lock on to an enemy and move freely around it, striking it with your sword or jumping out of the way. Blocking with the shield is good too, and in fact blocking or dodging at just the right time can stun an enemy and allow you to get some real good hits in. Your weapons and shields are breakable this time, however, including swords, bows, spears and boomerangs. You have to find them and store them on your person to avoid ending up weaponless.
This time you’re given a “Sheikah Slate” which acts as the map, and grants you special abilities, specifically the ability to magnetize and control metal objects of pretty much any size, make columns of ice sprout out of water, freeze objects in time, and create magic, remotely detonate-able bombs. These are not only useful during regular play, but are often the way to solve puzzles in the four main “dungeons” and other side quests. You also have the ability to fast-travel to Sheikah-based places, like Sheikah Towers (which are used for the classic open world mechanic of revealing portions of the map via activating towers) and Sheikah Shrines, which often have tasks inside to perform, from battling automatons to figuring out puzzles using the Sheikah Slate abilities.
Also in your equipment is a paraglider that makes flying across the vast landscape easier (and more fun!) as well as the ability to climb any surface for as long as your stamina bar can hold you. With enough stamina (or stamina-refilling food or potions) you can technically climb a crazily high sheer cliff. You can look through the Slate with a zoom function and place markers on things you can see in the distance, which is a really handy system that beats having to place a marker in the pause menu map like other open world games.
Alongside the usual assortment of towns and stables are four huge machines known as Divine Beasts, which form the main four Dungeons of the game, and really the only ones. Each of them have several consoles that need to be activated, and you can only reach them by using a combination of your equipment and manipulating the creature to move, thus turning parts of the dungeon upside down, or other little tricks. They’re really clever, and very rewarding. At the end of each Divine Beast is a boss. You also have to face Ganon himself at Hyrule Castle, which will end the game. Defeating the four Divine Beasts first makes the final battle easier, but it is possible to skip straight to the end!
Then you get all the extra stuff: side quests, hunting, cooking, new clothes, labyrinths, enemy bases, hidden islands, upgrading your health hearts and stamina bars, and of course, collectables, in this case Korok Seeds. You may be able to beat the game very quickly, but to full explore it will take a hell of a lot longer…
Graphics and Sound:
Look at how brightly defined all those… energy… things, are…
The game is drop-dead gorgeous. The characters look good, but the map… wow. Lovely lighting as well as the detail on the environment itself is top notch. The Switch may not have the power of the PS4 or XBone, but it certainly has great rendering ability. The draw distance is great too, often able to see landmarks from the other side of the map with no issues.
Sound is good too. The soundtrack, as you’d imagine from Nintendo at this point, is excellent, and the soundeffects are a nice combination of classic Zelda sounds and newly recorded thudding and clanking sounds. There is full voice acting this time (apart from Link, obviously) and apart from Zelda sounding like she’s someone putting on a really stereotypical and frankly bad English accent, the cast do a good job.
Ganon is a tad different looking this time…
Like most LoZ games, basically Zelda is being held by Ganon and Link has to save her, but there are some twists here. Basically we’re so far in the future that Hyrule become a super-civilization with crazy tech and then fell backwards into a medieval society (explaining the Skeikah tech while keeping the game still feeling very Zelda-y) Calamity Ganon, as he’s known here, returns and instead of the prophecy of the Divine Beasts in combination with Link and Zelda stopping him, instead Ganon took control of the Divine Beasts and the robot Guardians from the high-tech era, and not only killed all four of the heroes controlling the beasts, but nearly killed Link as well. Zelda manages to use her power to seal Ganon in Hyrule Castle as Link is put in a hundred year slumber to recover.
That’s where the game starts, and basically you find new heroes from the various civilizations to help you take control of the four Divine Beasts, freeing the souls of the four heroes of died 100 years ago, and then defeat Calamity Ganon for good and rescue Zelda. So, it had a bit more history to it, but at the end of the day it’s all about the adventure and the gameplay, less about the story.
I don’t have the DLC, so here is a screenshot from inside one of the Divine Beasts…
There were a couple of DLC packs released, titled “The Master Trials” and “The Champion’s Ballad”, both add new Shrines and dungeon challenges, and some new items and weapons to use. It also added the “Master Cycle Zero”, a motorbike that Link can drive around the map, which is… odd, to say the least.
Final Thoughts (Now):
One last screenshot to show how beautiful the game looks.
Breath of the Wild is a triumph, and deserves all the praise its gotten. The framework and open world are so fun and fluid that you really do spend hours exploring instead of doing anything you’re “supposed to”. Throw in some good game mechanics and graphics and you’ve got a real winner. Nintendo jump feet first into Western-style Open World genre and knock it out of the park.