The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

By Blair Nokes on April 5, 2017

For over six years, fans have been eagerly waiting in anticipation for the newest entry in the now thirty year franchise. Set to originally release on Nintendo’s Wii U, Breath of the Wild was eventually delayed and restructured so that it would be developed with their new system, The Switch, in mind. Much like how Twilight Princess was released on the Wii and Gamecube, Nintendo still planned to release Breath of the Wild on the Wii U simultaneously, but it was clear that their biggest focus was to utilize the Switch’s hardware and the significant advancements it has in terms of performance. During E3 2014, fans were teased with a trailer for the new, and then untitled Legend of Zelda game, which depicted a very open Hyrule with a large mechanical construct that was hunting who we could only assume was Link. Though very brief, that teaser gave a lot in the way of expectations and theories as to how this new entry would play out. The attention focused on the landscape gave the impression that we were to expect a more open world experience. Through the years of interviews, previews and trailers, it was finally revealed that that was precisely what this new title would showcase. Taking inspirations from their recent release, A Link Between Worlds, Breath of the Wild was touted as being a totally open and non-linear experience right out of the box. In fact, many interviews alluded to players being able to actually beat the game or reach the end-boss right at the beginning – avoid the rest of the experience.

On top of that, much like A Link Between Worlds, players were not told where to go, which dungeon to pursue first or how they ought to play the game. Devoid of any sense of hand-holding that some adventure games, even past Legend of Zelda titles, Breath of the Wild sought to bring back the true sense of adventure, discovery and wonder as players wandered about the world. Nintendo had a considerable amount of time to research and understand the current expectations for open-world games and wanted to listen to fan input as to how their three decade franchise could improve upon past formulas. Not only that, they also looked back on the more highly received titles and wanted to know how to emulate those reactions once again. Of course, Ocarina of Time is not only the most well received Legend of Zelda title from a critical perspective; it is also the highest rated video game of all time. It was Nintendo’s goal to do what Ocarina did back in 1998, which was to breathe new life into the series. Now early on in 2017, Nintendo has finally launched the Switch, with Breath of the Wild as one their champion launch title. Only time will tell if this truly ends up like Ocarina of Time in the history of video games, but one thing is certain – Breath of the Wild stands tall as one of, if not the best gaming experiences I’ve had in the last two generations.

Whenever a new Legend of Zelda title is announced, one of the first things that sends my mind racing is coming up with all sorts of ideas and theories as to where the entry is going to take place in the Timeline that Nintendo has thankfully paid considerably more attention to in recent years, insofar as even acknowledging it in recent entries, and compiling their best attempt at mapping it out in the Hyrule Historia. To give a very brief overview Nintendo had established that 2011’s Skyward Sword marked the beginning of the timeline which flows until Ocarina of Time. In case there are those who have not experienced the game, I won’t go into specifics but Ocarina’s ending essentially broke the timeline into three distinguished branches. One houses Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess, one gives way for Wind Waker and its sequels, with the final branch housing the original Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past along with its sequel and the Oracle of Ages/Seasons for the Gameboy Colour.

The Historia even documented classic species like the Zora, and how each timeline split altered their physical appearances. For example, in the Oracle games they are depicted as larger river monsters, whereas in Majora’s Mask they are far more slender and look akin to how they look in Ocarina of Time. With Wind Waker, despite a story in which the world had flooded over, the Zora evolved into feathered birdlike beings that are now known as the Rito. There is a point to this rambling; one of the recent story trailers for Breath of the Wild showcased both a Zora and Rito, which had fans and theorists with a perplexing dilemma. How did two evolutions of the same species exist in this part of the timeline? What’s more, with the recent HD remaster of Twilight Princess, the Castle Town in that game was remastered with etchings of what seemed to be a story depicting a time where the Zora and Rito existed together.

This left fans in sheer wonder and thought until the eventual release of Breath of the Wild. While it’s still not overtly stated, my theory is of the position that Breath of the Wild marks a convergence in the timeline – where the three branches intersect or meet up. It doesn’t quite explain Twilight Princess’ easter egg, as we can safely assume the events of Breath of the Wild take place well after that game. All across the grandiose map of Hyrule, Nintendo has named certain areas after the names of characters in other entries. Mount Nabooru (Nabooru from Ocarina of Time), Faron Woods (The same in Twilight Princess), or Lake Darman – most likely named after Darmani from Majora’s Mask, are all wonderful clues that at least tell us the game is set well after the games who originally debuted these characters or settings.

About 100 years before our playtime in Breath of the Wild, Link, Zelda and four other Champions from the different cities of Hyrule banded together to take on Calamity Ganon – a primordial force of evil that has was prophesized to return. The four champions were tasked with piloted four ancient constructs known as the Divine Beasts in hopes that their power would help keep Ganon at bay. Unfortunately, Ganon’s power was overwhelming, and corrupted the beasts and killed the four champions who piloted them and fatally injuring Link in the process. With Zelda’s aid, Link was taken to the Shrine of Resurrection where he spent a century in recuperation. Zelda then used her power to seal Ganon within Hyrule Castle.

The game begins with players waking up in the Shrine, with no memory or recollection of the events 100 years prior. Instead we’re guided by a robed figure to understand the basic mechanics of the game, and cleverly designed so that we eventually receive one of the most important methods of transportation – the paraglide. The moment we get this item, the entirety of the game opens up to us and the world is ours to explore. Link is vaguely told of what had happened to him, to Zelda, and the other champions and his ultimate quest is defeat Ganon, and free the Divine Beasts that it controls so that they may once again aide Link in battle.

This is the entire premise of Breath of the Wild, and since I would be doing the experience a great disservice by divulging any more detail, I won’t spoil any more plot points. What I can say is that story itself is equal parts wondrous and emotionally impactful. I almost felt a sense of guilt, fully assuming the character role of Link; waking up and beginning the adventure just as he is, and realizing we had to right our past mistakes from a hundred years ago. Meeting with the spirits of the champions trapped in each Divine Beast genuinely left a bittersweet and touching impression on me. By way of cutscenes carefully designed to act as memories Link suddenly remembers when he comes across familiar sights, we fragmentally learn of the past and begin to feel the relationships lost in time. All across Hyrule, we are reminded of what had happened, and there’s never a point where we don’t feel the gravity of our loss, and the importance of recovering our former self to defeat Ganon.

I think much of the magic in Breath of the Wild is our shared sense of discovery; designing an amnesiac as a protagonist is a very powerful way to have players emulate the same feelings, as both are learning about the world in unison. In that sense, the story in Breath of the Wild reflects how much time you are willing to invest in the world itself – visiting the different cities, completing your memory bank, and reading up on some of the literature peppered throughout the world that may give character development or context with regards to your former self. I cannot praise the story enough; not for the way it was written but for how it ought to be experienced, and one can still maintain the core concepts of the story should you choose to avoid the rest of the world. I would of course recommend spending the time to see everything there is to see, as Nintendo made sure to stuff the world full of Easter Eggs and familiarity for the Legend of Zelda fans to uncover.

Much like the openness of the world in Breath of the Wild, the gameplay is mirrored in nonlinearity. You are no longer equipped with just one sword and one simple method of combat, but rather have access to a myriad of different weapons – all with different combat styles and effects to truly offer uniqueness for each playthrough. Moreover, all weapons (in some capacity) are breakable. Each have a prescribed measurement of durability and will eventually break over time. Certain key weapons can be repaired, however. This general consensus for fans is rather mixed, with some embracing the idea of finding, buying or looting weapons left in the world, where others were turned off by the tediousness of constantly doing this. I actually welcome the mechanic, as it encourages the player to either explore, or engage in combat frequently to keep up in stock.

Of the weapons at your disposal there are axes, short and broadswords, clubs, spears, tridents, and other forms of melee combat. Link’s fighting stance changes with each weapon as well, establishing a sense of weight for each. His movement is slower with the heavier weapons, agile with the shorter, and distanced with the spears that offer more distance. Going from the last decades of Legend of Zelda titles, this is a monumental improvement on the core combat formula, and one that is now a benchmark for future releases. Link also has ranged weapons like the Bow and some Wands imbued with magic. Nintendo even went as far as ensuring each bow performed differently, with some offering increased vision, while others shot more than one arrow. The possibilities are seemingly endless in the diversity of weapons. Naturally, the Master Sword and classic Hylian Shield do make an appearance in the game; the former has an entire quest revolving around it with a very convincing sacrifice that makes you feel as though you’ve earned the right to wield this legendary sword. Without giving it away, the famous shield wasn’t nearly as advertised, and was more something you stumbled upon in a dungeon. Nevertheless the trial leading up to it is quite rewarding. The Shield can break but it has an absurd amount of durability; the Master Sword does not technically break, however repeated use will diminish its power, removing itself from your inventory and forcing you to wait until it recharges. It was a sensible way to make sure the fabled sword isn’t abused and yet still proves its superiority to other weapons.

With every former Zelda title, the formula remained persistent; travelling to dungeons awarded you a weapon or item that was the convenient solution to most puzzles or problems. With Breath of the Wild, things take a massive turn. All the “items” you receive are in the form of runes – applications essentially installed on your Sheikah Slate. The Slate acts as your hub for your main menu, world map, inventory and journal to keep track of quests. The runes are all given to players during the prologue to the game. You have two types of remote bombs, one that can roll and one that is stationary. Magnesis lets Link manipulate metallic objects. This allows for simple puzzle based solutions and extends to the world itself, allowing Link to see treasure chests that may be hidden underwater. Stasis disrupts the flow of time for certain objects, allow Link to manipulate and interact with them. Objects stalled this way will store any kinetic energy and will be expelled once its normal time resumes.

For example, say you target a boulder and stop it in time. If you repeatedly hit the boulder you will notice a trajectory arc appear. Every hit increases the intensity until the timer runs out and the force you’ve used has accumulated and exploded, sending your boulder flying. There have already been numerous physics based videos that have appeared all over social media that have abused the in-game physics this ability allows, including “cheating” your way into parts of the map you probably shouldn’t have access to at that point. Cryonis lets you build ice pillars that act as either stepping stones or obstacles. The two non-puzzle based runes are dedicated to camera capabilities that let you take important selfies, or to thoughtfully filly your compendium with various animals, ingredients, creatures and weapons – much like the Metroid Prime series. Amiibo functionality is the final rune, which lets you use various Amiibos that grant you everything from rupees to rare weapons.

What I like most about the way they incorporate these runes is that it furthers the “one-true-way” approach the other Zelda games fell victim to in the past. Shrine Puzzles, which I will explain in more detail later on that incorporate physics into the puzzles, can be manipulated in various ways to all lead to the same conclusion. This encourages a true imaginative mind to think outside the box, or follow some of their more obvious paths. I also appreciated that their usefulness extends well into the fabric of the game’s world as well, and aren’t just one-time uses for certain dungeons or bosses.

Outside of the main adventure and objective, there is a near-daunting amount of activities and side-quests to take part in. I don’t think I ever sought out specific side quests, but rather stumbled onto them or organically discovered them with every new village or city you enter. It is quite effortless to get lost into the world outside of your main task in defeating Ganon, and it is impressive to see how much work went into making sure near every NPC has their own quirkiness and charm to them. There is a side quest that actually has you purchasing property, and eventually upgrading it with interior decorations, which then naturally expands into you helping one of those builders develop another small community further on in the map. Totally sidetracted from my main campaign, I became involved in something so secondary and minute. This is what the vast majority of the side quests feel like in Breath of the Wild, and they are something that easily eat tons of time and also have loads of replay value.

While not necessarily side quests, Shrines are also scattered about the world for you to discover and beat. Each shrine has a trial associated with them, in varying degrees of difficulty. Some have light to medium based puzzles, others have puzzles that involve your runes and others simply require you to beat an enemy as a test of strength. The most memorable shrines are easily the ones that are incorporated in Hyrule, outside of just a shrine placement. There are going to be places you accidentally discover that actually end up showing you the location of a shrine; I managed to travel to a place called Eventide Island, located at the far bottom-right of the world map. From the player’s perspective, it just looks like an island you can visit. The moment you set foot on-land, you’re met with the same narrator you hear in every shrine and turns out this entire island is a trial for you. This is a taste of the diversity in these Shrines and show the level of creativity needed to come up with some of these. I can’t say all are as imaginative as this. Some can be fairly tedious or monotonous, especially when you’ve encountered the more thoughtful ones on the map. But for over a hundred of these in-game, I can live with the ones that don’t require the same amount of thought. Shrines reward players with Spirit Orbs, which are then used to either boost your heart vessels or stamina. Your stamina encompasses how far you can climb, run, and swim or paraglide.

While Breath of the Wild is very much a tale about wonderful articulated characters, the true star of the game is Hyrule itself. Nintendo went the extra mile with how intimidatinglu large Hyrule can appear to be. Minutes of real-world time spent walking can yield mere small increments of actual map-space you have traveled. High towers or mountain-tops that showcase the beautiful scenery and vistas; future landmarks to eventually plant your feet on, or cities to discover. Outside of the game’s walls, which I cannot stress enough, cover a very large perimeter, there is nothing you can’t climb or scale in Breath of the Wild. Climbing itself is like its own mini-adventure – scouring for certain parts that may seem flat enough for Link to catch his breath or replenish his stamina before going at it again. Hyrule truly feels like a living breathing world; stuffed to the brim with wildlife and fauna that can all be hunted and gathered for ingredients that you can cook. For purists unfortunately, cutting the grass will not earn you hearts in Breath of the Wild. Instead, you heal by way of meals you prepare. You could consume the raw ingredients, but they recover a mere fraction of what meals will cover. There is also a full day and night cycle incorporated, with different enemies, wildlife and even NPCs appearing at different times of the day – much like Majora’s Mask. Certain side-quests or shrines may even require you to be at specific parts of the world, at specific times. There are Stables scattered throughout Hyrule as well, that let you register any wild horse you tame. Should be lucky enough to have the appropriate Amiibo, you can even unlock Epona from Ocarina of Time.

A weather system is also incorporated into the world, which is totally randomized, and wonderfully done. Slugging through a torrential downpour and glancing around to see the violent winds cutting the grass and dominating the trees is like a work of art. Couple that with the cracking thunder in the background, or the explosiveness of the lightning if you happen to be close by, only to have everything part ways and have the sun’s rays beam down on you is magnificent. The winds pick up in the lakes and large bodies of water, climbing because incredibly tricky as the terrain is now glossy and slippery, and it even goes as far as making sure you are a conductor if you have any metal weapons equipped. It may be one of the best uses of implemented weather systems I’ve seen in a video game of late. The game takes all of these into consideration and the end result is a fantasy world that feels like it could be as real as they want you to believe it is.

Graphically, the game is visually stunning, hampered only by the open world issues that exist in almost any open world title. The frame rate in a lot of higher density areas will slow down considerably, regardless of the platform. It’s not constant to the point of eyesore but it’s assuredly noticeable. The draw distance is impeccable, however I have noted multiple times where objects pop-in on the map. The textures themselves may not be absurdly high in resolution, but even still there’s a sense of polish to them that’s appreciated; metallic surfaces have a nice sheen and rocky surfaces look coarse; brick looks porous and the water and smoke effects look volumetric, and the grass can be incredibly dense in areas, and all the blades flow with the direction of the wind. The numerous forests scattered throughout are dense and vibrant – unless you want to cut all the trees down, that is. Characters are impressively detailed as well. Cloth and Armour look natural and affect Link’s movement, and the design of the Divine Beasts truly makes them look like colossal structures. There is so much to appreciate with Breath of the Wild from nearly every facet, and from such a large game world I’m sure some would have been content with their past attempts at open, but rather vacant worlds. It’s impressive that given the Switch’s powerful but limited hardware, that they can still muster not only an expansive world, but also one rich with life and full of detail.

Music in the Legend of Zelda series is as expected in quality as the games themselves; with fans still humming classic pieces like Saria’s Song, or the Song of Storms that have been etched in their memories. With Breath of the Wild, we aren’t necessarily given those same pieces that are distinguishable, but even still it evokes a plethora of memories as overworld themes for certain cities are composed with hints of past pieces of Zelda’s thirty year franchise. Rito Village has echoes of Dragon Roost Island from Wind Waker, all the various stables you encounter have hints of Epona’s Song in the background. Zora’s Domain largely remains the same as what we’ve heard in Ocarina of Time. But one thing to note is that each village or city has different compositions for day and night time. The grand overworld theme of Hyrule is far more subtle than the more exciting Hyrule theme from A Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time. Instead, it’s blissful, almost lackadaisical piano keys hammered in the background let you take in the scenery more without distraction. There are also cases where the music is a good indicator for impending danger, and there is no chime that does this better than when you hear the sporadic keystrokes of the Guardian battle theme. What has quickly become the sound of my nightmares, the moment I hear that piano quicken in pace, followed swiftly by the targeting sound of the Guardian’s lock-on, my hairs stand on end. In short, I find the music wonderfully composed in the memories it evokes, and how it does an admirable job acting more as a supplement to the setting rather than having settings defined by their theme songs.

Final Thoughts

My experience writing this review mirrors my very experience playing Breath of the Wild; I could lost in detail, and go on and on writing more and more about this game but eventually this has to end. Even after finishing the main campaign, having put over a hundred hours into the overall adventure, I found myself almost immediately reloading my save file to continue on, still somehow finding new things along the way. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, for me, has been one of those defining experiences in gaming that only come every so often in life, and is one I will continue to hold on to until every acre of Hyrule is embedded in my mind. Fans of the series already know just how impactful this game is to the series, ushering in a new era and breed of Legend of Zelda, with a core gameplay formula I only wish they maintain for future entries going forward. But newcomers should absolutely give this game a chance if they may have been turned off from how formulaic some of the past games appeared (do play those, as well; they’re still quite remarkable) or had wanted more in the sense of adventure – this game is the quintessential adventure experience. With a story that’s both charming and saddening, characters that retain the franchises wonderful sense of spirit and quirkiness, and a fully realized world that’s totally open and explorable for the adventurer in all of us, Breath of the Wild stands tall amidst the games that have come out this generation, or last. I’m never a fan of predicting Game of the Year contenders, especially so early, but it’s hard to imagine an experience from any game this year that would even come close to rivaling what Breath of the Wild has done, and is continuing to do, not counting the future DLC that’s been announced for the game down the road. Breath of the Wild comes very highly recommended.

Fully realized world has breathed new life into Hyrule, and a totally new nonlinear approach to their game design has revitalized the franchise as a whole.
The story is sensibly told in fragments, and executed admirably to the point where it covers all ranges of emotions.
There is an absurd amount of content that will keep you playing well after the main campaign. On top of that, there are loads of wonderful NPCs to interact with.
Some may not be too keen on the concept of weapon durability, or may struggle to keep their inventory in check when items break.
While the music is beautifully composed, it’s also not as memorable as songs of the past installments.
There are instances of framerate dips in areas with denser objects like forests, or if there are multiple enemies attacking. On top of that, do expect the object pop-in like shrubs or trees appearing.
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