Maybe it’s good that the Nintendo Switch only launched with one must-play title. Though the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is not the only game currently playable on the new hybrid video game console, it might as well be. But does the open-world, physics-based return to one of the Nintendo’s most beloved – and most profitable – series stand up to the hype? TVGB’s Jake Sapir and Bronsen Earl have traversed the fields, forests, caves and mountains of the ruined kingdom of Hyrule to find out.
I said this the last time I mentioned this title, when I attended the Switch preview event, but it’s probably worth repeating: I love Skylanders, but it isn’t my favorite series of games. Just look at the picture of me on the bottom of this page and you’ll see the truth: I am a die hard fan of The Legend of Zelda. It’s hard not to be. Ocarina of Time was my first visit to Hyrule, and it opened up the doors of gaming to brand new experiences. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. Since then I’ve played each and every game in the series, completing the original just before the release of this newest entry. This is the series that defined what video games could be. Every title has a sense of adventure and heroism that remains unmatched.
Ocarina represented a major shift in the series, as it moved to three dimensions, but things haven’t changed much since then. It was long overdue for another overhaul, changing the tropes and mechanics while keeping the sense of wonder that makes Zelda the best-reviewed series in the history of the medium. We saw a little bit of this with A Link Between Worlds, but at the same time, that game was specifically designed to evoke A Link to the Past. Breath of the Wild manages to somehow change things up dramatically while also sticking to the series roots, evoking the original title more than anything else.
The operating word here is “freedom.” After a short introductory section that provides you with all of the basic tools, you’re free to go about things however you want to. As an NPC tells you, you can head straight to the final boss if you want, though that would be a pretty terrible idea. There are goals laid out for you, varying in scope, but you don’t actually need to complete any of them. Even the “tutorial” section itself is left pretty open. The requirements are laid out for you, but how and when you go after them is your choice. There aren’t even really any classic Zelda-style dungeons. Instead, there are shrines, each of which presents either a puzzle or a combat trial; and four Sacred Beasts, which are bite-sized versions of the old dungeons. You can spend hours and hours on this game without focusing on the main story.
The puzzles in particular stand out as being one thing that separates Breath of the Wild from other open world fantasy games. While you will find switches to press and walls to bomb, the puzzles in the shrines often involve physics and more free form abilities. They tend to be challenging, but not frustratingly so, which is a tough balance. Even though the mechanics are a bit different, the whole thing does feel very Zelda. Sometimes the puzzle is finding the shrine; you’ll hear rumors or songs hinting at their locations, and it’s up to you to figure out how to reach them. There’s more than enough variety there to keep things interesting.
There are a few other things that set the game apart, too. One big thing is that, per the series tradition, there are a wide variety of areas in Hyrule. The different races and their homes all feel different, adding some extra complexity to the world. But the biggest thing that sets this game apart from other open world titles is the ability to climb pretty much anything. Playing games like Skyrim, nothing annoyed me more than following a path to a point on my map, getting halfway there, and running into a mountain or cliff. Then I’d have to either try to jump my way up to the top or take a very, very wide berth around and get lost. Not in Breath of the Wild though; Link can climb pretty much anything. Granted, you have to worry about your stamina meter, but as long as you have enough stamina-refilling food (which isn’t hard to do) and find places to rest in between, you’ll be fine. It makes the world feel so much more open and easy to explore. Sure, it isn’t exactly realistic, but this is Zelda.
There’s just too much in this game to cover everything, but there are some non-gameplay things I should add. In terms of graphics, the game is beautiful. It used a subdued cel-shading reminiscent of Skyward Sword, but to much better effect. The character designs are improved, the landscapes are breathtaking, and the world is fleshed out incredibly well. I’m very impressed by the story and characters as well. The Zelda games aren’t RPGs; you won’t find a deep and detailed mythos like you would in The Witcher or something. But the story has so much emotional depth that it manages to have a real effect on players anyway. You feel the kingdom’s desperation, and the weight on Link’s shoulders. You get to know the major NPCs and care about them; you want them to be happy. You feel how Link feels when he unlocks new memories, and the sadness for the time he lost. Maybe it’s just me, but I really feel for the characters and the world
Now, no game is perfect, not even this one. I do have some small gripes. The breakable weapons can get annoying, even though it isn’t hard to replace them. Rain will stop you from climbing steep rocks, which can really slow you down. And while I appreciate the focus on nature, this title doesn’t have the same amazing soundtrack that previous games have. And sure, the game would look better on more powerful hardware. But to me, stronger hardware is a bonus, and not a judging factor. The game looks and plays incredibly well, so these things don’t really bother me.
Like I said in my review for the Switch, Nintendo couldn’t have found a better game to launch with. In challenging the conventions of the most beloved series in the history of gaming, Breath of the Wild makes a unique masterpiece that stands tall enough to challenge its predecessor Ocarina of Time for the place of my favorite video game ever. Everything about it is impressive. The emotional depth hits hard, the world is large and deep, the gameplay is a mix of tried and true mechanics and brand new ideas, and it all manages to feel fresh and new despite also feeling like a Zelda game. Despite a few minor imperfections, it’s clear that Breath of the Wild is the new gold standard in video games.
Graphics – 10
Gameplay – 10
Story – 10
It won’t be hard to believe that you have heard the words Zelda: Breath of the Wild a lot. From TV to YouTube, everyone seems to be talking about Nintendo’s new flagship title. In short, Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a masterpiece. But don’t get me wrong: the game being a masterpiece doesn’t mean that it is without flaws.
From the beginning, BotW drops you off in a world that is begging to be explored. From the snowy peaks in the northwest corner of the map to the rainforest in the southeast corner, every environment in BotW is full of life and character. In most of the open world RPG’s I have played I tend to death grip the fast travel system and never let go. What is the point of traveling on some boring road when I can instantly be at my objective? That is a mistake when it comes to this game. Rewarding exploration is the first thing that locked me into BotW’s world.
Breath of the Wild features 120 Shrines as well as 900 korok seeds. Each shrine features a puzzle that you have to solve in order to obtain a spirit orb. With every 4 spirit orbs, you obtain you can upgrade your heart containers or your stamina. The korok seeds, on the other hand, allow you to upgrade the bag space of your weapons. Most of the puzzles throughout the map are simple, logic based that get progressively difficult as you enter into hard areas. Others can be either combat challenges or test that involve doing something in the outside world. For instance, I had to carry a ball to the center of a swirling piece of land. Now, I decided to carry it the entire way, but there were at least two other ways I could have solved that problem that I could think of.
It is that freedom of choice that turns Zelda: Breath of the Wild from a simple open world adventure into an epic that will stand the test of time. The first thing I did in BotW was climb a tree. I walked out of the starter cave and had the instant urge to climb a tree, so I did. It was this small detail that let me know I was in for something special. And these small details are litter throughout the game. If a monster is lit on fire than there is a chance that the items they drop will be destroyed. Fire creates an updraft that you can ride on to get an aerial attack in. Wolves will try to circle around you before attacking, and if they sense too much danger they will run. The entire world isn’t reliant on you and travelers will try to fight off monsters on their own. These types of things bring a level of believability to the world.
Monster encounters vary not only between types of monster but by classes of monsters as well. A simple Bokoblin tends to run into your weapon by accident sometimes but later versions of this monster can not only see your attack coming but it can also learn to target your blind spots. I have never died more in a Zelda game, but every death felt justified as I learned what the game was expecting from me. Once you learn the dance, monsters will never be a problem again. Weapon degrading is a big topic of debate in BotW. Weapons in the beginning of the game will, in fact, break if you look at them wrong. So much so that I developed a habit of holding on to my better weapons for harder situations. This method of play is fine, but it is highly unnecessary. The rate in which you get weapons is incredibly quick with a new sword or ax around every corner.
As I said before, Zelda: Breath of the Wild is not without its flaws. While dealing with mobs of Bokoblins the game sometimes tends to lag. It has happened a total of 5 times over my 40+ hours with the game. It never happens with any creature other than the Bokoblins, for me at least. The cooking system is in serious need of a recipe book like Skyrim has because losing track of the thousands of combinations is a thing you will do. Made an awesome potion by accident, good luck duplicating the process after 10 hours of gameplay has gone by. Speaking of potions, what was the point of giving us an awesome potion system if you were just going to give us really easy armor that makes every potion obsolete. It would be different if you could stack effects but it is only one effect at a time.
The main story is surprisingly easy. For reference, it took me 4 years to beat Ocarina of Time. Maybe that game was hard, maybe I suck, I like to go with the former. That being said the main story took me about 10 hours in total. The bar to beat the end boss was set very low. However, it was in that final fight that I realized that beating the end boss wasn’t why I was playing. Sure, it was the reason that Link was doing what Link was doing but I had genuinely been sucked into the world.
The Nintendo Switch’s launch superstar seems to have managed to live up to the expectations of the general populous, and that is a great sign of things to come. I still have several hours ahead of me but I am looking forward to them with a big grin on my face. Every time I see someone discover something else I hadn’t found it makes me want to jump back in head first and see what else I can find. Sure, Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a masterpiece, but above everything else, it is a fun experience that you don’t want to pass up.
Graphics – 9
Gameplay – 9
Story – 10
A breath of fresh air
Jake's score - 10/10
Bronsen's score - 9.3/10
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a new take on a classic franchise. There is a lot of content to keep your attention here if you don’t mind the occasional lags. Overall, Nintendo came out swinging and it will be interesting to see where they go from here.