I’ve been a big fan of the Legend of Zelda series since I played the Ocarina of Time back in the late 90’s. I spent plenty of time playing through several of the Zelda titles that followed, but at some point I stopped playing on Nintendo systems and missed out a couple entries, including Breath of the Wild.
With a new Switch in hand I finally got around to see Breath of the Wild, the series first foray into open world gameplay. Breath of the Wild fits into the genre perfectly and improves upon open world mechanics by making the world interesting to explore. And how it implements it’s post-apocalyptic setting into the gameplay and very detailed world is impressive though slightly flawed in some areas of said gameplay.
Link awakens 100 years later to lost memories and a Hyrule that has been left in ruins for some time. It isn’t a desolated, burnt out landscape. The wilds have reclaimed much of the ruins that are now left behind. Princess Zelda’s failed plan to stop Ganon a century ago left it in ruins and now she is being held captive by Ganon. And in typical Legend of Zelda fashion you need to save Princess Zelda from Ganon’s clutches. And to do so Link must now challenge four divine beasts and help free the four guardian’s he worked with 100 years ago.
Breath of the Wild even takes deeper glimpses into Links personal history with the four guardian’s. It’s interesting to see Link having actual close relationships and friends beyond Zelda. This adds a whole new layer of depth to Link as a character and the whole story in the game.
But as cool as the story is there is a whole host of new gameplay mechanics introduced in Breath of the Wild. The most important of them all being the sheikah slate. This little trinket is a multi purpose tool. It acts as your map, camera, and an item tracker for crafting materials. Also, it allows you to access several terminals throughout the game world, which are for, most importantly, accessing the shrines.
The sheikah slate’s most important use though is for the four physics bending tools you use in dungeons and shrines. You’ll use these to solve puzzles in both area types. They’ve effectively replaced the general puzzle solving from other Zelda games. And they’re a nice cool twist on those traditional puzzles. Also acts as an excuse to use the switch’s motion controls to physically move things around.
Shrines act as little dungeons to test your puzzle solving skills. You use the different sheikah slate powers to solve different physics puzzles. At the end of the shrine you the shrine’s monk offers you a spirit orb. Collecting four of these orbs and returning them to the Temple of Light allows you to either get a whole new piece of heart or extend your stamina meter. The shrines are great puzzle solving challenges with an excellent award at the end. And one essential to becoming stronger in the game.
Combat is still very classically Legend of Zelda with some small differences. You can still target enemies, dodging, and attacking. There are now a variety of weapons at your disposal. Bow and arrows are now provided immediately, but can’t seem to be used while targeting an enemy. You have to manually target with it and this can be mildly annoying when trying to switch to melee combat. It isn’t difficult to use, but switching viewpoints is slightly jarring. Also, two handed weapons are introduced to the game.
While this variety is cool there is a breakage system attached to them. I have slightly mixed feelings about it. I’m not usually a huge fan of these types of systems in the first place. And I’m not 100% on it, but I see how it works in the Breath of the Wild’s world with surviving in the “wilds” of Hyrule. Having to go from weapon to weapon to survive fits the game and its aesthetic. However it does back fire when you receive weapons that belonged to notable characters. Knowing that these important weapons just break in the end makes them feel less meaningful to use them.
Steeds and mounts are included to get around. Now instead of having solely Epona (as far as I know) you will be able to wrangle wild horses throughout Hyrule and tame them. You can take them to stables in each of the regions to have them saddled and held there. I’m not sure if Epona is in the game, but as far as I had gotten into the game I had not run into her.
The most interesting and hands down my favorite of the new mechanics introduced to Breath of the Wild is cooking. Cooking is essentially crafting. You can harvest several food ingredients from the environment and animals to make delicious food. Delicious food which provide health and even different buffs. You can boost your speed, defense, attack, resistances, and even temporary health. Aside from food you can also gather monster parts, insects, and lizards which help with making elixirs which offer the same buffs as food.
The traditional dungeons are now all placed within the four mechanical Divine beasts you are tasked to save. Much like the shrines there is next to no combat and are mostly puzzle focused. You’ll still be using your sheikah slate to solve puzzles, but you will also be able to manipulate certain parts of the divine beast themselves. Which really makes for some puzzling, well, puzzles. Like using a one divine beast’s water spewing elephant trunk to put out fires and spin mill wheels. Another had me spinning three parts of its cylindrical body to line up power lines to other parts of its body.
The only combat in the divine beasts are the bosses. These are unique to each divine beast, but fighting them doesn’t quite have the same level of strategy that enjoyed from other Zelda titles. Zelda bosses of past games had little weak points and gimmicks to fight them. Strategizing a bit was important to beating them. Breath of the Wild’s bosses do still require some strategy, but it feels a bit more clumsy and less precise defeating bosses. A bit more hack and slash.
Breath of the Wild is filled with many of traditional Zelda sounds, songs, and noises we’ve come to know and love. Opening chests and item discovering jingles are still lovely to hear. But new sounds stand out, too. The jingle when you cook your meals and potions will be immediately stuck in your head. Monsters have their own distinct groans and screeches. The sound of nature’s whipping winds and birds chirping. And massive thunderstorms and their vicious rolling thunder cut through the air when they move over the land.
And said land is absolutely stunning to look at as it is to listen to and explore. I was prepared for how beautiful of a world I was going to be invited into for Breath of the Wild, but actually playing in it has left me beyond impress. It is a massive beautifully rendered world. The landscape is varied and vast. Plains have sweeping grass. Mountains tower overhead with snowfall. Towns are set into the world perfectly. They are nestled into the landscape without feeling forced in.
Character models are all varied in size and shape. Classic Zelda monsters have different, but familiar looks to them. Some with wonderful new looks and takes. The same can be said about the races as well. Especially, the Zora. They’re most recent take on the Zora looking like a mix of shark and fish. They look the most badass they have ever been in a Zelda game. The Rito, the bird-like folk, also look far more amazing than some older iterations. Their bird image is even more leaned into looking like colorful, buff birds and I am here for it. The Goron’s and Gerudo look very similar, but still more improved looking amazing as ever. Goron’s now stand tall and massive, while the Gerudo have more color and desert flair.
Breath of the Wild is a fantastic open-world game. It takes many of the issues other open-world games run into and manages to make them more interesting. The things you can find throughout the world are interesting and fun to get involved in. None of it seems generic or bland. Weapon breaking limits are a little annoying, but I see how they fit into the game’s mechanical themes of surviving in the wilds. Still doesn’t make sense for certain key story weapons you get though. They lose their significance when you realize they are going to just end up breaking.
But as a Legend of Zelda games there are some things I do kind of miss or feel like Breath of the Wild fell short. I miss gimmicky dungeon bosses. Being able to figure out how to fight the boss and expose its weaknesses felt so satisfying. After the two bosses I faced, even though strategy wasn’t entirely lacking, it just felt more clumsy than older Zelda title bosses.
As much as I dislike some of these small issues, Breath of the Wild is still a stand out game as a Zelda title and especially an open world game. Exploring the world of Hyrule itself has never been more enjoyable. Interacting with its residents and different races and locales, exploring dungeons, and saving Hyrule makes Breath of the Wild one of the best entries in the Zelda series.