★★★★★ OUT NOW FOR­MAT SWITCH, Wii U DI­REC­TOR Hide­maro Fu­jibayashi CAST Pa­tri­cia Sum­mer­sett, Bill Rogers PLOT On wak­ing from a cen­tury-long slum­ber, Link finds Hyrule in ru­ins, Princess Zelda trapped in a cas­tle and mon­sters ter­ror­is­ing the land. He must

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it be­comes clear that Breath Of The Wild is not a tra­di­tional Zelda game comes about two hours in. Hav­ing just ac­quired a rudi­men­tary hang glider, you float down from the game’s tu­to­rial plateau and set foot upon the plains of Hyrule proper. Hills and val­leys reach out to the hori­zon, horses crop lazily at the grass and you, sword in hand, are left with no earthly idea what to do next.

Open-world games are hardly un­usual, but the sheer in­sou­ciance with which this packs you off to write your own story is re­ally quite be­wil­der­ing. You’ve been coached in the game’s core me­chan­ics, be­stowed with a Sheikah Slate (the Hyru­lian equiv­a­lent of an iphone 7), po­litely asked to slay the game’s vil­lain and sent on your merry way. How you choose to fill the next hun­dred-plus hours of game­play is, by and large, en­tirely up to you.

The lack of a sub­stan­tial guid­ing nar­ra­tive might be a con­cern were the world not so enchanting. Gor­geously ren­dered in the game’s Ghi­bli-es­que style, Hyrule is as stun­ning an en­vi­ron­ment as gam­ing has pro­duced: more ex­pan­sive than Skyrim’s, with a buzzing in­ner life. There are crea­tures to kill and catch, in­gre­di­ents to gather, se­crets to un­cover and an­cient shrines to ex­plore. These shrines are the clos­est the game comes to tra­di­tional Zelda dun­geons — each pos­ing a puz­zle that must be over­come with the aid of your abil­i­ties (remote bombs, mag­netism, sta­sis and ice). The find­ing and solv­ing of shrines quickly be­comes com­pul­sive, not least be­cause they un­lock fast travel nodes but also as a means to in­crease your stamina gauge and life hearts.

The life me­ter be­comes a con­cern quickly as Breath Of The Wild’s com­bat is painfully un­for­giv­ing. Since no area of Hyrule is off lim­its, it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble (in fact in­evitable) that you will wan­der into a zone only to be flat­tened by an an­gry troll — the game’s only hint that you might want to pick an­other route. You will die in Breath Of The Wild and you will die a lot. A par­a­digm Dark Souls vet­er­ans will be all too fa­mil­iar with.

Com­bat is fur­ther com­pli­cated by the im­per­ma­nence of weaponry, which shat­ters af­ter ex­tended use, forc­ing you to im­pro­vise. Do you creep into that camp of slum­ber­ing Bokoblins to steal their weapons? Send boul­ders rolling through their ranks? Use mag­netism to hurl large metal ob­jects? Or do some­thing de­mented like at­tach ex­plo­sives to a bal­loon and waft it to­wards them with a gi­ant palm leaf? Each en­counter is an ex­per­i­ment in cre­ative slaugh­ter, stok­ing the eu­phoric sense of free­dom that per­me­ates every aspect of the game. If you see some­thing, chances are you can climb it, smash it, glide off it, swim through it, burn it or push it over.

Sub-quests and low-level tasks abound in every vil­lage and out­post, so play­ers who re­quire more struc­ture can find it if they wish. Sim­i­larly, the over­ar­ch­ing goal is sim­pli­fied by con­quer­ing the four gi­ant ro­bots — or Divine Beasts — found lum­ber­ing around the world. Each one is part puz­zle dun­geon, part boss fight and, once de­feated, will be re­cruited to your cause.

It may be ar­riv­ing two years later than promised, but Breath Of The Wild is an ex­quis­ite ex­pe­ri­ence that proves well worth the wait. Nin­tendo’s Switch has landed the best launch ti­tle since Su­per Mario 64. JAMES DYER

VERDICT An ab­sorb­ing, in­tox­i­cat­ing ad­ven­ture in a vi­brant world you’ll never want to leave. This isn’t just an el­e­va­tion for open-world gam­ing but a new high for Zelda, sur­pass­ing even The Oca­rina Of Time.

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