The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Nintendo proves, once again, you can’t rush greatness, writes Andrew Whitehead
You have to respect Nintendo’s commitment to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Nobody could accuse Nintendo of rushing it to market in an attempt to keep its flailing Wii U console alive. Let’s face facts: that ship has already sunk. But after getting some solid hands on time with Breath of the Wild, it’s clear why it’s taking so long.
For starters, the world of Breath of the Wild is around 360 square kilometres in size, or 17 times the size of Twilight Princess. I got to play around in just a small fraction of that total area in a place called the Great Plateau, but even that section felt huge and filled with things to discover.
There are new gameplay elements here, too, such as resource gathering for crafting, hunting and gathering to cook meals, and weapon degradation. All of this feeds into the Breath of the Wild living up to its name: Link is truly alone in the wilderness and has to be self-sufficient or he will end up suffering the consequences.
Long-time Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma has been open about the brilliant A Link Between Worlds for the Nintendo 3DS being a testing ground for a number of ideas they wanted to incorporate into the next mainline Zelda game. And it seems he and his team reached the same conclusion their fans did: give players the tools to
enjoy your game early on and let them choose their own path.
I can’t say how weapons will be doled out when the final game releases, but in my demo I was able to obtain a bow and some arrows straight away. And when that bow broke I discovered a Bokoblin camp with an archer on a watchtower, so I quickly took him out and stole his. It was that easy.
These once key items feel more disposable now that they’re easier to come by. And in some ways they do feel less special, but it also makes sense in Breath of the Wild. There were times when I felt like I was playing a Zelda-themed survival game so, of course, Link is going to be resourceful enough to steal the equipment he needs. Seriously, why hasn’t he been doing this all along?
THE ADVENTURES OF LINK
My demo for Breath of the Wild was split into two segments. The first and longest part of my time with the game was a spent free-roaming, while the second part was focused on the story.
I went into the first part of my demo wanting to run everywhere and see everything, but I kept spotting things off in the distance or encountering enemies to fight and steal from. At one point I lit a tree branch on fire, lured Bokoblins into the long grass and then set the whole area ablaze. I couldn’t help myself.
I did manage to make it to ice-cold Hylia River and had to pull out my trusty jumper to stay warm and to stop poor Link from freezing to death. From here I headed up Mt Hylia to get a better view of my surroundings. Climbing feels natural in Breath of the Wild and doesn’t rely on vine-covered walls. All you need is a surface with a bit of grip and to keep an eye on your depleting stamina meter, and let it recharge now and then, much like the one used in Skyward Sword.
THE SOUND OF SILENCE
A notable change in Breath of the Wild that took a while to hit me was the silence. Though the game isn’t devoid of sound effects, there was a distinct lack of music playing while exploring the overworld. Thematically, it makes sense as Breath of the Wild feels more down to earth than other Zelda games, but it’s one of those things I couldn’t un-notice when it properly dawned on me.
At one point I found the Temple of Time, spotting it in the distance and recognising its steeple instantly. But when I got there is was just a shell of its former self. It felt forgotten about, abandoned and virtually empty other than a broken-down guardian octopus monster sitting forlornly inside the ruins.
And yet, I was drawn to it. It’s a strange feeling for a fan of the series like myself because that temple was such a defining place in Ocarina of Time. Seeing it like this felt symbolic of how hard Nintendo is trying to move on from that seminal game. In fact, it was a place like this that added to a sense of darkness hanging over Breath of the Wild. It’s a game filled with mysteries and, as of yet, not a lot of answers.
Don’t get me wrong, though, the Zelda sense of humour is still here. Watching my ingredients of bugs and mushrooms dance around my frying pan only to produce a ‘Dubious Meal’ item did make me laugh. It’s just great to see Breath of the Wild playing with that balance of darkness and the light.
Another thing fans will have to get used to is no longer finding hearts and rupees when cutting down grass. It is still worth hacking into the foliage to find any hidden ingredients, but
restoring health is now done by stuffing Link’s face with food. Rupees can only be earned by selling items, though where this can be done I can’t say as I didn’t find a single shop during my play through.
During my play-time I stumbled upon a Shrine of Trials, which is one of over a hundred scattered around the world. Acting like mini-dungeons, these shrines are filled with traps and enemies as well as housing monks who bestow Link with new powers and abilities. I had one of these abilities at the beginning of my demo: the power of magnetism. With it I could lift and move metallic objects around, which led to a number of small physics-based puzzles for me to solve.
WAKE UP, LINK
After wasting time surfing on my shield and cutting down trees to craft more arrows, I was ready for the story to begin. Starting in an alien-like temple called the Shrine of Resurrection, Link is urged to open his eyes by an unseen woman before emerging from a shallow pool of water. Here Link obtains the Sheikah Slate tablet, which resembles a stoneage smartphone, as well as some much need clothes. After being told he is the light that “must shine on Hyrule once again”, he heads outside into the daylight.
Outside and looking down at the valley of the Great Plateau, the music swells as Link takes it all in before heading downhill and greeting a mysterious character simply known as Old Man. After a small argument over a baked apple that I may or may not have stolen from him, he points me towards the run down Temple of Time before lamenting the downfall of Hyrule.
Leaving him for now, I followed my mini-map to a pedestal that I activated with my Sheikah Slate. Suddenly, a massive tower appeared, bursting out of the ground and ascending into the sky. Again, the disembodied woman’s voice spoke to me, telling me I’ve been asleep for 100 years while showing me a distant kingdom engulfed by a shadowy monster.
Heading back down, I see the Old Man once more and we come up with a deal. He’ll let me borrow his hanggliding contraption if I go inside of a Shrine of Trials and bring back what I find. For everything that’s new and different about Breath of the Wild, it’s hard to deny how very Zelda that last sentence sounds.
The demo ended soon after this. I went to the shrine, made it through, and handed over my findings only to be told I need to do more work to earn my reward. Again, it’s Zelda. People don’t just hand you things, even if you are trying to save the world.
KEPT YOU WAITING, HUH?
What shines through the most with Breath of the Wild is how willing Nintendo has been to take more risks with the series. Nintendo has pulled it apart and put it back together, throwing out some things and adding in others.
It’s been announced that Breath of the Wild is launching on both Wii U and the Nintendo NX, or whatever the next machine ends up being called. So, much like Twilight Princess on the Wii, our blond hero is once again tasked with stacking the chairs and turning off the lights on another console before heading over to the welcoming party for the new one.
I don’t want to make excuses for Nintendo, and its unpreparedness for the challenges of this generation has been painfully obvious. But I can assure you that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a big step forward for the series, and from what I’ve played I’m confident it’ll prove to be more than worth the wait. If only there was a proper release date to match the hype.
There's so much to do in Breath of the Wild, you'll never feel boar-ed (soz)
Mount Doom tends to ruin every picturesque shot. Nice on, Sauron!