The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

PC Advisor - - CONTENTS -

It’s been six years and two con­soles since the last ma­jor home con­sole Zelda game, Sky­ward Sword, and fans have un­der­stand­ably been get­ting a lit­tle antsy about get­ting their hands on Breath of the Wild. Orig­i­nally slated as a Wii U ex­clu­sive, it’s been de­layed enough to be­come a launch ti­tle for the Nin­tendo Switch (though there’s still a Wii U ver­sion too, for non-early adopters). With the rest of the launch lineup look­ing a bit sparse, it’s prob­a­bly fair to say that most of Nin­tendo’s early Switch hopes are hang­ing on Zelda: so can it bear the weight?

While Sky­ward Sword was mostly well re­ceived, it also felt a bit tired. It was the lat­est in a long line of games closely aping the suc­cess­ful for­mat of the N64’s Oca­rina of Time, and things were be­gin­ning to feel a bit stale. Nin­tendo was clearly lis­ten­ing, and Breath of the Wild feels like noth­ing more than a re­sponse to that crit­i­cism. In­stead of a slow tu­to­rial, you’re thrown straight into the world and told to fend for your­self. In­stead of pick­ing up a spe­cific item that you use to solve puz­zles in each dun­geon, you get a range of pow­ers right at the be­gin­ning of the game and have to fig­ure out which to use when. And, per­haps most im­por­tantly, in­stead of a rigidly struc­tured set of en­vi­ron­ments, you’re thrown into a mas­sive open world that you can ex­plore with al­most to­tal free­dom.

To any­one who played A Link Be­tween Worlds on Nin­tendo’s 3DS, some of th­ese changes will feel fa­mil­iar. That game also al­lowed you to tackle dun­geons in any or­der, and gave you ac­cess to al­most ev­ery item early on, but Breath of the Wild pushes things even fur­ther. For one thing, your puz­zle-solv­ing tools are no longer tied to spe­cific items like the Hook­shot or Bombs. In­stead, they are split be­tween your nor­mal weapons and the Runes – a se­lec­tion of abil­i­ties on the Sheikah Slate, a small tabletesque de­vice that Link dis­cov­ers at the be­gin­ning of the game.

Some of the Runes will be fa­mil­iar, such as bombs, which now come in both sphere and cube vari­ants and are det­o­nated re­motely, rather than on a timer. Oth­ers are more novel. Mag­ne­sis lets you pick up and move metal ob­jects from a dis­tance, Cry­o­nis al­lows you to cre­ate pil­lars of ice on top of wa­ter, and Sta­sis lets you freeze spe­cific ob­jects in time and im­bue them with ki­netic en­ergy while they’re frozen – whack a boul­der a cou­ple of times while it’s frozen, and af­ter Sta­sis wears off it’ll go fly­ing away.

Other Zelda sta­ples have now been folded into the main weapon sys­tem. You can equip a va­ri­ety of melee weapons, shields, bows and ar­rows, and as you play you’ll reg­u­larly switch up your gear. In­stead of be­ing lim­ited to sim­ple swords, you can equip sledge­ham­mers, spears, boomerangs, and even a mop as your melee weapon – and can swap be­tween them on the fly. They can also all be thrown at en­e­mies, though ob­vi­ously only a boomerang is likely to come back af­ter­wards. In a neat twist, how­ever, you now need to nail the tim­ing to catch it as it flies back to you, else you’ll em­bar­rass­ingly let it clat­ter to the ground. Each weapon, shield and bow has both a strength rat­ing and a dura­bil­ity, so there’s a con­stant push-pull be­tween want­ing to equip your best (and coolest look­ing) gear and want­ing to save it from even­tu­ally break­ing. You can also equip, up­grade, and dye var­i­ous bits of cloth­ing, which also come with their own stats and spe­cial ef­fects.

Still, as much as all the game’s sys­tems have changed, most of the ba­sic me­chan­ics have stayed the same. Com­bat feels in­stantly fa­mil­iar, en­cour­ag­ing you to lock onto en­e­mies, guard with your shield, and strike when they’re vul­ner­a­ble. There are a few al­ter­ations even here though. For one, a suc­cess­ful dodge or back­flip now lets you per­form a slo-mo flurry of at­tacks for max­i­mum dam­age, which is a wel­come flour­ish. The in­tro­duc­tion of dif­fer­ent melee weapon types, in­clud­ing two-handed ones, also shifts the dy­namic – Zelda has had

var­ied melee weapons be­fore, but has never en­cour­aged you to use them so of­ten, and play­ers will want to ex­per­i­ment to find their pre­ferred fight­ing styles and weapons.

It’s a wel­come point of fa­mil­iar­ity as you go about ex­plor­ing this brave new (open) world of Zelda. Thank­fully, the game gives you a gen­tle in­tro­duc­tion through the open­ing Plateau area, which will take most play­ers two or three hours to com­plete. This is where you’ll learn the main me­chan­ics and sys­tems, col­lect the Runes across four minidun­geons called Shrines (more on those later), and even­tu­ally earn the Paraglider, which you’ll need to sur­vive the drop from the edge and make it out into the wider world.

From there, it’s up to you. The game will point you in a spe­cific di­rec­tion to fol­low the main quest­line, but you can ig­nore that and strike off wher­ever you like. The map is bro­ken into 15 main ar­eas (count­ing the ini­tial Plateau), each of which is un­charted un­til you scale the tower at its cen­tre – some­one at Nin­tendo has clearly been pay­ing at­ten­tion to Ubisoft’s open world ti­tles. Over the course of the first 20 hours or so we’ve man­aged to visit about half of the map, though the ar­eas we’ve vis­ited are far from com­pleted, and we’ve still got a lot of the main story left to go. Sim­ply put, the game and world both feel ab­so­lutely mas­sive, and we can eas­ily be­lieve that Breath of the Wild is up there with Fi­nal Fan­tasy XV and The Witcher 3 when it comes to mammoth run­times.

There’s plenty of stuff to do along the way, too. The world is lit­tered with side quests that you can pick up from any of the NPCs dot­ted around the world. Then there are the Shrines, small dun­geons that con­tain ei­ther puz­zles, plat­form­ing chal­lenges, or com­bat tri­als, and re­ward you with Spirit Orbs – they’re es­sen­tially Pieces of Heart, ex­cept that once you col­lect four you can trade them in for a boost to ei­ther your health or your stamina, which you use for climb­ing, sprint­ing, and swim­ming. You can also try and track down hid­den Koroks lit­tered around the world, search for hid­den chests and items, and com­pete in a va­ri­ety of mini-games and chal­lenges. That’s not even men­tion­ing the ex­pan­sive cook­ing sys­tem, which sees you hunt­ing and for­ag­ing for in­gre­di­ents, which can be com­bined to make meals and elixirs to re­store health and pro­vide a few other buffs and sta­tus ef­fects.

The game’s so big that we haven’t had time to fin­ish the main quest yet, even af­ter a week of play­time, but what we have seen has im­pressed us. With­out giv­ing too much away, there are a few tweaks to the nor­mal Zelda for­mula, not least that you play as a Link who fought Ganon – and lost – 100 years ear­lier be­fore be­ing put into a sort of sta­sis. Much of the story is told in flash­backs trig­gered by vis­it­ing cer­tain lo­ca­tions, which means its pos­si­ble to watch them out of or­der. That sounds like it might be con­fus­ing, but in­stead the dis­jointed struc­ture el­e­vates the oth­er­wise sim­ple plot, and mak­ing Link an am­ne­siac is a great twist on his clas­sic ‘blank slate’ na­ture.

With so many side quests and other ac­tiv­i­ties, there’s less of a fo­cus on dun­geons here than in past ti­tles. There are fewer of them, and they’re shorter, but they make up for it with an epic, cin­e­matic scale, and they’re tied more closely to main sto­ry­line – and Link him­self – than ever be­fore. And don’t worry, the Mas­ter Sword is in there too, though it might take a lit­tle work to find it – and even more to earn the right to wield it.

The game is beau­ti­ful, and it’s a treat to see Hyrule brought into the world of HD. The land­scape is awash with colour dur­ing the day, and fore­bod­ing and omi­nous by night. We’ve seen lush forests, sparse fields, and frozen moun­tain­tops, and we’re sure there’s more over the hori­zon to find. Hyrule is packed with an­i­mals and en­e­mies brought to life with fluid, vivid an­i­ma­tions. We have had some very oc­ca­sional fram­er­ate stut­ters when us­ing some of the vis­ually com­plex Runes like Mag­ne­sis, but oth­er­wise per­for­mance is smooth, ei­ther docked or in hand­held mode. As for con­trols, we’ve tried it with both the Joy-Con and the Pro Con­troller (sold separately), and much pre­fer the lat­ter – it’s a more com­fort­able size, while the Joy-Con but­ton con­fig­u­ra­tion feels slightly squashed in a game like this.

There’s a com­pre­hen­sive map to go along with the huge world, which lets you set stamps and mark­ers

to help you re­mem­ber en­e­mies, chests, shrines, and se­crets that you want to go back for later on. Try­ing to walk across the map would take ages, but in fine Zelda tra­di­tion you can get your­self a horse to speed things up. You won’t be given one though, in­stead you’ll have to catch a wild horse, break it in, and reg­is­ter it at a sta­ble. You can name horses, and keep up to five at a time, each with their own stats, from speed to tem­per­a­ment – we have no doubt there’ll be some play­ers de­vot­ing hours to find­ing the per­fect steed.

If there’s any crit­i­cism, it’s that oc­ca­sion­ally it al­most feels too ex­pan­sive. There’s so much to do, and so many op­tions at any given time, that the game feels over­whelm­ing, and you can be a bit paral­ysed by choice at times, or spend hours wan­der­ing around be­fore re­al­is­ing that you haven’t re­ally achieved any­thing at all. Still, most of the side quests feel pur­pose­ful and en­gag­ing, and you never feel like you’re just be­ing stuck spend­ing time on filler. The less com­ple­tion­ist among us can ig­nore most the side stuff and dive straight into the main story – it’s even the­o­ret­i­cally pos­si­ble to go straight to kill Ganon af­ter you exit the start­ing area, but we’d guess that it wouldn’t end very well for you. Still, the Zelda speedrun­ning com­mu­nity is go­ing to love it.

Head­ing straight for the endgame would not only give you a hell of a fight, but you’d also miss out on the best that Breath of the Wild has to of­fer. Hyrule is the star of the show here, and the game is at its best when you sim­ply let your­self ex­plore and see what you find. It’s in those mo­ments, catch­ing a glimpse of a dragon flow­ing through the mist on the hori­zon and won­der­ing how you can get there, that Breath of the Wild feels truly mag­i­cal.


Af­ter 20 hours with the game, we still feel like we’ve barely scratched the sur­face of Breath of the Wild. It bor­rows the best of mod­ern open-world games and pairs it with the inim­itable Zelda pol­ish and feel, re­sult­ing in one of the best Zelda games yet. We can’t wait to get back into Hyrule, and we’ll be there for a very long time. Do­minic Pre­ston

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