The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)
For months now, I’ve been trying to form a solid opinion on this game. It’s magical and brilliant, but not without flaws. I find myself teetering on the edge of review scores I could potentially give it. In fact, as I type this I’m still not quite sure what score I think it deserves. That should be a testimony to how huge and remarkable this game is.
The first time I played the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was on the 14th of January, when I attended the Nintendo Switch event in London. The event was an amazing experience. I played many upcoming Switch games, such as ARMS, Sonic Mania, Splatoon 2, and 1-2 Switch. However, when I finally sat down to play Zelda, I was speechless. I had been waiting for this game for years, and this was my chance to finally play it. I rushed through the cave you start in so that I could explore, and was greeted with one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve seen in any video game to date: Link, walking to the edge of a cliff, and looking upon the huge world that Breath of the Wild offers. I was stunned. I explored, I fought, and I loved every single second of it. I got carried away and started the first shrine without any weapons. However, the magic of Breath of the Wild is that you can do things your way; so I picked up a metal slab using the Magnesis power, and dropped it on my foe. This was when I realised that this game was going to be a masterpiece. Even when I played it for the second time in February, I still felt a sense of awe when I walked onto that cliff.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was released over three months ago now. When it released, I ran home from school, opened up the box of my new Nintendo Switch, and played Zelda for about 15 minutes before heading back for another lesson. I was so excited. The game has no obvious ‘tutorial’, but instead offers a sort of sandbox area for you to learn the game mechanics in. This is a genial way of teaching a player how to play, as it does not feel restricted. After completing the tasks set out for you in this opening area, you are free to explore as you please.
Breath of the Wild is a pretty unique game. Sure, there are other open world games with the same sort of vibe, such as Skyrim or Fallout 4, where you’re left to discover the world on your own, but Zelda is truly one of a kind. Breath of the Wild offers such huge scope. It feels like a living, breathing world. It feels like an accomplishment when you complete tasks. No other open world game has made me feel as fulfilled as Breath of the Wild. Discovering things feels exciting, exploring new areas feels exciting, finding hidden chests and taking down enemy encampments is exciting. The fact that the world was so huge and open made my experience feel truly unique. I never knew what was going to come next as I ran across the landscape. Exploring in this game is spectacular.
The combat in this game is the best it has ever been in the Zelda series. It feels like a more fluid adaptation of traditional 3D Zelda combat, with more depth due to the large number of weapon types you can use. Furthermore, the large number of ways to tackle an enemy also adds to this depth. Do I take down this guy from afar? Am I better getting some high ground? Shall I para-glide over him and drop down using my sword to knock his friends down? The possibilities feel endless. Rather than just following a pattern like in previous Zelda games, you can do things your way. As you progress through the game, rather than getting stronger, you receive stronger equipment to fight with. This means that one can enter any area they want at any time, with high risk and high reward. Entering a high-level area with low-level weaponry can be risky, but you can come out with some insanely powerful gear.
Along with the weapons system comes the armour system. Armour in Breath of the Wild is another feature that makes the game feel a lot more realistic. Depending on the environment around you, you may need to wear alternate clothing. For example, in snowy climates, you may need to wear warm clothing, with the converse being true in hot climates. This sometimes feels tedious, but I believe that it is a good feature overall, as it adds to the sense of adventure. Most pieces of clothing you collect in this game can be dyed, which I think is a neat touch, being a sucker for character customisation. My only complaint with the clothing in this game is that there’s just not enough of it! I hope the future DLCs add a lot more.
The cooking system in this game is yet another way of buffing Link up. Using items you find by hunting and scavenging, you can create meals or potions that can affect your stats, or restore your hearts. This system is very interesting in theory, and is exciting to use in the early-game. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite hold up in the later game, as there is no way to cook meals en masse. Cooking becomes a tedious chore rather than a fun time experimenting.
Breath of the Wild does a great job of making enemies feel threatening. Whilst the game itself isn’t particularly difficult, certain enemies can do a huge amount of damage with just one hit, some potentially one-hitting you if you don’t have a large stock of hearts or strong armour. Guardians and Lynels are the most terrifying enemies in the game, especially if you lack sufficient armour and weapons. Despite the more challenging enemies, Breath of the Wild never feels like it’s cheap. Not once did I die in this game and think that it wasn’t my fault. Every death left me finding new ways of tackling a situation. Could I have side stepped just one second earlier and finished them off with a flurry rush? Could I have gone for a different strategy and attacked from elsewhere? There are so many options.
The shrines in this game are also amazing. Instead of having a small number of ‘dungeons’ as in previous Zelda games, you have many smaller ‘shrines’. Most of these shrines offer unique puzzles that test your logic. These shrines are essentially mini-dungeons. There are also shrines which offer ‘tests of strength’, in varying degrees. These are great for honing your combat skills, and offer strong weapons or clothing as a reward. There are less combat-based shrines than puzzle-based shrines, though, so this doesn’t get repetitive at all. There are also trials that take place outside of shrines. These shrines appear after you complete a task, which is often hinted at by either characters in the game, or the surrounding areas. These shrines were my favourite, as they felt like they had a grand scale. As reward for finishing shrines, you receive ‘Spirit Orbs’, which help you to upgrade your stamina or hearts. The ability to choose which stat you wish to upgrade further makes this game feel like a unique adventure.
The music in Breath of the Wild is very good. Most of the time, there is little music playing, making the game feel wilder (no pun intended). However, the adaptive music that plays when you’re in danger is incredibly effective. The Guardian music, for example, is terrifying, making you genuinely fear encounters with them at the start of the game. The mini-boss music is fitting, with Stone Talus bosses having music that fits the idea of climbing and conquering the enemy.
The narrative in this game is entertaining and non-linear. You can partake of each part in a completely random order if you’d like, or not at all. The voiced cutscenes in this game are few and far between, but I always very much looked forward to them. The voice acting is commendable, with each character having a great deal emotion in their voice. The story was interesting, and I praise Breath of the Wild for it, but it would have been nice for it to be more fleshed out with more story details, character development, and voiced cutscenes.
The graphics are also very impressive given the scale of the game. On the Wii U, the game runs at 30 frames per second at 720p. Unfortunately, there are a few drops in framerate, but it is bearable. The Switch version of the game runs at 30 frames per second at 900p whilst docked, and 720p when in handheld mode. The game looks beautiful on all formats, with little visual difference between the Switch and Wii U versions. The big kicker for the Wii U version here is the far less stable framerate. The Switch version of the game does have some significant framerate dips, but it’s not too distracting. The Wii U version suffers much more from this. The graphics in this game are very pretty, almost reminiscent of Wind Waker, as it is heavily stylised. It’s certainly a game that will make you stop every once in a while to admire the scenery.
The major downside that Breath of the Wild has is the dungeons. Separate from the shrines are fully fledged dungeon-like structures. These dungeons sound exciting, but in reality, they’re repetitive and tedious. Entering the dungeons themselves is the most fun part of these affairs. Each way of entry is unique, and offers a change of pace from the rest of the game. The first dungeon I entered felt exciting. I explored, I gathered new items, and I completed a few puzzles. You then face a boss, and leave, gaining a heart container. This was very fun the first time around. Unfortunately, upon entering the second dungeon, it became apparent that each of these dungeons were very alike. It’s a huge negative considering that this is a Zelda game, which are well known for their complex dungeons.
The weapon durability is sometimes quite stressful. Most of the time, the weapon system is fun. I don’t usually mind if my weapon breaks. However, nothing in this game lasts very long except for a few select items. Sometimes you’ll get a powerful weapon that you like, and you will want to store it for future use. I did this, and eventually ended up with an inventory full of weapons I didn’t want to throw away. I wouldn’t mind this so much if there was a way of storing large quantities of weapons, but there isn’t.
Overall, Zelda is a truly unique experience that was completely worth the wait. Quite simply, it is one of the best games I’ve ever played. Before writing this review, I was teetering between an 8 or a 9 for the score. Remembering all the good times I’ve had playing it though, and the pure sense of wonder, I must give it a 9/10. You don’t need to buy a Switch for this game if you already own a Wii U, but if you do not own a Wii U or a Switch, I’d recommend picking up a copy of this game and either the Switch or the Wii U, depending on your budget.