Allow me to first start by saying that if this review were to truly encompass every minute detail that I’ve traipsed by or discovered within Breath of the Wild, it would be much too long for you to ever finish it- much less to even want to read it in the first place. This is a game that pays close attention to detail and despite my fine-tuning of this review over the past few weeks that the game has been out, we are still discovering new gimmicks and tricks and tips as a community right and left. I’m not so sure we won’t still be discovering previously unknown gameplay elements in the coming months after its release.
At first I had resolved not to write a review about such an epic game, however I’ve since of course changed my mind and therefore here we are today. I will undoubtedly be writing more on the game in the coming weeks, as there’s plenty to discuss beyond a simple subjective/objective point and counterpoint argumentative narrative. The game is as near to perfection as any other that I’ve awarded the lauded score that I will be giving this one- in fact it may be the most compete package that I’ve played to date, at least as far as the past five years or so go. I will go ahead and state that the console of choice I’ve played the game on has been the Wii U and not the newly released Nintendo Switch hardware- therefore bear in mind that there can and most definitely will be slight differences between the two experiences at the least in terms of technical proficiency.
If I were to sum this game up in as spoiler-free a way as I possibly could, I would have to remark upon the lavish open world and the role-playing mechanics that have now revolutionized the series for the better. True, I would also have to do my best to impart as much as I could upon readers in regard to the breaking of new ground that is the game’s narrative itself, and yet I would also be bound by convention to avoid spoilers whilst discussing the thoroughly unconventional themes and elements of said narrative. Now that I’ve gotten my hypothetical musings out of the way, let’s actually get down to business.
Breath of the Wild is far from the first Legend of Zelda game to explore the concept of an open world- several others have done it to some extent and yet none so to the depth or with the level of commitment that Breath of the Wild has. My favorite (still at least for now) game in the series- Wind Waker, was one of the most impressive in terms of the size and scope of the world and island-hopping narrative. And yet for all of its amazing design work at the time, Breath of the Wild scoffs and dwarfs it forty times over- all the while still offering players the same sense of exploration and dutiful scavenging for interesting tidbits of narrative and progression of upgrades and collected materials.
It’s not necessarily that Breath of the Wild is a departure from the series in terms of its exploration and open-ended mentality, merely that it is a departure from a lot of the conventional elements we have grown accustomed to over the years. In many ways you could very well compare its very gameplay to that of Fallout and Far Cry 2 in that your very supplies and materials will decay and break down over time, giving rise to a more strategic approach to combat and puzzles rather than utilizing the same master sword and mirror shield over and over again. As with the game design itself, there is an air of openness and detachment even from your very inventory- from armor to weapons to items to mounts. All of this funnels the player into a fulfilling quest of both cultivation and exploration throughout the dozens of hours you’ll invest in the game.
No longer are you “level-locked” by a lack of special inventory items or particular gadgetry and weapons. Breath of the Wild embraces openness to the extent that you can enter virtually any dungeon and be able to make your way through- assuming you’re skilled enough to take down the hardiest of enemies with only a few hearts of your own to speak for. Nothing is impossible, but it’s definitely improbable in your lowliest of beginning stages that you’ll storm the desolate gates of Hyrule and conquer your darkest foes. The means are there, but you’re much better off exploring the world, leveling your gear, learning your skills, and adding to your inventory as you go- making for a truly deep experience like no other we’ve yet to experience in the Legend of Zelda series or the majority of role-playing games, for that matter.
So open and expansive are the narrative and exploration elements of the game in fact, that you can choose whether to embrace exploration entirely and abandon the main plot line or scour the world for all the key collectibles and story moments in order to first defeat your ultimate nemesis prior to focusing on open-ended exploration and side quests. There are a number of activities to be found in Breath of the Wild- as is critical within any respectable RPG, and for what it’s worth not a single activity feels needless or a waste of time and energy. Typically delving into dungeons or shrines will lead to special rewards and upgraded gear or equipment that will only benefit you in either your continued crusade to take back Hyrule or your quest to roam all the lands open to you.
In all of this opening explication I’ve surely managed to convince you that the world you are able to explore is expansive and impressive, however I cannot do it the justice it deserves without first allowing you to experience it for yourself. It is truly large and not only that but filled with lore, activities, and sheer worthwhile exploration and adventure- as any epic tale should contain. I’ve previously compared Breath of the Wild to The Witche 3: Wild Hunt and once you play the game for yourself you will probably be able to see why that is such a compelling comparison to make. While it is easy to view this world as a composite slate, you must also account for the fact that the sum of its individual parts add to the totality of the experience and truly make it a fascinating and exhilarating journey.
There is less of a sense of true direction than in previous Zelda tales, and yet the game does not lack for purpose or quality exploration and exposition. Everything is there for you to find however it won’t always be pointed out to you immediately- something that can also apply in terms of gameplay dynamics and overall mechanics. It only takes one glance at YouTube to see that players are still discovering new ways to explore certain areas or complete specific puzzles or tackle difficult bosses. It’s truly amazing the lengths to which Nintendo has gone to open up the world creatively and even add such an element of constant replayability to such simple things as locomotion and combat. Seriously- you can power rafts with magnetism, you can ride grizzly bears, you can launch felled trees into the sky, and you can sneak your way onto a Hinox and pickpocket treasures whilst it sleeps. The possibilities seem endless and will more than likely stay that way for a good long time.
While the opportunities and options available to you from the onset are nearly endless, that’s not to say you won’t quickly discover Link’s own limits which must be pushed past as you continue playing the game. Look no further than the stamina bar- which is about as competent in execution (climbing, defense, sprinting, attacks, etc) as the Cleveland Browns have been in securing a wining season within the past decade. Needless to say, all great adventurers must start somewhere and the few limiting factors that force you to think small-scale before you can truly venture out into the wide world and take the fight to your foes in your massive and ambitious quest only serve to improve the overall quality of the adventure itself. There is a level of exploration in Breath of the Wild that I’ve not seen in any game to date- meaning everything that is tangible is yours to collect, climb, scatter, or demolish, and this extends from simple locomotion through every other mechanical system inherently found in gameplay.
The level of attention to detail both on the grand scale and in the little details- lore, dialogue, weather cycles, and character memory itself, is truly ambitious and respectable. If you ever for a second think you’ve “broken the game” or otherwise discovered something that couldn’t possibly happen, you should probably consider the fact that this title has such quality that nearly everything has been thought of before you’re even remotely close to discovering its existence for yourself. For such a gigantic game world, it manages to pay attention to things on a minuscule level as well and compartmentalize dungeons and gameplay in hopes of being able to offer more and more of the things we’ve all come to respect over the years. For example, the dungeons themselves may seem smaller in scale, however there are plenty more of them spread across the landscape and each offers an inventive twist upon legacy puzzles and classic gimmicks all the while adding completely new elements as well.
The game world is so large that it wouldn’t be fair to traverse it without the help of fast travel locations. Thankfully Nintendo recognizes this and adds them in the guise of shrines- offering dungeon like puzzle experiences in a compact package that utilizes a few different inventory items and unique gameplay elements, loot and treasures beyond your wildest dreams, and the eventual ability to utilize explored shrines as fast travel waypoints. Each shrine is truly unique in the way it forces you to discover its secrets and unlock its puzzles. While the mechanics in each do get a tad bit repetitive with time (within singular shrines), the replayability factor remains in that some must be returned to upon unlocking or discovering certain items in order to complete them fully.
Breath of the Wild is perhaps both the most expansive and difficult of all Zelda games to date. It is not merely a quest for glory or to liberate your homeland, but rather a tale of exploration and survival against all odds. I found many elements to be strikingly similar to those of Fallout: New Vegas’s hardcore modes requiring players to manage their hunger and thirst alongside health, gear, and other aspects of their mission and person. There is a level of strategy to each combat encounter and even to exploration itself within the world and there isn’t often much explanation past the opening few minutes as to what you should be doing, how you should be doing it, or where you should look to for guidance. For better or worse, Breath of the Wild tosses players out of their comfort zone and forces them to become gritty survivors.
I loved the attention to detail in the environments and their environmental effects upon Link as you traverse them. Take note of scorching hot lava floes and chilly northern climates, as the hottest of areas and the coldest of areas can and will affect you severely if you traipse through them unprepared and unequipped. Breath of the Wild is no walk in the park but it is also created with accessibility in mind enough so that it is no Souls game, merely a hardy experience that forces you to adapt as you go. You will undoubtedly die many times over and yet as you play and learn and find better equipment, you will begin to realize what it takes to succeed and the game will become less and less of a struggle to survive and even more exciting of an adventure to embark upon.
Discovery and exploration extends to every key element of the game- crafting potions and finding food recipes, equipping new weapons, wearing powerful armor, and ultimately figuring out which pieces of your very enemies could come in handy for recipes and schematics. Beyond that, there is of course the obviously imbued exploration leading to the discovery of new areas and characters over time- specifically many throwbacks to names of places and people from previous Zelda experiences and lore. Without ruining the majority of the surprise, you will definitely be able to speculate as to where exactly Breath of the Wild fits into the famously confusing Zelda timeline considering the fact that a ruined version of Ocarina’s Lon Lon Ranch can be found in-game as well.
Having talked about nearly every other available aspect of the game, I feel it is only fair to touch upon the narrative itself as briefly as I possibly can without ruining it for prospective players. It’s no real secret that your ultimate goal in Breath of the Wild is to topple the legendary evil that is Ganon. The calamity that he has wrought in the world is telling in terms of its physical manifestation and the psychological effects it has wrought on the characters themselves. From the earliest moments of the game it becomes obvious that you must eventually face this evil, yet the time and preparation it takes for you to get there is entirely up to you. There is no three day clock counting down to catastrophe here- merely your own expectations and your own preparations culminating in one epic and final confrontation. Of course, as the game itself is so massive, you’re free to go and explore the rest of the world in the aftermath of the narrative finale.
What truly does amaze me and must be spoken about to some degree is the way in which Nintendo handles Link and Zelda this time around- from their interaction to their tied fates and thoughts and mannerisms. There is a definite vibe that Zelda would be channeling her inner twenty-first century feminine empowerment if she knew of such things, and I love that element to the narrative. There’s no sense in her playing the often helpless role she has in the past and even she is aware of this and sick of the sameness of her destiny- so much so that she goes out of her way to do all she can to assist Link throughout his journey rather than only standing in to assist him in his final struggle against Ganon (I’m looking at you Wind Waker). While the characters are familiar variations on the same theme we’ve always seen, they’re different and mature enough that it never gets old.
For such an impressive and massive exploration of game design and creation, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is truly a testament to Nintendo’s commitment to quality experiences in perhaps what is their greatest series ever. There are a few technical issues at times and yet for the life of me I can think of no other detriments to the overall experience that Breath of the Wild offers- which is truly astounding in such a large game, as the majority of even the most finely tuned experiences such as The Witcher 3 have had their fair share of dramatic bugs and glitches over the years. All things said and done, where you’re a long-time fan of the series or a newcomer altogether, if you have a Wii U or perhaps the Nintendo Switch, I implore you to give this game a whirl as it’s a truly unforgettable and worthwhile experience like none other. It’s way too soon to tell for certain, but compared to even the greatest iterations of the series, Breath of the Wild will be remembered fondly.
Concept: Meld traditional elements of The Legend of Zelda series into a truly open world design that tasks players not only with survival but exploration for the sake of progressing through the experience.
Graphics: It is not the gritty experience that Twilight Princess was in its more realistic art direction and yet Breath of the Wild’s design is flawless and fits perfectly with the tones present throughout the narrative.
Sound: From nature’s call to the subtle yet fitting melodies that ramp up with each new discovery and encounter, the themes are slightly different from past soundtracks in the series and yet they work just as well.
Playability: Forget past issues with motion control and sometimes finicky elements on the Wii and Wii U, as far as I am concerned the mechanics and controls handle better than they ever have before.
Entertainment: Whether you choose to mix story and side elements or pursue one solely over the other, Breath of the Wild is a thrilling and compelling experience and one that you will surely remember for a long time to come.
Replay Value: High.
Overall Score: 9.75