It’s been a long wait, but the next game in the Legend of Zelda series has finally released in the form of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Promising to shake up the Zelda formula and to change what it means to be a Zelda game. So does Nintendo succeed on that front, or is this a change for the worst? In short, it’s surprisingly great. However, I do have some worries on what this game may mean for the future of the series.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild looks like a Zelda game, but it hardly plays like your traditional one. You’ll notice this right off the bat once the game begins. You’ll notice that Link can equip clothing and wield many types of weapons that aren’t just swords. He’ll also have abilities like spawning bombs with a cool down, levitating metal objects, and even freezing an object in place. Not only that, but Link has the ability to climb freely on just about anything in the environment and to jump whenever. Along with new open-world mechanics, the game is also presented with voiced cutscenes. You notice all of these right away when the game begins, so you already know that this won’t be your normal Zelda adventure.
THE GOOD: While it doesn’t play out like your traditional Zelda game, the open-world mechanics of BotW is actually very impressive and fun. The ability to climb to just about anywhere in the world is quite something and makes this game really stand out. If you can see it, there’s a good chance you can bring Link there. The game even encourages and expects you to explore far off areas too, since you’ll often be rewarded for your curiosity. Be it a collectible or a shrine, which is another newly introduced concept to the formula.
There are many shrines in this game and each one houses a challenge. Be it a puzzle, a combat encounter, or even some kind of side quest to complete in order to get the shrine to appear. These shrines are always a thrill to find and satisfying to solve. My favorite moments in the game revolve around accidentally finding a shrine thanks to exploring around. They almost give off the feel of miniature dungeons too, since each of these puzzles feel like an obstacle you would see in a traditional Zelda dungeon.
Another new thing is how combat works. It still feels a bit like the Z-targeting lock on type system of old, but more modernized in some parts. Since Link can equip more than just a sword this time around, you have different weapon types to consider. You’ll have swords, spears, and two-handed weapons. Spears offer long range and two-handed weapons offer more attack power, but since they require two hands you are without a shield. So there’s some trade offs depending on the weapon you have equipped. Dodging attacks has also been tweaked a bit. If you dodge at just the right moment, a slow-time effect will occur and Link can then perform multiple attacks on the enemy in a flurry rush. There’s also a parry mechanic with Link’s shield. If done correctly, you can parry the enemy’s attack back at them and create an opening for more attacks. Perfecting these dodges and parries by knowing the tells of enemies will prove useful on the more difficult foes and bosses that Link will face. It’s also one of the most satisfying things you can do in this game.
It’s pretty impressive just how much there is to do in Zelda that you can often forget that there is a main quest to solve. This main quest is dealing with Ganon, and is a quest you’re given quite early in the game. Yes, that means you can actually choose to encounter Ganon not long into the game. It’s not wise since the equipment and overall strength of Link is less than ideal, but for those curious and daring enough to try it, the option is there. Even more is that the main story quests are always present, but your free to progress the story as you please. I’ve spent many hours just exploring the world, and actually progressed the game’s main story on accident because I just stumbled upon where I had to go. This true open-world mechanic to the traditional Zelda gameplay feels very fresh compared to recent releases and just completely immersed me into its world. There’s just so much to do and discover. Find villages, meet locals, solve side quests, discover secrets, gather ingredients and cook them, it really is a lot.
THE BAD: For as impressive and addicting these new changes to Zelda are, there’s gonna be some changes that aren’t as great. Before in a Zelda game you just collected a weapon or item and used them without worry. Now, in BotW items like swords, shields and bows have a durability meter. This means that after some use, they will eventually break and be unusable. It makes sense in terms of realism, but it happens quite often to cause some frustration. You can’t really get attached to a weapon because it just doesn’t last long enough. They can’t even be repaired, only replaced. And luckily, the weapons you find are easy to obtain. Many of the enemies you encounter will drop new equipment for you to use so it’s actually fairly easy to replace. Even more, the need to adapt to any situation with the resources you’re given, is actually a nice challenge within itself. So, while it can be a bit annoying with items breaking quite often, I actually never found it to be too troublesome and kind of enjoyed facing whatever challenges it gave me. Also, you will eventually find weapons with high durability so they will last longer. Even thought I didn’t mind it, I still felt that durability stuff could’ve been better in order to prevent possible frustrations.
Another thing that may trouble players is the returning stamina meter. Skyward Sword featured a stamina meter, but in BotW that stuff feels more apparent than before. This is due to running and climbing being used more often. Since exploration is highly encouraged, climbing is one of the main ways you’ll be doing this. However, there are places you won’t be able to climb up to if you don’t have enough stamina to do so. This can be an annoyance since you may feel restricted on where you can go. Just like durability, I didn’t mind this mechanic much either. Eventually you can upgrade your stamina meter by completing the multiple Shrines throughout the world, and it didn’t take long for me to get to a point where stamina was hardly a concern. As I said, this game is about adapting to what resources you have on hand, but also to what your capable of. Even if you can’t get there at that moment, you will eventually or can even work your way around to possibly getting there.
There are some things though that are hard to overlook. One of which is with the game’s performance. Presentation will be mixed for some. The art style is once again cel-shaded over a realistic looking one. It looks great and nicely detailed, you can also see things off in the distance which is a nice touch. Unfortunately, not everything is seen off in the distance, and often times things will just pop in as you draw near them. It’s easy to get over for how colorful it looks, but the one big unfortunate hiccup that you can’t look over is the game’s poor performance in framerate. In the more grassy areas of the world, slow down will occur, and even in the game’s villages this will happen. There are also other places like in some portions of combat and such. It certainly can take you out of things if you don’t get used to it and it’s always a bummer to see happen. Better optimization would’ve really made this world better immersed. Also, the voice acting can feel off in parts as well. I think it’s a decent first effort for a Zelda game and I still enjoyed the newly voiced cutscenes. However, some choices for the voices felt like they didn’t match their character and there’s certainly lots of room to improve.
This final disappointment of mine is a bit spoilerish so please be wary of reading this if you’re looking to avoid spoilers. There are lots of shrines in this game, as I mentioned already. With so many shrines, many would certainly worry about what this meant to the iconic Zelda-style dungeons. Since you’re actually given all the tools Link will use fairly early in the game, you’re not exactly heading into a dungeon and getting a new item out of it. Because of this new change, I feel like the developers had to really think on how they wanted these dungeons to be. Since you no longer have a dungeon centered around a specific item, you’re forced to use all the tools at your disposal to figure out a solution to the puzzles and boss. In that aspect, these dungeons are fun. However, they lack much difference from what the shrines already offer. There are some feelings of differences, because of what the dungeons actually are but, I couldn’t help but have that feeling of more, or rather, more traditional. Also, there wasn’t that many of them overall. I won’t say the exact amount, but I was certainly hoping for more on that front.
OVERALL THOUGHTS: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is not only one of the best games I’ve played this year, it’s possibly one of the best Zelda games ever. Even though I still found enjoyment from the traditional games like the previous entries, with Skyward Sword actually being a high fave of mine, I certainly was in that camp that felt Zelda was in need of some change. I’ll admit though, I wasn’t expecting this much of a change. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the characters involved, you might not even know this was a Zelda game. The amount of change to the formula is very welcoming and made the familiar adventure of Link actually feel like one, instead of something routine.
With this big a change though, come some concerns. That mainly being with how dungeons will be from here on out. I would love to see more open-worlds to this extent in a future Zelda entry, but along with the structure of how previous dungeons are. Having your basic tools along with the ability to find new ones, but keeping that open mentality of doing things in whatever order you want. Thanks to this release, something along those lines feels very possible. Creating a more modern version of the original Zelda is something I’m looking forward to. Until then, I’m still enjoying Breath of the Wild. Even after completing the story and investing over 80+ hours of play time, there’s still so much left to do.
While I do have a lot to praise, many parts of Breath of the Wild could certainly be better. Performance is inconsistent with framerate drops in many areas, which does seem to at least be a bit improved when playing in the Switch’s handheld mode. The other mishaps are with the smaller things. Things like durability and inventory management. I didn’t mind them too much, but there’s room for them to be better. So even though this game is very great, there’s still plenty that can be improved.
When it comes to what you think a Zelda game should be, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has completely redefined that. I’m very excited to see what the future has in store, but will continue to enjoy what’s present. And that is easily one of the best games this year. It’s a spectacular adventure from start to finish and a revolutionary achievement for open world games. Even with it’s issues, it’s hard to ignore just how great of an experience this is. Whether you own a Wii U or a Switch, Breath of the Wild should be at the very top of the list of games you should play.