The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Game review on Switch
Kris Godwin / Mon 13th Mar 2017
180 views / 1 bite
Finally, after nearly three years since its announcement, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is here!
Nintendo's final game for the Wii U, as well as its flagship launch title for the Switch, much has made of this highly ambitious sequel to the revered fantasy franchise - and now that I've put it through its paces, I can confidently say that it matches the quality of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
In fact, it may have surpassed it.
Directly due to its 'open-air' gameplay, the story of Breath of the Wild is the most open-ended since the very first game in 1986.
Zelda games have never been known for their intricate plots, but this one is especially minimalist.
Because players can uncover the plot in any way they like, Nintendo has made the choice to not make an overly-complicated jigsaw puzzle. Many fans may dislike this move, but I honestly didn't have a problem with it. The stories of Zelda have always been just as much about exploring the world, than it is a scripted sequence of events.
That's not to say there isn't any story. Waking from a mysterious 100-year slumber, Link finds the kingdom of Hyrule in a state of desolation, with no memories of what exactly happened. Shortly after, he is told that an apocalyptic evil known as the 'Calamity Ganon' has taken residence in Hyrule Castle - and is slowly growing in power.
In the most basic explanation, Link needs to destroy Ganon. In fact, the story can be as simple as that. Or it may not. It's entirely up to you...
I honestly don't know where to start.
The gameplay of Breath of the Wild is some of the greatest I've ever experienced in a videogame. The story I mentioned? Well, you have the complete freedom to experience it in any way you want. You are given objectives, and you can follow them. Or, you can go completely off the beaten track, and explore the massive world of Hyrule to your heart's content.
You can head straight to the final battle as soon as you start (good luck with that, though). Or you can focus on recovering Link's memories. Or try to beat the game's four massive dungeons. Or find the 100-plus Shrine mini-challenges. Or you can just explore. Meet people. Visit towns. Solve problems. Be a hero.
The influences of Bethesda's Elder Scrolls and Fallout are apparent, but Nintendo has taken that free-roaming template and injected their own design genius into it.
There is a strong survival aspect to this adventure. Link can hunt and forage for food, in order to make recipes and elixirs that offer special buffs. He can accrue countless weapons that will break after prolonged usage, like swords, spears, bows, shields, clubs and even mops and pitchforks. He can find minerals used for crafting, and money to spend (though unlike previous games, rupees are actually quite hard to come by).
Temperature and weather also affect our elfin hero; he needs to wear the appropriate clothing for the right region, and the heavens can wreak havoc on the land, with thunderstorms felling trees and lighting zooming toward anything metal. Blizzards reduce visibility to zero, and winds can spread wildfires.
Returning from Skyward Sword, Link has a stamina meter which affects his sprinting and the all-new free climbing mechanic. This latter feature is brilliant, and basically revolutionises open-world exploration, allowing players to climb anything and everything - allowing them to carve their own path through the land. Also returning from SS is Link's sailcloth, which allows him to glide massive distances. These two abilities are particularly important, as verticality is emphasised, and (unlike other open games) you have very few markers telling you where things are. It's up to you to find things, and mark them on your map.
Amiibo functionality is included, too. Regular Zelda figures can be used once a day to spawn materials and treasure - whilst the Wolf Link figure will actually spawn the canine as your travelling companion. He can sniff out items, hunt wildlife and fight enemies; but if he dies, you'll have to wait until the next day (in real life) to use him again. I also must note that he disappears when warping or visiting towns and shrines - but you can scan it again to bring him back when you depart these places.
There's so much more, but I just don't have space (or want to spoil too much). Suffice to say, this is one of the biggest games ever made - and definitely the biggest Zelda.
The visuals for Breath of the Wild are simply incredible.
It's hard enough to believe this game runs on the tiny Switch - let alone the Wii U. The art style is a gorgeous continuation of Skyward Sword's cel-shading (the bright colours making details easier to spot, according to Nintendo), and there are technical details that simply shouldn't be possible on such modest hardware.
I'm talking a gigantic world with no wasted space - everything is there for a reason, and every square inch contains a point of interest. There's a full physics system that influences the way the game is played, with every object having its own weight and effect, enemies (and Link) flopping like rag dolls and tools that can pick up metal objects, freeze them in place and create ice platforms in the water.
There's a dynamic destruction engine, with fire that spreads realistically (whether through grass, wood or even cooking food), trees that fall, and electricity that can be conducted by steel and water. There's even an advanced lightning engine that should've been impossible on Wii U, with real-time global illumination giving off water reflections and sunlight that bounces off grass and wet dirt. There's even a next-gen sky, with moving clouds and storms!
Unfortunately, all of this causes some stress on performance. Framerates can drop pretty bad in very busy moments, like big battles or towns - and I even encountered some freezes in a few instances (only split second ones). It's nothing that ruins the experiences, and I can forgive such hiccups, considering everything else going on. Also, it runs at 720p on Wii U, 900p on Switch (and 720p in portable mode, which is actually the smoothest way to play).
Likewise, audio is utterly amazing. Instead of a continuous soundtrack, Breath of the Wild instead emphasises the sounds of nature when exploring, and the results are incredible. The Switch version in particular is mind-blowing, as Nintendo have touted its HD audio. Initially, I wasn't sure what to expect - until I actually found out that it mimics a surround set-up. Even on my tiny TV speakers, there were times when I actually thought the animal noises were coming from outside or behind me - which took my breath away.
Actual music tracks are orchestrated and are typically epic, and the voice acting (a first for the series) was actually quite good. It's nothing that would dethrone Naughty Dog in terms of quality, but it works. Either way, speech is kept to a minimum, only playing in cutscenes - whether due to space or an artistic decision, I can't say. Still, I didn't mind; some things don't need to change!
Overall, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the best games I have ever played.
Whether it dethrones Ocarina of Time (my personal favourite of all-time) is something I can only say after further reflection, but it most definitely at least matches it, in my opinion.
It's a game that represents Nintendo - and the medium itself - at its very best, and proves that unforgettable gaming experiences aren't beholden to state-of-the-art hardware. It's the ultimate proof of how smart programming trumps raw power, and Zelda's continues to place as one of gaming's most revered IP.
A true must buy.