Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review
Growing up I never personally owned a Nintendo console other than the original NES. Because of this, my earliest experiences with The Legend of Zelda were as a spectator, whether it was Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask. But even then I always had incredible admiration for the series. Even without being influenced by gaming publications or marketing, I knew it was something special.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild marks the first time I have played a Zelda game at launch. Lucky for me, I picked the best time to do so because it has the potential to be regarded as the best in the series. Let’s dive right in and talk about why Breath of the Wild is so good.
The Adventure of Link
Upon awakening from a deep slumber, Link finds himself in a small room, unable to escape whispering voices or remember where he is. These voices of unknown origin seek to guide him somewhere. He succumbs, unaware of where the journey will take him.
As with other Zelda games, the story in Breath of the Wild is familiar, but introduces enough elements as to not feel derivative. Iconic characters and the traditional story of a hero is here in dramatic fashion, as is the minimalist storytelling that the series has never strayed from. However, everything you recognize looks much better than you have ever seen before. That's because Breath of the Wild is by far the best looking Zelda game ever made, with a beautiful art style that makes extraordinary use of the Switch hardware— though there are occasional performance issues in docked mode.
The non-invasiveness of the storytelling is one of its best assets. The journey from beginning to end features amazing moments, but the cut scenes and dialog don’t take up the lion's share of your time like many other games set in an open-world. Instead, the emphasis is on your personal gameplay experience, which is a battle for survival.
As a result of its conciseness and precision, the story is easy to follow. Whether or not you choose to pay close attention to interactions between Link and those he comes in contact with, you’ll always feel like you have context as to what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Not many games can say that.
From Shrine to Shining Shrine
A large portion of your journey is spent traveling between the dozens of shrines scattered throughout the world— there are over 100 of them—, which house puzzles that challenge your creativity. Early on, these puzzles introduce several abilities that Link gains access to, each demonstrating over time that seemingly everything in Link's toolkit has greater capabilities than at initial inspection.
Breath of the Wild’s shrine-centric design plays a huge role in defining a balanced tempo for the game. Traditionally, Zelda games send you from one massive dungeon to the next, eating up the bulk of your journey. In this case, you are able to spend most of your time in the outdoors where much of the wonder and beauty is located. Just when exploring might become any less fun, you stumble upon a shrine, offering you a few minutes of linear progression.
This emphasis of the adventure plays greatly to Breath of the Wild’s benefit as exploring the world is a joy. There's always something new to see, and treasure hiding just around the corner. You'll encounter various configurations of the game's cast of enemies, who are vibrant and animated. Sometimes it's fun stumbling upon them if only to see how they choose to take you down; they are well aware of what's around them, regularly utilizing tools and the environment against you in clever ways.
The best thing about the world design is how it never feels overbearing. It might be large, but it respects your attention span. You won't find the map densely populated with icons, making you feel like you have work to do. Instead, you venture in any direction you'd like, and stumble upon places and persons of interest in a way similar to the real world. In most cases, you get to decide whether to engage with these opportunities or not. The choice is yours.
The Great and Dangerous Outdoors
The world of Breath of the Wild is a harsh place. It isn’t just enemies that pose a problem, but the environment itself. In order to live to see the next day, you’ll need to take advantage of gathering and crafting often. Gathering is a regular activity, as you’ll find ingredients and materials everywhere you go. Using these, you can cook food that has a variety of benefits, the most important of which is restoring your health. However, you’ll also use food to increase your stats, providing a serious edge in the process. Any advantage you can gain is of great importance given the difficulty.
Breath of the Wild’s survival elements are cumbersome at first, but become a major contributor to a great experience after they are understood. A certain level of effort is required on this front, but you always get back more than you put in. For the first time ever, it really feels like Link is a hero fighting for his life.
Speaking of battle, combat is de-emphasized this time around since puzzles and exploration take up a great deal of your time. There are a lot of neat tricks to take with you into battle, but the basics of combat are over-simplistic when compared to the rest of the game. It’s easy to fall into tedium when battling multiple enemies in a row. The small number of attack types is to blame for this, though there are a variety of weapons to collect and utilize, each with distinct properties.
Enemy design comes to the rescue on this front. Enemies are interestingly crafted to encourage the use of the full range of potential in Link's toolkit. This is particularly evident during boss battles, which are as grand in scale as they are well-designed. In a way, these big battles are a crescendo that accelerates the momentum of the game during key moments. When paired with the other game elements, the end result is a game that successfully retains your interest by avoiding repetitiveness.
There might not be achievements or social features to take advantage of in Breath of the Wild, which is par for the course when it comes to Zelda. However, there’s plenty of content to occupy yourself with.
The main journey takes more than 30 hours to complete, and along the way you will discover a wealth of opportunity to divert from the main path and do what it is you like. In fact, just a couple hours in you can go in any direction you desire. This results in every playthrough being distinct, emboldening subsequent completions and further increasing play value.
This is particularly impressive when you consider that you can play the game from start to finish no matter where you are. With the Switch, this isn’t a game locked down to a TV experience; you can played at the beach, while waiting in line at the DMV, or just while laying back in your bed— it’s been perfect for my wrist fracture recovery. Having access to a game of this quality and depth on the go is hugely appealing.
Ultimately, that's part of what makes Breath of the Wild such a legendary game. Not only is this one of the best games ever made on console, but it's so far beyond what handheld games have done before that it raises the bar.
By the time the journey is all said and done, you'll feel like you witnessed something magical. The story leaves a great impression, supported by balanced gameplay and a beautiful presentation.
It’s been more than five years since the last Zelda release on console. Many would say that is too long. That might be true, but patience has paid off in a big way. The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild is orders of magnitude larger than any Zelda game before it, presenting more things to do within its world than ever before. This is the sort of game that captures your interest for more than a month, temporarily making you forget about any other game you were previously interested in.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild isn’t just good, it’s the best launch title I’ve ever played. It will single-handedly validate the purchase of the Switch for many people, and given the device's $299 price tag that's a huge accomplishment.
Congratulations Nintendo, you just earned my first ever perfect score on GameRevolution.
Copy provided by publisher. Also available on Wii U.
REVOLUTION REPORT CARD
Zelda: Breath of the Wild
- The biggest Zelda ever, and that’s saying something
- Survival mechanics make you feel like a hero
- Organic experiences replace open-world map clutter
- Effective minimalist storytelling
- Exploration is rewarded in a big way
- Clever puzzles improve the tempo
- Remarkable challenge will make some players lose their mind
- Simplistic combat can be boring when enemies aren't interesting
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