Truly, a breath of fresh air.
Early on in his adventure, Link acquires powers called runes. These let you affect objects in the world, for example with magnesis, you can pick up and move any kind of metal object. You also have stasis, which freezes an object in time, while cyronis will create a pillar of ice out of water and timed bombs let you use explosives.
Unlike other Zelda games, you have practically all of your tools available to you at the start of the game. Breath of the Wild doesn’t suffer for this, however, as it’s equally engaging to know you have tools at your disposal as to figure out how to use them. Runes adhere to the physics of the world, meaning there’s usually more than one way to solve a puzzle. The physics engine can also lead to some hilarious results, like accidentally blowing yourself off a cliff with a bomb. It’s a system that feels rewarding when you piece a puzzle together, and you really feel like you overcame the trials yourself and didn’t just have to wait until you got the right item.
Combat in the game will still be familiar to anyone that’s played a Zelda game, but some key elements have been changed up, also making things much more challenging. You have three types of items to equip–weapons, shields, and bows, in addition to different armor to gear Link with. Each item type plays a key role — weapons for close up, bows for ranged engagement, and shields to of course defend yourself with. Enemies hit hard, really hard, so you need to be on your toes with these arms, and especially keeping weapon degradation in mind.
Weapons degrade at a fairly fast rate, meaning you constantly need to monitor your supply and be on the lookout for new items. The system was tough to get used to at first, almost feeling unfair. I constantly had to worry about picking up new weapons, and met fresh disappointment each time I discovered a shiny new weapon, only to have it break after engaging a couple groups of enemies. I was steadily worried about not having enough weapons to take out enemies for a while, however, as you continue on in the game this becomes less and less of an issue.
Weapons become plentiful later on, and you usually don’t have trouble finding them, meaning my combat style quickly shifted from hesitant to all out attack. At some point I wholly stopped caring about my weapon’s durability, and every time I noticed one about to break, I’d throw it right at my enemy‘s face.
Breath of the Wild’s combat may seem simple at first, but it grows more challenging and complex as you learn more. Runes can be used in fun ways during battle, and Link has a few special moves of his own. Dodging an enemy‘s attack at the precise time lets you unleash a devastating flurry attack that lands multiple blows. Meanwhile, jumping off of heights and pulling out your bow slows down time, letting you land a critical hit with grace and accuracy.
You’ll encounter various groups of enemies across the world of Hyrule, with everything from Bokoblins to Lizalfos and more dangerous optional bosses. While exploring, you’ll also run across the beings named Koroks, who function as collectibles. Koroks are hidden everywhere, under rocks, in trees, by solving little puzzles in the world. There’s literally hundreds of them in Breath of the Wild, and each one you find rewards you with a Korok Seed, which can be traded in to increase your inventory size.
While you’re contending with the forces of evil in the game, Heart recovery is handled a little differently too. Recovery is done by eating food now, which you can pickup in the world and cook to make complete dishes. Fires and pans are used to combine items in your inventory, letting you make both food and elixirs, which give you temporary stat boosts. Creativity and experimentation is key here, as you need to figure out what combines well together.
The small details are what really make Breath of the Wild pop, and it’s such an intricately built game. Lightning is attracted to your metal weapons, trees can be cut to make bridges, and spinning around in front of a dog will make it do the same. Running around the game naked will elicit responses of shock and judgement, and once, a friendly NPC tried to stop me from jumping off of a bridge. These are just a few examples of a multitude of tiny details that give the game life.
The ambient soundtrack helps set the tone of self-discovery, and the art style used in the game makes for some absolutely breathtaking moments. On top of this, every region of Hyrule is incredibly distinct, with everything from snowy mountains to scorching deserts and lush fields. Eventually, you can even get a sense of where you are just by the local scenery.
The game runs incredibly well on the Switch tablet and looks gorgeous, while TV mode can take a hit here and there with framerate. It wasn’t ever a serious issue for me, however, and either way I played the game worked just fine. There’s really no better game at the Switch’s launch to show off the potential of Nintendo’s new handheld hybrid.
The freedom that I felt while playing Breath of the Wild is something almost no other game has given me. Each Shrine, Korok, and secret I uncovered was my own personal victory, not something the game had handed over. I approached the story how I wanted to and as much as I wanted to, and because of this, the final showdown with Ganon felt all the more satisfying. I had been on a grand journey, and meticulously prepared for this, while meeting the citizens of Hyrule, helping them and learning to care for those I was protecting. Even after finishing the main story around 60 hours in, there were still tons of sidequests I hadn’t completed, and I even found entirely new sections of the world with new characters to discover.
Breath of the Wild doesn’t feel like an experiment for the Zelda series, it feels like the realization of what Zelda always wanted to be. It easily stands toe-to-toe with the best open world games of the generation, and is a marvelous way to introduce a brand new system. Whether you’re a Zelda fan or not, this is certainly an experience you should not miss out on.
SCORE: 5/5 – EXEMPLARY