I waited in line for three and a half hours to play thirty minutes of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Those thirty minutes felt like they passed in the blink of an eye. I honestly didn’t think that Nintendo could pull off dedicating an entire E3 to a single game, but considering Breath of the Wild generated the biggest buzz of anything at the convention, I stand corrected. I haven’t felt this hyped for a Zelda game since back before Ocarina of Time launched, but such is the magic of Breath of the Wild that I found myself so enthralled and mesmerized by it. Nintendo seems to be on the verge of something truly wonderful with its latest Zelda installment. Let’s break down what’s making Breath of the Wild so unique and fun!
Metal Gear Hyrule
I won’t lie and say I’ve never played anything like Breath of the Wild before, as I couldn’t help but note the marked similarities between it and Metal Gear Solid 3 and Metal Gear Solid V. Both of those Konami stealth titles seem to have had a hand in shaping the gameplay of Link’s newest adventure. Stealth plays a role in combat, for starters; Link can creep up to enemies from behind and take them down before they know he’s even there. There’s also a great deal of focus being placed on Link using his wits to survive Hyrule’s harsh landscape, from hunting to cooking. Perhaps the most striking similarity between Breath of the Wild and the two Metal Gear titles I mentioned previously is the free-form approach that players are afforded to move from from objective to objective.
At one point during my demo, I had to make my way to a marker on my map. As I moved forward, a couple of Bokoblins were huddled together around a campfire. I went above them onto a ledge overhead and pushed an enormous bolder toward the pair, smirking to myself as it steamrolled right over them. Now, had I wanted, I also could have sniped them using my bow, or even went at them head-on with my sword. It’s that sort of freedom that is making this Zelda a standout from the ones that came before it, and I loved it. The Legend of Zelda on NES had a similar feel in that there was more than one way to get around the overworld before finally fighting Ganon. Breath of the Wild is offering fans the first, genuine opportunity to do much the same, if not more so, in over 30 years. What’s old is new again, indeed.
Yes, there is voice acting in Breath of the Wild, but at this point it’s unclear how much. Now, if I were a betting man, I’d wager that the female voice who’s been heard thus far is Zelda… but who knows, it could be someone else, entirely. Other than her, however, I didn’t hear anyone else being voiced during my playthrough, with traditional scrolling text popping in as usual. I personally have been anti-voice acting in Zelda all these years, but if Nintendo can refrain from giving Link a voice, then I have no problem with this approach. So far as I can tell, part of the game will have spoken dialogue, and what I’ve heard is solid.
The story is always backseat in a Zelda game, no matter how many time Nintendo manages to squeeze in a thrilling narrative (see Majora’s Mask, The Wind Waker, and others for perfect examples of this), but I can’t help feeling that Breath of the Wild might be an exception to the rules. Now, I acknowledge that Nintendo has stated that players can go straight to the final boss if they so choose, eschewing the story entirely, but hear me out. For one, the voice acting certainly suggests a new focus on narrative, as it’s an entirely different method of delivering story than fans are used to in this series. For another, the opening, at least in the demo, is maddeningly tantalizing: Link wakes up in a resurrection chamber? So he was dead? Who killed him? Is this a Link that we’ve seen before?
All these questions swirled through my head as I played the demo, and as much as I was enjoying Breath of the Wild’s play mechanics, I really, really wanted to know what the heck was going on! Throw in “Calamity Ganon” and the odd futuristic tech that Link is using, and this game is absolutely vying to be one of the most ambitious storylines yet seen in a Zelda adventure!
Man of the World
Link has always been something of a Swiss Army Knife of a hero, employing a myriad of different weapons and gadgets to win the fight against evil. Breath of the Wild is no different, and even seems to be bumping up the size of our hero’s armory. Enemy weapons can be hoarded, along with others that Link can find in the environment; it’s important to be sparing with deadlier weapons, as they all have a durability gauge to keep track of. Use something too much and it will break! It’s unclear if other weapons down the road will last longer or be unbreakable, but I wouldn’t doubt seeing something along those lines pop up.
The stamina gauge introduced in Skyward Sword is back, allowing Link to burst into a sprint, scale the face of mountains, and swim, so long as it doesn’t empty out. As a result, Link feels very athletic and agile, but not all-powerful. I felt like an actual hunter or forager as I made my way through Hyrule, and all of the different movements worked together very seamlessly and organically. One thing that will take getting used to, though, is Link being able to jump! A tap of the button and Link is in the air much like a certain plumber. Given how many actions Link is capable of in this game, it only makes sense that he finally be able to truly hop around in a 3D adventure for the first time. I wonder if the developers will give him any Goombas to stomp on like in Link’s Awakening…?
Along with the vast environment, Breath of the Wild is looking to offer the most realistic, fleshed out take on exploration yet seen in a Zelda game. I’d like to point out that even though I think this game is offering some similar gameplay elements to Metal Gear Solid V, especially, in that unique Nintendo way, Breath of the Wild has streamlined the mechanics of that experience greatly here. It’s not to say that the gameplay here is simplistic; on the contrary, there is a lot to learn and do in Breath of the Wild, possibly more than in any previous Zelda. No, what I’m instead suggesting is that Nintendo has seemingly taken inspiration from Hideo Kojima’s swan song with Konami and transformed it into something far more approachable and welcoming in the way that fans have come to expect from the company.
Easy on the Eyes
Wii U tends to defy expectations when it comes to graphics. The vast majority of Nintendo’s first party offerings are true stunners, visually; Mario Kart 8, The Wind Waker HD, Super Mario 3D World, Pikmin 3, and others all look as incredible as much of the software on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Breath of the Wild, however, might end up taking the crown for most beautiful Wii U game. This is one heck of an effort that Nintendo is putting forth. The environment is lush with details, the color palette is warm and inviting, animations are fluid, and the lighting that Nintendo has become such experts with is on full display, here. While I did experience some pop-in of textures and other assets, and I wished the whole thing was a little crisper, this is a masterpiece from a graphical standpoint.
I strive to be as honest and forthright as I can be when I talk about games here on Nintendojo, so I hope that everyone can appreciate that when I say Breath of the Wild might go on to become one of the greatest games ever made, please know I don’t say that lightly. Every facet of the Zelda franchise seems to have been cracked open and reworked for this game, and the end result might very well be something utterly magical. I didn’t want to stop playing, didn’t want to walk away from this new version of Hyrule that felt familiar and different all at the same time. I’m not going to stop thinking about Breath of the Wild for a long time, and all I got was a taste of it. Be very excited, dear readers; 2017 can’t get here fast enough.