The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Available on Wii U, and Nintendo Switch)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: March 3rd, 2017
Parent Talk: Breath of the Wild has been rated E10+ by the ESRB for everyone ten years and up. The disclaimer lists Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes, and the Use of Alcohol. All of the Zelda games fit this criteria, however this one feels slightly more mature than most Zelda games because it deals with death, failure, and an impending doom. That said, the story is also extremely minimalistic, more so than almost any other game in the franchise. The violence is about up to par with the rest of the series, and most children will be perfectly fine with the game.
Plays Like: I could very easily say Breath of the Wild plays just like any other Zelda game, but that would be a flat out lie. Certain elements play like the older games in the series, but for the most part, the game that this plays the most like is the original Legend of Zelda, and that’s shocking! Players are free to do as they please from the moment they leave the starting area. So about thirty to forty minute in, and you can do literally anything you want. Want to fight Ganon, go for it, want to traverse the world, you can do that too, how about spending the next 90 hours cooking, yes, that’s also possible.
Review Basis: I invested over 90 hours into Breath of the Wild. That includes finding and completing all 120 shrines, countless side quests, and all of the Divine Beasts. I explored absolutely every inch of the world map, and tried to do everything I could with the game. I’m certain there are still tons of elements I know nothing about, but for the most part, I would say now I’m ready to review the latest game in my favorite series. Full disclosure, I’ve been playing this series since 1987 and am a diehard fan, so you can expect a fan’s perspective with this review.
This review will be completely different than all the other reviews I’ve ever done. Typically I race to get out the quickest reviews possible, and sometimes, especially in the case of the Zelda series, I get sucked into the hype and come back many years later to question why I reviewed said game the way I did. With Breath of the Wild I really wanted to invest the time necessary to see what worked, what didn’t work, and what could be improved upon. Overall The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an incredible game, and a game-changing one for the Zelda series. Nintendo hasn’t been this bold since The Wind Waker was released on the GameCube back in 2002. That game was a huge risk for Nintendo because of the graphical direction Nintendo took the series in, but with A Link Between Worlds Nintendo started to change the core gameplay. They expressed interested early on in trying to take the series in a brand new direction with Breath of the Wild, and they’ve certainly succeeded in doing that. The question now is whether or not the countless perfect scores media outlets have given the game are justified or has everyone fallen into the hype trap? Let’s dig in and find out!
- A true open world. The sense of freedom is unmatched in any other game. By now you’ve all heard of just how massive Hyrule is in Breath of the Wild. The size and scale is incredible, but that’s not what makes this impressive. What is so shockingly impressive is the fact that you’re left pretty much to your own devices. Unlike Skyward Sword where you were handheld for what felt like an eternity, here after the opening section you can do anything you want. You can head directly to Ganon, or you could go in the exact opposite direction. The game points you to Kakariko Village, but the choice is yours whether or not you actually want to do that. In total I believe there are only around 10 main quests in the game, one for each of the Divine Beasts, one for Ganon, and a few others pointing you to your next destination once you trigger the larger quest event. Not since the original Legend of Zelda did I ever feel this much free from a Zelda When I was a kid I recall going off in any direction, with the only limiting factor being key items I required, or the level of difficulty from enemies. Here you have all the items you need right at the beginning of the game, so the only thing stopping you is your courage. Yes the game is broken up in such a way so as to help funnel you to different areas through enemy difficulty, but you still have the choice to ignore all of that and veer off in any direction you want, and that is such a welcome change for the series.
- I just said that enemy difficulty plays a key part in this game, and that’s absolutely true. Right away you feel underpowered to the earliest encounters the game has to offer. The reason why, you’re literally naked. Without any defensive gear you’re left at the mercy of every enemy you encounter. There are a few ways you can fix this. You can scour the land and try and find gear, or you can master the combat system, which is simple enough that you can actually race straight to Ganon and actually beat him if you’re extremely well-versed in the combat system. For the average gamer that’s not going to be an option, you’ll have to play through the game as Nintendo intended. The thing is, having this incredible difficulty is something us long-time fans have been asking for, for years now. Zelda games have become all too easy over the past three decades, and having this one kick my butt right at the on-set was a welcome treat. I loved not being hand-held, and having to stumble onto new tactics to defeat each new enemy I encountered.
- Every enemy encounter is slightly different. While the combat system as a whole is rather simplistic, the way you actually face enemies is always different. For example, you might see a group of enemies sleeping, so do you just run in and fight them all just like that? Maybe, or maybe you sneak past all the enemies and steal their weapon stash which makes them defenseless, or maybe you shoot some fire arrows at the pieces of wood that happen to be holding large boulders that will then fall and crush all the enemies. This may sound exaggerated, but almost every enemy encounter has between three and four obvious ways to tackle the encounter, and countless others you don’t immediately think about.
- I’ve said the combat system was simplistic, and while that’s true, when you couple it with how many combat options you have available, it never feels stale. For the most part you have the ability to slash at foes by pressing the Y button. If you use the ZL button, depending on your held weapon you can deflect incoming projectiles with your shield. Where things get interesting is that if you time it correctly, you can parry an incoming projectile directly back at an enemy by pressing the A button at the precise time. This is how it’s entirely possible to storm Hyrule Castle right away and take on Ganon, because the full extent of the combat system is unlocked right away. You have to have perfect timing though, so don’t expect this to be a breeze. You can also perform charged attacks and more. Each weapon has a distinct ability when charged, a giant club will allow you to perform a circular spinning attack, whereas a sword will allow you to charge your attack to perform a one-time classic spin attack.
- Charge attacks are based on the stamina system, which controls so many different aspects of the game. Stamina is what dictates how long you can glide, how long you can climb up surfaces, how far you can swim, and how long you can perform your devastating attacks. Since Link has the ability to climb up just about every surface in the game, the stamina wheel acts a nice control of sorts. As you complete shrines, you can also upgrade your stamina wheel to a maximum of three stamina wheels. With that much stamina there’s no place you won’t be able to reach.
- Perhaps the biggest addition made to the Zelda series outside the open world is the newly introduced gravity system. Virtually all of the gameplay mechanics are wrapped around gravity. My previous example for how you could approach an enemy encounter also mentioned gravity indirectly. When you set fire to certain obstacles, gravity can take over causing objects to fall. So you can imagine all the possibilities not only in terms of combat, but also in terms of puzzle solving. The shrines are mostly made up of puzzles that revolve around using magnetic abilities, bombs, freezing time, or creating ice blocks, but each of these is wrapped around gravity. So you might stop an object, smack it a few times with your sword, and the power will build up in it that when time resumes, it will fly off in a certain directly at warp speed, almost ignoring gravity. Sometimes a well-placed bomb will causes debris to fall and crush enemies, and there are so many examples where you need to use gravity to your advantage in order to move an orb into position to trigger a door to open. That doesn’t even being to mention how gravity affects your arrows, which is to say, a lot. You always have to aim slightly over a target because you have to factor in gravity pulling the arrow down. It’s absolutely fantastic, and a great new inclusion to the series that I want to see in all future Zelda
- The Legend of Zelda series has been known to house some fun and distractive mini-games, but there’s one sort of mini-game here that takes the cake, literally. The cooking system, while not perfect which I’ll touch in later on, is highly addictive. The way it works is simple, you can grab up to five ingredients from your materials inventory and mix them together in a cooking pot to create something magical. From cold-resistant elixirs to meat skewers that replace 10+ hearts, there’s no limit to what you can cook. The real fun part is when you start to explore Hyrule and realize there are secret hidden recipes all over the place, some of which will show you how to make incredibly strong potions that can grant you a series of new heart containers, or even up your attack power. The catchy little jingle is what makes it even better. In terms of other mini-games, there are some returning favorites like horseback archery, as well as new ones like snow bowling.
- Traveling the world trying to find everything Hyrule has to offer may seem daunting at first, and while there are a wide assortment of travel options available, I always found climbing up a mountain and gliding to the next point of interest the best mode of transportation, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention all the other ways you can travel around. If you want to traverse the sea, why not take a raft and a Korok Leaf to send wind at the raft sail and sail away to wherever you want. Naturally you can try and mount a horse, calm it down, and then register it at a stable if you want to keep said horse. This is rather common, but did you know you can also find and ride bears, deer, and maybe even skeleton horses? Yes, there’s no shortage of ways to get around. The most useful is fast-traveling from one destination to another, which you can do once you unlock a shrine. This is why I spent dozens of hours unlocking all of the game’s shrines, because they allowed me to move from one area to the next with ease.
- Speaking of shrines, they take the place of dungeons. I’ll say this right away, they’re not substitute for a classic Zelda dungeon, but they are indeed fun. Completing a shrine rewards Link with a spirit orb, which he can use four of them to upgrade one of his heart containers or a piece of a new stamina wheel. I loved the quick-paced nature of the shrines, but after about 80 of them they start to get very repetitive. Essentially there are two types, combat trials where you fight the same enemy, just different versions of it, and then there are the puzzle-based shrines. These are usually made up of two or three rooms with a single puzzle in each. Occasionally there will be more complex shrines, but not often. They really put your understanding of the game’s Sheikh Slate abilities to the test, which is why I enjoyed them as much as I did.
- There are several core abilities that the Sheikah Slate has: Bombs, Magnesis, Stasis, camera, and Amiibo. It can be used to locate shrines, or you can take pictures of items and then switch the sensor to search the world for said items. The sensor can be upgraded, which grants additional abilities, such as that camera scanning feature. What’s so unique is that you get the main abilities before you leave the Great Plateau, or the starting area. That means you’re armed to tackle absolutely all of the puzzle-based shrines from the moment you’re able to explore the world, and that’s extremely unique.
- Amiibo support gave players an early advantage in terms of materials to use for cooking as well as weapons, shields, and bows they could make use of. The biggest gameplay change-up with Amiibo support was the inclusion of Wolf Link from Twilight Princess Wolf Link can fight beside Link and can be repeatedly used if he falls in battle, by triggering the Amiibo again, whereas the other ones can only be used once per day. Only the Zelda-based character trigger special drops, all the other Amiibo figures simply drop a few resources. If you own Twilight Princess on the Wii U, you can even max our Wolf Link’s hearts to 20.
- One element that I’ve heard a lot of players dislike is the weapon durability system. The truth is that in past Zelda games most players will stick to about five or six weapons in their inventory, and the others they’d use out of necessity to complete a dungeon or some special boss. What I like with this new system is that it almost forces you to try everything, at least once. You can try boomerangs, two-handed weapons, wands, swords, and every bow imaginable. I really liked that. Yes it’s unfortunate that there aren’t any weapons that last forever, yes even the Master Sword will need to recharge after prolonged use, and the Hylian Shield can and will break over time. Still, the fact I played with so many different weapons was an interesting idea. I think what could have made this just a bit better would have been if one of the great fairies could have upgraded weapons besides just upgrading armor. That way towards the end of the game players could have kept the weapons they liked the best.
- As I just mentioned, great fairies are back and they can upgrade your gear from collected materials you find all over Hyrule. This is important as it really gives you a reason to explore, and fight each new enemy you encounter. From mystical dragons to the dreaded Lynel there are always materials you can put to good use at some point. I spent many hours trying to harvest all of the materials for my favorite armor sets, and doing so pays off, not only in defensive strength, but also in set bonuses. Some armor sets allow you to be almost invisible while walking, while others prevent you from catching fire, freezing, or being electrocuted. Believe me when I say, upgrading your gear can turn the tables on your enemies and make you a force to be reckoned with.
- Hyrule is populated with an incredible cast of characters. I would go so far as to say the generic NPC you see walking around is actually more interesting than the champions you’re supposed to learn more about from 100 years ago. The reason why is because they share so many similarities with Majora’s Mask. People in Hyrule live their life. They all have daily routines, and when it starts to rain, they take shelter and do something else. This is so fascinating to watch, and depending on what you’re wearing at the time, from nothing to special armor sets I don’t want to spoil, their animations and even dialogue changes. It’s absolutely incredible.
- The story takes a backseat in this latest Zelda which was a bit surprising. When I finished off the game and the credit were rolling I realized just how little story there actually was in the game, but then I recalled all the little elements that the NPCs had added to the tale. You see yes the main storyline isn’t all that deep. There are a series of hidden memories you can activate which help flesh things out, but it’s actually old journals, and certain NPCs that really add to the storyline and help make the world feel more cohesive. What’s really interesting is the support and lack of support for where the game fits in the now infamous Zelda Timeline. We know the game takes place after Ocarina of Time, but that’s all Nintendo is saying at this point. There are hints it could take place after Twilight Princess, Wind Waker, or fit within the ‘failed hero’ timeline. That doesn’t help, as each one of those are branches of all three timelines. I looked high and low for clues, and ultimately I can make an argument for all three, although personally I’m leaning towards the failed hero timeline because of the placement of the Master Sword, as well as all the nods to the original games, but hey, that’s just me. Where do you think the game takes place in the timeline?
- Finally, it’s time to talk about the audio visuals. As a Switch launch title, or a Wii U swansong, the game looks fantastic. This marks the first brand new Zelda game created on an HD console. That’s staggering that it took until 2017 to get a native HD Zelda, but here it is. Before anyone says anything, I’m excluding the Wind Waker and Twilight Princess remakes as those were HD-upgraded ports of Wii games. Breath of the Wild is a completely original Zelda game that was created from the ground up with high-def in mind, and as you can imagine, it looks spectacular. From the great animation in enemies and Link himself, to all the wonderful weather effects, the game is a standout on both platforms. In particular the rain effects look phenomenal when you see small lakes starting to form because of the non-stop rain for past a day. Little touches like that are amazing. The audio is much more subdued this time around, with ambient noise playing a more integral part of the experience. As such you don’t really have those classic sweeping melodies from each new dungeon you enter. Piano is used extensively throughout the soundtrack, and what music is here is extremely well composed and fitting. I just wish there were more themes.
Now comes the time where I will highlight elements I thought could be improved. This is where I expect to see some pitchforks and riots breaking out in the streets. Do keep in mind that the commentary I’m offering here is in hopes of Nintendo taking things to the next level for the eventual follow-up to Breath of the Wild.
- Rain, rain go away. Come again another day. If there is one element in Breath of the Wild that annoyed me more than anything else, it happens to be the weather system. At first it’s absolutely great, seeing beautiful crystal clear days, and then suddenly the sky darkens and a thunderstorm begins. It’s breathtaking and truly a sight to behold. What’s annoying and ultimately frustrating, is that rain seems to happen at the most inopportune times. I can’t even begin to mention how many times I would be gliding to a nearby mountain to see the clouds darken and the rain start just as I was about to hit the face of the mountain. This is problematic because you can’t climb anything while the surface is wet. So what ends up happening is I start to slide down the mountain, eventually all the way down to the bottom. Then I have to fast teleport back to the starting point, if that’s even an option as sometimes it isn’t, create a fire, and progress time until the rain stops. Its ok when this happens once or twice, but when it happens over and over again, it starts to get very annoying. A super simple fix would have been the Song of Storms, to clear out that horrible weather.
- I can’t begin to tell you how happy I was to hear voice acting in a Zelda Not some garbled chatter, but real honest-to-goodness voice acting. I had already heard Zelda speak in several commercials for the game, and it was wonderful. I loved her dialogue, even if it was a bit stilted at times. What I didn’t expect though, was for the rest of the main cast to be so lifeless. The voice acting is stiff and comes across as amateurish compared to Zelda and all other AAA open-world RPGs out there. While I commend Nintendo on what they did with Breath of the Wild, this is one element I hope they spend more time on moving forward.
- Cooking is one of the best elements of the game, as I mentioned above. I just loved it. What I didn’t love was the extremely limited way Link can cook. For example if I wanted to make a meat skewer containing five raw meats, that was fine and worked perfectly. The thing is, what if I wanted to make 15 of them? This is where I would have really preferred some sort of automatic system where I could have selected from a list of previously made recipes and had the option to make more than one at a time. As it is here, making the same meal over and over again gets boring. Even that sweet jingle can’t save it.
- In total there are 120 shrines, which naturally limits the amount of variation one can expect from these micro-dungeons. I would say about 30 of them are combat shrines, but that number is just from the top of my head so it could be more. Each combat shrine works exactly the same, you enter the arena, and take on a Guardian Scout. Once you learn how to fight one, the battles are exactly the same for all four different versions of the Scout, except the Scout has one or two additional weapons. I felt this was an arbitrary way of extending the length of the game by having so many similar-themed shrines. The puzzle-based shrines are the exact opposite and felt like they contained some of the very best puzzles ever created in a Zelda game, thanks in no small part to the great gravity system in place.
- I missed some of the core Zelda While the four divine beast ‘dungeons’ were fun, they weren’t anything like traditional dungeons. I’ve always adored the dungeons in Zelda games because of how creative they were. That’s not to say these weren’t creative, just that they weren’t as fleshed out as the ones from past games. Remember the Fire Temple, Ganon’s Tower, or Turtle Rock? Yeah, well there’s nothing even close to those dungeons in this game, and I really missed having those experiences. I also missed weapons such as the hookshot, and felt that could have added another layer to the puzzles as well as the open-world exploration.
- Having destructible weapons and shields was an interesting gameplay mechanic, and one I didn’t really have any problem with, however I did have one nitpick. Whenever your weapon or bow breaks, it isn’t automatically replaced by the next one in line. This forces you to have to open the quick menu to select another weapon. It’s not game breaking by any stretch of the imagination, but it would have been a nice feature to have instead of always having to go through a menu of some sort.
- Wii U features are missing in action. Of all the things this game did right, this is the one element that really sticks out as a glaring omission. It’s clear from the various gameplay mechanics that Nintendo originally had a quick menu system on the Wii U GamePad to change items such as your armor. It’s likely why there are so many different armor sets that are ideal in different situations. With a touch of your finger you could change Link’s gear from the Zora set to the fire preventing Flame breaker armor set. It’s obvious this was implemented from the get-go, but alas when the Switch version was announced this was cut from the Wii U version. Naturally this is just speculation on my part, but it’s if the 3DS version of Ocarina of Time is any indicator, Nintendo likely had this in mind when they started making the game. As it is now, you spend an incredible amount of time in your inventory menu switching back and forth between armor sets.
- Boss fights were very lackluster and uninspired. I really would have loved to have seen something different done with the bosses, but I understand the limitations given the scale and freedom offered. Bosses can easily be defeated with the most basic combat strategies, and this was done because they had to be designed in such a way as to be downed with an arrow, bombs, magnetic powers, stasis, etc. Without having a boss created where you use the newly acquired dungeon weapon, there was only so much the developers could do. That said, I think they could have done more. Even the very last boss battle didn’t invoke the same feeling of badass-ness that just about all the other past Zelda game did.
- A huge missed opportunity with Breath of the Wild is with the lack of built-in social features. I can’t stress this enough, this game was made for an achievement system and built-in Twitter and Facebook functionality. The camera function is absolutely awesome, and yet it’s limited to in-game use. Nintendo could have easily made it so you could send pictures directly through Twitter and Facebook for all the world to see. The Wii U version has Miiverse, where you can share different pics, and the Switch version has the nifty capture button that you can then use to share pics to social media, but neither of these feels completely cohesive, they feel more like workarounds. At least Miiverse has a thriving community, while it lasts. As for achievements, neither version has a built-in reward system; which is a shame as I can only imagine how creative some of the achievements for this game could have been.
- The very last thing to mention relates back to something I mentioned way earlier, the graphics. While they do indeed look incredible, the game takes a beating on the hardware its being played on. Whether it’s on the Wii U or the Switch, the framerate can dip down to a standstill for a few seconds before the game resumes. That’s very unfortunate, and some areas are extremely bad where it feels as though the game is chugging along to keep up with what’s being displayed onscreen.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a fantastic game, but it also has a few hiccups along the way. Some will call these genuine problems, others will call them nitpicks, but in the end the pros far outweigh the cons. Coming from a developer like Nintendo, this is a bold and brash move. They’ve taken one of their most popular franchises and tried something new, and for that I commend them. Will this game reach the heights set by A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time, for that only time will tell. Right now it’s an absolute must-buy game for anyone who likes playing videogames. I can’t wait to return to this game in five years or so to see if I feel the same way as I do right now, once the hype has died down.
Final Score Switch Version: 9.8/10
Final Score Wii U Version: 10/10