The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

We’ve been switching things up lately on Pause Resume with Nintendo’s new console, with the jewel in its crown being the obvious choice. After much anticipation, Craig helms The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

*** Minor gameplay spoilers follow ***

Perched upon a cliff looking down on a Boboklin camp I see my treasure. A silver chest basking in Hyrule’s midday sun, guarded by three creatures born from the hue of evil energy that swirls around Hyrule castle in my peripheral vision. Watching from above after climbing to the top of the cliff I started to wonder how I should approach to claim my prize. With just one heart left and no food to help me recover, I had a decision to make.

I could wait till night when the Boboklin’s would be dreaming and sneak my way through with minimal engagement or I could start peppering them with arrows from high above before paragliding down to slice my way through.

Instead, I picked up a bomb and started rolling it down the hill to the unsuspecting creatures. My bombs aren’t the most powerful, but still managed to send the Boboklin’s flying in a hilarious fashion. The explosion makes it hard to see where they land and after the explosion dies down only two remain. The next bomb I throw lands at the feet of one Boboklin, who kicks the bomb just as I’m about to detonate it, sending the bomb towards his compatriot, who received the full force of the blast which sent him flying out of the picture, literally.

As the kicker turns round I take out my bow and plant one final arrow between the last remaining Boboklin’s eyes, leaving the area clear for me to collect my treasure.

It was at this moment, when I put my bow down, that I heard footsteps behind me, and was hit with a force which sent me flying off the cliff and to my death. As my lifeless body flew threw the air I panned the camera to see who finally ended my journey …

It was a ram.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is chock full of unscripted moments and times when you can bend the world and gameplay mechanics to your will, creating situations that are impossible in almost every other game. It takes common sense and runs with it. In real life, wood burns, it’s as obvious as water being wet and most games never take advantage of this, but Breath of the Wild takes the physics of reality and implants them within the game.

If I need something to burn I can use a wooden weapon to carry the fire, if I need to create the fire then I can throw some flint on the floor and then slash it with my blade to spark it up. Although, if you do this on grass, be prepared to burn the ground that you stand on. Breath of the Wild’s world doesn’t adapt to how you play, its rules are established right from the start and challenge you to not just learn them, but to also bend them to your will.

Most of the usual Zelda tropes have been thrown aside, in favour of more modern mechanics and tweaks to the old formula. The stamina meter and hearts for health return from previous games, but both are tweaked slightly in order to cope with Breath of the Wild’s new open world format.

You can climb almost everything in Breath of the Wild, from the smallest grassy hills to the tallest of mountains, nothing is off limits as long as you’ve got the stamina for it. As you sprint, climb or glide (using the handy paraglider) your stamina meter will deplete. If you let it run out then Link will become exhausted and lose his grip. It’s a mechanic that asks the player to think logically about not just where to venture next, but also how. It creates puzzles within the environment when there aren’t any and I often found myself trying to work out the best way to climb a rockface whilst keeping my eye out for places to rest or possibly glide to, in order to gain a better vantage point and reassess the situation.

Cutting the grass for rupees and hearts is also gone, instead, replaced with a cooking system that forces you to pick up fruit, vegetables and meat from the world and then cook them in different ways in order to craft cooked items that can provide not just health replenishment, but can also offer certain buffs that provide resistance against elements like cold, heat and electricity. It creates a world where nothing feels useless and every item you pick up on your travels is valuable in its own unique way.

Before going on a grand adventure I constantly found myself spending tens of minutes at a time trying different concoctions to see what I could create before exploring the world again. And what a world it is …

Breath of the Wild’s incarnation of Hyrule is massive and is far away the star of the show. After getting off of the Great Plateau – a small tutorial area at the start of the game – you are free to explore the land in any way you see fit, and any place that you can see is within your reach. Individual trees can be climbed, the desert can be overcome, and the harsh snowy mountains can be beaten; the only thing stopping you, is your ability to seek out the items you need and your sense of direction.

You’ll frequently be required to climb towers in order to unlock part of the map, but upon doing so you won’t find hundreds of icons filling up your screen. Instead, you’ll be given the task to look out from these high towers in order to mark your own map, highlighting shrines, horse stables or enemy encampments for you to go straight to them now, or save them for later.
It gives you a sense of freedom about how you want to challenge yourself, rather than dumping you with a number of pre-ordained things to do. You can decide what’s important and what’s not.

Everywhere you turn, not only will you be flanked by iconic landmarks and locations way off in the distance, but you’ll constantly be distracted by enemies, treasure, puzzles and things that, quite simply, just look a bit out of place. So much so that before you know it your initial quick investigation turns into an hour long detour.

An iconic mountain lies to the north of the map and I had planned to go directly there at the start of my play session. Eventually, I did get there, but only after 15 in-game hours which lead to me wandering around the base of the mountain and off to the east and at one point I ended up intrigued by an NPC on a column in the middle of the sea that I could see from the coastline.

Breath of the Wild constantly puts things to do within reach of the player, but just far enough away that you have the potential to be sidetracked by something else along the way.

The world is Breath of the Wild’s best character, it’s charming yet menacing, peaceful yet deadly and always presenting itself as magical.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

As you would expect, Breath of the Wild comes with a multitude of potential weapons that you can use throughout your journey. Interestingly though, every weapon you pick up will break after a period of use, resulting in you not having a weapon for longer than 2 or 3 rounds of combat, depending on who you’re facing. It creates an environment where you won’t be too precious over your weapons. I tended to have two or three high level weapons that I’d use exclusively for tougher combat situations and use any lower level weapons – that I’d frequently pick up with ease – on your average Boboklin.

At first I was concerned that it would be a grind to find weapons and be left without any combat items in the heat of battle, but despite the fact that this durability extends to not just swords but also shields and bows, it doesn’t become a burden for the player. Stock is plentiful, as the enemies you overcome will all have weapons, and switching things up mid-combat can actually give you the advantage in tough situations. You can also throw one and two-handed weapons for an additional damage bonus just as it’s about to break, which can help when things are getting desperate.

Those who have never touched a Zelda game before can jump straight in with Breath of the Wild. Apart from the usual tropes of a hero, a princess and a lurking evil, you’re good to go. It’s also best to note that the setup is unlike previous Zeldas, which used to comprise of a formula that involved a few side stories contained in a linear overworld, interspersed with larger dungeons. In its place, Breath of the Wild presents players with smaller shrines which are essentially mini-dungeons which feature puzzles confined to a few rooms that present challenging situations to solve, but don’t overstay their welcome.

Shrines are plentiful, with Breath of the Wild featuring a hundred of them, in contrast however, the stereotypical Zelda dungeons have been dramatically stripped back to just a handful. Although, calling them dungeons doesn’t really do them justice, they serve a different purpose within the game and are presented as more of an overall quest to solve with puzzles and enemies in between rather than the old solve puzzle, get key, solve puzzle, get boss key, find boss, kill boss, that Zelda games have always used. To go into too much detail would spoil their overall role and some of the narrative of the game, but suffice to say that I loved completing them and their ability to surprise was quite unexpected.

On both the Switch and Wii U versions of the game, Breath of the Wild does encounter some frame rate issues, one area in particular causes a more than noticeable dip in framerate, but it never drops anywhere near to the level of a big Bethesda game like Skyrim or Fallout 4 and the overall wonder and brilliance of Breath of the Wild more than makes up for the occasional dip in performance. Those who do want to completely alleviate these problems will want to play Breath of the Wild in handheld mode on the Nintendo Switch as this is where the game runs best.

Even after more than 30 hours all I want to do is revisit Hyrule and discover new places, meet new characters, take on more quests. Sure, I could probably head straight for Hyrule castle to finish off the main antagonist Ganon, but why would I want to when Breath of the Wild’s world appears to be made by a combination of magic, love and exuberance.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review Conclusion

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is without question one of the greatest games of all time, we’ll learn in years to come whether it will be heralded as the greatest, but at the very least, it will change the way games are developed in the future. It is without question the greatest game of the past few years, and possibly Nintendo’s finest of all time.

5/5

We tested The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild after purchasing a retail copy of the game and it’s available exclusively on the Nintendo Switch.

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