Everything that you have heard about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is true, and then some. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has had an obscene amount of hype going into its release. A part of that has to just do with the series’ stature- Zelda is one of the most beloved gaming franchises of all time, and a new major entry in it piques everyone’s interest and attention. But the hype for Breath of the Wild has gone above and beyond just that- there has been a fervent anticipation for the game, and a lot of that has to do with just how stunning the game has been in all showings and hands on with it. In the lead up to the game’s launch, we have frequently been led to believe (though, of course, it has never been explicitly stated as such) that Breath of the Wild will be the next evolution of open world gaming- and now that the game is here, we can tell you that all the hype in the world would not have been enough to do justice to just how good Breath of the Wild really is.
You might expect that, given the fact that this is Nintendo’s first modern open world game – the company pioneered open world gameplay on the NES, SNES, and then on the Nintendo 64, but it has fallen behind in this regard since – that there would be stumbles, missteps, basic glaring flaws or deficiencies that one would have to put down to this being Nintendo’s first shot at this kind of a game. But incredibly enough, with Breath of the Wild, Nintendo has sidestepped all the common failings that every open world game, including the best ones, fall to, and has crafted a literally perfect world that is massive, inviting, and teeming with things to do.
The size in Breath of the Wild is not what is impressive about it- this is a great big open world, sure, but lots of open world games have big worlds, and there have been bigger ones than this anyway. What truly sets Breath of the Wild apart is the sheer degree and scope of the interactivity that is to be encountered in this game. Everything that you see in this game can be interacted with, and everything is governed by a common system of overarching physics that governs these interactions. So, for instance, be careful when you pull out a lit torch and it’s windy- the wind might carry the flames away and start a forest fire. Or, make sure you don’t have anything metallic on you in a thunderstorm- you’ll attract electricity straight to you, and be knocked out. Is it raining? You might not want to be scaling any cliffs or rocks- things get slippery, and you’ll have a hard time. Gravity, inertia, momentum, recoil, everything in the game behaves exactly as you expect it to. Did you shoot an animal with a fire arrow? Of course the meat you get will be seared. Do you find yourself on a raft, but nothing to move it with? Pull out a tree branch and wave it around- that should generate some wind and let you move. It’s this staggering degree of interactivity that truly impresses in Breath of the Wild.
"What truly sets Breath of the Wild apart is the sheer degree and scope of the interactivity that is to be encountered in this game. Everything that you see in this game can be interacted with, and everything is governed by a common system of overarching physics that governs these interactions."
Breath of the Wild‘s vision of Hyrule is not a game, nor is it a sandbox- it is a full fledged living and breathing world, and it acts consistently like one. If there is something you want to do, Breath of the Wild will let you do it, without any limits. No matter how crazy your idea is, if the physics of the world permit it, you can do it- and if you do it, you may find you have stumbled upon an unexpected solution to your problem.
This is honestly liberating and it gives the player the kind of freedom that is never found in any other game. In every video game, the player is bound by a series of restrictions imposed upon them by the game’s rules- in Breath of the Wild, the rules exist, not to forbid you from doing anything, but to define what happens once you do do it. If there is a puzzle in a shrine, there is no longer just one clearly defined solution- mess around with the tools at your disposal and manipulate the game’s physics. Your own ingenuity is all that limits you.
This freedom in mechanics also extends to the game’s overall structure. Early on in Breath of the Wild, you are given a full view of this game’s version of Hyrule. It is a vast, endless, boundless place, stretching out in every direction for as far as the eye can see, and beyond. You are told you can go anywhere you want- even straight to the game’s final boss, though you are solemnly informed that doing so will result in almost certain failure. You are given some pointers, a few main quests, and then you’re on your own. You’re not going to be told where to go. You’re not going to be reminded of what your objective is. No pop ups or annoying reminders will interrupt your play session. For the first time in over 20 years, Zelda seems to respects its players. No more annoying tutorials- everything is taught to you implicitly, or as you go along. The player’s own curiosity and drive are what are used to substitute for explanations for the minutest of things.
"For the first time in over 20 years, Zelda seems to respects its players. No more annoying tutorials- everything is taught to you implicitly, or as you go along. The player’s own curiosity and drive are what are used to substitute for explanations for the minutest of things."
Being set open in the world is a joyous thing- with the game’s sheer level of interactivity and the vast expanses available to you, you are never at a shortage of things to do. One of the things that people were worried about in the lead up to the game’s launch was how sparse it may possibly be- the world looked a bit empty from all that we had seen. In the final game, this is not an issue. You run into NPCs, villages and towns, resources to gather, animals to hunt, outposts and camps, enemies to take down, cliffs to traverse, and all the while, you see something else in the distance that catches your attention that you now want to move towards.
If you run into something hostile, you take it on in the most fleshed out and challenging combat system that Zelda has ever had. Enemies are smart, and learn on the fly (try throwing a bomb at them, they’ll kick it right back at you), they dodge your attacks, they parry, and they no longer attack one at a time, instead seeking to overwhelm you in mobs. On your part, you have an arsenal of weapons, each controlling differently, and the same abilities- dodge, parry, sidestep, attack, and if you time everything right, the possibility to unleash a flurry of attacks. You’re given the chance to attack with all kinds of weapons- you can use one handed swords, two handed swords, boomerangs, bows and arrows, lances, spears, and even tridents. Each weapon you have has a certain durability- after a while, it will break, and you can’t stop that from happening. This forces you to get adept with multiple different kinds of weapons, and it encourages you to experiment- every weapon in Breath of the Wild is disposable, like ammunition, and you’re not supposed to get too attached to any one of them. You’re supposed to use it for as long as it’s good, then have a different one handy to replace it when it breaks. To its credit, you will find a lot of weapons in the game, so you’re never going to be caught without one on hand. By therefore trivializing weapons and making them glorified ammunition, Breath of the Wild sidesteps the flaw in other RPGs, where you can possibly get too powerful a weapon too early, and then overpower the game, and it forces its players to be good with all kinds of weapons.
No matter how good you get, though, you will die- a lot. Breath of the Wild is a difficult game, and everything in the game is out to kill you. As mentioned, the enemies are smart and ruthless, but more than that, it’s the environment and your own limits that will do you in most of the time. If you’re in a place too cold, you’ll get hypothermia and start losing health until you die (or dress up more warmly). If you’re standing on a slope and it starts raining, you’ll lose your footing, and slip and fall. If you try to get too ambitious with some cliff you want to scale, you’ll find yourself out of stamina, causing you to let go, and fall to your death. And if you go underprepared into any of the game’s glorious boss battles, which often feel right out of Dark Souls, then you will get your ass handed to you.
"No matter how good you get, though, you will die- a lot. Breath of the Wild is a difficult game, and everything in the game is out to kill you."
Oh yes, there are bosses. There are also dungeons- not as many as in previous games. Most of the dungeons in Breath of the Wild are its shrines, which are small, self contained puzzle rooms, equivalent to one or two rooms in the dungeons in previous Zelda games. But there are some of them- I won’t tell you how many, so you can discover it for yourself. And these dungeons are unlike anything you have ever seen before. Freed from the constraints of having to be designed around one item (you get all your essential abilities in the opening section of the game), they are vast and massive, gigantic moving structures that require full spatial and contextual awareness, as well as some ingenious, out of the box thinking. Simply getting to them requires planning and effort (and some very cool setpiece moments), and when you’re finally in one, you’re treated to some of the best designed areas in the game- which, given just how well designed the game is in general, is really saying something.
The dungeons are inextricably tied to the game’s story, which is surprisingly complex for a Zelda game. Breath of the Wild is set in a post apocalyptic Hyrule, 100 years after Link’s previous attempt to take down Ganon failed, and it is a dark, oppressive society, constantly under the shadow of the looming Calamity. The game handles its storytelling largely well, approaches it in a non linear way, and delivers a narrative that ranks as among the best in the series, and that fans are sure to appreciate. It also helps that Breath of the Wild is the most cinematic game Nintendo has ever made, with full voice acting in the cutscenes, sweeping camera shots, and some epic music to accompany you on your quest, as does the fact that it is written surprisingly well, with sharp dialog, and all of the trademark wit that the series is known for.
It is also, largely, a beautiful game. No, it’s not the most technically proficient game you will ever see- and as far as graphics go, it can’t hold a candle to something like Horizon: Zero Dawn. But it’s gorgeous nonetheless, with a beautiful artstyle, great dynamic lighting and shadows, and an incredible draw distance, at least for the environments- the game simply wouldn’t work if you couldn’t see something in the distance, far away, that caught your eye that you wanted to make your way towards. There are some frame rate drops- but at least on the Nintendo Switch, these have been largely ironed out by a day one update, and when they show up, they are not that distracting.
"It’s gorgeous nonetheless, with a beautiful artstyle, great dynamic lighting and shadows, and an incredible draw distance, at least for the environments."
But ultimately, the best graphics in the world can’t cover for a weak core game- and Breath of the Wild is anything but. A truly infinitely interactive world, one that is limited by nothing, not even your own imagination, as well as all the right lessons learned from the staleness that had begun to set in with the last few console games in the series, all come together to deliver what is hands down the most sophisticated, best open world game we have ever seen- and also the best Zelda game, the best Nintendo game, and quite possibly, the best, most perfect game of all time as well.
This game was reviewed on the Switch.
Vast, open, boundless, and infinite; an all pervasive physics system that makes Breath of the Wild the most interactive game of all time; Great combat system with demanding difficulty; amazing dungeons; great writing and character interactions; great story with just the right balance of non linear player interaction and cinematism; lack of tutorializing; beautiful artstyle and great draw distances; great soundtrack; survival mechanics that demand that the player be aware of their environment at all times
Occasional frame rate drops