Last week Nintendo released their latest console – the Switch – in an effort to reclaim their title as one of the world’s leading video games manufacturers. With it came the launch of a new Zelda title, a game that was in development for five years after suffering a number of delays. Titled Breath of the Wild, the highly-anticipated release received critical acclaim when it debuted and as a result was credited as one of the greatest video games ever made. Having spent the last night week playing the game myself, I thought I’d give my own opinion on it and see if it lived up to all the hype.
Spoiler alert: it did.
I should probably point out before delving into the game that Breath of the Wild has been my first foray into the world of Hyrule – I was a Legend of Zelda virgin. The series was not one that I was particularly aware of while growing up, and I was dissuaded from playing the games later on by well-meaning friends who suggested it wasn’t my type of game. They weren’t wrong – I’ve never been one for the action genre – but my experience with a broader range of games over the last year had developed my tastes enough to want to give this new release a try.
As is generally the case with an open-world game, the pace, direction and depth of your exploration is completely up to you, almost from the get-go. After a brief tutorial of sorts, you gain access to a paraglider that allows you to descend from the great heights of the starting location and from there the journey is yours to pave out however you want. Obviously, the game has a storyline that directs you along a certain path, but you’re free to reach the end without ever following it. That’s not the wisest choice given the lack of powerful weapons and armour available to you at the start, but taking on Ganon so early isn’t an impossible mission. It highlights just how personal your experience with Breath of the Wild can be, and for a video game that’s a pretty great quality. Whether you take things slow or charge in full speed ahead, there’s no wrong way to play the game.
Despite having probably logged in about thirty hours of gameplay so far, I’m still blown away by how much there is for me to do in this new Zelda title. My progress of the story has been slow and steady, with most of my time being dedicated to scaling every rock surface and discovering what’s hidden away on every mountaintop. It can take up a lot of time, but trying to tackle all those cliff faces without running out of stamina is surprisingly enjoyable, especially when you have a spectacular view to look out on when you reach the peak. Provided the weather’s good, of course. You just have to make sure you’re careful when you get up there as sometimes monsters are lurking around waiting for a hero to take down. On those occasions, it can be a good idea to take off if you’re not powerful enough to take on the new foes. It doesn’t feel so cowardly when you’re launching off a cliff and gliding over the gorgeous scenery below.
The game’s graphics have been one of the highlights for many of the reviews out there, and rightly so – they’re pretty breathtaking. As someone who adores the countryside, seeing such a beautiful representation of it is extremely pleasing, especially with the breadth of the map and the varied playable environments. It’s incredible how much work has been put into it all, especially with factors like the day and night cycle and the ever-changing weather patterns. Instead of taking cover during a storm, it’s a lot more fun to just stand there and watching the lightning strike down in front of you. Just make sure you’re not holding a metal weapon if you do that, otherwise you might find yourself getting roasted by electricity.
It’s not just the graphics that create such an astounding world, but the soundtrack too. There’s music for everything in Breath of the Wild; locations, time of day, weather, etc. The score can have an incredible impact on the tone of the game, swapping from lighthearted to creepy within seconds. It’s the little things as well, the occasional soundbite on a quiet piece of music or a sudden change of key, that can make you extremely paranoid that you’re under attack. If it ever freaks you out too much, though, all you have to do is open up your map and travel to one of the residential areas where the music is usually carefree and happy. The Hateno village soundtrack is a particular favourite of mine, because its sound is reminiscent of what is used in the Professor Layton series.
The juxtaposition of tone is something that makes Breath of the Wild wonderfully original compared to other open-world titles, and shows off Nintendo’s flair for a quirkier style of gaming. A giant woman bursting out of a bright pink flower shouldn’t belong in a game full of death and destruction – but it does. The Zelda universe is so wonderfully built up and convincing that these contrasting components make sense alongside one another, and they make for a far more varied gaming experience. I can only handle tackling so many enemies before I need something silly and ‘safe’ to calm myself down, and that’s exactly what is offered every time I turn on my Switch and hit play.
Even though the action elements don’t really speak to me, there’s plenty that do, most notably the heavy focus on puzzle-solving and finding collectables. The 120 shrines in the game offer up an interesting mix of trials that grow surprisingly complex depending on which part of the map you choose to explore, but the feeling you get upon solving their puzzles is a great one. What’s more, there are 900 Koroks – little forest people – hidden all over the world that require some level of thought to find at times. The more you discover, the more space you gain in your inventory for carrying weapons, although the depth you have to go to find these creatures is incentive enough. It encourages you to explore wherever you travel to, which in turn lets you get more out of the game by adding hours and hours of playtime.
Despite being a single player title, Breath of the Wild is also impressive for inspiring multiplayer gaming that goes beyond PvP battle modes. The most fun I’ve had while playing the game was when I had a friend over who was playing Zelda at the same time and sharing hints about where to find some cool secrets. The depth of contentis so extensive that there’s a lot to talk about with other people, especially you’ve likely to have explored regions that they might not have done yet. As Nintendo did with the release of 1-2-Switch, they’ve managed to create a social element that makes players go beyond the physical game itself and react accordingly with the people around them. Innovative or what?
Although minor, there are a few issues I have with the game. My main problem surrounds the rising of the blood moon, one of Breath of the Wild’s best and worst features. On the one hand, the resurrection of defeated enemies is a great feature for keeping the action alive, and it prevents the map from essentially becoming a desolate wasteland as you progress through the game. However, the frequency with which it appears is a little disheartening when you’re someone like me who spends a lot of time exploring in and around a region before moving on. It wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t respawn every foe you’ve defeated, from Guardians and Stone Talus’ to the agile members of the Yiga Clan who have made me distrustful of every person I pass on my travels. When you’re someone who’s still trying to get to grips with the action gameplay, having to constantly come across tricky foes that you’d fought hard to kill can dampen your experience slightly.
Aside from that, the only other concerns I had for the game was the occasional lag in places when the frame rate drops, and the lack of rewards in some of the harder to reach areas. In terms of the former, it’s hasn’t dampened my enjoyment of the game, but it’s something that I have noticed and that I know other people have a problem with given how much time was devoted to working on the game. As for the latter, it may just be because of my love for climbing mountains, but it seemed as though there were some higher-up places that were lacking in any mysteries or items that would’ve have made the effort of getting up there more worthwhile. Even though there’s already so much to collect in the game, some of the more pointless puzzle locations may have benefited from being lifted several thousand feet higher.
Saying that, the view from up on the mountains is pretty rewarding all by itself.
Those are the only downsides I’ve found from my many hours dedicated to the game, and I’m sure that as I continue playing over the next few weeks I’ll find very little more that reflects poorly on this exemplary release. I only hope the outstanding work that has been put into this Zelda title reflects positively on the upcoming Mario game that has a more open-world feel to it than it has been in recent years.
My final thoughts for the game is that anyone even slightly interested in playing it should purchase it without question, even if that means paying out for a switch as well. Breath of the Wild offers a wonderfully immersive experience that caters to all level of players no matter their skill set, whether they be an action hero or puzzle solver. The open-world adventure promises countless hours of gameplay that will take even the most hardcore of gamers to 100% complete, by which point Nintendo’s library should be boasting a new major release or two. If there were ever a game worthy of putting a flagging company back on the map – this is it.