Review

Review: Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild (Switch)

double_1487330294849_file_the_legend_of_zelda_-_breath_of_the_wild_screenshot___3__

I never got to review Breath of the Wild on release, because I simply wasn’t writing back then.  Nearly a year has passed and after hundreds of hours in the game my thoughts on it are crystal clear. So how do I feel about the newest iteration in my favorite franchise in all of gaming?

At a Glance – 10/10

I play videogames to experience new worlds and live new stories. This absolutely gorgeous new version of Hyrule is alive in every sense, from its intelligent inhabitants to the expertly animated animals that roam through the wilds, and seems to have a life of its own. From beautiful meadows filled with flowers, blowing gently in the wind, to the encroaching and hard world of volcanoes, every inch of it is lovingly crafted and filled with wonders to explore.

With or without the Zelda license this game would be magnificent, and the fact that it adds the lineage of the franchise with all the various nods to the series is an absolute dream for a fan, even though it turns the formula I love on its head. Simply put the Breath of the Wild is one of the finest adventures you can have in all of gaming, and worthy of every accolade it receives as it is a true masterpiece.

It is, without a doubt, my favorite game of all time.

If you came here looking for a divisive opinion on this game you might be disappointed. My opinion is certainly not out of the ordinary, not only did it get tons of 10s in the review circuit, but the game won most of the Game of the Year awards out there in a year that was notoriously fantastic for gaming.

I’ve had a lot of time now to mull over why exactly I fell so deeply in love with the game, and especially for anyone who played it when it first came out could attest: it was magical. Playing the game in that environment, when it was truly part of almost every industry conversation, was something really special.

When I was a gaming as a kid you would go to school and there would be other kids there that would be playing the newest game and you would compare notes and experiences, constantly surprised by new things they had encountered.

“You can do what with the bush on that screen in Zelda?”

“What? Your lying, you can’t find magic warp pipes by jumping over the level in Super Mario, no way.”

These were the sorts of conversations being had in playgrounds around the world and they aren’t the types of conversations you have anymore. With Zelda, those conversations ignited all over, but now on a global scale throughout the internet.

“You rode a SKELETON HORSE that exploded under you in the daylight. Where did you find that?”

“Wait, did that guy just make an airship out of balloons and a raft? I can’t wait to get home to try!”

“Have you gone and checked in the castle dungeon? You can get the Hylian Shield!”

The reason these conversations were being had is because Nintendo does a phenomenal job of fostering the wonder of childhood and placing you into this gorgeous digital world to explore. Within it, in every nook and cranny, they pack experiences and treasures; always encouraging you onward.

What is at the top of that mountain? You might climb it, since you can climb any surface, taking it down like a puzzle with your limited stamina. You jump with that last bit of stamina, barely reaching the top, and you pull yourself up onto it to find an odd rock formation, or a weird heart shaped lover’s wishing area, or a stunningly gorgeous vista.

17309051_10210527570879873_6311216733296875366_n (1)
The game is breathtakingly gorgeous.

Either way you’ve also elevated yourself, which means you can leap off of the mountain top and use your glider to reach that odd looking crop of trees down below. Perhaps you spot a glint of red indicating a new shrine you haven’t visited as you head toward the trees, and angle off in that direction. Maybe you land first, intuitively mark that spot through your viewfinder and vow to check it out later, never pulling up a map as you head off towards the suspicious trees.

There a den of monsters wait, sleeping around a fire. Do you rush in swinging your sword with abandon? That is certainly an option, but it is early game and you notice several of these monsters are powerful. Maybe you switch to your lightest clothes and sneak through the camp stealing all their weapons, before tossing a bomb into their mists, thinning the herd a bit?

Maybe you climb up in a tree and just start sniping them with the bow.

These sorts of situations crop up through the entirety of the game, the open freedom of this playground world is absolutely intoxicating. Sure, we’ve seen freedom in open world games before, but I’ve never played a game that has fostered my imagination or always pushed me to look over that next horizon to see what is there. Usually in open world games you open a map, there are a bevy of icons, you highlight one of them and methodically checkmark your way through them.

Instead, Breath of the Wild encourages you to explore because you are almost always rewarded in some small way by doing so, and nearly everything you attempt in combat or puzzle solving works how you might expect. It is jaw dropping at some of the things they included here. For instance, you might be in a shrine and you have to get electricity from one area to the other. You see some boxes out of reach, you know you need to figure out how to get them down there. Traditionally this would be your only option, the solution to the puzzle the developer wants you to complete.

Even in past Zelda games there was only one way through, whatever that might be. Here you could bypass the boxes entirely, using your steel weapons to conduct electricity to the target to open the door. The choice is yours, and when you try something that you are thinking surely isn’t going to work, because that is how video games trained you to understand their logic, it somehow does!

The way that Nintendo introduces this is subtly genius, starting you in an area called the Great Plateau. You can attempt to get off the plateau early, but you are too high up and you will fall to your death. The area is sizable though, and as soon as you are through the first cutscene you are let loose into it to do as you please. Eventually you’ll make your way to the 4 Shrines that dot the area and collect the glider along with every other tool you’ll need to solve any other puzzle in the game.

In this way they insure that for the rest of the open world you can try whatever you desire, and most times it’ll work, whether the developer intended it to or not. However, knowing how game design is, they had to have known the things you would do and plan for them. In fact, one of the most stunning things about the game is the utter polish that is present. No matter how talented a developer is, when you develop these massive open world games things can break, simply because there are so many variables. Not once, not a single time in almost 200 hours of play, did I run into a single glitch.

No monsters stuck in trees, no quest made unsolvable; nothing. Even though they opened the world up to all these crazy solutions you can try, so much so that people have made maglev carts out of a treasure chest and a mine cart, nothing breaks. It is almost unfathomable the amount of time, skill, and effort something like that must have took.

Clever game design rears its head constantly throughout the game starting with the towers. They are ingenious in their simplicity as they not only act as fast travel points, but get you up high so that you can look around (again never opening the map) and find the dots of red that indicate an unconquered shrine. Then, because you are high up, you can utilize them as jumping off points for your glider, furthering the sense of freedom and making travel fun.

17200986_10210489272042426_6789592909758542885_n
Always one of the most welcome sights in video games.

Nintendo has found a way to make someone who is always just starring at that mini map or waypoint marker to actually discover and interact with the world in a way that feels natural. I always felt like I was discovering something new while playing the game, even after nearly two hundred hours I’ve stumbled into swamps I didn’t know existed.

The story is simplistic, but the overall themes and telling of it are very well done. Because you have the challenge of an open world you immediately have a challenge on how to tell a story. After all, if the player can go anywhere and solve anything as they please, you can’t really determine how they will approach any given situation. Here they handle this by having Link recover memories of his time a hundred years ago, as he travelled alongside the princess Zelda and fought beside the other Champions of Hyrule.

In a clever twist on Zelda conventions this Link is already a hero, but one who ultimately failed to defeat Ganon. This Link awakes with no memories, in a resurrection chamber, and it is your job to piece back together your goal, gather your memories, and set things right.

Or, you could just grab a stick, stay in your underwear, and go fight Ganon at the start of the game.

I play videogames to experience new worlds and live new stories. This absolutely gorgeous new version of Hyrule is alive in every sense, from its intelligent inhabitants to the expertly animated animals that roam through the wilds, and seems to have a life of its own. From beautiful meadows filled with flowers, blowing gently in the wind, to the encroaching and hard world of volcanoes, every inch of it is lovingly crafted and filled with wonders to explore.

With or without the Zelda license this game would be magnificent, and the fact that it adds the lineage of the franchise with all the various nods to the series is an absolute dream for a fan, even though it turns the formula I love on its head. Simply put the Breath of the Wild is one of the finest adventures you can have in all of gaming, and worthy of every accolade it receives as it is a true masterpiece.

 

Score: 10 out of 10

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Review: Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild (Switch)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s