There’ve been a lot of defining games through each of the many different eras of gaming’s relatively short history, some of which had the undesirable tags of almost crippling the industry, some of which changed the landscape. This time around, the game in question almost single-handedly has to carry an entire company and its latest console, the Nintendo Switch – at least for the new future. That game is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
There’s a Lot to Take In
If you may not have been able to tell, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is immense. Carrying the tag of an action-adventure game doesn’t do enough justice here, as it fills the roll of quite a number of different genres. The game plays an open world environment in which the landscape is portrayed as a post-post-apocalyptic, fantasy world known as Hyrule. Upon starting the game, as with many other titles, you easily assume the main character or lead (Link in this case) is the one which you have control of. The landscape is filled with countless surprises, multitudes of terrain and settings, unpredictable weather that affect Link’s characteristics, and all the while filled with animals (on land and in water), monsters and beasts (either good or bad), villages and wanderers, and natural and supernatural elements.
The World is Alive
What’s really great about the environment in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is that you can interact with almost everything around you. Link has to work his way through the torrid landscape by means of walking, running, climbing, swimming, paragliding, and horseback. It boils down a simple notion, if you can see it, you can reach it. The interaction goes beyond simple map traversal. This includes chopping and burning grass, picking fruit off trees, rain, lightning, wind, cold, tides, and much, much more. Each of these elements also interacts with one another. A downpour has run-off which affects your ability to climb rock faces, strong winds change your paragliding techniques, fires create updrafts that allow you to scale upward above trees for a better view or planned attack.
Animals sense danger. Enemies have scouts to alert of your presence if spotted. Horses need to be tamed before riding and saddling up. The game also includes a great survival element to it, both in terms of the environment and keeping your health in check. Entering into snowy, frozen regions without the right equipment means that Link could freeze to death. You can offset this by wearing certain clothes, or even a well-placed meal to withstand the elements. Speaking of meals, there are a few components to maintaining your health (in the form of hearts) and stamina up. Users are able to eat raw materials that nature has provided, including fruits, fish, etc. or cook up something using a set of ingredients. You become a novice chef as a result. Combining certain foods create better dishes than not only increase your health, but also the ability to outlast the snowy outback, attack with greater strength, increase your stealth, and replenish or improve stamina. It isn’t always as straightforward, though, as you can sometimes end up with a dish of goop, but things improve as you hone those culinary skills.
Weapons too are interactive, beyond the point of just being able to hack and slash everything in your path. There is a range of weapons scattered throughout Hyrule, some of which can be found in hidden locations, won in battle, or presented after challenges. While some are more powerful than others, they all have a common uniformity in that they all eventually wear out and break. Whether you’re using a sword, axe or broom, a bow and arrow, or magic wands, they all succumb to wear and tear during its use.
Unlike many titles, even open world environments, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is non-linear. To complete the main objective as well isn’t a series of following tasks to get to the end. You can choose which path you wish to follow, or whether you want to bother with it at all. There are loads of side missions to seek out and complete, almost as broad as Hyrule itself. Objectives present themselves in many different forms, from defeating monsters, exploring lands or solving puzzles. Many of these tasks result in some form of reward. One would expect that in a world that also uses a currency that most of these tasks provide the monetary incentive (rupees), but you’ll be pleasantly surprised at each of the different rewards available and, in most cases, you can reduce or negate the need for rupees simply by exploring the land or completing tasks. Not so different in societies of old where humans could choose to live off the land or earn money to survive.
To be honest, you could easily enjoy playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild without completing much of the main objective, which is to slay the Calamity Ganon, an ancient evil that has brought destruction to Hyrule. There are enough side missions, or simple land exploration to keep you busy for the same 50 hours I’ve enjoyed thus far, a large portion which I can testify to as ‘exploratory’.
There’s a Beginning. Is There an End?
The basic story of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the fall of Hyrule. In ancient times, the kingdom fought off the evils of Calamity Ganon each time he returned. Their increased knowledge of the land and advanced technologies allowed them to defeat Ganon with the help of the Princess, a Hero and the four Champions who piloted the Great Beasts, and autonomous mechanical soldiers they called Guardians, locking him away for 10,000 years. During this time, the world reverted back to a medieval state and a more basic lifestyle. While there was peace in Hyrule for thousands of years, signs and prophecies of the return of Calamity Ganon emerged. The King assembled new members of the group to defend the kingdom, a hero, Link, the princess, Zelda and the four Champions, one from each of the four Hyrule races. After having recovered the Divine Beasts and Guardians having excavated the land, they prepared an army against Calamity Ganon. The battle that ensued, the Great Calamity, resulted in the death of the King and the Champions. The battle gravely wounded Link. Having survived the ordeal, the Princess faced Ganon alone, where she was able to restrain him within the castle walls, where he remains to this day, 100 years later.
Having been in a deep slumber for 100 years, Link awakens without any memory of his past, leaving him to wander the land to reclaim his lost memories and save Hyrule. There’s actually quite a lot more to the story than that, but you’ll need to enjoy the game in order to familiarise yourself and understand some of the underlying tales and stories told from the various elders. While there may be an end to some parts of the story, in the form of completing the main objective, there’s still a long way to go to complete the actual game. Searching through every corner of Hyrule and overturning every randomly placed rock could easily take another 100 hours to pursue, leaving me with the strange thought of whether there is a true ending to BotW.
Never Underestimate Your Surroundings
It’s easy to get carried away once you’ve mastered some of the elements, increased your health and improved your stamina. Throw in better weapons, armour and the likes and you can easily become content with facing any enemy that’s thrown your way. Even as you increase health and stamina, you’re better able to reach new destinations you previously could not, whether from a climb or glide. But, be warned, the environment can bring you back down to earth in an instant. Running around in a bad lightning storm and you could be struck down, especially when one of the metal items in your inventory are exposed (sword, bow or armour). Just as easily, you can come up against an enemy that resembles the one you’ve previously taken down, only to be shocked when you die from one swing of their weapon. You can’t always approach a foe with the intention of killing them, and at times you have to get creative in sneaking past or luring them away from an item you may need. Once again I’ll state it, the environment is the main character here, one that cannot always be tamed.
Unlock Your Potential
While you can easily spend countless amount of hours just wandering around and taking it all in from a perch up high watching over the beautiful surroundings, there are some uses for completing the main objectives and story, that of unlocking Link’s abilities, in the form of an improved Sheikah Slate, which acts as a map, guide, special abilities menu, and even take a few camera snaps. The smartphone of Hyrule if you like. The mapping capability is pretty straightforward, although you do enhance and unlock certain regional maps by activating towers from those areas. Using the slate as a guide allows you to locate certain points placed on the map, as well as when searching for specific items. You can use this feature by taking a photo of an object or using one from within your photo album. Using the abilities added to the slate, however, is the greatest benefit, as you can create bombs, control metallic objects using magnetism, create frozen platforms in water, and stop time for a specific object for a few seconds.
Many battles and puzzles in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild draw upon your knowledge of the abilities using the Sheikah Slate, sometimes multiple different abilities at once. A well-timed use of your abilities or even a sneak attack using bombs can be the difference between being able to complete a task. In addition to drawing on your abilities during battle, you can also easily switch between drawing a sword and using your bow and arrow, without it feeling cumbersome. Mastering the art of the bow and arrow, however, is no easy challenge, especially when your target, or yourself, is on the move.
Conclusion: What Does This Mean for the Switch?
I stated in my review of the Nintendo Switch that a lot would be riding on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I’ve not played a game as compelling at every turn, as complete, and monstrously large in every aspect of the game. This is by far the best open world experience I’ve had, while also covering many other elements such as survival, puzzle solving, and storytelling. In fact, almost each of the objectives have a unique story to tell, some of which don’t even have to make sense or add value to your ongoing quest to save Hyrule – they’re just there for a few laughs and respite from the onslaught that is Hyrule.
I’ve had 50 hours worth of fun thus far, more so than any other in recent history. I can easily imagine spending an additional 50 hours without having uncovered all the game has to offer. This game carried the weight of the world upon its back, not least, in its current form and current offering, the entire Nintendo Switch console. It ticks the boxes on all counts, and just when I think I’ve seen it all, the game continues to surprise me.
It may be unfair to base the purchase of a console upon a single game, but The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has ensured it can be done. Is it a perfect game? I can’t say that, but it comes pretty darn close. And yes, I would consider, if not buy, the Nintendo Switch just to enjoy countless hours of Zelda, as I eagerly await the next wave of games that are no doubt soon to be unveiled and released.