The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

 

 
Overview
 

Genre: Adventure
 
Rating: M15+
 
Release Date: March 3rd, 2017
 
Overall
 
 
 
 
 
5/5


 

Positives


- Unparalleled sense of narrative freedom
- Excellent combat mechanics
- Cohesive and beautiful art style
- Incredibly evocative score
- Highly personal and engaging story

Negatives


- Framerate issues persist throughout the game
- Dynamic weather can be dynamically frustrating


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Posted March 29, 2017 by

 
Full Article
 
 

While the gaming community at large has loved 3D Zelda games since Ocarina of Time blew minds on the Nintendo 64, I have personally never felt that pull to the modern console versions of the series. Subsequently, when The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was originally announced, I didn’t pay attention to the game in the same way that others did. However, as more of the game was revealed at E3s year after year, I started paying attention and slowly began to be sucked into the promise of the game and the potential it presented. Similarly to Pokémon Sun and Moon last year, Breath of the Wild promised to be a reinvention of the formula that had been repeated in the Zelda franchise for decades and reinvigorate it. After my time with the game, despite having never really enjoyed a 3D Zelda before, I have no doubt that Breath of the Wild is not just a great game, but is one of the most wonderfully crafted games to ever exist.

Before I begin detailing why I believe Breath of the Wild is one of the most comprehensively brilliant games ever produced, I want to discuss the two frustrations that I had during my journey. The first has been spoken about constantly since the game began being shown years ago: the frame rate. You may have heard that the slowdown, hitching and freezing got better after leaving the Great Plateau region, but this isn’t quite true. In any area of the game with lots of foliage, you had best be prepared for constant slowdown and that goes double for areas with foliage and wind. It was common to enter a forest and the wind would kick in, bringing the game to a crawl until it could kick itself back into gear. In a lesser game, this would have been enough for me to set the game aside while I waited for future updates. The other frustration? The dynamic weather system, or more specifically, just how it could dynamically frustrate me. Watching storms roll in is amazing and having to change weapons and armour to avoid becoming a Hylian lightning rod is an incredible stroke of genius, but the game’s rain was frustrating enough at times to leave me fuming. Multiple times during my escapades in Hyrule I would get towards the top of a tower only for the rain to kick in, forcing me to sit tight and wait it out, as the rain slicked surfaces couldn’t be climbed. The worst of these was a 10+ minute wait in the rain, after having spent most of my weapons and items defeating a horde of Bokoblins to get there. There is no doubt that you might not have as bad luck with the weather as I did, but it was certainly a frustration at times.

Beyond these relatively minor gripes stands one of the most freeing experiences I have had with a game. Developers have long touted the sense of freedom their games give, from stories that you can experience in any order you choose to multitudes of activities to partake in, but Breath of the Wild does it better than anything I’ve played before. The freedom goes beyond choosing what order to complete missions in, instead going so far as making almost the entire story of Hyrule skippable. Beyond the initial tutorial shrines where you gain your powers, almost the entire story of Breath of the Wild can be ignored if that is what you want to do. Do you want to run straight to Hyrule Castle to take on Calamity Ganon? You’ll be in for a hell of a hard fight, but you can do it. Want to spend the next 40 hours unlocking towers, shrines and completing labyrinths? Why not? Want to collect bugs and cook heaps of food? Have fun! Never have I seen a developer relinquish control of a game’s narrative like this and I appreciate and love it more than I ever thought I could. For the first time, I truly felt like I was controlling the flow of the game and building my own adventure instead of being tugged along in a flow created by someone else, and I utterly loved that feeling.

This freedom is truly made possible by the overarching world and game design of Breath of the Wild. Gone are the days of a set series of dungeons, each providing and centring around a specific ability or item that is unlocked there. Instead, Breath of the Wild gives you your full range of powers in the beginning area of the game, leaving you fully equipped for every shrine and dungeon you will find within the game. This allows you to tackle the game’s content in any order you wish, allowing you to freely jump between combat encounters, exploring the world, completing quests, solving shrines and so much more. This also means that all dungeons can be designed with multiple complex puzzles based around different powers, instead of gradually growing in complexity as the narrative continues. While I won’t discuss anything further about the dungeons for fear of spoiling their reveal, I will say that they are some of the most engaging I have found in a Zelda game.

During your expedition across Hyrule you will likely find yourself spending a massive amount of time looking for and completing the various shrines across the land. Shrines are akin to bite-sized dungeons, each lasting only a few minutes at most and providing you with a small amount of treasure and Breath of the Wild’s heart pieces. Despite their massive number, with well over 100 across Hyrule, they all feel unique and different, with no two puzzles feeling quite the same. Their small nature also helps to stop them from overstaying their welcome and helps keep them fresh and exciting. Puzzles aren’t the only thing you’ll find Hyrule’s shrines, as several them focus on combat instead. Combat in Breath of the Wild feels like a cross between Zelda and Dark Souls, combining the precision mechanics of a Souls game with the more accessible controls of a Zelda game. Different weapons all have a different lead in animations, requiring you to correctly judge the right times to swing without leaving yourself open to a return salvo. You can use your shield to block attacks and, if you’re game enough, you can even parry attacks to knock an enemy back for a moment. When locked on to an enemy you can dodge around their attacks, with perfectly timed dodges letting you unleash a flurry of blows against your enemy. Throughout all of this, you must carefully avoid your enemies, with Link’s relative fragility causing you to quickly die if you overreach during combat. It never feels unfair, and unlike a Souls game, is accessible enough to allow newcomers into the game without scaring them off with its depth and difficulty. It perfectly treads the line between ease of use and difficulty in a way that I never expected from a Nintendo or Zelda game.

During all of this you must remain ever vigilant of the most important aspect of Breath of the Wild, Link’s stamina. Most actions you make during your Hylian adventure will make use of Link’s stamina gauge, from strong attacks in combat, to rock climbing, sprinting and paragliding. You would expect that being hemmed in by a gauge would be a source of frustration, but if anything, it makes your general exploration of the world feel like an achievement. Whether you’re climbing the world’s many towers, which unlock the topography of the map section you’re in, or just climbing that random mountain in the distance, you must think strategically. You’ll carefully judge distances between ledges, lest you go too far and fall to your death from the cliff face you were climbing. Exploration is mechanically satisfying, as well as visually satisfying. Exploration is also vital to find enemies to defeat and ingredients to cook. Cooking itself adds a new dimension of strategy to the game and combat, as the dishes you create can give you bonuses that can be immensely beneficial. Creating a lightning resist potion when you know you’re entering an area with multiple lightning elemental enemies is just one example of this. You’ll also need to keep your eyes open for weapons wherever you go, as yours will quickly degrade and break as you battle Ganon’s denizens. While there is never a shortage of weapons to find and use, I did find myself hoarding powerful weapons, ‘just in case’. While the fragile weapons may frustrate some, I enjoyed being forced to try my hand at different weapon types and the constant flux it brought to combat.

The Kingdom of Hyrule may have been devastated by Calamity Ganon a century ago, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the most beautiful open worlds I’ve seen. While Breath of the Wild doesn’t hit the technical highs seen in the likes of Uncharted or Horizon: Zero Dawn, its pure artistry is incredible. The cross between the cel-shaded style of Wind Waker and the painterly style of Skyward Sword is maintained perfectly throughout the game. Characters look incredible, with detailed clothes and outfits perfectly complementing the simple but expressive faces, and environments can be utterly breathtaking. There is nothing quite like riding your horse through the plains of Hyrule as the sun rises and light filters across and through the long grass. The environments are also incredibly diverse, with deserts, beaches, rivers, snow caps and even volcanos all adding to the beautiful backdrop. The art style is one of the most cohesive and unique that I have seen.

Those expressive faces, intricate clothing and breathtaking landscapes are all put to good use during the story and cutscenes of Breath of the Wild. While the enforced story sequences are relatively sparse in Breath of the Wild, if you’re willing to explore and delve deeper into the world you’ll begin to discover a highly personal and deeply emotional story as Link unlocks the memories of his past. Most quest storylines focus on Link and his interactions with the Champions of the past, giving you an understanding of his relationship with them, but the best story moments come from Link’s memories of Zelda. These are harder to find, hidden away in various parts of Hyrule, but they gradually come together to tell the tale of a Princess who is intent on doing everything she possibly can to save the world around her. You see her frailties, as well as her strengths, as the memories build her up to the Princess that was able to fight and contain Ganon for a century on her own. The highly personal sequences and cutscenes were incredibly engaging and left me wanting to search the world for more so that I could experience Zelda’s full story.

Finally, everything within the game is brought together and supported by a musical score that is nothing short of amazing. Manaka Kataoka (who you may know as the composer of Animal Crossing) and Yasuaki Iwata’s score flows with the game and perfectly reflects and enhances the world and story. The calm music of the Great Plateau transforms into a more energetic composition as enemies notice you and make chase. The melody rises and falls as you watch a particularly dramatic cutscene and becomes a jaunty tune as you watch a more relaxed and humorous one. Few soundtracks are quite as uniformly magnificent as this, with the audio retaining a high quality of recording and composition throughout the entire experience.

I went into Breath of the Wild cautiously optimistic, because beyond Wind Waker I had never found myself able to spend more than a few hours with a 3D Zelda before growing weary. Eventually, I left my Hylian expedition realising that I had just completed one of the greatest gaming experiences I have had the pleasure of playing.


Andrew Cathie

 
Rocket Chainsaw's premier Fantasy-loving Editor. I basically play anything and everything that looks like it could be fun or interesting.


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