The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild delivers a truly magnificent opening act to the Nintendo Switch in a journey that you’ll want to continue as long as possible.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (version reviewed), Wii U
Release Date: March 3rd, 2017
This review of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will discuss its gameplay mechanics, atmosphere, and presentation. We will discuss the story only in very broad strokes, taking care to avoid any story, character, or location-related spoilers.
The Nintendo Switch in its own right is a strange, new, infant console. It’s yet unproven and shrouded in uncertainty about certain key features. But whatever confusion or criticism I had about the hardware, its partner-in-crime launch title, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, leaves no question about its brilliance. The pride with which the developers, producers, and Nintendo reps have shown off this title with now makes perfect sense, as does its extended time in development. From the moment Link awakens in the Shrine of Resurrection to the final moments of the credits, Breath of the Wild simply gleams.
I won’t spoil any more of the story for you than has already been shown in preview trailers. Link awakens in a strange room with no items, no skills, no recollection of where he is or why he’s there, and nothing but a mysterious tablet called the
Nintendo Switch Sheikah Slate to guide him. From the moment he steps out of the Shrine on, it is entirely up to the player how they want to proceed with Link’s adventure. You can just as easily follow the story path laid before you as you can swan dive right on out of the plot and explore on your own, or even (as they said) run straight to the game’s finale.
I do not recommend such a sprint for various gameplay (it’s damn hard) and story (you’re seriously missing out) reasons. Instead, I encourage you to keep the story on your radar while you trot along at your own pace. You’ll meet a collection of familiar faces and new friends as you go, all delightfully introduced and portrayed through their respective story arcs as distinct, complex personalities. The story of Breath of the Wild is far deeper and more emotional than any you’ve experienced in a Zelda game before, but it’s also enjoyed entirely at the whim of the player. You can partake in as much or as little as you like, though it’s likely you’ll want to seek out every piece of the puzzle before the game’s end.
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But while the story beats serve as touchpoints for travelers wanting a guiding hand for where to go next, Breath of the Wild’s real focus is on the journey between those points. The open world of Hyrule is breathtaking in its enormity, and anywhere you can see, you can go. That doesn’t just mean you can climb to the tops of mountains and enjoy the view, though that will occupy your time as well. There are things to do atop those mountains just as there are in the valleys below; there are enemies to fight, Shrines to discover, secrets to unravel. This world is far more full than the preview demos let on, with something exciting and interesting in your sights no matter where you stand. A simple story tour of the map, while a delight, hardly scratches the surface of everything Breath of the Wild has to offer.
By now you’ve surely seen at least some showcase of the ways Link can interact with his environment in Hyrule; allow me to reassure you that those interactions do not end once you leave the Great Plateau. Every enemy camp, every puzzle, every environmental mystery you come across offers multiple solutions and approaches. You can just as easily mow down your enemies with the neat weapon you just picked up as you can travel through the entire map with a metal box, using it in tandem with Magnesis to whomp everything you find on the head.
That said, while Breath of the Wild respects its space and the continuity of items, you’ll also consistently consume resources as you go. A fruit picked in one area can save your life in another; a weapon you save from a Shrine early on may prove instrumental in demolishing a foe hours later. Or not! A clever player can always construct a solution with whatever is in front of them in Breath of the Wild.
And speaking technically, those solutions will be found based entirely on the wisdom of the player, without fighting clunky controls or poor mechanics. Aside from occasional framerate issues in TV mode on the Switch, Breath of the Wild runs like a well-oiled machine. The combat feels fluid, and while many smaller enemies can be defeated with a strong weapon and a few solid mashes of the attack button, fear not if you want a greater challenge. You will still die often both by the hands of enemies and the harshness of certain environments. A constant rotation of fragile weapons, bows, and shields flowing through your inventory invokes a certain caution when breaking out the big guns on weak enemies, forcing the player to frequently consider using counters, dodges, sneak attacks, or environmental resources to clear the way instead of just swinging a Boko Club around.
Then there are the puzzles, which I can assure you ramp up in difficulty considerably the farther you travel from the Great Plateau. You’re introduced to your Runes early on: Bombs, Magnesis, Stasis, and Cryonis. With these constant tools at your belt, you’ll not only learn to master your outdoor environment but also be challenged to your limits within the Shrines–optional short dungeons dotted throughout Hyrule. Each Shrine has a theme, and many offer an introductory puzzle or two to introduce you to the theme before presenting the real test of the Shrine. My favorite puzzles were those that used the gyroscope within the Joy-Cons, but there wasn’t a single Shrine puzzle I encountered that felt stale or overused.
Rest assured, too, that true dungeons are present beyond the short Shrines. I can’t say too much without spoiling, but suffice to say that the dungeons in Breath of the Wild will not be what you expect them to be or are used to seeing in Zelda games. This is not a bad thing. It took me some time to let go of my pre-conceived notions of how dungeons ought to be handled, but once I did, I fully appreciated the unique designs. With puzzles and boss battles neatly balancing on the line of challenging but doable, you’ll be left with a sense of accomplishment each time you hear the familiar “Success!” musical chime.
Finally, how could I not praise the sound design? Three words: Download. This. Soundtrack. The music is lead but not overpowered by piano and carefully blends old, familiar Legend of Zelda melodies with new tunes. There are a few serious nostalgia-invokers here alongside the unobtrusive, atmospheric backgrounds. The excellent sound isn’t the only place you’ll find callbacks to older Zelda titles, either. Fans of the series will stumble upon easter egg after easter egg of loving recall from past titles: everything from Wind Waker to Phantom Hourglass to the original game is invoked.
I realize that the majority of this review has painted rather broad strokes, but that’s by necessity. Breath of the Wild is not a game that I want to describe to you in minute mechanical detail because that would sap the title of its power should you pick it up. Every joyful moment hinges on the journey you choose and the experience you create for yourself in the vast, truly open world of Hyrule. I’ve clocked in somewhere well over 40 hours (the game doesn’t visibly keep track) and while I’ve seen the credits roll, I’m nowhere near done exploration. The truth is, I didn’t want the game to be over. I’m still eager to double my time or perhaps more combing over everything Breath of the Wild has to offer.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the WildNintendo
A copy of this game and a Nintendo Switch console were provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.