The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: March 3, 2017 – 97% on Metacritic
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild released alongside Nintendo’s new console, the Nintendo Switch, as well as on it’s now defunct Wii U. Similar to Twilight Princess on the GameCube and Wii, Breath of the Wild proves to be a similar experience on both platforms, however, the way you play differs dramatically. I picked up Breath of the Wild on the Wii U, not wanting to purchase a console just for Zelda. After completing the game months after release and spending over 100 hours in its vast world, I can safely say that I very well could have purchased a Switch just for this game – it’s that good. I do not regret playing this game on the Wii U, the experience was still fascinating and the performance of the system did not absolve anything. Oftentimes I forgot I was playing on the Wii U – for the first time in a long time, since Sunset Overdrive, I felt genuinely engrossed and fully engaged in a game to a degree where I forgot the platform I was playing on.
The story revolves around the same concept as other Zelda games. Ganon has taken over Hyrule Castle and Princess Zelda is trapped. You awaken as Link 100 years after the initial conflict and must traverse Hyrule and its regions to gain power, complete dungeons, and ultimately grow strong enough to enter the castle and defeat Ganon. The twist this time is that there are no ‘typical’ dungeons to enter, such as the Water dungeons of old Zelda games. Now, the game is split into hundreds of smaller dungeons called “Shrines” that present different puzzles and combat challenges which, upon completion, reward Link with Soul Orbs to trade in for heart or stamina containers. There are four (5, if you count Hyrule Castle) larger dungeons in the game that rest within the Divine Beasts in different corners of the map. Upon completion, Link gains their unique ability, power, and it aids his attack on Ganon in their final fight.
As you traverse Hyrule, you come across memories of Zelda & Link’s interaction from 100 years prior as they tried to awaken her hidden power and defeat Ganon before it was too late. In these interactions is where I believe the most direct storytelling takes place. Zelda is clearly buckling under the pressure of saving the entire Kingdom from Ganon, and cannot awaken the power within no matter what she does. Link, who often takes the brunt of her frustration, is always along to protect her. SPOILERS: in the end, it is Zelda who protects link and sends him to his 100-year restoration slumber to fight Ganon. I found myself caring about Zelda, feeling her frustration and angst, as well as feeling sorry for Link who was simply doing his job in protecting the princess – a job that evolved into so much more than what it originally entailed.
“I found myself caring about Zelda, feeling her frustration and angst, as well as feeling sorry for Link who was simply doing his job in protecting the princess – a job that evolved into so much more than what it originally entailed.”
The great part about this game is that everything I mentioned above is completely optional and non-linear. If you really wanted to, you could skip everything and head straight for Ganon (though that would be ill-advised). The story, although it follows a firm plot, is what the player makes it. Do you choose to defeat all of the divine beasts, clear all of the shrines, and find all of the korok seeds (which grant you additional inventory slots)? Do you only defeat the divine beasts and head straight for Ganon? Do you search for all of Link’s past memories with Zelda from 100 years ago? Do you take the effort and time necessary to complete the near-endless number of side-quests? Do you really need the Master Sword to defeat Ganon? Breath of the Wild completely empowers the player and lets them decide, at their own pace, how they want to play the game. It’s extremely liberating.
Personally, I decided to do a solid mix of everything above. At the time of writing this review, I have completed over 60 shrines, found over 80 korok seeds, completed a solid mix of side-quests, found all of Link’s past memories with Zelda, found Zelda’s royal horse (NOT Epona), climbed every tower revealing the entire map, and became strong enough to get the Master Sword. I’ve accomplished a great deal in this game, and there is still so much I missed. I cannot wait to jump back into Hyrule and find more and more of its secrets.
“Breath of the Wild completely empowers the player and lets them decide, at their own pace, how they want to play the game. It’s extremely liberating.”
Breath of the Wild is a simple game conceptually to grasp. You have melee weapons (swords, broadswords, axes, clubs, etc), shields, and a bow. You have head, chest, and leg slots for armor. There are a few different tricks and combos you can pull off, but you do not need to use them to succeed. It’s so easy to pick this game up and start playing. Like any great game, Breath of the Wild is easy to learn, but difficult to master. Using a combination of everything in Link’s arsenal can make the player immensely powerful; learning how exactly to do those things takes time, skill, and a bit of luck. Equally, each weapon can break (aside from the Master Sword, which simply needs to recharge) meaning that there is no real point in “saving” a particular weapon for anything. Everything you pick up is expendable and should be treated as such. This creates the need to diversify your skill set and comfort levels with whatever you pick up.
Additionally, there are a plethora of options within each weapon type – ranging from weapon elements on swords, different arrow types, a boomerang, the kind of shield you have equipped and what it can block (and in some cases, reflect back!)… There are a seemingly endless number of options. Just like its story and content, Breath of the Wild gives the player the liberty to choose for themselves what they like to use and what they can be successful with. Equally, there is enough challenge to keep the player experimenting with different strategies and weapons. This continuous experimentation allows for continuous growth and development of player strength and confidence in any situation. By the end of the game, I was confidently switching between arrow types on my bow, then swapping over to a great axe and using a sword and shield to balance everything out. Unfortunately, the final fight with Ganon was not very difficult – perhaps a product of all of the development I went through while playing, but I suspect that it was a similar experience for most who fought him.
Breath of the Wild is easily the best looking game on the Wii U. Although it suffers from the occasional framerate dip from its usual 30fps, the game otherwise performs admirably on its limiting hardware. The art style in the game ensures that this game will look great for years to come – it always looks like a painting. I found myself stopping and taking in what was around me – mountains, trees, vast plains of grass swaying in the wind with animals roaming through it, snow-capped hills and rolling escapades of the desert. Equally, the corrupted visuals of anything Ganon possessed was clear as soon as you saw it, and added to the mystique of the game. The broken battlefields of the war 100 years ago with Ganon are littered with broken enemies, destroyed buildings, and rusted swords and shields.
Anything you see in Breath of the Wild, you can visit. In fact, in the opening minute of the game as Link awakens and leaves the restoration cave, the world opens up around you and right away you see hundreds of landmarks to visit. Hyrule Castle in the distance, a large oak tree in the middle of a forest, a tower to climb, a lake with a rock with a sword in the middle of it, a mountain in the distance, a volcano further north… everywhere you look there is something to do – and you can do all of it. The game does an incredible job visually telling the player to let themselves’ free and explore because anything you see you can visit and every location has its own secret and its own reward.
“The game does an incredible job visually telling the player to let themselves’ free…”
Breath of the Wild is the first Zelda game I have ever completed – and rightfully so, I think it is the best Zelda game ever made. No other game in the franchise has affected me in this powerful of a way or grabbed my attention in such a way that I just had to keep playing. There is so much to do, so many places to explore, and all of it can be done at your own leisure. Where past Zelda games locked the player in what they could do based on story progression and equipment, Breath of the Wild sets the player free from the get-go. There is no right or wrong way to play it – a concept that nearly every other game struggles with. Gargantuan world building, surprisingly deep storytelling for a Zelda game, a plethora of content to consume, and all of it done masterfully. Breath of the Wild is a game that you cannot miss, a game that is worth purchasing a console for, and a game of a generation, be it the Wii U’s swan song or the Switch’s glorious debut album. As perfect as a game can be.
Breath of the Wild accomplishes so much, and pushes the industry forward to such a degree that hasn’t been achieved in a very long time. A mastercraft of art.
If you’re looking for a great video on the Zelda timeline and how Breath of the Wild fits in, I’d encourage you to watch the video below, done by MatPat and the great people at Game Theory.