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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review


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On 03/14/2017 at 09:00 AM by Casey Curran

I'm 99% sure Nintendo used the Triforce to make it this good
RECOMMENDATION:

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a must play, even to those who do not typically enjoy the series or open world games.

I remember the first time I played Super Mario 64 and was amazed at seeing Mario move in 3D. I remember thinking how vast and expansive the fields of Hyrule looked in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. And I remember carjacking a truck, driving as fast as I could until flying off a cliff in Grand Theft Auto III. At the time, these games all had an unrivaled sense of freedom. They formulated a magical feeling, as new doors seemed to open and an experience I could only imagine was now real. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild now joins these titles in creating the same sense of wonder.

It feels ironic that an open world game can feel so fresh given the genre has so far dominated on the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. Breath even borrows heavily from Skyrim and Assassin’s Creed, the two titles which every other open world game seems to be copying. Breath also abandons past Zelda traditions such as finding items in dungeons in the process of taking ideas from these titles. On paper this game should be a disaster. This should be a game abandoning its roots. But it’s not. Instead it still keeps that Zelda magic while embarrassing the current kings of sandbox games, showing how they have so much more potential than they’re tapping into.

The world reminds me a lot of Skyrim’s, it’s enormous with varied landscapes and is chock-full of secrets to uncover. Yet unlike Skyrim’s somewhat clunky controls, Breath has by far the most fluid controls and mechanics in a game of its size. Link can climb any mountain, cliff, building, and wall. He is limited by an upgradable stamina meter, yet what other games consider roadblocks, Breath sees as opportunities. There’s no searching for a trail or walking to another objective, Breath’s exploration is much more fluid as Link can just climb up and discover what lies at the top of the mountain.

Breath’s fluidity encourages adventuring on many levels. Shrines (small dungeons containing a few puzzles or a mini boss fight) make up the bulk of secrets to uncover and completing four shrines unlocks a health or stamina upgrading. Upgrading stamina allows access to new areas, which in turn means more upgrades, triggering a very compelling cycle. While most games try to get by just on offering fun moment to moment gameplay or a captivating reward, Breath excels in both.

Breath is so confident in how captivating everything is that game makes the vast majority of its content optional. It is possible to fight the final boss Calamity Ganon immediately after the introduction. Fighting his minions, let alone Ganon himself, will be nearly impossible, but the option is there. Everything is literally just preparation for the fight ending when the player decides Link is strong enough. All other Zelda staples, from heart pieces to dungeons to even the Master Sword, is completely optional. Rather than dictate its pace to the player, Breath of the Wild convinces the player to want to do everything.

Breath does not even inform of any points of interest on its map until they are discovered, so there is always a wonderful anticipation of what is to come. By simply not knowing where to go or what to find, every discovery felt special and every second of the journey there was enjoyable. I cannot stress the importance of gliding in making adventuring so entertaining. Upon hitting the highest vantage point to scout out any points of interest, there is not a need to slow any momentum climbing down. It’s simply a matter of pulling out the glider until Link hits the ground. The glider lets Breath stay fluid and makes voyaging more enjoyable than any other open world game. Breath knows this too, as it does not give the glider until completing the tutorial when the player is accustomed to the climbing mechanics. Then the player can experience just how seamless exploration can really be.

The introduction is long (it took me roughly two hours), it never felt restricting like past 3D Zelda titles. Within a minute, I had a fairly large area to roam around in. I was told to climb up a tower and look for four shrines (smaller dungeons consisting of one to three puzzles or a mini boss), but I also could tackle them at my own leisure. I had freedom. Freedom which was only multiplied once the rest of the world was available.

Do not expect wandering Hyrule to be a walk in the park, however, as Breath is a brutal game. Next to Adventure of Link, this was the hardest Zelda I have played, even tougher than the original game. Getting hit by an attack commonly take out half to almost all of Link’s health, and this was still going on even with twenty hearts. And this isn’t by a boss or even mini boss. Regular, run of the mill enemies are consistently this powerful. The game has an excellent sense of progression through its difficulty, but still never gets easy. Breath does not let the player feel like a hero until the player survives long enough to earn it. The challenge never felt unfair and was always manageable as long as was well prepared, which is why it works. Breath simply demands the player to take its combat seriously in order to succeed.

Breath is so exploration focused that even its combat is based around encouraging making new discoveries. Hyrule now offers a large variety of swords, hammers, axes, spears, boomerangs, and clubs for Link to wield rather than just a simple sword. But getting attached to one is a mistake: all of them have an absolutely horrible build quality. They will break within around 25-35 hits against an enemy, a mechanic which normally drives me crazy yet strangely works in Breath. Any weapon an enemy wields can be obtained, weapons are lying all over the field, and treasure chests with a weapon inside are everywhere. Finding something to fight with is never an issue. Yet the special, powerful weapons are just uncommon enough to generate an excitement finding them.

Weapons end up being some of the lesser rewards, however, compared to shrines. Shrines overall are a welcome new addition to the series. While I prefer the complexity of a real dungeon, the puzzles and combat scenarios inside of a shrine were almost always a fun time. Sometimes just getting into the shrine was the puzzle or challenge, as many are hidden or guarded by a boss. Several shrines even have more work put into finding a way inside than other Zelda games had in finding a dungeon.

Speaking of dungeons, they definitely took a hit in length and to a lesser extent complexity because of these shrines. They’re still fun and full of tricky puzzles, but past Zelda titles set the bar so high that they fall a bit short by series standards. However, there is still plenty to enjoy. Rather than just being a random area in the game, dungeons are now deeply tied into the backstory, world and characters so deeply completing them affects how the final boss fight plays out. In addition, each dungeon opens with a unique set piece where Link has to fight his way in, resulting in just gaining entry into one feeling like an accomplishment rather than another part of the game. Bosses also break away from the standard Zelda boss formula, feeling like an actual fight rather than exploiting a weak point three times. These only fall short compared to the best dungeons Zelda has offered, Breath’s dungeons are still an absolute joy.

Really, any issues I have with Breath feel insignificant compared to what it does well. Do I wish inventory management was more streamlined? Yes. Do I wonder why there are motion controlled puzzles? Absolutely. In addition, a side objective could occasionally be a bit too vague and shrines have zero visual variety. Yet these problems were never serious enough to even annoy me. What the game does well, it does so well with such minor issues that I enjoyed every single second of my time with it.

Nintendo has a history of launching each console with a game to show off its capabilities. Super Mario 64 showed how an analog stick would work for 3D movement while Wii Sports used motion controls to make video games accessible to non-gamers. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, despite originally being a Wii U title, shows why having a console and handheld in one device is a good thing for the Nintendo Switch. Because this is a game so good I had to keep playing if I left the TV.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

Blake Turner Staff Writer

03/14/2017 at 06:27 PM

I'm going to be 100% clear, I didn't read this. I'm getting this game on Tuesday when I get paid and I'm avoiding reviews until then. I will totally be back to read this review when I play the game, and reply to this message accordingly.

 However, I think my biggest problem with Zelda games is the hype around them. I didn't grow up with Zelda, and so some of the charm of the nostalgia is lost on me. I didn't really start playing them until a few years ago, and I while I can see why they are good well made games, they're also all the same game. Which is also totally a criticism you can hurl at Dark Souls. There's little differences, but they're basically the same.

 The difference is that I was there for the first Dark Souls and it resonated with me. I feel the way about that game that many people feel about the Zelda series and so I totally get the love, they just aren't feelings I share.

 Also, so many games I loved and enjoyed before playing Zelda took things from that series and so it doesn't quite feel revolutionary to me in the way it does to many others. I've played Dark Souls. I've played Metroid. I've played Tomb Raider, and Darksiders, and Beyond Good and Evil and many games like that.

 What I'm trying to say is that to me, this game seems different. It seems like a breath of fresh air for not only Zelda, but the industry. So I'm going to go in blind this time and hopefully get some of the joy other people do from the series. This seems like they honestly made a Zelda for people like me and I am keen as fuck to try it.

I'm also typing this comment out so you'll reply to me and I'll remember to read this when I've played the game.

Casey Curran Staff Writer

03/14/2017 at 06:36 PM

That's exactly what they did. They made a game for people like you ironically by using the very first one as their prime inspiration. It's very hands off in guiding you, teaches the basics then let's you decide what to do. You see its inspiration like Assassin's Creed and Skyrim but it just takes ideas from them with its own flavor. 

asrealasitgets

03/14/2017 at 06:39 PM

I won't read the review until I eventually play the game which will most likey be on the WiiU. I've played the Zelda games from the beginning and honestly for me, the last good games in the series were A Link to the Past and Links Awakening. Majoras Mask is special but most of the games have been iterations of the same Ocarina of Time and I feel like the last few games have been vastly over rated. Dark Souls 1 and 2 are better games than the Zelda sequels on gamecube honestly. 

Casey Curran Staff Writer

03/14/2017 at 10:38 PM

I don't really get the Zelda/Dark Souls comparison since it isn't even the Nintendo series most similar to DS. Metroid has much more in common with the Souls games. TP has some similarities with art style and world but they're mostly surface level comparisons, the more you analyze the less they have in common. Gameplay there's few similarities outside exploring a medieval world, TP welcomes you with new areas while DS makes you scared to enter somewhere new. Wind Waker meanwhile has almost nothing in common with Souls games.

Blake Turner Staff Writer

03/20/2017 at 04:15 AM

Dark Souls combat is just a meatier version of 3D Zelda games. The main thing that sets them apart is the stamina bar.

 I don't usually see the comparison that much, but in BotW I get somewhat of a similar feeling, which is high praise indeed.

You said the game world reminds you of Skyrim's, but I would strongly disagree. Bethesda is good at open worlds, but they tend to pack everything rather densely. This reminds me far more of Shadow of the Collossus. It's sparse, and doesn't need to constantly shove stuff in your face because the world itself is just breathtaking.

 Most other things I agree with. This is a really well written review, great job man. I'm adoring this game. I'm maybe 5 hours in now. Haven't been to the first village because I've been climbing towers, doing shrines, and just exploring. If this keeps up it's quality it'll be my favourite Zelda game.

 I just love the little touches, like how hard it is to climb while it's raining (though you can climb under cover), that you can slide your shield down a hill, that you can cross large lakes with your ice platform ability, that you can freeze to death, that you drown when you run out stamina. I love cooking. I love climbing. I love that you can ride pretty much any horse. I love that I can cut down a tree, use stasis on it, hit it really hard, then jump on it and soar into a distant goat. I love that if your shield is close to breaking when you try to hillslide you just faceplant.

 I could go on and fucking on, but this is by far the best game I've played this year, and the first Zelda I've ever played that has lived up to the hype.

P.S. How the hell can you look at that screenshot of Link running towards the Temple of Time and not think of Dark Souls?

Casey Curran Staff Writer

03/20/2017 at 01:44 PM

Because it makes me think of Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess' Temple of Time? There's also a lot more that separates them apart than the stamina bar. Dark Souls is combat focused while Zelda it's just a piece and the combat reflects that. Dark Souls has so many more options because of this, while Zelda is mostly dodging, sword attacks, and a couple useful items. 

Skyward Sword is the only combat focused Zelda (which admittedly was pretty similar to Dark Souls in gameplay, but not so much story or atmosphere), the others either focus on puzzles or exploration. Dark Souls has combat as the top pillar and its exploration just has such a different take on the concept. Zelda you see a room and immediately run in to advance the plot. Dark Souls, you cautiously inch your way in looking for a surprise, only after returning to the bonfire 8 times prior to make sure you're prepared. 

Blake Turner Staff Writer

03/20/2017 at 07:42 PM

I'm not saying they're that similar, I'm saying why people would be reminded. Dark Souls combat is a lot more complex, but on the most basest level they're very similar.

 The other thing is the feeling. Dark Souls is a more adult version, sure, but both give you this weird mix of melancholy and longing as you wander through a ruined world. And that temple covered in vines and overgrown plantlife totally reminds me of the buildings you first encounter in Firelink Shrine.

 Also, I think I've died more in this game than I have in any of the Dark Souls games. Though that could be because I find it hilarious to slide down hills on shields that are almost broken.

Cary Woodham

03/16/2017 at 03:13 AM

That's a very good review.  I might've missed it while reading, but I don't remember you mentioning anything about the cooking aspect.  Cooking is my favorite thing to do in that game.  It's why I've only beaten two of the four dungeons so far.  I've been calling the game Cooking Mama Link for that reason.  Zelda's going to be really mad at me for not hurrying it up!  I also like LInk's eating animations in the game.  By the time I get around to rescuing Zelda, Link's going to have a nice fat belly from all the food I've been making him eat!

Casey Curran Staff Writer

03/16/2017 at 07:06 AM

Nah I didn't mention it because it lies under when I mention you have to be prepared for combat. The review was already long as is and wanted to keep ithe from going too long.

The Last Ninja

03/20/2017 at 03:01 PM

I have to wait until May to play this, but I will most certainly be playing it (the Wii U version, but that's fine). Some are saying it's the best Zelda game ever! Would you agree with that? It has certainly reinvented the enitre series. Cannot wait to get lost in its world! 

Casey Curran Staff Writer

03/20/2017 at 08:26 PM

Like most Zeldas, there's a strong case for it being the best in the series. It's a very different game from the past 3D Zeldas, so I can see some preferring TP, WW, or OoT. Depends on what you're looking for. If the original is one of your top Zelda games, this has a very good being your favorite. 

Either way what I can say is that this is exactly what the series needed. It's familiar in the right ways and different where it needed to be. It's a breath of fresh air (pun not intended) and will go down as one of the best in the series.

Catherine Hauser Staff Writer

03/22/2017 at 10:43 AM

Great review, Casey. I cannot stop playing this game...mostly because I only have time to play in small increments. There is just SO MUCH to do, and I absolutely love that! Hats off to Nintendo for making this game what it is; it deserves all the positive praise it has recieved. I think my favorite part is the fact that he can wear so many different outfits for different effects. That was always explored in Zelda, but never to this extent. And it gave me a laugh when I flew to that island trial and I was suddenly in an episode of Naked and Afraid.

Also, I love the amiibo stuff! I've gotten Epona and the special saddle/bridle. I need to get the Windwaker clothing.

Chunopo

03/23/2017 at 03:35 AM

Best review on BOTW I have read! you really tap into 'how it feels to play' especially with your referrence to both past Nintendo games and modern open world games. Actually feel like you have helped me find a way to describe it to others. Great job!

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