The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Switch Review

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The first Zelda game I ever owned was A Link to the Past and I can remember sitting in my living room playing it for hours just trying to figure out how to progress. The first time I played Ocarina of Time was when the remake was released for 3DS. I can see why people say that was the greatest game in the series because I was playing it non-stop. There was this sense of adventure and discovery that few games can really capture. I beat Wind Waker when the HD version came to Wii U and shortly after that I beat Twilight Princess and while it’s a great game, it’s my least favorite 3D entry in the series. I enjoyed what I played of Skyward Sword but none of these were as memorable to me as Ocarina of Time. When A Link Between Worlds came out, now that was a refreshing change of pace. We haven’t had this much freedom in a Zelda game since the first title and I can remember thinking to myself I hope Nintendo can keep this up for the next 3D entry. Developed and published by Nintendo, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was released in March, 2017 for the Switch and Wii U. When I luckily found the last Switch at Best Buy, the second day after it released, I immediately grabbed it along with a copy of Zelda. I knew I was going to get the game at some point just because I enjoy the series but I didn’t really follow it’s development minus seeing a few screen shots and video clips here and there. Needless to say, I was in for quite a surprise. Breath of the Wild has taken the top spot on my list of Zelda games, surpassing Ocarina of Time. It’s one of the greatest adventure games I’ve ever played and I would say it’s one of the greatest games ever made.

I will be avoiding major story spoilers but will cover the basic premise. You play as the iconic hero Link. As soon as the game starts, Link awakens from a one hundred year slumber and doesn’t remember the events of his past. As you progress through the story, Link’s memories begin to surface which also help you understand what’s going on. That’s all I’m going to talk about in regards to the actual story in this game. If you’ve played other Zelda games then you should be familiar with several aspects of the story. The core elements that make up the basic structure of most of the storylines in the series are all here and basically it’s up to Link to vanquish evil. There’s actually full voice acting in Breath of the Wild and it’s hit or miss but I wouldn’t say it’s downright horrible. Link is silent as usual but the major NPC’s are all voiced and only during cut scenes. It’s odd there isn’t more voice acting overall. For example, when you first meet a major NPC, there’s usually an introductory cut scene where you get to hear the character speak but as soon as it ends, it’s back to reading text. If you’ve been waiting for a Zelda game with voice acting, you got it, but just be aware that most of the interactions with NPC’s still involve reading text and I do think the voice acting could have been better.

Breath of the Wild really breaks the conventions we’ve come to know from past games and yet still manages to feel familiar. The one thing I come to expect with each new Zelda game is innovation, something different. I don’t even know where to begin with this game. Zelda games have been open world before so I guess you could say Breath of the Wild is an open world sandbox. The very first game in the series and A Link Between Worlds are the two games I think of that compare to Breath of the Wild. You’re given the ultimate freedom to go wherever and do whatever you want. You can complete the dungeons in any order or you can simply head straight for the final boss and beat the game. Although, that will be quite a challenge. You’re not forced to go down a specific path or complete a specific set of quests. In fact, you can invest hundreds of hours into the game without actually progressing through the story. If you were to only focus on the story quests and skip almost everything else, you may feel like the story is quite short. I would agree that it is but there’s so much to do in this game that it becomes very easy to get distracted and stray away from the story. You’ll soon realize the story is only a small part of the game and there’s a much bigger emphasis on exploration.

Breath of the Wild is set in the kingdom of Hyrule and it’s a pretty big place. I hear it’s about twelve times the size of the world in Twilight Princess. It’s massive. Lost Woods, Death Mountain, and Hyrule Field are all here and every location is full of things to do and secrets to uncover. Everywhere you go, there’s something to see or find and even after playing for fifty or more hours you’ll still be discovering new things. Whether it’s chests, shrines, new side quests, Great Fairy fountains, unique animals or items, or even a new location you didn’t realize was there before, there’s always something new being thrown at you. When you first start the game you acquire a device called the Sheikah Slate which is basically the ultimate companion. It shows you the map of the world and by scaling each tower scattered throughout the land, you can reveal more of the map. There’s over one hundred shrines to be discovered throughout Hyrule and they function as small dungeons of sorts. Towers and Shrines can both be used as fast travel points and you’ll be thankful considering how big the world really is. Each of the world’s major locations are truly diverse, visually and environmentally. Climate changes are frequent and you need to make sure Link is prepared for the weather. Cold weather will require warm clothes or hot food. The extremely hot climate of Death Mountain will cause any wooden items in your inventory to burn. Rain can be accompanied by a thunderstorm and you will get struck by lightning if you have any metal items equipped. You’ll always be adapting to different situations on the fly and that carries over to the gameplay as well.

Without revealing too much, I’ll just tell you that there’s four major dungeons in Breath of the Wild. Sadly, the traditional themed dungeons are gone. In past reviews I’ve said I’m not a fan of solving puzzles in games. The Zelda series is one of the few exceptions. The dungeons here are much smaller and confined compared to previous entries but I’m actually grateful for this. There’s less of a chance you’ll get lost and have to backtrack long distances to find what you may have missed. The dungeon puzzles are creative and that feeling of discovery when you finally figure out how to progress is still extremely rewarding. You still need to navigate your way through the dungeons and defeat the bosses. I did enjoy the boss battles but, like the dungeons themselves, I think the bosses could have been a bit more diverse. They all have different attack patterns and require different tactics to defeat but they didn’t really “wow” me like bosses in previous games. And because of the lack of themes for each dungeon, the dungeons overall just end up feeling the same. You may be wondering how the game makes up for only four major dungeons in such a massive world. Well that’s where Shrines come in. These are small mini dungeons and with over one hundred Shrines to discover, I think you’ll get you’re fill of puzzle solving. Some Shrines consist of combat trials meaning you need to defeat an enemy to win. These are usually challenging battles but if you’re equipped properly, you shouldn’t have a problem. Unfortunately, just like the major dungeons, the Shrines do not vary in theme and do become old, visually, after a while. Basically, all of the dungeons in this game look and feel the same but the reward for completing them is still as satisfying as ever. Most of the puzzles in this game are physics-based and the physics are utilized really well. There’s rarely any instance where there’s only one solution to a puzzle. You can always find multiple ways to complete them and that’s what makes them so enjoyable.

Rupees are still a form of currency but they are no longer scattered everywhere and finding them can be a challenge. Luckily, there’s other ways to make money. Fallen enemies usually drop monster parts that can be sold to vendors, used to upgrade armor, or even cooked to create elixirs. Minerals can be mined from ore in the environments which can then be sold at a high price but they, too, can be used for other things that may be more important to you later down the line. Plants, mushrooms, and animals all serve a purpose. Gathering materials and ingredients is probably one of the most important aspects of the game as is cooking. Cooking a mix of different ingredients will result in a dish that will replenish health and even grant you temporary stat bonuses like increased heat resistance, increased attack power, increased defense, and others that can really help you when you’re in a tight spot or engaged in a challenging battle with a fierce enemy. Many items and materials can be bought and sold from vendors travelling the land or in towns. Stealth is a big element of the gameplay and not only applies to encounters with enemies but hunting, too. Sometimes hunting animals is a great way to obtain materials but just running up to them will cause them to run away. However, sneaking is a great way to get close without being spotted and is even more effective when you’re hidden in tall grass.

Horses make a return and they do make navigating the land a bit easier. When you find a wild horse you need to tame it for it to obey you. You can bring horses to stables where they can be boarded and taken out later when you want to ride them. Unfortunately, horses will not fast travel with you but you can board any horse at any stable even if it’s on the other side of the map. While horses make getting from point A to B quicker, controlling them can be a bit of a challenge to the point of annoyance. They will automatically jump over certain obstacles but there’s too many times where they refuse to move because they can’t walk over a small lip or on an incline and at one point I somehow managed to get my horse stuck, forcing me to abandon it. Basically, they do best when traversing on flat terrain.

When it comes to navigating the world, Link has a several abilities that are really helpful. You do have a stamina meter that depletes when sprinting, paragliding, swimming, and climbing. Link starts with three hearts that represent his health. Successfully completing Shrines rewards you with Spirit Orbs that can be spent to permanently increase your health or Stamina meter. The paraglider is a great way to travel long distances and climbing has never been so much fun. You can bypass any long routes to a destination just by climbing over a mountain or structure. Both movement and navigation in Breath of the Wild feel so fluid, it would be hard for me to play other open world games and not wish they had the same sense freedom when controlling the character. If you see something in distance, you can go there and it’s that limitless sense of freedom that kept me coming back. If you gaze up and see a large wall or mountain blocking your path then you know there’s a way around or you can simply start climbing. Whichever direction you choose, there’s a good chance you may see or discover something else along the path. I think in the first ten or so hours of playing I just found myself wandering and exploring, just seeing what the world has to offer. Other than the Grand Theft Auto series, no other open world games have really immersed me the way Breath of the Wild does.

In addition to the world map, the Sheikah Slate also includes runes that help you solve puzzles and during combat and even in navigation. You’re given an unlimited amount of circular and square bombs that can be used to blow up parts of the environment or to kill enemies. Stasis allows you to stop time for a specific object, Cryonis allows you to create a pillar of ice from a water surface, and Magnesis lets you manipulate metallic objects. Finding new and creative ways to use the runes to solve puzzles, uncover secrets, and during combat is all part of the fun. Breath of the Wild does include amiibo functionality and supports most, if not all, of the Zelda amiibos. They can be used to drop special weapons, armor, and materials but I think the Wolf Link amiibo is the most unique. It spawns in Wolf Link as a companion and its hearts are determined by the data saved to it from Twilight Princess HD. Do I think amiibos are a form of cheating? No. Yes, they can drop rare items and materials but the amiibos are an official element of the game and are not required for progression.

The combat in Breath of the Wild is where things get interesting. Right from the start, you’ll realize that blocking, dodging, and parrying are crucial for survival. This is a challenging game and many enemies can easily one-hit kill you or drain your health real quick, especially early on. Boosting your stats by eating foods and drinking elixirs are a great help and as you progress you’ll acquire better weapons, armor, and items that will aid you during combat. Link is no longer limited to only a few weapons and shields. There’s all kinds of swords, spears, bows, boomerangs, shields, and magic rods that can be acquired from fallen enemies, from chests, vendors, and even as rewards. Bows require arrows and elemental arrows do make a return. Weapon durability is a thing and it’s one element of the gameplay that seems to really divide players from what I’ve seen. Weapons will break constantly so you should always have extra weapons in your inventory ready to go. Whether you just started playing or have been playing for days, weapons will always break and I agree that it is annoying but the upside is that the game is always providing you with new weapons. It prevents players from constantly using and spamming a single weapon throughout their entire playthrough and it also forces you to experiment and try something new. You may acquire a powerful weapon that you want to save for a boss or specific encounter and luckily you’re inventory can hold multiple weapons. Your weapon, bow, and shield inventories can be expanded which can be very helpful later in the game. Enemies do become more challenging as you progress and there’s even a few larger enemies found throughout the world that I guess you could consider mini-bosses. Whenever a Blood Moon rises this is an indication that all enemies and items have respawned so you can always go back and relive a cool fight or try a new tactic. Throughout the land are enemy camps that you can raid but you’re never forced to. In fact, other than boss battles or specific objectives, you’re never really forced to fight any enemies. You can try and sneak past them or simply run away if you’re not up to it.

Hyrule is a big place and there’s a lot to see and do. Nintendo has managed to create an expansive and immersive world where exploration is a truly rewarding experience. Unlike many of Ubisoft’s open world games, dots and waypoints are not covering the map. You can put pins on locations on the map that act as custom waypoints. Quests that require you to get to go to specific location will automatically add waypoints to the map but it never gets cluttered. You can even enable the Pro HUD mode which strips your HUD of everything for what many might say is the ultimate immersive experience. What makes Hyrule in Breath of the Wild so amazing is not just the size but the details, too. For example, when it’s raining, some surfaces become slippery, making it harder to climb. There’s a day/night cycle and different animals and enemies appear at night. Most NPC’s will be sleeping at night and roaming around during the day. Wild animals will roam the land, and if you approach an enemy camp and get spotted, a Bokoblin may blow a horn for backup. Sometimes you’ll come across enemies attacking NPC’s and it’s the little things like these that help to create the “living, breathing” world.

As amazing as Breath of the Wild is, it’s not perfect by any means. When playing on the TV, the frame rate dips often enough to notice, especially when in grassy areas or areas populated with a lot of trees and foliage. When playing on the Switch tablet, the frame rate is a bit more stable. The controls are another issue. Playing with the Joy-Cons and Pro Controller are both fine but the controls themselves are cumbersome. Even after days of playing I would still get buttons mixed up and confused. It doesn’t help that the interface and menus are bit clunky. Navigating through your inventory can feel like a chore when you have a lot of items stored. To cook anything you need to approach a pot and then enter your inventory, browse through your ingredients and hold the ones you want to cook, and then drop them in the pot. It would have been easier if a cooking menu appeared when approaching the pot enabling you to choose ingredients from there. Oddly enough, you cannot store recipes. You can view the ingredients of a cooked dish from your inventory but there’s no log or journal to store this information which means you need to either remember the recipes or write them down. Although, once you learn the basic rules of cooking, you’ll know exactly what ingredients to mix to create a specific dish. Another issue I have is that when a weapon breaks, the game doesn’t automatically equip another from your inventory. You need to equip weapons manually. The C-buttons are used to quickly access weapons, shields, bows, and runes easily but getting these buttons mixed up is easy and that becomes annoying when you’re trying to equip something on the fly.

Breath of the Wild is a beautiful game. The Switch may not be as powerful as it’s competitors, but the cel shaded visuals and the art style in general make this game pleasing to look at. I can only imagine how amazing this would look on more powerful hardware. Like with many open world games, object pop-in is frequent but that’s only a minor gripe and doesn’t detract from its gorgeous visual presentation. Zelda games have always been known for there excellent music. The series music is so well known that a Legend of Zelda Symphony was touring a few years back. I’m not sure if they still are. Jeremy and I were lucky enough to see them live and what an experience it was. Breath of the Wild takes a minimalistic approach when it comes to music which does emphasize the game’s open world nature and sense of exploration. Ambient music is big here and, as expected, it is of high quality. However, while there’s a few memorable tunes here and there, there’s not a lot of epic songs to really talk about. The big orchestral stuff kicks in during certain events and combat but it’s a shame there isn’t more. Now the sound effects, on the other hand, are incredible. From Link’s footsteps to his equipment shuffling around when he moves, the sound work is truly amazing. Because of the minimalistic music score, the sound effects really needed to pull through and they do. The sound work helps make the world feel alive and is one of the best parts of the presentation.

There are things about Breath of the Wild that I haven’t talked about because I either haven’t discovered them or don’t want to spoil them. For those that want to complete this to one hundred percent, you’re in for a long and extremely fun journey. This is one game where you definitely get a ton of bang for your buck. It’s one of the greatest Zelda games, one of the greatest open world games, and also one of the greatest launch games ever released. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild pretty much defines the “adventure game” genre. It’s not a perfect game and I don’t even know if I would say it’s revolutionary. There’s not much here that you haven’t seen in other open world games but it just perfects so many of the already established mechanics that it basically sets a new standard for the genre. The controls and interface may be a bit clunky, the frame rate is a bit of a let down, but there’s nothing really wrong with the fundamentals of the gameplay. You may question some of the design choices like weapon durability but the gameplay, itself, is near flawless. If you don’t like open world games, you’ll probably be disappointed with this which is a shame. I would really advise that you resist listening to “edgelords” who don’t know what they’re talking about and bash the game for asinine reasons. If you never cared for the Zelda series, I would still recommend you give this a shot because this really is a refreshing change of pace and a breath of fresh air for the series. If have any form of interest in playing this, just go for it because this is one journey everyone should experience.

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