Simultaneously the premier launch title for the Switch and the swan song for the Wii U, many Nintendo fans put a lot of hope into the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. ScreenCritic Joe is happy to report that no one will be let down today.
When I sit down to play a game I know I’m going to review, I keep a notebook next to me to quickly jot down thoughts and critiques I have about the game. I use that system to make sure I’m not missing any details and to have some semblance of organisation. I have no notes for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, despite my best efforts. Breath of the Wild left me consistently flabbergasted from Hour 1 to Hour 50 thanks to the harrowing adventure, unprecedentedly authentic world-building, and devilishly satisfying combat.
Breath of the Wild in a lot of ways feels like a direct response to 2011’s Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, the biggest indicator being the difference between levels of exposition. Skyward Sword was heavily criticised for taking too long to become fun, with the first 3-5 hours being almost exclusively character building. Breath of the Wild shirks that introduction style aggressively by thrusting protagonist Link into a beautifully decimated world just moments after pushing Start. From the very beginning, Hyrule is your oyster. Many open-world adventure games flaunt the cliché line “if you see it, you can walk there”, but Breath of the Wild embodies the concept in a grounded and difficult way.
Just because Link can walk over a mountain range doesn’t mean he will be to manage the enemies or the harsh weather; not every excursion is going to be a success. Managing stamina while climbing broad sides of mountains balances exploration and while some bouldering will inevitably be harder at low-levels of stamina, impossibility never crept in, just a need for a different, creative solution. There are a few quests in the beginning to better prepare Link for exploring the harsh, unforgiving world, but rushing to the final boss within in the first hour is a very real option, if you feel so bold. I wouldn’t recommend beelining it right to Ganon though, not only because of the difficulty, but because you would be missing out on Breath of the Wild‘s greatest feature: a sprawling world filled with the subtle allure of adventure just begging to be explored.
There would be no sense of adventure if there wasn’t a tantalizing world in which to do it in. Thankfully, Breath of the Wild understands the necessity of environmental storytelling and executes it masterfully. From a landscaping perspective, beautiful vistas consistently popped-up and took my breath away, even when it was over a terrain I had conquered and no longer feared. Admiring the natural beauty at high elevations only heightened a sense of wanderlust because of that little glimmer in the distant promising a new discovery. And there is always a glimmer; for being as massive as Hyrule is, treasures and shrines, the smaller, focused, and, frankly, welcome replacement for labyrinthine dungeons, densely populate the world.
One of the strongest quest lines involves locating specific places in the world with minimal information to help jog Link’s memory. Locating a memory can be frustratingly difficult, but deliciously rewarding for the backstory and the inevitable grandeur.
Breath of the Wild doesn’t rely solely on natural beauty though. Hyrule inhabitants live all across the world and thrive in a wide variety of different environments. The NPCs still retain that whacky Zelda charm they always have, but characters feel more authentic as it relates to the overall setting of the world. The plethora of side quests are very rarely epic undertakings, but instead consisted mostly of simple, usually menial tasks to simply brighten someone’s day in light of world-altering events. Link isn’t inciting war between rival factions or spending hours solving a missing person’s case; he’s attempting to provide stability for people trying to readjust in a post-apocalyptic world. The simple desires of the NPCs juxtaposed by the takeover of nature authentically conveys the conditions which comprise the setting better than any game I can remember.
But Link is by no means uninhibited in his exploration of Hyrule. Combat balances an invincible feeling of the unstoppable adventurer at all times. In the beginning, battles tend to be more arduous affairs than anything else, with weapons and shields constantly breaking and enemies easily overpowering you, good luck staying alive early on. Breath of the Wild quickly forces you to choose a plan of assault: a head-on brute force onslaught, a smarter, stealthier option requiring patience and dedication, or disengagement entirely, forcing you to rework your path to your greater goal.
Gaining strength doesn’t make battles easier though. The different attack tactics were always on mind, even if I knew I could bulldoze enemies. Managing equipment and keeping bravado in check will consistently be the keys to success, while ignoring them will usually end in Link’s demise, especially as the environment starts to become less forgiving in late game encounters. Despite the need for discipline throughout the entirety of Breath of the Wild, combat remains satisfying and continually acts as another source of inner pride.
Initially, my only gripe with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild stemmed from the narrative. I felt a distinct lack of closure as the credits rolled, but after ruminating on how the story panned out and the greater experience, I realized the irrelevance of my complaint. The story wasn’t about Link and his journey; it was about my experience, he was simply the vehicle I used to maneuver through the world. I didn’t feel closure because I wasn’t supposed to get it from Link achieving his goals, I have to go find my ending. That could take 40, 50, even 70 more hours and I’ve never been more ready. Breath of the Wild cements itself as a generation-defining game, one that demonstrates the capabilities of the Switch on Day 1 and allows the Wii U to not go softly into the night. If you ever loved video games for the love of fantasy and to be engulfed in the magic of adventure, find a way and play Breath of the Wild.