The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo’s latest offering in the Zelda franchise, was released March 3rd on the Nintendo Switch and Wii U to critical acclaim. After getting the game myself and putting near 80 hours into it over the course of the last few weeks, I can safely say the hype surrounding this game was completely justified. Breath of the Wild captures the imagination and evokes a sense of adventure the likes of which has not been seen since the original Legend of Zelda in 1986. Though that title is a bit before my time, I can very easily tell that Breath of the Wild was created with the 1986 classic in mind. This game not only breathes new life into the stale Zelda franchise, it completely changes the standards by which we will judge open world games for years to come. If you’re reading this review looking for a quick take on whether or not you should buy the new Zelda, allow me to be one of the many voices screaming at you to play this amazing title. Whether it be on Switch or Wii U, you owe it to yourself to experience the game that will define not only a genre, but a generation. However, if you’re looking for a more in depth dive into the world of Breath of the Wild, lets get right into it.
Breath of the Wild is in many ways a return to the series roots. The biggest example of this is the massive open world that Nintendo has crafted for the player to explore. This map is big. So big in fact, that I became very concerned as the launch got closer that the game would suffer from what so many other open world games suffer from. Long, tedious traversal, with no real meat to experience in between points on the map. I’m happy to report that Breath of the Wild suffers from no such issues. While the world is huge, the game is jam packed with shrines to complete, enemies to fight, treasure to plunder, and mountains to surf down (more on that later). Breath of the Wild proves that “Open World Fatigue” that so many claim to suffer from, is not a result of the genre itself, but instead of the shit open world games players have been given the last 5 years.
Breath of the Wild manages to make this sprawling world feel not only full of objectives, but also fun to traverse. The climbing in the game is a stand out feature for me, as it allows the player to explore wherever they want, whenever they want. If you see a huge mountain looming in the distance and want to climb it, you can do that right from the word go. You might have to cook some hearty, stamina increasing food, or plan your route accordingly so you have ledges to rest on, but there is no invisible wall making your ascent impossible. To me, that is one of the greatest things about this game. No peak is unreachable if you are willing to put the time in to plan it out. Not to mention, once you reach that peak, you can surf back down it on your shield. In true SSX fashion, Nintendo has given Link the ability to surf down mountains and hills on any shield in his inventory. It’s a silly thing, but it is actually designed very well and is a viable method of traversal in certain regions of the game.
One last thing to mention before we move on to a new section, Nintendo does an amazing a job of making a world that is quite bereft of other Hylians, feel so incredibly alive. The towns that you visit along your quest are of course bustling with activity, from the Zora Domain to the Gerudo Valley, there is plenty of activity to be found in these hubs. However, for me, a ton of character came out in the various stables around the world. Not only do these places serve as convenient locations to swap out a horse, they are also a sort of mini village consisting of other world travelers. Road weary wanderers who, while perhaps not as high stakes, are on quests of their own. That was the true achievement of the world, making it feel like other characters were discovering and exploring right alongside me. It added a sense of camaraderie to these characters that village dwelling characters just did not evoke in the same way.
The combat in Breath of the Wild is more complex than any Zelda game before it. However, that isn’t really saying much. Your basic moves are all included, you can backflip and sidestep, block with your shield, slash with your sword, and shoot with your bow. A new dodge system has been added, which gives you access to a stylish, slow motion flurry of blows when a dodge is perfectly timed. A parry is also included in Link’s arsenal of skills, allowing you to deflect even guardian laser shots right back at the enemy they came from.
What Breath of the Wild may lack in complex mechanics, it more than makes up for in weapon variety. Link has access to a huge arsenal of different sorts of weapons. There are magic rods that shoot meteors, bows that deliver 3 arrows at once to the enemy, huge hammers and clubs, you get the idea. Weapon variety has never been better, and while it does not altogether make up for the lack of puzzle solving tools so ingrained in other Zelda titles, it goes a long way towards keeping the combat fresh.
Okay, here is where things are going to start to get rough. I’ve already praised the shrines earlier in this review, because I think they’re a great example of bite sized puzzle solving that makes great use of the physics tools Link has access to this time around. However, the Shrine’s big brothers, the Divine Beasts, are mediocre at best, and downright lackluster at worst. Breath of the Wild has some of the weakest dungeons I have ever seen from the series yet, and it pains me to have to say it. 3 of the 4 Beasts are absolute pushovers in terms of both puzzle difficulty and boss difficulty. For a game that has amped up combat difficulty so much, it really made most bosses massive pushovers. The only boss fight that is even remotely interesting is Thunder-blight Ganon from the Gerudo Divine Beast. Interestingly enough, that is also the only dungeon that I think is decent. The use of the electric currents to power different areas of the beast is really interesting, and rotating the beast to make different currents line up is a challenge, and requires a decent amount of spatial reasoning. The biggest flop in terms of dungeons for me was the Rito dungeon. The puzzles require virtually no thought to complete, and the boss is the easiest one in the game. This is made even more noticeable because it is entirely likely that a player doing through the game for the first time will do this dungeon last, based on the way the map of the world is designed. Overall, the dungeons feel like a huge step backwards for the series, especially in comparison to the rest of the game.
Like most Zelda games, the story is sparse. That said, it is the least sparse it has ever been. There is an interesting story here about redemption, rebirth, and even revenge. Though this is far from a spoiler free review, I won’t go into too much detail here. What I will say is that the main characters Link finds himself in the company of are interesting, likable characters. The English voice acting is pretty rough in spots compared to the Japanese, but the tale itself is told well enough through a series of memories that the player must hunt themselves to put together the pieces. The premise works, and I regularly find myself traveling to the far reaches of the map to uncover one more nugget of story, one more look into the world of Hyrule, 100 years in the past.
Overall, I can say with certainty that even with the lackluster dungeons, this is the best Zelda game in years. It is still too fresh in my mind for me to say if it is the best Zelda I have ever played, but it is certainly in my top 5. The vast, interesting open world, the diverse and fascinating villages, and the compelling shrines all blend together into one of the most complete packages I’ve ever seen in gaming. Whether it’s on the Wii U or the Switch, you owe it to yourself to play this genre-defining title. I give The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a 5 out of 5.