Ask anyone what the Legend of Zelda series is about, even if they have not played it, and you will receive the same answer. They will discuss the same story structure, same puzzle orientated dungeoneering mechanics and, for all the times the series has innovated, the same basic essentials. While it has never been afraid to experiment, Zelda has always stuck to a single winning formula, and Breath of the Wild is the first to truly break from that. However, while such an act of attempting to reinvent the wheel normally results in disaster, this is one of those rare occasions where it has paid off. So much so that, at long last, it might take Ocarina of Time’s place as the series’ definitive game. Set in Hyrule once more, the game follows Link after he awakens from a deep slumber, only to discover that the fantasy realm has taken a distinctly post-apocalyptic turn. With only a woman’s mysterious voice and a hooded old man to guide him, he must reclaim his memories and annihilate the nightmare which has brought his home to ruin.
Above all else, Breath of the Wild’s big selling point lies in its broad open world. While every Zelda game has featured a vast, expansive plain to explore, this one takes things to a whole new level, introducing ideas and concepts which make it truly seem alive. Rather than simply raiding chests, you now craft or steal many items, and rather than awaiting for the tutorial to outline the task before you, you’re instead left to your own devices. There is no single right answer to approaching any obstacle, and the game offers so many varied items that you can easily accomplish a task in a dozen different ways. Enduring freezing temperatures can be accomplished by doing anything from brewing potions or consuming the right meal to simply having the right clothing.
Unlike other examples such as Skyrim, however, there are few warnings and little real structure to the story. Anyone brave enough to face down Ganon from the moment the tutorial ends can run off to try and fight him, and there is no exact sequence in which any power needs to be attained. You can also run headlong into locations which can easily kill you though, as the game rewards those who pay attention to fine details and environmental hints. This, of course, means that there is an incredible level of replay value to the game, and you will often find yourself going back to almost any area of the map to uncover new hidden treasures. That or to vindictively reduce a previously troubling foe to paste for personal satisfaction, either is possible.
While much of the essential story is still told through its characters, many points rely upon visual suggestions, with ruins, towns and NPCs all offering slight hints of a greater tale. Or, in some cases, warning you of an impending trap should you keep an eye out for them. This is especially notable given how much of the world keeps changing and the sheer variety of random encounters which can show up, constantly shifting and switching about at every other minute. It serves as much as a reminder to stay on your toes as making the world seem like a sprawling, moving kingdom, with a lauded history which has never been fully recorded.
The only notable failing on any part of the game lies in an extremely irritating trio of flaws stemming from performance issues. Despite an otherwise stable experience, delving into tall grass will cause your frame-rate to abruptly drop like a stone at times, as with a few other intensive experiences. This makes certain battles extremely hard to fight on some occasions, and you can easily end up shattering a sword or losing a life by mistiming a counter. This would only be an irritation in of itself, but the busywork of the crafting system and low durability of almost all items means you’ll be coming back to these places time and time again.
Despite a few niggling issues, Breath of the Wild is nevertheless a triumph of creative design and game development as a whole. By setting an entirely new watermark for the franchise and with hundreds of hours of gameplay on offer, it alone is reason enough to buy a Switch here and now.
LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD / DEVELOPER: NINTENDO EPD / PUBLISHER: NINTENDO / PLATFORMS: NINTENDO SWITCH / DATE: OUT NOW