DISCLAIMER- the legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild is a gigantic game, and while my amount of play time might not justify a ‘proper’ review, I have a decent idea and feelof its world, mechanics and gameplay. While there are mild spoilers about situations I’ve encountered, there are no mentions of specific tasks, characters or story, This game should be savored for as long as possible, by your self and spoiler free. The legend of Zelda franchise is now in its 30’s. While it would be understandable if not acceptable for conventions of the series to not only be industry templates, but influences on countless game developers who grew up finding fairy fountains and cows down wells. Skyrim, the witcher, fallout and even the similarly cross console predecessor LOZ Twilight Princess strive for open world glory. Unfortunately, for so long, Zelda games have relied on a more linear progression dictated by an increasingly predictable formula- the sense of having no set goal, wandering and creating ones own path has made way for the mutual dependency on finding new weapons in imposing dungeons scattered throughout Hyrule et al. While there is a degree of freedom in previous games, the refreshing yet nostalgic nods of a link between worlds, and now BOTW more so, glaringly demonstrate that true freedom and discovery has been declining in the franchise since its 1986 inception. From the outset, even the title card, spectacularly showing the world around you, implors the player to examine, experiment and endure. Be prepared to answer your own questions- ‘what do I do?’, where do I go?’ ‘How do I reach that?’. After achieving the initial goal- completing 4 (of the 100 or so) shrines and leaving the great plateau, you are limited only by your ambition. With the handful of main abilities, you have the tools to go where you want. Sure, you’ll come across enemies much bigger, stronger and better equipped than you, but your progress is never halted on the condition of defeating them. Failure is as much of a lesson on your journey as success. Blades break, shields wear out and stray arrows can be lost as well as retrieved. You can take your time learning recipes, gathering food or trinkets, hunt for meat or pick mushrooms. The procurement of weapons is no longer restricted by dungeons or puzzles, and it’s wonderfully organic and satisfying. Steal from dazed foes, loot after big battles or even use nature as your ally. You will feel completely exposed and unequipped one minute, ready, willing and able the next. I have reached snowy peaks, trekked through a gaping canyon and have not even scratched the surface. An ominous mountain and Hyrule castle itself are satisfyingly out of reach, and while I’m looking forward to getting there, I’ve been distracted on countless occasions. Every single square inch of this vast, vast landscape deserves to be explored, and while western open world games like the Skyrim series and the recently released Horizon Zero Dawn battle it out on the ‘HD’ twins, the gorgeous art style, charm and magic makes this unequivocally a Zelda and Nintendo game.
Every subtle, contemplative drop of music hints at a new discovery. Wind howls, bushes russle, unpredictable weather, encounters and events can occur at any point. Lightning crashes with terrifying proximity. At one point I was impressed with the lightning effects, yet comforted by its distance. Next thing I knew, a bolt had completely destroyed a nearby tree. A few seconds later, another bolt hit the broadsword in my hand, killing me instantly. Approaching a gang of enemies way stronger than me, they even had shields and helmets, I was pretty much helpless, until the lightning started taking THEM out. Patience can be as much of a virtue as ambition in BOTW. another scenario involved a bridge showdown against a group with fire arrows. The game didn’t tell me I wasn’t ready, but that I wasn’t prepared. I’ve never had a game that respected my strategies, rewarded my perseverance or punished my presumption like this. I encountered a group of enemies before I even had a weapon during my first hour with BOTW, and I have since found myself with nothing but a branch, venturing into the unknown, more than a dozen times. Surviving can sometimes be the name of the game, but never has it been unfair or the fights overwhelming or bottlenecked to the point of frustration. Clever enemies can catch a thrown projectile and attack you with it. Some pick up nearby objects or even scarper and call for help. I’m having as many moments of quiet contemplation as I did in, say, shadow of the colossus, just about 10 hours in and having reached my first dungeon- describing any more, including the journey to it, would be spoiling a truly spectacular sequence and the most incredible scenes in any Zelda game. A reminder that it’s the first dungeon.
As I look out of the train window on my commute home, after playing breath of the wild for 5 days, Iand roughly 10 hours, I realise why it’s so special. I look out and a see a silhouette of Mount Fuji, and I remember a summer evening 4 years ago, when I climbed and after 8 hours, reached the summit. Zelda is as much about the discovery of secrets, treasure and landscape as it is discovery of ones self. Ingenuity, endurance, patience, perseverance, determination and glorious sense of accomplishment. The legend of Zelda, breath of the wild is a special game, not just because of the destinations, nor the journeys, but your own stories and experiences that you cherish and want to share with others. While Ocarina of time will always be my favorite Zelda game for the time in my life and a bench mark for the medium, I genuinely believe if this game carries on like this, it will not only be the best Zelda game and a true vision of the originals ambitious concept, but one of the very best games I’ve ever played. The culmination of over thirty years worth of legacy, craft, magic and wonder have once again proved why the video game industry is forever indebted to Nintendo, Miyamoto, Aonuma and the legend of Zelda.