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Does this game deserve the endless praise it's gotten since release? Today, we find out.
This review is as spoiler-free as possible, containing footage captured within the first four hours of playtime and commentary limited to generalities. If you don’t want any part of the game spoiled before playing, leave now and play it. It’s getting a good score. Please enjoy the review.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is Nintendo’s latest game in the Zelda franchise. Launching on both the Wii U and the Switch on March 3rd, it’s the first truly open world game in the series. Everyone’s been playing it on the Switch, but I wanted to give the Wii U version a shot to see how it compares. I only hope the console can handle everything this game throws at it. Let’s find out in my mighty review of… The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Before starting this review I have a question to ask: do you have a lot of free time on your hands? Because in order to fully appreciate this game you’re going to need it. This world is absolutely MASSIVE. I know that’s what everyone says, but seriously, I looked it up—the world is over nine times the size of Skyrim! Hell, the tutorial area of the game is larger than Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess in their entireties. And there is so much to do in this game it’s absolutely unbelievable.
To start off, let’s take a look at the world itself. It’s not just massive, but beautiful too. The weather changes in real time, changing the aesthetics of the world with it. The sun gleaming off of the water, the rain sliding down rock faces making them difficult to climb, and the snow brushing against the mountain tops all make for a place that’s a delight to explore.
The music has been toned down with only vague piano chords playing when not in an area specifically made for musical accompaniment. I hated the idea at first because of how good Zelda music is, but quickly realized just how well the sound effects and lack of overtures add to the experience. Not to mention, hearing those songs on repeat over a short adventure may be fine, but in a massive game like this I think they’d get old fast. However, I do wish they had made those few ambient notes vary more when in different environments just to add a bit more variety.
Character designs are all unique and varied and the animations are fantastic as well. They even have their own daily routines. They don’t just go to one place, perform an idle animation, and then head to bed. They have multiple activities to tend to throughout the day. And the amount of conditional dialogue is unbelievable as well. So many little details are taken into account and everything comes together to create a Hyrule unlike any you’ve seen before.
The story, in vague terms to avoid spoilers, is also entertaining. The people Link encounters all have fun personalities and can be either hilarious or touching with excellent timing. The ending lacks the impact that it needed, but I have no issues with saying this is a story well worth being told.
I can’t speak about the story much more without spoiling anything, so let’s discuss the gameplay. The difficult thing is knowing where to begin. There is just so much to do it’s unbelievable, but again, avoiding spoilers, I won’t go into everything. Just enough to let you know what it’s like to play.
Breath of the Wild plays like the best parts of some of the best games ever made were all rolled into one and given some Zelda magic. There’s the combat system reminiscent of Dark Souls, the tower system of most Ubisoft open world games to reveal new portions of the map, the hunting, gathering, and cooking of Monster Hunter, the large open world of Skyrim, plus a whole bunch of other games all wrapped up in a Zelda skin. The amazing thing is that nothing feels really derivative. In fact, it all comes across as completely original.
The reason for this is the main mechanic driving the gameplay: exploration. After a tutorial-esque beginning, you’re set loose into a world with only a few ideas of where to go. The world isn’t just big, it’s populated and a delight to explore. Everything leads to something and when it doesn’t you still get a sense of accomplishment because you feel like a real adventurer on a quest.
This game has gotten unanimous praise and I think I can say why: nothing in Breath of the Wild feels like a video game. You’re given vague goals, but the purpose of the game isn’t to check things off a list until the game tells you it’s over, but rather to go out into a unique world and try to discover everything it has to offer.
Now for some slight specifics, the game has a combat system that will kick your ass. The enemies hit hard and you’ll likely die a few times before getting the hang of it. But there’s always a way to beat the challenges you face. Sometimes it involves getting the right weaponry. Other times it’s the proper armor or elixir to power you up before the fight. Or maybe you need to skip the fight altogether and just sneak around your foe to reach a goal. More often than not however, you’ll just need to invest time and practice until finally being able to beat a tough enemy.
On top of this, while armor doesn’t break, weapons, shields and bows all do. At first this was annoying, constantly need to find new weapons just to fight to get more weapons, but after I got used to it, I love this idea. They do break a bit too frequently, and I wish there was more than one indestructible weapon in the game, but forcing the player to constantly change their weaponry during or between fights means combat stays engaging throughout the entire playthrough.
When not in combat, there are also shrines to find that act as both fast travel points and mini dungeons that dispense this game’s equivalent of heart pieces. These challenges range from simple mechanic tutorials, to absolutely mind bending puzzles, to tricky combat challenges, and even some side quests and mini games. These are some of the best parts of the game and finding a new shrine when in the heart of enemy territory can sometimes feel like a godsend.
I don’t want to say too much more for fear of spoiling anything, but just know that while Breath of the Wild is a fantastic game, it isn’t flawless. The game does have those glaring frame rate issues everyone has mentioned. I actually can’t exaggerate how often it drops to below 20. This could be because I played on the Wii U, but I’m told it’s not much better on the Switch. It doesn’t affect the gameplay really, as the frame rate is somehow most consistent while in a fight, but it definitely hinders an otherwise beautiful world and takes away quite a bit of immersion.
The energy meter is also a concern. You know, everyone’s least favorite part of Skyward Sword? I get that it’s limited to make sure players don’t have an infinite ability to run from battles, but when exploring is 90% of the game and battles are more like 5, I’d say priority should be given to better movement over increasing combat challenges. Not to mention, you expend more energy climbing quickly than at a normal pace. That may make sense in the real world, but I shouldn’t be able to check my phone with one hand while playing a video game with the other.
There are also a few nitpicks, but the only one of note has to be that while mounting, registering, and taming horses is a really fun endeavor, their use is incredibly limited in the adventure. I’d often find travel easier if I teleported to a tower and flew down rather than going to a stable, grabbing the horse, and needing to take the main roads to get to my destination.
Finally, while the aspect of exploration-driven gameplay is innovative, it would have been much appreciated to have some extra help in certain cases. I enjoyed talking to some of the NPCs, but I didn’t talk to all of them at first, making figuring things out much more difficult than it needed to be sometimes. Not to mention, the climbing and paragliding mechanics cause players to stray from the beaten path and the game doesn’t compensate for it. This is the problem with making a world this big. While it’s fantastic to explore the first time around, going back to complete side objectives and see what you’ve missed loses some of that magic and feels slow by comparison.
Just know going in that this is a game meant to be played at a slow pace, over a long period of time, and it’s probably the worst game I could recommend to someone new to video games. And none of that is inherently bad, but if you go in expecting a standard Zelda game like those before it, you may find yourself overwhelmed before too long. Still, despite all of these issues, the game is still fantastic and a delight to play. In fact finding flaws is easy simply because they stand as a stark contrast to the rest of the game. I just figured that anyone seeing the endless perfect scores knows what to expect upon arrival.
Breath of the Wild is the best video game remake ever made. And that’s exactly what it is—a modern day reimagining of the original Legend of Zelda. It’s without a doubt the game that will set the standard for open world games in the future. I had a tough time deciding on this, because while the game is incredible, it does have a few significant flaws that harm the experience. In the end, I’ve decided to score the game based on its quality rather than the legacy I expect it to leave, which is why The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild gets a 9.5 out of 10 and an undeniable spot on the MightyNifty must-play list. I know it’s not the perfect score a lot of people expected, but it’s still a fantastic game and if the Switch has more games this good on the way, I’ll definitely be picking one up soon.