There is a moment very early on in Breath of the Wild where Nintendo hooks you on the promise of what the game offers. The beginning is slow-paced; your standard exercise of tutorials on basic controls and mechanics. The art style immediately grabs you, as does the strange, anachronistic mix of fantasy and tech. Then you finally leave the first room, in a rush to greet the virtual outside world (a feeling most of the players can sympathize with at this point given the hype around the game), and the camera pulls back a bit as the player is met with a lush and vast landscape before them. The music perfectly accentuates the moment; the long wait to experience Breath of the Wild is over.
It’s a brilliant moment, and from there the game does a nice job of getting you acclimated to your new environment, and to the dangers and wonders that await. Make no mistake, Breath of the Wild is a beautiful, massive game, with changing weather, biomes, day/night cycles, and danger throughout. You’ll have to be cognizant of the changes in climate, as not having the correct gear or elixirs to grant resistances will end you pretty quickly. Once you earn the glider, you’ll look at movement and travel in the game in an entirely different light.
Breath of the Wild is a ton of fun, and it can’t be understated how much fun it is in the early going to explore Hyrule in full 3D, and with absolute freedom. Arguably one of the best decisions they made was how they implemented climbing. In short, you can do it just about everywhere. You see that mountain in the distance? You can get there and climb it. I mean, really climb it. This isn’t like Skyrim where you can maybe get partway up but if it’s too steep, you’ll inevitably slide down. No, you will be able to full-on get around the varied environments in Hyrule. For their first open world game, Nintendo has nailed most of the aspects that make these games fun.
There is a lot to discover.
A lot of this is due to how much there is to discover (although this is both a blessing and a curse). There are shrines to discover that contain puzzle or combat challenges, and overcoming them allot you a Spirit Orb and other useful items. Four orbs can be converted into health or stamina (spoiler alert: there is a method to respec in the game). There are around like 120 Shrines, which become easier to find due to a radar like addition to your in-game slate. But finding them all will still be a challenge, and quite useful since you can teleport too and from them. Some shrines are hidden in tricky spots, such as at the back of a temple riddled with automatons called “Guardians” that love to shoot lasers at you. This adds to the exploration aspect, but considering the game could technically be beaten with your starting stats, how much of an investment you want to make is up to you.
There are also other things to discover: Korok seeds (900 of them!) hidden under rocks and behind plants across the world, which can be used as currency to upgrade your inventory slots. There’s gear and weapons to be found, and even special “vendors” that will upgrade your armor. Considering the massive size of the game world, there will be plenty to keep you occupied.
Some things are frustrating.
Breath of the Wild is not without its flaws. Primarily I found the camera and lock-on systems to be frustrating. Not all of the time, but during a boss battle or two, when it matters the most, the game’s implementation of locking on when using a shield leaves a lot to be desired. There is a method to evading and counterattacking, but it depends on very precise timing – something that the implemented system doesn’t lend itself to very well. For the most part you may not notice, but during a specific subset of bosses it will lead to a lot of frustration.
Another miss is in the way weapons and shields are handled. In short, don’t get too attached, as just about every weapon, bow, and shield has a very limited lifespan before breaking. There are a handful of weapons that can either recharge or be reforged upon breaking, but for the most part they are meant to be disposable, which I found to be a real missed opportunity. Coming from games such as Borderlands or Diablo, where there is a loot grind aspect that forms a core part of the gaming experience, Breath of the Wild‘s durability mechanic is hugely disappointing. It’s not difficult to find replacement weapons, but if you’re into tweaking a build and getting just the right set of gear for a character, greatly lower your expectations.
The latest entry in the Zelda franchise rightly deserves the hype as a Nintendo Switch launch title. It is the best game available for the platform right now (okay, arguably, as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe recently launched), and should be experienced. Breath of the Wild has an innocence about it. Nintendo has crafted a game that takes modern conventions (huge open world) and melded it with a pure joy in the gaming experience that I can’t say I’ve felt in a long time.
It deserves the hype.
It’s not about being a better open world game than say, Skyrim, or have more content than something like Disgaea 5. Breath of the Wild is the rare gem that captivates you during the gameplay and harkens back to a reminder of why we play video games. It evokes the sentiments of first moments in a gamer’s journey, from playing Pac-Man or Donkey Kong to your first steps outside the first dungeon in Daggerfall to your first multiplayer match in Halo. What Breath does brilliantly is that it channels those moments and carves out its own niche in the gaming pantheon. It’s not the perfect game, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s the game Nintendo needed in order to kick off the Switch, and it was a masterful stroke.