Breath of the Wild: A Breath of Fresh Air in an Oxygen-rich Environment

Perhaps I should explain the title a bit. I am a Zelda fan. I’ve been playing for years. Hyrule is a second home. From realizing it’s dangerous to go alone in “The Legend of Zelda”, to going mobile with “Link’s Awakening”, to growing up with “Ocarina of Time”, to fighting the inevitable with “Majora’s Mask”, all the way to going beast mode in “Twilight Princess” (just to name a few), I have been the chosen Hero of the Goddess several times. So, to say that “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”, Nintendo’s latest installment in the series, launch title for the Nintendo Switch, and arguable swan song for the Wii U, was highly anticipated would be a dramatic understatement. While this title has made significant changes to some series mainstays and allowed itself to bring fresh and exciting new concepts and mechanics to the players, these changes coexist with conventions we as fans have grown to adore over decades. The dance they do together allows this title to feel new, yet wonderfully nostalgic all at once, hence my title.

When I lined up on the eve of a major console release, I was more so lining up for Zelda than I was for the console itself. The joy of waking up as Link once more was barely containable. The initial trot from the Shrine of Resurrection onto a cliff overlooking the landscape so wonderfully created for fans and newcomers alike practically moved me to tears. I won’t bore anyone with resolution statistics and frame rates. Mainly because I do not care about those aspects. Sure, I don’t enjoy a dip in the fps that momentarily removes me from the immersion. These moments are few and far between, especially while handheld over docked to TV. I play docked mostly, and it’s been everything I could want. I don’t think I’ve played a game on any console to this day that has never lagged for a brief second and needed to catch its own breath.

I don’t want to come across as defensive of the title. I can recognize fault where it is due even through the lenses I wear as a long-time die-hard fan, but the truth is I cannot find the faults to recognize. A dip in frame rate or a brief moment of resolution being below 1080p in most games is typically glazed over by the experience I’m having. To answer the question if you are dying to know: the game does drop in resolution from time to time. It runs its best just as reported, off of the dock. This poses problems for some, as the game is intensive on the Switch battery limiting play time while the game is arguably at its best.

The controls are tight and responsive, as one would expect from a series that typically strives for perfection. Maneuvering Link through Hyrule is a joy more often than not, whether he is on foot, in the air, on a mount, or hanging from the edge of a cliff. Speaking of travel, with one of the largest game maps of any series I’ve played, much less a Zelda title, Breath of the Wild does an excellent job of making travel not feel like a chore. While a much-needed fast travel is quickly given as an option in a world where it might take an hour to go from end-to-end, saddling up and riding the roads to your destination or simply to explore and enjoy the scenery never feels frustrating. My personal favorite, though, has been scaling plateaus, taking in the view, and then gliding with the paraglider as far as possible to cover ground.

Story-wise the game doesn’t fail to deliver a rich and exciting experience, especially when compared to previous installments. The complexity of Princess Zelda’s character and the dynamic between Link and the other main characters, and even supporting NPC’s, brings more than any other Zelda title in memory. However, the voice-acting might fall short for some in the cut scenes that occur through the more narrative-heavy segments. This would especially be true when coming from other AAA titles like The Witcher 3 or for those like myself who just came off of a play-through of the Mass Effect trilogy. Still, these scenes manage to carry emotional weight where it had never been before in a Zelda title.

There is much to be said about the challenges the game introduces from the very beginning. Your weapons and shields break in no time, forcing enemy engagements to be calculated and sometimes avoided altogether. You begin the game with little more than a selection of tree branches and wooden clubs looted from fallen enemies. Safe to say that I’ve never been felled with one hit in any Zelda title within the first hour of gameplay. This was just as exciting as it was frustrating. Going into the game’s true “dungeons” carried with it an authentic anxiety. I was anticipating what I might find. Would I be ready for the encounters ahead? Had I prepared myself enough to take on this challenge that I know nothing about? When you make it to the other side, there is a genuine sense of accomplishment that had otherwise been hard to come by before. Before I was a descendant of the chosen hero. Of course I can kick that guy’s ass! Gimme my heart container! Now I’m walking away feeling all the more victorious and fortunate just to have survived another day in this world.

The thrill of a victory, though, can be fleeting, as the physics of the environment are frequently unforgiving. Misjudging the height of a cliff as you leap for the edge or underestimating the gap of a river with strong enough current can prove fatal, especially early-on before your stamina can be upgraded. This same unforgiving world can also prove especially rewarding when you find a creative way to take down a foe. Stealth, an alternative to combat rarely seen in previous titles, can now be your first choice. Midnight in a rain storm means that an entire encampment of enemies can fall victim to a sneak attack, provided a guard standing watch is removed from the equation first. As a back-up why not steal the weapons they’ve left unattended to decrease the threat level? Suddenly you have new ingredients for powerful elixirs and food recipes that can give you the edge when a head-to-head fight with a powerful enemy is unavoidable or when it’s simply too cold to wear your tunic with the best armor rating on top of a particular mountain.

With tons of activities and exploring opportunities, the Breath of the Wild still let’s you truly relish in the world you’re trying so hard to save. Climbing to a peak simply for the view is just as fun as the mini-games, the story quests, or “shrine grinding” (you’ll see). Over 80 hours into playing, with my work as a chosen hero still unfinished, I still find the time to gaze into the distance and wonder what I’ll find next. Nintendo has created nothing short of a masterpiece that overcomes its own flaws by simply giving you an abundance of beauty and joy that makes you fail to notice them. The long-time fan will be immersed with ease and never want to put it down, which the Switch allows easily as per its design. The new player might discover what they’ve been missing for three decades.

Now, just patch in the ability to pet the damn dogs. 10/10

 

 

 

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