The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild stands in sharp contrast compared to almost every game in the series since A Link to the Past. Throwing away the aspects of linearity and hand-holding, the game is built from the ground up to be an open-ended adventure that allows players to experience as much (or as little) as they want.
Regardless of how you approach it, you’ll be getting into a beautiful, challenging and wonderous journey through Hyrule that could be considered one of the best in the series.
At the outset, things don’t appear to have changed much. You still play as Link, a young hero on a quest to save Princess Zelda from the clutches of Gannon. However, it doesn’t take long for the changes to the formula to become apparent.
The biggest of those comes from how the game handles progression. Your ultimate goal is to defeat Gannon, but how you get there is almost entirely up to you. After you secure your key tools in the first few hours of the game, you’re free to do as much or as little of the game as you want. Heck, you can even make a beeline for the castle and beat Gannon with only three hearts and the sticks you picked up along the way.
While only masochists and speedrunners may actually succeed at taking Gannon down immediately, it’s awesome that the choice is there. The game is so opened-ended that even the puzzles within each of the Divine Beasts can be solved in any order. Having the flexibility to take on virtually any challenge in any order you want goes a long way towards crafting your own Breath of the Wild story.
The openness of the structure does have its drawbacks. In particular, temples have seen a decrease in scale and ambition, as they had to be designed with the non-linearity and the handful of mandatory tools you have in mind. Personally, this actually worked out better for me, as the smaller and less elaborate temples made it easier for my neaderthal brain to figure things out, but I do sort of miss the sensation of overcoming grand dungeons with brain-bending puzzles. Also notably absent from temples is most of the combat. Save for the bosses, each dungeon strangely only has a few incidental skirmishes.
Most of the fighting takes place in the overworld instead. You will run into a wide variety of enemies, from standard goblins, to spider-like robots with lasers, to giant cyclops creatures that are five stories tall. Once you make it past the Great Plateau, combat encounters seem horrifying, as pretty much everything will kill you in one hit. With time, you’ll gain more hearts and weapons to defend yourself.
Speaking of which, this is the first game that features weapon durability. At the start, the wimpy sticks, torches and pitchforks you’ll encounter will break after a handful of swings, oftentimes leaving you scrambling for whatever is handy. I actually grew to enjoy it, as it forced me to try different things and get resourceful. Having to use different types of weapons also forces you to change your play style, adding variety to the combat that you normally don’t get from a Zelda game.
My favourite part of the game didn’t actually involve intense fights or mind-boggling puzzles. Instead, I loved just traversing the world, and not with a horse. This time, Link has the ability to climb pretty much everything in the world, including giant mountains. Seeing a tall mountain and scaling it is great, but it’s even better to jump off of that same mountain and glide to the land below. I could spend hours just climbing to high points, jumping off, and gliding to whatever looked cool.
As much as I adore the game, there are a few glaring issues with the game I can’t ignore. There’s some notable framerate issues that occur on the Switch version of the game when it’s docked. Nothing that breaks the flow of the game, but it’s noticeable, especially when the game is silky smooth in handheld mode.
My other main gripe comes from some of the optional shrines. While the shrines in general are a fantastic addition to the game, the combat and motion based shrines are a bummer. Fighting the Guardians gets tiresome, as they’re basically the same fight every time. Worse yet are the motion puzzles, which control very poorly. At times, they’re insanely clunky, as certain puzzles require you to hold the unit in a way where you can’t even see the screen when played in handheld mode.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is not a perfect game, but it sure is a stellar one. Not only is it in the mix for being one of the best Zelda games, but it’s one that will likely find itself deep in game of the year conversations this holiday season. It does so many things incredibly well that will keep players engaged for dozens of hours. Whatever it takes, find a way to experience this for yourself.