The open-world genre has always been a perplexing beast as most titles struggle to find a harmonic balance between the interminable desire for seamless quality and quantity. Most popularized examples simply litter their sandboxes with menial tasks for the sole purpose of longevity, while others have a profound sense of world-building that never appropriately warrants the use of open-world fundamentals. The Legend of Zelda series has always embraced the essential nuts and bolts of the open-world genre, but its explorative world has always felt dissociated from the core innards of the experience. The latest entry in the three-decade long running franchise is said to rethink the conventions of the Zelda series, offering new implementation of player freedom. Breath of the Wild is not only a reinvigorating surge of pulsating energy into the Zelda series, but a masterful reinvention of the open-world genre as a whole, incorporating elements of fundamental realism and meaningful progression that were simply not present in the examples of yesteryear. With a core thematic imprint of discovery, Breath of the Wild’s sense of unadulterated curiosity and exploration is second to none; every minute detail serves a resound purpose and each structured piece of this exceptional puzzle seamlessly blends with the overarching world. Breath of the Wild is simply the most cohesive title in the series and an impeccable example of the aforementioned harmonic balance in the open-world genre. An embodiment of the imperative first steps of a console generation, while simultaneously striking a notable chord as a renowned swan song, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a masterpiece in every meaning of the word.
Breath of the Wild showcases Nintendo’s notable evolution in narrative development and presentation as it is easily the most cinematic Zelda experience to date. The core narrative may follow a few formulaic tendencies derived from the franchise’s inception, but it’s extraordinarily satisfying and pleasant to see The Legend of Zelda receive the careful cinematic treatment it deserves. While its narrative mirrors the masterful tones of the fantastic work done at Studio Ghibili and it has its own phenomenal sense of tranquility that rightfully stands on its own, the underwhelming voice-acting and the plot’s derivative nature hold back what could’ve been a fantastic narrative package. Despite these diminutive shortcomings, Breath of the Wild’s narrative manages to pack a few emotional punches, a surprising touch that was simply not expected to be found through the writing of a Zelda title. The idiosyncratic cast of supporting characters is also a notable highlight, introducing a pleasant dash of personality to the established exposition. Breath of the Wild is an absolutely massive experience – which I will touch on shortly – but most importantly, it’s quite the technical achievement. While its visual fidelity is unable to match the graphical prowess of exclusive titles found on the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, Breath of the Wild somehow manages to boast a gorgeous colour pallet which results in a graphical style that is undeniably beautiful. Glistening beams of light and exquisitely detailed weather effects are a testament to the black magic that Nintendo has in effect here. The fact that this illustrious experience can function competently at all is an accomplishment in and of itself. The game does suffer from some notable frame drops when the Switch is docked and is constantly plagued with texture pop-in and lower draw distances – none of which, however, negate from what is otherwise an impeccable experience. Breath of the Wild’s audio counterpart adopts a “less is more” approach, a notably divisive creative decision. Most explorative open fields are filled with ambient noise or minimalistic piano keys, a rather sparse approach to the environmental score that concurrently sets the stage for the immersive experience that Breath of the Wild strives to embody and successfully achieves. However, the orchestral score present during specific cutscenes and the end credits sequence is delightfully beautiful and bears a similar sense of quality to the wonderful work of Joe Hisaishi.
A significant departure from Nintendo’s contemporary adoption of funneling design, Breath of the Willd bears little to no handholding, featuring an impeccably realized world of gargantuan scope with certain elements, mechanics, and other tantalizing goodies blatantly hidden for the purpose of discovery and exploration. Breath of the Wild’s approach to non-linearity is a bona fide achievement; dungeons, quests, and explorative tasks can be tackled in whichever order the player sees fit. For instance, once you’ve soared off the breathtaking heights of the Great Plateau, you can head straight towards Hyrule Castle, ridding Hyrule of their Ganon problem right off the bat. The illustrious sandbox of Breath of the Wild is your oyster, ripe with limitless potential and euphoric moments of mystery, discovery, and adventure. Everything and anything can be approached in whichever order and/or manner one chooses to adopt. Breath of the Wild is one of the few experiences that rewards players for their curiosity and thirst for the unknown; in many ways, it’s a spiritual adventure that encourages player to get lost and stray off the beaten path, and discover something unexpected and wonderful at every turn. Breath of the Wild’s approach to the open-world formula will forever change my perception of its essence and will likely ruin my experience with future titles of the genre as nothing can match this level of perfection. An intriguing new element of play in Breath of the Wild is the fact that practically everything in this monumental open-world is climbable, as long as you have the required stamina to spare. It may seem rudimentary but this simple element changes the very nature of traversal in open-world gaming, travelling to an appointed objective or point of interest has never been more flexible, ambiguous, and enthralling. Not only are you able avoid traditional limitations and restrictions thanks to the phenomenal climbing mechanic, but Breath of the Wild offers quite a slew of exhilarating traversal options. Horseback riding is a melodic tranquil choice if you’re looking to soak in the gorgeous rays. Shield surfing is a thrilling method of traversal, especially when racing down the alpine hills of the bracing mountains of Hyrule, that never loses its lustre or exhilarating touch. Soaring the open skies via the paraglider is an unabashed spiritual experience, topped off with gorgeous vistas that simply cannot be appreciated through any other means of travel. These idiosyncratic elements are sterling examples of Breath of the Wild’s revolutionary execution of player freedom and non-linearity.
Breath of the Wild, at its core, is a surprisingly competent example of the expansive survival genre, ripe with engrossing elements of climate adaption, cooking experimentation and sustenance, addictive resource excavation and management, and environment utilization for overcoming complications of traversal and exploration. The fantastic cooking system is an integral element of Breath of the Wild’s success and its prominence is delightfully surprising. Gathering the vast array of different ingredients and resources throughout your journey is an integral part of the experience; these different resources can be combined and tossed into a cooking pot to create exquisite meals that will not only restore your lost hearts, but provide temporary buffs based on the ingredients you select. Cooking a dish of spicy peppers will create a sautéed meal that will warm your body, allowing you to roam the snowy landscapes of Mount Lanayru, while eating a cooked meal containing hydromelon will provide the cooling sustenance required to explore the sizzling sands of the Gerudo Desert. This dynamic climate system is a puzzle in and of itself and requires a profound sense of problem solving to utilize the environment and its fruitful resources as a tool of survival. The enthralling world of Breath of the Wild adapts to your trivial actions for gratifying non-scripted moments of problem solving. Chopping down a tree can be used as a temporary bridge to clear large gaps between plains or the strike of an attracted bolt of lightning can cause a temporary wildfire – with its updraft allowing players to soar unattainable heights via their paraglider. The world is filled these peculiar moments of resourcefulness and problem solving, with the only limiting factor being one’s own imagination. Aside from a few later game abilities bestowed upon you by the Champions of Hyrule, you will have the required tools early game to solve any, if not all conundrums thrown in your direction, a significant departure from the Metroidvania-esque adventures of yesteryear. Zelda’s traditional implementation of iconic items take the form of Runes in Breath of the Wild, which serve as magical abilities that allow Link to manipulate time, levitate/control metallic objects, and create frozen platforms in large bodies of water, all of which are used as a means of strategic problem solving and combat efficiency. The true beauty of Breath of the Wild is its intriguing ability of propulsion and its inherent rewarding nature. The gargantuan open-world is as much of an integral character in this experience as the courageous Link or the titular Zelda, it simply exudes an unparalleled sense of charm with countless moments of awe waiting to be discovered. The world feels rich and alive, and rightfully reacts to concurrent events, with each engrossing moment of interest serving a resound purpose. Breath of the Wild also contains a surprising amount of diversity in enemy variation, with certain enemies catering to specific conditions and behaving in a myriad of different peculiar ways. You can even encounter optional monstrosities that serve as optional bosses of a colossal scope, which remunerate alluring rewards. Differing from the archaic standards of the open-world genre, Breath of the Wild’s world map is shrouded in a blinding darkness; activating a Sheikah Tower will reveal segments of the map, ala Ubisoft, but contrary to formulaic open-world tendencies, this activation only unveils the geographical layout of the world. All points of interest are still completely hidden, resulting in a rich world that is constantly filled with and never loses its sense of tantalizing mystery and gratifying discovery. Perusing the vast open skies atop monumental vantage points is an effective method to pinpoint visible points of interest, a simple mechanic that encourages players to appreciate the vibrant beauty of the physical world as opposed to relying on the virtual map and in-game menus.
Breath of the Wild’s combat manages to cleverly balance a nuanced form of intricacy and difficulty while maintaining a semblance of accessibility, developing a harmonious relationship between the two extremes. Its traditional sense of combat is fairly standard, not offering much in novel value; however, notable elements and mechanics elevate the overall combat experience into a surprisingly complex, rewarding, and addictive system. Breath of the Wild has a fantastically diverse selection of idiosyncratic weaponry and equipment, all of which fit into a respective class. Chockfull of glimmering swords, enormous claymores, high-velocity spears, wooden clubs of sorts, boomerangs, elemental rods, and skeletal body parts, there is simply no shortage of interesting weaponry to be found in the illustrious world of Hyrule. An excellent and challenging mechanic introduced in Breath of the Wild is the immensely gratifying perfect dodge/guard system. Requiring a proficient level of skill and timing, executing a perfect dodge – dodging at the last moment of an enemy’s attack – will slow down time, allowing you to follow up with a flurry rush, an exceptional barrage of attacks. Performing a shield bash upon the last moment of an enemy’s attack will break their guard entirely, leaving them open for a follow up attack of your choice. Archery is another engrossing combat element that bears simplistic tendencies at first glance, but significantly deepens through moderate experience and understanding. There is an excellent selection of different arrow types available throughout your adventure, which can prove to be extremely useful in one instance and detrimental in another. Bomb arrows are excellent tools for dispersing large groups of enemies but can prematurely explode when exposed to extreme heat. Fire arrows are great for causing wildfires and eliminating cold obstacles/enemies, but are rendered completely useless when drawn out in precipitation. Lastly, drawing your bow whilst free-falling will result in a breathtaking slow-motion mechanic, allowing you to land gratifying headshots with exceptional precision. Just like any pristine example of gameplay flexibility and freedom, Breath of the Wild allows you to approach each non-scripted encounter in the method of your choosing. A prolific method of approach would be to utilize your arsenal of Runes and the surrounding environment as a means to prolong weapon durability. Speaking of which, weapon durability and degradation is a fickle double-edged sword as practically all weaponry is prone to breakage, with no resolution for repair. It is a heart-breaking mechanic that became less prominent as time trickled on, as I started to discover new weapons with enhanced properties such as increased strength and durability. The degradation system encourages diverse class utilization and tenacious pillaging as selective picking loses its relevance due to this deteriorating factor. Inventory slots and armor stats can be upgraded through the discovery and use of Korok seeds and Great Fairies respectfully.
The stamina system is a welcome addition to the Legend of Zelda series, one that resonates with the core essence of the franchise and bodes extremely well in the plains of an open-world. Anything of effort requires stamina; sprinting, swimming, climbing, performing charged attacks, utilizing mid-air slow-motion, and paragliding – all of which are pooled together for a dynamic example of stamina management. Fortunately, you are able to increase your maximum number of hearts and stamina level in exchange for a collection of Spirit Orbs, which can be obtained by completing one of Breath of the Wild’s masterful Shrines. Shrines are brilliant bite-sized dungeons that last anywhere from 5-50 minutes depending on their intricacy and difficulty. With over one-hundred intricate shrines scattered across the expansive fields of Hyrule, Breath of the Wild has no shortage of capsulated moments of critical thinking. Their abundant nature is extremely convenient as Shrines also serve as fast travel points. Aside from a few combat challenges, no two shrines are the same, with each bearing their own idiosyncratic values, implementing wholly unique conventions that flip the predetermined realm of understanding. Shrines offer a nice fluctuation in pace and are an unabashed highlight in an impeccably crafted experience, outshining the seamless and intricate nature of anything that came before it. Shrine challenges stand above the originality, satisfaction, and creative nature of the Shrines themselves. Shrine challenges are unique tasks/objectives that must be completed to simply reveal or enter a shrine. These offer a nice change in pace from the traditional nature of the standard shrine, offering trails based on survival and utilizing the sheer open world as a micro sandbox for intricate puzzle solving instead of the inner wall confinements of a shrine. Traditional dungeons are notably sparse in comparison to the established Zelda standard, but offer a unique sense of scope and tribulation, a foreign concept to not only Breath of the Wild’s core structure but to the entire Zelda series as a whole. Exploring colossal Divine Beasts, while manipulating their movement and control for tangible accessibility and nuanced problem solving, is a testament to Breath of the Wild’s masterful execution in game direction and level design. When combined with the impeccable design of each enthralling Shrine, Breath of the Wild undoubtedly stands as one of the most intricately designed games of all-time, with very few titles matching its immaculate execution and level of success.
In a lot of ways, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is exactly what I expected from a modern take on the legendary series. It’s a natural evolution to the profound sense of adventure that was established over thirty years ago, cultivating an experience that also transcends those same expectations, surprising me immensely at every turn. Its extraordinary world is ripe with tantalizing goodies, an exquisite aura of mystery, and exceptional water cooler moments of discovery and wonder. It’s a thought-provoking experience that challenges your traditional perception of survival, traversal, and exploration, inviting you to overcome obstacles of any magnitude in ways that were thought to be impossible. With over 80 hours invested into this brilliant experience, there is still so much mystery patiently waiting to be discovered. Breath of the Wild is a masterclass in game design, a stellar example of rewarding experimentation and immaculate execution. Link’s latest adventure is the embodiment of harmonious balance, with each element in Breath of the Wild bearing two equal sides; the fruitful discoveries and points of interest serve meaningful and rewarding purpose, difficulty and tribulation quickly transition to resourcefulness and satisfaction, and degradation serves as a double-edge sword – offering a new light on tenacious exploration. Breath of the Wild is a bona fide masterpiece that exceeds the prolific standards of modern conventions, reinventing the very structure of an oversaturated genre. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the best open-world game bar none and a front-running candidate for the greatest video game of all-time.