Switch Review – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I’ve been racking my brain on how to write this review.  I mean, there’s so much out there already on this game, what could I possibly have to add to it?  My experience isn’t even that much, compared to those out there that have already logged over 100 hours.

But that’s exactly how I explained the game this morning to a co-worker: an experience.  Of course, he looked at me when I said that the way my wife looks at me when I talk about video games.  They don’t get it, and that’s okay.

To say that Zelda is just a game is horrifically underselling it, as it’s so unlike any game I’ve played before.  Rather than playing some game, Zelda is more like living inside of an animated world where adventure awaits around every corner, where bird-people are cocky dicks, where you happen upon random muggings in the old ruins of a city that used to be and decide whether or not you want to intervene.

A few years ago, we took the kids to Disney World in Orlando, and my experience with those theme parks is a lot like my experience with Zelda.  The magic is there, it’s undeniable, but it’s also hard to put your finger on.  Because it isn’t one thing more than another, really.  That magic is the sum of all the little things wrapped up together.  sunrise

Friday morning, I saw the sunrise.  I was hiking through the mountains, climbed a craggy spire where I found a treasure chest, but stopped to take stock of my surroundings and found the real treasure was in the scenery of the location.

That afternoon, I tromped around the plateau, did a little hunting, some cave-diving, and acquired a hang-glider, which I quickly used for sport.  While midair, I was swept up by a wind gust and carried to the outskirts of a desert, where a skull-shaped cave housed a gaggle of blood-thirsty creatures.  I made too much noise as I approached, which alerted their lookout.  He saw me coming, sounded the alarm, which rallied the others, and I was quickly slaughtered without mercy.

A second approach to the enemies’ camp, this time by stealth, revealed their stockpile of hazardous materials.  I’d gotten pretty good at archery with this old bow I found in a ruined castle, and I shot a flaming arrow into their pantry.  Whatever their payload, the barrels went off with a devastating explosion, scorching all of the feral beasts and leaving me to swiftly dispatch the wounded.sleeping

I wound my way out of the desert, back through the canyons, until I came to a bridge, crossing over a lake where I found a sleeping giant.  I’d learned a thing or two about being too loud and dying, so I was careful not to make a lot of noise as I snuck around him.

On the other side of the lake, I found a stable.  When I was able to catch a wild horse in the fields nearby, the excellent staff helped me saddle her.  Then I was able to grab a bed for the night.sea

The next morning, I sailed down to the beach.  I spent about half an hour crabbing before I noticed a turbulent streak racing through the waves.  Expecting it to be a shark and wondering if I could hunt it, I splashed into the shallows to get a better look.  What I found instead was an angry lizard-man that leapt out at me with boomerang sword.  The courts would rule his death as self-defense.

After a walk on the rocks, I saw the islands in the distance and wondered how big the world actually was.  And why the sky was so dark.

My second question was quickly answered by the rainstorm clouds that brought a fast-moving and heavy thunderstorm.

Before too long, the metal sword and shield on my back began to spark.  In a literal flash, lightning struck me.  I was dead instantly.

When I came to, I mounted my horse and took off across the prairies.  The lightning was fierce and violent, cascading in pillars of light all around me several times as I rode.

rainbow

Eventually, the storm passed.  As I explored, I found myself hiking in the hills and happened upon a rainbow.

During my time with the game, I noticed that it rains a lot in Hyrule, which makes the landscape slick, and climbing is nearly impossible when it’s wet.  At some point, I fell into a pool and couldn’t climb out because it was sprinkling.  Climbing wore down my endurance, and when I fell back into the pool, swimming further depleted my endurance until I drowned.

As I touched on a little above, you have a noise meter that measures how loud you are as you walk.  It’s important to monitor that as you explore, because you can hunt boar and deer for food, and the prey will run from you if they see and hear you.  If your hunt is successful, you collect the meat, which you can cook and eat to regain life.  As you play, you can learn new recipes, combine ingredients and cook a meal over an open fire.  Certain meals will grant boosts to your health, defense, stealth, etc.

There’s a temperature gauge.  If you climb too high into the mountains where the air is thinner, it gets really damn cold, and you will start to slowly lose life.  Certain foods will raise your body temperature, and of course, there are warm clothes you can eventually acquire.

sky

Like you, I had read all the early information put out on the title in eager, panting anticipation of the game.  I’m a die-hard, life-long Zelda fanatic (in elementary school I tried to use the fact I had beaten A Link to the Past to get a girl to like me…it didn’t work).  I was worried that everything they were adding to the game to “Westernize” it, all the comparison it was getting to Dark Souls, Far Cry and Skyrim, would suck the hearts and the essence right out of the series.

However, there was never a point during my run with Breath of the Wild, where I felt like I was playing anything but a Zelda game.  The soul remains intact.  Things are a little different than they were 20 years ago, but the game is no less true to its roots because of it.

Is this the best Zelda game Nintendo has ever made?  Without a doubt.  Is it the best video game I’ve ever played?  Easily, but I have not played very many recent games, so that may be a moot point to make.  Not only are the graphics top-notch, not only is the world stunningly beautiful, dark and deeper than you can imagine, the story is the most gripping of all the Zelda games thus far.

While promoting the game, Zelda producer extraordinaire, Eiji Aonuma teased that there was a game mechanic that drove the story, which was unique to this title.  It was a mechanic that he came up with twenty-some years ago and was able to revisit in this, something that propelled the narrative in the absence of an AI companion for Link, as has become a staple in past Zelda games.  Since I first booted the game up, I’ve kept a keen eye for what he was referring to, and it could be a number of things.  It could be the Sheikah Slate itself, Link’s iPad-like device that he uses for everything.  But I think (potential spoiler warning) it’s the amnesia.  Not to give too much of the plot away here, but something happens in the game, Link is put to sleep, and he wakes up in the very first moment of the game. The problem is, he has no memories of what happened.  Eventually, as he navigates the vast landscape, he meets people that begin to fill in the blanks, but the bulk of the story begins to come through flashbacks, and we get to see Princess Zelda, as a character, in a way that we’ve never seen her before.  She comes off as a very troubled, yet very strong character, and it’s, at times, heart-breaking to see the journey she goes on, as the tale is every bit her saga as it is Link’s…finally a game where the title seems to apply.  But not only Zelda, we get a glimpse at other characters, as well.  Link interacts with people in a more malleable way than just the “save my village” way he has in past titles.

boss

Occasionally in Zeldas past, the plot feels thin, as it has Link chasing some McGuffin or another, which sends him down into dank, labyrinthine dungeons riddled with mysteries.  This game doesn’t feel like that.  The purpose for visiting the dungeons — and hell, even the dungeons themselves — feel like a natural progression of the story.  The various side-characters gain their importance because of these dungeons, and exploring them serves to flesh out the supporting cast in ways unseen previously.

Oh, and then there’s the amiibo of it all.  If you aren’t acutely aware of Nintendo’s side business of selling little statuesque trinkets in the shape of their various properties, it’s okay.  I’m not one that collects all of the figures, but their use in this game is actually quite handy.  Every 24 hours, you can place the various amiibo onto your Switch and reap reward benefits of new clothing, weapons, the occasional treasure, and a ton of food.  This is exactly how amiibo should be used: they aren’t necessary to complete and enjoy the game but it rewards those who buy them by giving them a little something extra.

Kudos to Nintendo.  Kudos to Eiji Aonuma & Shigeru Miyamoto and their incredible team for spending so much time and energy to ensure this game was everything it could be.

After 20-30 hours of game play, I’m just completing the first dungeon.  I’m barely scratching the surface of what it has to offer, and I’m solidly caught up in the most gripping drama Nintendo has ever brought to life.

Thank you, Nintendo, for servicing your fans and delivering a truly epic game playing experience.

If you aren’t playing this game yet, you’re cheating yourself.

 

 

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