Let the adventure begin
One of the great things about growing up in the early 90's in a eastern Europe remote village was the sense of constant exploration and wonder. Wind brushing my face to the soundtrack of my own footsteps and the weather, be it sun or rain, were the only givens. The rest was an adventure - a seemingly endless thread of obstacles, trials and occasionally skirmishes. Who would have thought 25 years later a video game would bring those experiences back to me in a way nothing ever did before.
This is my Breath of the Wild review and I liked it a lot.
The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild is definitely best experienced without any spoilers whatsoever. As such it is impossible to write an in-depth review while remaining vague. Having said that it's been out for 4 months now so you probably know what you're getting into. This is your SPOILER WARNING!!! Don't come crying in the comments.
Let's start by saying I'm not a Zelda expert. I like the franchise a lot but only recently did I get through Ocarina of Time 3D. Besides that my experience with those games is sparse - I played Wind Waker for about 15 hours, same goes for Twilight Princess, I bailed out of Majora's Mask 3D after 24 hours and... that would be it. With that out of the way let's dig in.
Breath of the Wild is pretty much the biggest change in the franchise since Ocarina of Time, being the series first open world entry. It is also the first one to introduce a jump button (yay!) and the first one to not have any dungeons (boo!). Well sort of. Will get to that in a minute.
Worth mentioning - I took my time with this game and it took me 160+ hours to finish the main story, including taking over all of the Divine Beasts, solving all the Shrines and doing about 80% of the side-quests. I've played it on the Switch in handheld mode as well as on the TV in equal amounts, I would say.
Yes, you can ride animals in this game
The premise is simple - 100 years ago Calamity Ganon has hit Hyrule yet again, Link fucked up yet again and had to be put in a coma, Zelda took on Ganon and found herself trapped with him in The Castle. Hence you wake up after 100 years of slumber into a ruined world of Hyrule to save Zelda and set Hyrule free of the Malice goo that tries to consume the land. On your way you buff up your protagonist by solving puzzles, dying clothes and releasing ghosts from animal machinery who BTW fucked it up the same way Link did a while ago. The story is nothing to write home about, it is serviceable, but lacks any depth. Character progression is a bit more fleshed out, but not excessively so. Simple enough, let's get to the stuff that's actually good.
OMG The World! Open world games exist for quite a while now so this shouldn't come as a surprise, but boy is the world in Breath Of The Wild fantastic! It is full of mountain peaks, hills, lakes, swamps, rivers, forests, islands, you name it! The initial feeling of opportunity strikes you from the moment Link runs out the Shrine of Resurrection and doesn't leave you until, I would say hour 40, in my case anyways. This is how long it took me to uncover the whole map and it by no means equals to traversing thoroughly the whole thing.
So, initially your map is blank and divided into 14 regions. It is up to you to uncover those regions, by way of climbing towers (no, this isn't a Ubisoft game) although it is worth mentioning that it's totally optional. You might just play the game blind not using the map at all, although I'd imagine this would be time consuming. Uncovering map does just that - you get to see the topography of the terrain and some major landmarks, but (surprise!) there's no icons with side quests, no arrows to follow, heck even the names of smaller places, significant or not, need unlocking by visiting them first. And it feels refreshing, it feels like discovering, it feels like... well it basically feels like a normal-ass paper map which I applaud and never wanna go back to the overwhelming blinking icon fest the open world game map usually is. Don't get me wrong, it is not all-out-hardcore going back to 19th century either. You can still place markers if you so wish, you can still select a side quest and it stays marked on the map so you can navigate to the spot more easily, you still see Links actual position on the map, but it's all up to you and nothing gets dumped on you from the get-go. BTW the moment you climb those towers is a celebration in and of itself and it gives the player a nice view point to plan the next step while also serving as a fast travel point - simple and very handy.
The ligthing effects are off the charts
Ze Graphics and Soundzz
Well, as we're use to by now there's a distinct Nintendo flavor to the way Breath of the Wild presents itself and that's a good thing in my book. I would say it's more on the anime side of things stylistically with characters having big eyes and being, generally speaking, drawn rather than rendered in layman's terms. They look very endearing and differ enough from one another to not feel generic. Link has a presence of an androgynous model and it seems that's the way Nintendo decided to escape the gender selection dilemma in case of our protagonist. He looks adorable in all the "costumes" you are provided with. Basically anything from an Alien-Robot-Hero to Fancy-Airy-Tunics-and-Pigtails is possible. This unfortunately has the side effect of making it feel Not-like-Link-the-Hero-of-Time at times, but I'd say it's a small price for all the fun customization gives you in this game. It's worth noting that Link gets to occur in the selected armor in the cut scenes as well, although due to how the story is revealed, this applies only to those taking place in the present. Just to close this of, it is possible to get the classic Legend of Zelda outfits for our hero by using an Amiibo or finishing "a quest" of sorts in the game itself.
I wanna make this clear: stylistically Breath of the Wild looks gorgeous! From the way the light changes color penetrating the atmosphere; the haze in the distance limiting visibility in a natural way; the clouds shadows traversing the ground, to the way the light changes with deteriorating weather and how the sun beams shimmer in the water. It all looks beautiful and one really gets the sense of a dynamic world brimming with life and color. It reminds me of Ocarina of Time 3D on the 3DS - running Hyrule Fields for the first time one gets the sense of being in an exquisitely detailed diorama, which also has to do with the way the characters are animated (puppet style more or less).
The weather is a real threat
Once again this is a beautiful game. It's not all roses though as some of the textures (especially the rocky mountains ones) truly come from the N64 era, being low res and very blurry that is. It is noticeable from a close distance so one deals with it only once in a while, but the fact of the matter is there are limits to Breath of the Wild's engine. One more example? Loading of distant objects often occurs at a very close distance to the camera so the pop-in is there too. It's especially apparent when using the binoculars as more often than not when you'll want to scout enemies outposts from far away you won't be able to do so simply because the enemies will not be loaded yet. Fortunately the way the gameplay flows in BotW it does not rely on the binoculars much. Criticisms aside I cannot express how impressive this looks on Switches screen. It is easily the best looking handheld game ever and maybe even the best looking Zelda game to date, certainly the most impressive one.
On the technical side the engine renders at 900p docked and 720p in handheld although there's some dynamic resolution scaling going on at times. It is noticeable to someone who knows what to look for, but is by no means distracting. The frame rate targets 30fps in both modes with slight dips into the 20's here and there. It has been vastly improved in updates and is more stable in handheld, however it's still not perfect, certainly playable, but not perfect. I must note though that in my 160h+ playtime it happened a couple of times that the game froze for 1 second completely taking no inputs from the player. Fortunately this applies to the enemies as well (the whole game basically takes a breather) and, I really wanna stress this, it is sporadic. In general this is a consistently bug free open-world engine we're talking here, it's just the frame rate is not perfect.
Did I mention the ligthing already?
The audio is top notch as you'd expect. All the sounds have a familiar vibe to them while sounding fresh and refined at the same time. Link's footsteps sound crisp and cute, all the "ooh's" and "aaaaaaah's" are as endearing as ever, there's plenty of ambient sounds making the world feel alive and believable. And it all is of extremely high quality. There's really not much more I can say about it so let's jump to the music stuff, shall we?
The music has had a great make-over too compared to previous Zelda entries. Gone are the pompous melody lines that we're accustomed to, replaced with sparse flourishes of piano while exploring the world, occasionally interrupted by some more tangible pieces of music while riding a horse or fighting. The only time you'll here a more traditional take on Zelda compositions is in the villages and stables and those all have a day and night variant to help prevent fatigue. Some of them are more likable than others, my highlights being Kakariko Village, Tarrey Town, Lost Woods, Korok Forest and horse riding at night.
Each of the Divine Beasts have their own theme evolving along as you solve subsequent puzzles, the Shrines and Stables being the only instance in BotW where the music remains the same throughout. There's plenty of other small form pieces characteristic for places like caves (this one BTW is beautifully melancholic) etc. which makes for a more diverse score than one initially might think. It's all orchestrated too and it sounds grown-up, refined and understated. I really like the direction they've taken it in. It is very easy to complain that we don't get as memorable tracks as in the past, but keeping in mind that this world is HUGE and you'll be exploring it A LOT it is apparent that more of a traditional approach would quickly become tiresome. I mean can you really stand listening to the same cheery heroic tune for hours on end while doing nothing heroic at all? I can't. Personally I would rank it as one of the greatest video game soundtracks of all time, simply for it's mature, understated tone and elegant execution. It's something you can play in the background at home and not be accused of playing video game tunes at all! Props for that.
Where the music shines the voice acting in the English version kinda sucks. Link is mute as usual and it's fine by me, I quite like the sense of mystery while he speaks-no-voice. I won't spend too much time on that since it is possible to play the game with Japanese VO and English subs after an update, but the performances fall flat in most cases. The Royal Family speaks in a weird - what was probably suppose to sound like - British accent and it really annoyed me. You either get a British native speaker to do the job properly or don't bother at all and give me plain American one instead. Just don't make those half-moves. As it is, it sounds forced and pretentious. Especially Zelda with her anemic, monotone delivery. It's a shame because her arc is actually one of the more interesting story bits in Breath of the Wild. Unfortunately delivered in such a way, one just can't help but fall asleep. Suffice to say the Japanese VO has plenty of charisma and a bit of over-the-topness which fits the anime theme quite nicely.
This kinda breaks the immersion...
Breath of the Wild is a game that trusts the players intelligence and it never says "Hey, listen!". Not once! It is a welcome change, one which was long overdue. The tutorial section doesn't feel like one and that's a good sign for video games in general. After about an hour you're done with it for good and the whole Hyrule is wide open. At long last have we (maybe) reached the point where explaining "Press X to jump" feels like an anachronism. Link has acquired some new abilities thanks to the Sheikah iPad he's carrying with him, that being two types of unlimited bombs, Magnesis, Stasis, Cryonis. All of them have a recovery timer and I'm happy to say none of them is OP. The bombs have a limited reach and damage and used in battles actually serve as a chip damage device more than anything else. Magnesis let's you pick up and manipulate metal objects in the air and can be used as a viable fighting tactic depending on the situation. Stasis let's you freeze objects and eventually enemies in time and Cryonis let's you summon blocks of ice on flat water which are climbable BTW. All of those abilities, called Runes come in handy and can be used in creative ways as the engine of Breath of the Wild is entirely physics based. There's also a camera function for you to take snap-shots of plants and creatures to fill the Hyrule Compendium.
The overall difficulty is a mixed bag. Initially the game is hard. As you're still learning, fights against even the weakest of enemies can end up in a "Game Over" screen because they hit hard and if your timing is off for dodges and parries you're gonna have a rough time. Enemy progression is a thing - as you slain more and more of a particular type of adversaries it will come in a different color variant meaning more HP, harder hitting attacks etc. As you progress though, the difficulty doesn't scale all that well and at some point you'll be basically invincible with only packs of opponents and Lynels offering a decent challenge. Couple that with very easy boss encounters and you can see we suddenly have a problem here. It's a similar issue MGS5 had, as in the difficulty is totally dependent on the way one plays the game. If you don't bother with gathering and upgrading stuff you're gonna have a harder time and the challenge will be there for you, but if you're like me and you like to be prepared for a boss fight, those will mostly leave you wanting more. Much more.
This is one of the biggest gripes with the new Zelda entry for me. Bosses in this game are not only easy, they feel generic as well. You remember how in Ocarina of Time every single boss fight was memorable, every one of them offering different challenge, various designs etc? Well, none of this here unfortunately. I mean yes, technically they do have a slightly different attack patterns, but in general as their design is very samey I just couldn't tell them from one another. The same can be said about the dungeons stand in, called Divine Beasts now. There are 4 of them and all of them resemble huge mechanical animals characteristic to the area they are placed in. The lead in to most of them is actually pretty enjoyable which still doesn't mean it's challenging. So you get into the Divine Beasts and expect them to be this intricate, enormous puzzles, with separate rooms, various boss fights and enemies and stuff? Well it is sort of here, the execution however leaves a lot to be desired. First of all it's difficult to tell them apart as you're inside. Same design and assets are being used here, the puzzles are pretty similar to the Shrine ones as well, there's no enemies to speak of except for a few Scouts and you get to the boss fights... and they just... disappoint. There is no other way to put it. The challenge is just non existent. And I know that maybe if I played the game differently, if I heaven't upgraded the armor or heaven't had a bunch of delicious meals with me it could have been different, but I can't escape the feeling that it was a missed opportunity, an afterthought on Nintendo's part. I mean of all the bosses I fought in this game including the final boss I died just a couple of times in one particular instance and it was because I went there missing a crucial armor piece. Now, normally I wouldn't mind this, but this game encourages exploring, gathering and in general improving Link and then it kind of falls apart under the weight of the way it's meant to be played (pardon the pun). Enemy design is decent if not spectacular. The standard enemies are a bit meh, although there are standouts - Moldugas, Hinoxes, Guardian Stalkers and Lynels offer a thrilling challenge and are memorable foes. Lynels make a comeback from the original Legend of Zelda and are relentless. If you're about to tackle one of those you better be prepared and have your 100% focus hat on - they are punishing, savage beasts and have an answer to almost any strategy you might wanna use against them. It is a shame thus that none of the bosses offer similarly exhaustive experience.
The combat system has been revamped and apart from the usual slashes, charge slashes etc. we now have a dodge which if timed well triggers a flurry attack and a shield parry. The bow has been given a new layer of paint too and now it actually makes sense to use it on a regular basis especially that there are six kinds of arrows to choose from. It is possible to trigger slow-mo action while in air and drawing the bow, so we have enough tactics on hand to make things interesting and I can see different players developing different play styles which is a good thing. So, the combat while not best in class serves it's purpose well enough and is the best in the series. All the weapons have very limited durability changing the way skirmishes flow. There's much more pausing during battles to swap gear and while for some it might be annoying, I actually enjoyed the brief breaks in combat using them as a "re-think your strategy" tactic. All-in-all fighting is more involving and more refined compared to previous Zelda games, but also demands more from the player being punishing if one is not eager to learn the timing of enemies strikes. On the other hand it still gives you options if you're not willing to get into close quarter combat - think bow, unlimited bombs and special abilities.
Did I say this game looks gorgeous?
You remember how 2016's E3 was all about "verticality"? Well it's here in full swing and never did I think it would change exploring an open world game in such a profound way. Basically every surface in the game (bar the Sheikah ancient technology stone material) can be climbed. Couple this with a para glider that let's you glide (duh) for long distances and you've got a winner! Seriously though, I never felt like I can actually "go anywhere I want" in a video game even though it's been a pitch for years now. This mechanic alone changes how you approach traversal - see this mountain? Climb on top of it, take a look around, choose your destination and... GLIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIDE! It's that simple. And it works remarkably well (except while flying to your chosen destination you're gonna get distracted by the thing you just saw beneath, you're gonna wanna check this shit out immediately and gonna get sidetracked for literally hours!). This is the magic of Breath of the Wild, at least in the beginning when you're exploring the map for the first time. Have I mentioned the map is HUGE? No? Well then, it is. As you climb a mountain peak and you look towards the horizon everything in your sight is your playground and initially the sense of scale is just overwhelming. You set yourself a goal, say to get to a tower in the distance. As you start to travel towards your destination little do you know getting there will take you an hour(!). We're talking real life hours here! This is the essence of enjoyment for me and Breath of the Wild delivers in spades in that respect. Not only is it encouraging you to explore with it's mechanics, it is also rewarding in ways a game has never been before. You might not find anything on a mountain peak, but the views you'll get to see, the knowledge of the terrain you'll acquire, the sense of awe you'll experience... One really has to experience this to believe it. The only thing I can compare this to is actual mountaineering - the rewards are not tangible, yet one of it's kind, awe inspiring and kind of addicting.
Apart from what one would expect from an open world game the world in the new Zelda is littered with Shrines which basically act as a self contained mini-dungeons rewarding you with an Ancient Orb which can then be exchanged for stamina or heart upgrades. Some of the puzzles are very simple, some are more intricate, but they're never frustrating. Most can be solved in many ways and it all is surprisingly logical and straightforward. About 20 take form of a Test of Strength which basically is a fight against a Guardian Scout. Those are the most by the numbers ones and I wouldn't mind having a few less. The environmental Shrines however deserve a special mention - huge labyrinths, giant statues, an island, to name a few, provide variety and mix up the repetition of going thru otherwise similar environments (the Shrines that is). I don't mind having the same music or the same simple ancient Sheikah technology design thru all of the regular ones, but the chest rewards sometime do underwhelm. Going the extra mile of solving an additional puzzle just to be rewarded with a Topaz gem stone feels... You know when you were a kid and an adult offered you some labour in exchange for a "great reward" only for it to turn out to be a lollipop or another chewing gum or some other shit? Well it kind of feels the same way here. This aside I think that the Shrines offer a welcome diversity from the main game loop and are a nice addition to the series.
Weather system in full swing (yes, this is a rainbow)
Economy has seen some rebuilding as well and it's a definite improvement over previous entries in the series. In the most basic terms almost anything you gather along the way has a value and can be exchanged for rupees while rupees themselves are very rarely seen in the game. This means you're gonna be gathering herbs, mining crystals, hunting or doing other tasks just to improve your material situation to be able to reach certain goals or open new upgrade possibilities. It's not difficult to accumulate thousands of rupees you just have to be mindful of it while crossing the land. My advice would be to stay away from those fast travel points.
Everything you gather or acquire is stored in your inventory and as the game is huge in it's scope it gets tedious after a while. Inventory management is almost a mini-game of it's own, only not a particularly good one. It's organized by item type, every item type getting it's own page or pages in the inventory depending on the amount of stuff you'll have. At first it seems alright, basic but serviceable, but by the late game I had literally 17(!) pages to sort thru and it just wasn't a good experience. I would really prefer to have separate inventories for combat related stuff, food etc. as having it all dumped in one place like that doesn't feel convenient at all.
On the subject of food - food is being used as a way to replenish Link's health, so the traditional hearts one would find in previous Zelda games are gone, except after boss fights. Food can also be cooked for a variety of effects and it's pretty fun to come up with new recipes while preparing for a battle. It is a simple system, however the abundance of ingredients you'll come across in Hyrule makes it deep enough to feel like a substantial addition to the game, at the same it is entirely optional and you can ignore it if you're not interested in being the new Link's chef.
The Likez, Dislikez and Opinionz
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an exceptional game. It's as simple as that. I was completely immersed by Hyrule lush landscapes and beautiful vistas, I was amazed by its worlds size and variety, I was blown away by its mature soundtrack, I was transferred to my childhood times by its exhilarating exploration and discovery. This game is truly magical and as such it is difficult to put a number on it. It manages to push a genre that has been evolving for more than a decade now into new heights by reinventing world traversal and navigation and it's really hard to imagine other open-world games not having a climbing system in place at this point. As a standalone open-world game it differentiates itself from the rest with it's theme, style and mechanics. As a Zelda title it is a massive change mostly for the better, however some parts of the game have suffered in the process of making it a huge open-world affair. Ultimately I think Breath of the Wild is something more than the sum of its parts though and one has to play it to really appreciate its beauty. Cause it is a beautiful game. It's not gonna be universally loved but it certainly is a special game.
It is a polished product as is, however I can't help but think what it could have been had the developers had one more year to flesh out the story for instance, because for all its greatness, for all it gets right it isn't a perfect game still and it could be improved in many ways. The story and dungeons would be the easy ones to put more effort into, inventory management could be better too, it wouldn't hurt to make the side quests more involving, and last but not least, making the boss fights memorable and actually challenging would help greatly.
I realize I've barely scratched the surface here. It is impossible to describe all of the games systems at work in a brief review. It is also really scary to review a game of this size. There's always a chance of you missing something important or criticizing something just because you didn't get a good grasp of what it actually is, how it actually works. I've seen it in case of Breath of the Wild more often than with other games - critics making fools of themselves just because they didn't spend enough time with the game. With that in mind let me just say I highly recommend you play this - it is an essential video game, a must play, in many ways a game changer. This is a game that sucked me in like no other in years and I cherished every single moment of my 165 hours play-through.
I cannot recommend it enough... I once played it for 7 hours straight after coming off of a night shift, how's that for a recommendation?
+ beautiful, dynamic weather system and lighting effects
+ gorgeous art-style
+ adorable NPC's / dialogs
+ gigantic world, chock-full of rewards and details
+ environmental shrines a breath of fresh air
+ meaningful economy
+ difficulty up to the player
+ best combat of any Zelda entry
+ Guardian Stalkers and Lynels are soooo coooool!
+ worth twice the money
+ length of the game entirely up to the player
+ respects the player / doesn't hand-hold you
+ attention to detail and general polish
+ no loadings (except for entering Shrines)
+ many solutions to the same problem
+ plenty of nods to past Zelda games
+ the adventure feels like your own
+ Shrine puzzles logical and not frustrating
+ soundtrack and audio
+ very polished engine wise for an open world game
- "You can't go any farther" message feels jarring in such an otherwise huge and open ended game
- some of the chest rewards can be lame
- sometimes sense of lack of direction
- English VO cringe'y
- underwhelming boss battles
- menu can get cumbersome
- breaking weapons on mini-games is bullshit!
- completionists can reach burnout
- noticeable pop-in
P.S. WTF is going on with the EU cover?! Link looks like a retard and the whole thing with the blueish hue looks cold and uninviting. Why?! The US one is perfect, just from looking at it you know there's an adventure awaiting. Seriously the person responsible for this abomination should have their sallary withdrawn.