Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the first Legend of Zelda game on the Nintendo Switch console, and the last first party release for the, short lived, Wii U. This review was done using a digital retail copy of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the Nintendo Switch. From what I’ve seen the Wii U version takes some hits on frame rate and graphics but is relatively similar. If you are considering buying a Nintendo Switch specifically for this game, I would only recommend doing so if you do not already have a Wii U or if you’ve already decided to pick up a switch based on future content.
Now, with the formalities out of the way *cracks knuckles* let’s talk some Zelda. As the game starts up, it loads right into the first scene where we see our hero, Link, waking up on a very high tech-looking bed. He is egged on by a mysterious voice to go out and save the land. Link doesn’t start out with his traditional green garb and doesn’t have any means of protection right off of the bat, though you will quickly find something that you can use to whack things upside the head.
Very early on, the player will come across a mysterious old man. After doing a few tasks for the old man he reveals that you are Link, the hero that helped Zelda fight Calamity Gannon 100 years ago, and we quickly learn that Link has lost his memories of the past. To jog these memories and rescue princess Zelda, who apparently has been battling Gannon the last 100 years to keep his power at bay, the old man gives Link a handy glider and tells him to go search the world for answers and save the princess. This is where the game opens up, and I mean REALLY opens up.
Breath of the Wild is the first 3D Zelda that lets you choose how you would like to proceed with your adventures throughout the Kingdom of Hyrule. Once you receive the glider, which gives you the ability to exit the starting area, the world is yours to explore. You can do anything and go anywhere you’d like, whether it be straight to Hyrule Castle to destroy Calamity Gannon, or to the Lost Woods to get … well, lost. The world is enormous and feels very much alive, with hundreds of places to explore and items to collect throughout. The main dungeons of this game are found on/in giant constructs called Divine Beasts. I don’t want to go too in-depth with them so as not to spoil anything, so I will leave it at that. You do not have to defeat them in order to fight Gannon; they merely weaken his power.
The striking thing to me here is how much it feels like a classic Zelda game. You wake up, go out into the world, and from there the world is pretty much your oyster. As in the older Zelda games where your progress is gated by items that you will need to acquire, here stamina is the biggest factor with your game progress, as you need it to do just about everything. Swimming, climbing, running, gliding, and charging your weapon will all use up stamina, making it a precious resource in the early game. Both hearts and stamina are upgraded by collecting Spirit Orbs from shrines throughout the game, of which there are 120 in total. Four Spirit Orbs can be cashed in at a prayer statue to upgrade one of these stats, much like the 4 heart pieces in previous Legend of Zelda games.
Shrines will test your puzzle solving ability as they are all mini dungeons that you can play through, find treasure, and eventually get a Spirit Orb from. Each offers a unique challenge that you will need to complete, some of which allow for multiple solutions. As you work through the first few shrines, Link will acquire powers to help him complete them. Powers, such as Magnesis, which lets you pick up and manipulate metallic objects, or Stasis which lets you freeze time on objects and enemies can be used in both traditional and unconventional ways. With Magnesis you can do things that you normally wouldn’t consider in a Zelda game, like pick up metal chests and weapons. Stasis can allow you to launch an object by hitting it as many times as you can before it is released. I can only assume this is caused by the buildup of the kinetic energy from the impacts while time is frozen and then released all at once. That, or there’s some outrageous Zelda explanation for it. That being said, I was constantly finding new uses for these abilities as I played this game.
With plenty of shrines to find, puzzles to solve, and enemies to defeat, the world feels lived in and natural here. The watercolor style art is visually stunning as well. For a game running at 720-900p, it’s quite striking. Though the framerates in particular areas, such as Death Mountain (where there are tons of explosions and particles floating in the air) and certain cut scenes, where frame rates tend to dip down when you have the Nintendo Switch in the dock playing on a TV. I’ve heard similar reports about the performance on the Wii U, but I haven’t seen this issue nearly as much, if at all, in handheld mode.
While we’re on the topic of cut scenes, my biggest (and possibly only) complaint with the game is that the voice acting and writing for these scenes is pretty awful. Due to the lackluster combination of both, lines that should be epic tend to fall flat at times. The voice acting is especially bad for Princess Zelda herself. This detracts, somewhat, from these otherwise fantastic looking scenes.
Combat in this game feels great and all of the systems based around it are dynamic to the point that I am constantly finding new things that Link can do. Try dropping a metal box on an enemy while using Magnesis or use Stasis to stop an enemy in their tracks, beat them up, and send them flying. Weapons that Link picks up can be sorted into a few categories: swords, greatswords, hammers, axes, boomerangs, spears, and of course, the leaf. Each of these weapons has a different charge attack that can be used to annihilate your foes. Link also has a handy dodge move that, if timed correctly, allows him to slow time to unleash a flurry of attacks on his enemy.
It wouldn’t be a Zelda game without a bow, and there are plenty of bows and arrows to choose from in this game. Arrows are quite scarce early on, but I started getting them more and more as time went on as I progressed through the game. Arrows are also persistent, so if an enemy shoots at you and misses, or hits your shield, you can pick them up off the ground or directly from your shield to fire back. Similarly, if a bow is pulled while in midair, time is slowed down and you are able to fire arrows quickly and accurately on your descent. It gives you a very Legolas-type of feel while wielding a bow.
On top of it’s fantastic combat system, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, adds many other systems like cooking, clothing, climbing, weather, and stealth. Cooking is used to make foods that will increase your hearts, stamina, and buff your stats. You can also cook up elixirs out of monster parts to give yourself things like heat resistance or increased stealth. You can stack these effects with armor and armor sets you’ve obtained which will give you bonuses too. Climbing uses stamina and you can climb almost any surface in the game provided you have enough stamina to do so. Stealth is also new to the game. There is actual dynamic stealth based on how quickly you are moving and if you are crouched. You can use this to sneak up on enemies and do massive amounts of damage to them if you catch them off guard. Weather effects are also new, with changing forecasts based on time and location. Some areas have extreme weather that you will need to take an elixir or use special clothes to traverse.
This game is a fresh new take on the Zelda formula and the only thing that worries me about it is that I can’t conceive of a way for Nintendo to top it when the next Zelda game inevitably launches. The systems in place from the combat to the weather, and the lived in feel of the open world make this game a must-have for any Zelda fan and also make it incredibly accessible for any newcomers to the franchise. Everyone should play this game to experience what it has to offer, whether you own a Wii U or a Switch. If you don’t have either, I would heartily recommend the Switch. For Zelda fans, it is a must buy. For everyone else, you should probably buy it too because it’s such a new, fresh take on the already solid Zelda formula.