Note: the experience I had of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was at a Nintendo Switch event, where the build available was Version 12S, which is the build from E3 2016. This is not the finished product, so some issues may have been remedied from this build to the retail version.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is such a wild departure from the classic Zelda formula that has been in use for over thirty years now that I was not quite sure how I could even begin to tackle this gargantuan game. The true answer is that there really is no predetermined way to start; over my two gameplay sessions that added up to twenty-five minutes, my excitement for this game has absolutely doubled after seeing all of the possibilities first-hand.
Graphically, the game has an absolutely incredible art style, which mixes both the cel-shaded cartoon aesthetics of The Wind Waker and the almost painterly style of Skyward Sword. This blending of two styles works brilliantly here, and is quite unlike anything else. Seeing the light diffuse through the forestry above showed the attention to detail that is always prevalent in Nintendo games shines through once again, despite the arduous five-year development cycle. One potential issue is how the textures do appear quite muddy when close up on the TV mode – however, this issue dissipated when I switched to the handheld mode, so it remains to be seen how big an impact this will have on the game when being played at home.
The audio aspect was not lacking in the slightest, either. The musical motifs kicking in organically while exploring the wilderness was such a natural evolution from past entries, where there was one static track while galloping across Hyrule Field. The tracks that came in and out of the game really conveyed the feeling of confronting the unknown that the whole game is centred around. Sound effects are also fantastic here, as well. Arrows audibly fly through the air, steel axes clang on rocks, and the Bokoblins’ angered grunting are all accounted for here, of course. These sound effects heighten the tension of a close encounter.
Something that had not really occurred to me before I played the game is the expansiveness that is present in Breath of the Wild. Even after seeing this gameplay play out many different times, the size of the world only once sunk in when I looked out from the cliff towards the horizon, and spotted towering structures that were only specks in the distance. I still feel as though the surface of the game has not even been scratched quite yet, and that the Great Plateau the demos have all taken place on is absolutely miniscule when compared to the entire picture. My quest to descend as far as I could in only a quarter of an hour was nowhere near seeing even a tenth of a percent of the whole map.
The tight controls from previous Zelda games return once again here, but the combat has been retooled through enemies now all attacking together. The one on one tradition established in Ocarina of Time has been utterly dismantled here, so expect to be flanked by a group of bokoblins very often in an outpost. Strategic brawling is required to stay alive, as Link is not a tank at the beginning of the game. Although I stuck with purely melee combat, many options are present to surprise the enemy and get that first strike in.
In my first ten minute portion, I was directed to the Stone Talus, who laid dormant in the forest before my presence was made clear. Seeing this rock rise from the ground in a seemingly random spot was tantalising, for such other mini-bosses could be hidden deeper into the game. The boss battle aped Shadow of the Colossus in that you had to climb its back to strike the ore placed squarely on its shoulder. What a fantastic opening encounter it was: the boss was sluggish in attacking his assailant, but it was also sturdy, containing a lot of health. This was made even worse by how the axe I had brought to fight the towering stone beast was utterly terrible.
The items you have in your inventory can make or break a victory. For both the Stone Talus boss battle and a Northern outpost I attempted to battle through on my second go at it, I was severely under-equipped. A combination of both a bow and a melee weapon are essentially required to cover both options and whittle down health. The axe I picked up near the old man’s fire and the few Boko Clubs I possessed were no match for the coordinated enemies. That second outpost kicked me up and down the curb for another reason, as well. I had forgotten to collect food.
Eating in this game is absolutely vital when fighting a group or a boss to keep health up and prevent continuous game overs. If your health is not managed correctly, death will be around the corner at all points. Fighting is now an investment, instead of a surefire victory, which is a great diversion from what Zelda is usually about.
The final thing I can really touch on, and the most exciting feature for the Nintendo Switch version that the Wii U version simply cannot replicate, is the ability to undock and continue my adventures on the go. For the initial session, I played on the docked mode with the Pro Controller, which was a very familiar and comfortable experience, in terms of playing a Zelda game on the television. It looked very crisp and detailed in that 900p resolution, while having very minimal frame rate drops.
However, I then played the lengthier part undocked – needless to say, it looked incredible. The clarity pretty much remained the exact same, despite the fall to 720p. The performance felt rock solid, though; probably a locked 30fps in the portable mode. Putting aside performance metrics for one moment, this completely sold me on the Switch – the fact that this open world was possible on a portable device. It played great in this mode, as well. I had underestimated how comfortable the Switch is in the hands, and holding it while playing this sprawling adventure was just plainly magic to me. I can see many hours whiled away playing Breath of the Wild in the midst of travelling around.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild may not be out just yet, but I can foresee this as a titan that other companies must now overcome, which may be no simple task, because this eclipses every Nintendo game created before while maintaining that expected Nintendo finish. Worlds in games don’t come as expansive and engrossing as this one everyday, and this will be playable both on the big screen and anywhere. This looks to be the launch title that truly sets the Switch apart from the rest of the pack, and I, for one, absolutely cannot wait much longer to play it. My only major gripe with playing it at the event is that I didn’t play it enough.