Of late, I feel that video games are doing things by the numbers, a lot of games know they need certain elements in them, in order to be considered a success, then of course, you get games that through everything out the window and do their own thing and that is what we have with Breath of the Wild.
For a game series, that has in the past had a story explained to you in a variety of ways, to really understand the story that players will get in Breath of the Wild, you have to understand that you can ignore it completely, once you leave the starting area. The beginnings of the story is that Link wakes up in a shrine, to find that he does not remember much of anything and that the land of Hyrule has been devastated by Calamity Ganon and you are tasked with defeating the evil that plagues the land. From then on, you can ignore almost everything and run straight towards the final boss, however if you want to explore the world and discover more about Link’s past the people that live in the world, you are in for a treat.
Perhaps the biggest change to the game comes in the form of the gameplay itself, from a Link to the Past and onwards, each game has taken you through a series of steps and with each step you get closer to the final objective. Here though, each single part of the game can be played in almost anyway, or ignored completely, letting you craft the game that you want to experience, something that very few games have ever attempted before and those that have, have never achieved. Of course, you are given a series of tutorials to play through, in the form of Shrines on the Great Plateau and once you complete them, the freedom to do anything in any order is overwhelming, but as stated before, while you can run straight towards the final boss, there is little chance you will survive, so preparation is key.
That is another part of the game that has really changed, the game is alive, far more than you might think, with plants providing ingredients and resources for food and potions, with animals providing meat and even the enemies you defeat supplying ingredients as well. There is a layer of experimentation here, mixing meat and mushrooms makes a meal, which restores hearts, but if you through in some greens, you may end up with a much stronger meal, if you decide you want to swap the meat out for something else, the results are going to different. Mixing monster parts with other ingredients will usually result in an elixir or potion that can provide you with some support, which comes in handy down the line. Each of the buffs can be used to help you overcome a stubborn enemy, or even when facing off against the world.
While a lot of the world is going to seem familiar to players of the series, locations like Kakariko Village or Eldin Bridge appear in name only, because their look is so different to what you might know from the past games. In terms of towns, there are only a handful that exist, though there is just as many completely destroyed towns as well, the world is populated with Stables, these become your place to stock up on supplies, rest up and take care of your horse and learn about rumours that are floating around. The stables though feel more alive than the towns do, purely because you will see people coming and going and if the rain comes in, then people will make a dash for the protection that the stables provide. Of course, what makes the world different, even with that familiar touch, is that you can approach it in any way you want. Want to make your way up Death Mountain, sure take the main path up the mountain, however there are dangers to approaching that way, so maybe you want to climb up the side of the mountains around it, but its slow. With the extreme heat that you need to endure, you can constantly drink and eat to replenish your hearts, as you lose them to the temperatures that you deal with, or you can take some elixirs to help. If you want, you can invest some of your hard-earned rupees into a set of armour that provide protection against the environment you are in, given that you have multiple ways up the mountain and many ways to protect yourself, the game is up for you to dictate too.
Of course, open worlds are nothing new, most games released these days are set in that style of world, but where things change here is that the world is never populated with hundreds of markers, letting you know where each location, treasure chest, bandit camp and more can be found; you must find them yourself. As you explore the world, you can pull up your Sheikah Slate and using the scope function, you can simply place a pin at the spot you are looking at, some of which you can see through the scope, but the rest are little markers that you select to match the location you’re marking. In fact, climbing the towers to unlock the maps for that part of the world (that has not changed from other games) lets you view the surrounding area and it is here that you can start to lose yourself. Marking a shrine, as a place to visit is easy enough, but on the way there, you might spot another one, or get ambushed by a ninja and yeah, that is a thing too, or simply come across a bandit camp that looks ripe for the taking, which diverts you from what you initially set out to do.
The strange thing is, each time that happened to me, I never felt bad or got angry at the game for distracting me from what I was doing, given that the game is pure exploration, it was my own nature that tempted me to look around the world and discover what was around. Hearing a noise over the rise can be one of many things and it is entirely up to me, if I encountered an enemy that was way too strong for me, there was nothing stopping me from running away, or even better, picking a spot where they could not hurt me and using bombs to slowly chip away at their health. Given the complete freedom that the game lets you experience, they give you a small range of tools to use, bombs, as well as magnet, time and ice powers and then you can use them how you see fit. Using Magnisis, there is nothing stopping you from dropping a giant metal box onto the head of a sleeping enemy, even better, you can use the momentum of the box to simply knock your enemies flying.
The tools they give you can be used in a range of ways, post release, I have seen some very creative ways of people solving puzzles, differently to how I did, which is what the game tries to tell you. The people, the places and even the Shrines, all offer you a chance to do something different and while there are some quests that might be less than ideal, collecting wood comes to mind, even with something as menial as that, you have choice, you can use a weapon to cut down the timber, use an axe proper, or my personal favourite, bomb the trees away. The landscape of Hyrule won’t change with your actions, trees will come back, plants regrow and enemies respawn, with a really cool reason as to why, but even with all that, the world feels impacted by the choices I made.
Perhaps the only real sour note to the game is its performance, in that the game will stutter with lag, when larger enemies are killed or multiple explosions go off. There is also a lot of pop in, especially if you glide into a space quite quickly, you will see elements pop in quite close to your location, from decorations to enemies and such. These moments are frequent, but thankfully only impacted me a few times, usually when it would spawn a guardian close enough to me that they could target me. There were also times when I would be looking at places through the Sheikah Slate and the textures would be the super low res versions, that would be replaced as I got closer in person, while not game breaking, its odd to see enemy structures made from large shapes with indistinct colour patterns, right next to a fully rendered tree.
The game however had no issues when it came to the audio part of the presentation, for the first time in a Zelda game, there is proper voice acting and no we are not counting the Japan-only satellaview game. Each of the characters that does speak has a voice that matches the personality and the race they represent, Mipha is quite and subdued, but as the smallest of the group, that makes sense, whereas Rivalli is cocky and brash, which matches with his fast-paced nature. While the voice of Zelda took far to long for me to come to accept as the voice, the rest fitted in without any issue, in fact the only issue I have with the voice acting is that they are way to inconsistent with it. Cutscenes, actual proper cutscenes would have the characters speaking, nice and clearly, only to then have them revert to text bubbles after the scene was completed. Now you might not think that this would be an issue, but there are times when just running around the world, I heard speaking and not the normal grunts and shrieks from a Zelda game; Again, its inconsistency was annoying.
The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild is a game that I simply could not put down, something that is happening less and less these days, the story while not thrilling by any means, still held my interest, especially in how it was delivered. The world itself is the star and in this review, I barely scratched the surface of what is possible, given the freedom for players to craft their own style of play, I can see people playing this game for a long time to come.
Thanks to Nintendo Australia for supplying the game for review