Looking for a shrine, I found myself on a certain iconic bridge over a large lake. Of course, as is always my first instinct when uncovering a new area, I immediately went to explore. At the center of the bridge, I saw a place of interest, and headed in that direction. Soon, I noticed the music changed. “That’s odd,” I thought. At this point in the game, a good majority of the over world had been covered in silence. I knew this was a special location, but I still thought it strange. Could there perhaps be a village here I don’t see? I looked around, down at the water, and then up, and my jaw dropped. In the sky, I saw something I never expected to see. I simply stood there, stunned, and watched. It was too far away to interact with, so there wasn’t much else I could do, and then, as quickly as it appeared, soon, in quite the mesmerizing fashion, it was gone. The Legend Of Zelda: The Breath Of The Wild can be defined by these moments. It is a journey of discovery, whether they be grand like the one I found, or much smaller, each new experience or finding becomes a story you can tell, and these stories that make up your experience, are the story of this world, that belong to you alone, and make The Breath of The Wild a special game, that you will never forget.
Breath of The Wild opens up with little fanfare. You are immediately thrown into a small open world, and given a task. Beyond that, there is no instruction. Almost everything you need to know is brilliantly taught to you without spelling it out for you on the screen. Once you finish your initial task, the ridiculously massive open world is opened up to you, to do with as you please, and you can use your newly acquired paraglider to glide anywhere you want to. In trusting you with as much freedom as you desire, this game also allows you to climb just about anything in this game as well. You truly can go anywhere you want, or to any place you see. If you wish to continue with the main story progression, you can head east, or you can throw that notion to the wind and head west, where more powerful monsters await you. You can even forget all logic and head to the center of the map, where the final boss awaits you. Though, not only does that sound near impossible, as that road is paved with the game’s greater dangers, and ends in its greatest, you’ll also be missing out on a lot of what makes this game special.
Now, I will say, I am NOT a fan of open world games. They have to have either have a really great story, or a really fun method of movement through which to travel the open world. Or, so I thought. Breath Of The Wild has neither. It turns out there was something else that a good majority of open world games lack. That’s not to say it slouches significantly in either category, but neither are hallmarks of the game. I’ll get into the story later, but I spent a lot of my time running, and then walking through vast expanses of land, or slowly trekking up mountains. Not exactly the most exciting things. This would normally be off putting for me. I hate trudging through an empty open world searching through nothingness, only to maybe find something worth my interest, as incredible as that interesting thing may be. Most open world games will fill its large world with interesting things, but they’re spread too thin. If you can spend hours walking around a world and accomplish nothing, you’ve long since lost my interest.
What makes this game so different, is that it makes the world your play thing. Set a field of grass on fire, and it creates an updraft, that you can use to fly high into the sky to reach a high up cliff, or to get the drop on an enemy encampment. Set a piece of meat on the ground in the desert, and it cooks. Are you in an extremely cold environment? Well, if you have a flame sword, that’s no problem. Just equip it, and it warms you right up. You know there’s a metal object you need to find, to solve a puzzle that requires you to send an electric current to a specific place, but who has time for that when you can just make a line of your metal weapons to do it instead? If you think it makes sense, and that it should work, it probably will work. It doesn’t always work, but it probably will work. It’s honestly brilliant, because it doesn’t break the game at all. You’re just trusted with your freedom, and the game will support you. No matter how crazy the things you do because of it are. These small discoveries create the most ridiculous scenarios, and fun moments, that create stories you’ll likely find yourself telling anybody willing to listen. One I such story I have is the time I was trying to take selfies while riding with my newly acquired pet bear, when I was attacked by a giant rock monster. My bear didn’t make it. Rest in peace, Mr. Bear. I hardly knew yee.
With that in mind, The Breath of The Wild can be just as much of a social experience as it is a solitary one. I had almost as much fun swapping stories with friends who had played the game as well, as I did playing the game itself. There was a lot of “Have you been here?”, “Did you know you could do this?”, “What happened to you when you did this?” and other similar questions, and I found myself perusing the internet in search of other people’s stories, so I could quickly return to Hyrule and eagerly seek out their adventures for myself.
Another thing Zelda’s open world does that no other open worlds do, that perhaps many open worlds cannot do lies within the shrines that the world is peppered with, along with a few towers. Each chunk of the map contains a tower, and you can climb these towers to unlock them on your map. However, while you unlock the area’s layout, it still only shows places you visited. On top of that, the game has 120 shrines for you to find. They’re all over the place, but while some are just out in the open, others are more hidden. Some are hidden behind shrine quests, and puzzles or riddles you must solve to find them. Regardless, they all give consistent incentive behind exploration. Often I would be heading in one direction for one reason, and my shrine censor would go off, so I’d immediately change course because of them. That’s because finding and completing shrines gives you spirit orbs, and if you get four spirit orbs, you can use them to upgrade your max health, or stamina. Both being things you will desperately want. On top of that, the world is designed to be peppered with eye catching locales. So many times I would be paragliding through the sky, look down and say “ooo, what’s that?” and explore. This game consistently instills those kinds of thoughts into you. All of these things culminate into an open world experience that’s not just interesting, and worthy of your time, but just downright fun.
Back to the topic of shrines, I did leave out one other reason as to why you will most certainly seek them out. They contain the game’s most brilliant, genius slices of gameplay. Shrines in this game seem take the place of the more traditional dungeons from the previous Zelda games. This may come as a disappointment to some, since most can be completed in a relatively short amount of time, and contain few enemies, and zero boss encounters, but I was able to forgive those faults, because the puzzles, and challenges within these shrines were often strokes of brilliance. Some may be disappointed to find that all the shrines are about the same, aesthetically, and even to a point, mechanically, but Nintendo uses this to their advantage. Each of the shrines inform each other. In the beginning of the game, you may struggle to see in just what way it is you interact with each object or mechanic you find in the shrines, but as you continue to complete shrines, you begin to learn. “This object takes on this property, and can be interacted with in this way.” “I can manipulate this object using this ability.” As you go on, the puzzles become more complex, but what you’ve learned from other shrines will have prepared you for those moments. What is even more incredible is that while it is true that the shrines all have similar mechanics, Nintendo has managed to make almost all of them entirely unique. The team at Nintendo are masters in their craft when it comes to puzzle design, and they’ve managed to strike the perfect balance of difficulty. Other than a single puzzle that may or may not have been poorly designed, the tests of strength, which I’ll go into in a second, and around 5 shrines that required motion controls, every single shrine in this game was never too hard that I couldn’t figure it out within 15 minutes or less, while still being challenging enough to make me feel brilliant for solving it. That’s right. Out of 120 shrines, I would say more than 95 of them were phenomenal. To think that Nintendo could make so many puzzles, and challenges, without running out of ideas, and while still radiating their brilliance, is absolutely ridiculous to me, but they really pulled it off. You will indeed be craving these shrines, and not just for the prize that awaits you when you complete them. I didn’t consider myself done with Breath Of The Wild until all 120 were complete.
To get into the shrine’s negatives, there are a few motion puzzles within them that, to be frank, control horribly. Many need to be constantly re-calibrated during gameplay, and they’re almost all incredibly frustrating, in that, as you move your controller, the puzzle only acts in the way you intend on occasion. Because of this, these puzzles may just be the worst, most frustrating part about this game. The other negative are the aforementioned tests of strength. A handful of the shrines contain either a minor test of strength, a moderate test of strength, or a major test of strength. Within, you fight an enemy called a Guardian scout. These fights are fun, and are a good way to get good weapons in the early game, but the issue is that there are just a bit too many of them, and they all feel the same, especially towards the end when you master fighting them.
However, the same sentiment kind of rings true in the combat encounters throughout the entirety of the game. There are really only a small handful of enemy types, and once you’ve fought them enough, the encounters begin to feel too similar. It’s offset slightly by the open world in which you find them, since the world itself gives you different methods in which to approach combat, but towards the end of the game I found myself running right past enemies I found. There are enemy encampments in which defeating every enemy rewards you with an item, which I would always complete when I saw them, but it’s a shame that some encampments do not. Taking down every enemy in a camp with no reward mostly just feels like a waste of time.
Keeping in the subject of combat, there are four main weapon types in the game, one handed weapons, two handed weapons, spears, and rods. Honestly, the only ones among these I enjoyed using were one handed weapons, and rods. One handed weapons allow the use of a shield, and combat using them feels more akin to that of previous 3D Zelda games. Rods spew magic from them, and are fun to use for that alone. However, two handed weapons, while incredibly strong, are not much fun to use. For a majority of enemies, when using the weapon’s main attack, which has Link swinging his weapon twice, the second hit send enemies flying. This is good for crowd control, but they’re so slow, they can rarely be used to that effect. What’s more, is that using a two handed weapon can quickly become repetitive. Since the second hit sends most enemies flying, you have to chase down the enemy, and repeat the attack, over and over again, until the enemy is defeated, and with higher level enemies, or lower level two handed weapons, that can take quite a while. Lastly, the spear, while giving the most range of any weapon, is also the weakest of them all. Especially late game, the spear is all but useless, and so I used it the least of them all.
As far as story in The Breath Of The Wild, given its more open world nature, it plays out differently than any other game in the series. You can experience the game’s story in any order you want. However, much of the game’s plot takes place long before the events of the game. Because of this, there’s a bit of a disconnect that kept me from being really invested. Even though the game is filled with very likable characters, regardless of them only being on screen for incredibly short periods of time. Once you put the pieces of the plot together though, after seeing them in the wrong order, it’s not a bad story at all. In fact, it’s actually kind of sad. But I’ll spare you the details to avoid spoilers.
Voice acting is new to the Zelda series, and unfortunately, it’s hit or miss. Some characters sound great, while others sound unnatural, or forced. However, voice acting still added much to the experience, so I hope Nintendo continues in that direction. As far as the game’s soundtrack, the game is, unfortunately, mostly silent. However, when there is music, it’s consistently well done. Certain throwbacks in particular are especially exciting, and while the newer songs are great, I’m not sure they will all be as fondly remembered as other tracks in the series have always been. I’ll reiterate though. I would say that overall, the music in Breath of The Wild is fantastic.
The Legend Of The Zelda: The Breath of The Wild is an extremely rare experience. It awakened a curiosity in me that I didn’t know existed, and opened my eyes to the joys of exploration. It is certainly a masterpiece, and close to perfect. This game will be remembered for as long as gaming continues to be a beloved hobby, and is sure to shape the landscape of game design moving forward. It is sure to inspire for years to come. Other game developers will strive to reach the heights it reaches. I could go on forever, but I’ve gone on more than long enough. If you have not played this game, do everything in your power to do so. It is as must play as must play gets. It is a treasure chest waiting to be opened. It is the magic of what makes gaming special truly realized. You will not regret it.