Real Talk By: Ms. Throwback
I typically don’t start a review off by stating that you need to go purchase a title but…if you haven’t yet, stop reading this, get your money out, and give it to someone who is able to make the transaction. I played this title on the Nintendo Switch so most of this review will be geared with that thought in mind. KJ played the game on Nintendo Wii U and had just as good an experience with very few differences. We will go over what those differences were, and why I can make the statement that Zelda: Breath of the Wild will go down as one of the most creative gaming experiences of all time.
Notice: There is no way to avoid every spoiler. I am not going to give away major plot lines but there may be some minor spoiler details. This is going to be a long read. If you want a shorter breakdown by bullet point of the pros and cons visit Loading Zelda: Breath of the Wild which is our listed version of this article. Also, the majority of the images used in this review are real in game screen captures.
Let’s start with the story. Link’s story line has never been simple, and one of my biggest fears about this title was that the player wouldn’t easily be able to follow along. I had a friend who had never played a Zelda game (I know) and he actually texted me after two hours with, “I wish I knew what was going on”. Like many Zelda titles in the past, the game simply starts with no explanation of why you’re on this epic quest of the ages. The player begins in a small part of the map dressed in nothing but boxer briefs. Part of the intrigue of this title is figuring out the story, and dependent on how exploratory you want to be, that could be hours into the title. This storyline is perfectly made for the layout of the title. It is easy for newcomers to understand (once they get that far) and fits nicely into the in-depth conspiracy theories of master players.
Eventually, you learn that you are a knight in the Hyrule army and the right hand to Princess Zelda. Link was put to sleep for decades as a protection. Many years ago there was a technologically advanced race that was part of Hyrule. They created magical robots to protect all areas of the kingdom but, the calamity Ganon rose up and tainted this technology. He used it as his own to create mass destruction. He ruined the kingdom as it was known and in a last attempt to save her lands, Zelda used her magical powers to keep the calamity at bay. For 100 years she has kept him contained but is running out of will power and needs the help of newly awakened Link.
The control scheme is one of the reasons why there are some differences between player experiences. I played the entire game with the switch joycon controllers which I felt were spot on. The control scheme in this game is one of the most complex I have experienced. Players are introduced to new ways to operate the controls fast and for about an hour I really had to think about what buttons I was trying to push during battle sequences and such. It isn’t a negative aspect per say, many games have a learning curve. When the player understands the layout, the scheme is brilliant. I didn’t find myself thinking a lot about my controls and it felt natural to lay across my couch with my arms flailed to the sides while exploring the open universe. Throwing weapons, shooting arrows, and placing beacons of light on the map require the player to use the motion sensor to pinpoint the area they are aiming for. Much a real bow and arrow, this is one time where I wasn’t lounging because it requires more concentration. While this might again sound like a negative it isn’t. It flows perfectly and there is an option to use the right control stick instead of the motion sensor to aim at your target. I wouldn’t recommend this though, it’s not as effective.
There are a couple of other control subjects to talk about. I did try out the switch pro-control so I could report on it in this review. The pro-control for the Switch is far superior to any other control on the market right now. It is light weight and similar in feel to the acclaimed Xbox One controller. It feels less bulky than an Xbox controller though and for people with large hands presents a nice alternative to the smaller joycons. Playing on the Wii U, players have the choice of using the Wii U screened controller or pro controller as well. All control types work for the game fine but I preferred the joycon controls over any of them.
The sound is one of the first things I noticed. Link begins by waking up in a cave. I hadn’t even made it out of the cave when I noticed that Link stepping on different surfaces created a different sound. The same thing happens when you fly through the sky or ride on a horse too. The surface you’re on is always taken into consideration and the sound of Link flying through a desert sky, or a rainforest sounds much different. This was fully intentional of course but Nintendo took it one step further. There is the addition of a display in the right-hand corner of the screen which tells the player the level of sound. Depending on the armor you’re wearing, clothing, and pace, this display will give you a visual representation of how loud you’re being. This affects how enemies react to you, and lets the player sneak to avoid confrontation or to land deadly sneak attacks. It’s not just the visual representation though. You can actually hear the difference between wearing a metal shield and weapon on your back or a wood one. Wearing full armor means a clinking sound while going up a rock face. Pulling back a bomb arrow sound much different from a slick ice arrow on your bow. I have never seen a game that is more in-depth when it comes to the details of sound.
Sound effects aren’t the only amazing audio in the game. The music is timeless and involved. It gives you a vast sense of adventure. While riding a horse for instance a new tune will play over top of the already existing music which motivates you to continue long distances with the wind through your hair. At times you may hear the songs of different ethnicities playing far away. Heading towards them may yield a horse stable, village, or sometimes a lonely hawk-like race playing his according to the sky. Not paying attention to the music is not an option. An ominous jaws-like tune approaches when the blood moon rises, or Calamity Ganon is near.
Of course, none of this would matter if the game didn’t look good. Every area of this game is like a painting. The characters themselves are of the cell-shaded variety, although a more realistic cell-shading than Windwaker. The environment is more life-like and realistic than the characters but together they still maintain a fluid feel. Depending on which part of the map you’re in you may or may not be able to see very far in front of you. Rain and sand storms abound with the ever-changing weather. Thick fog may cover your view, or you may have a clear sunny day and be able to see miles out. No matter what environment you are in, the view is incredible. Even in what I would consider the most boring environment aesthetically, the desert, there is plenty to see in all directions. A mountain shadow in the distance, a detailed cliff face, an erupting volcano, vast swamp lands, a giant guardian, stone statues, the breathtaking views are endless.
The camera is still controlled by the player manually. Rarely during fights with multiple characters that back you up to a wall or when climbing cliffs that have several different facing out perches, the camera zooms into Links body. I’m not sure this is avoidable considering the open approach and involvement. I have yet to see any game with this scope resolve an issue like this and it didn’t affect gameplay in the slightest.
All of this weather matters too! If you are in a hot environment like the desert or volcano, Link turns red and begins to breathe harder. In icy areas such as the frozen tundra, Link will chatter teeth and shiver. Ignoring this is a death sentence. Nintendo even put in weather details when it comes to elevation. You may be in a mild-tempered area, but scaling a mountain or high tower will prove to be cold. In the desert, there are vast changes between night a day as well as elevation. Just like in the real world the desert can have extremes. Another display shows the player the weather pattern in the corner if they are interested. I found that paying attention to Link was more effective than this display but everyone is different and this could be useful for some players. There are several ways to combat the weather conditions including clothing, food items, and elixirs.
That brings us to one of my favorite parts of the game. Cooking! Throughout the lands, you will find stone cooking pots and fires to create different concoctions. Killing animals yields raw meat and there is an endless supply of vegetation and other magical food supplies at your disposal. Goat cheese, prime meat, monster juice, horn, teeth, wings, and all manner of other items can be cooked at stations to create a more nutritious variety or to increase stamina, resistance, health, defense, or attack power when consumed. The player may also mix together monster parts to create elixirs which don’t affect health but may help with Link’s effects. If a stone cooking basin isn’t nearby players can increase the nutrition of simple meats and fruits by throwing them directly on any fire. This will not increase effects but will help with health.
Weapons are a big part of the game because there are hundreds of objects that can be used as weapons. Some are stronger than others and the player can feel this while in play. The heaviness and material come through in the controller and on-screen. Unlike other titles when a weapon is used up it will be permanently damaged and cannot be repaired (with a few exceptions). Eventually, it will just break. Some weapons like sticks and torches break with ease and can only be used for a short time. Other’s such as the Hyrulian Sword, or Master Sword are meant to last a long time and do mega damage. Whatever the case, Link is on a constant search for weapons and the ability to carry more. I found that it worked well and it was an interesting change from other games. The one small complaint I have is that on the rare occasion that I was carrying the same exact weapon and there is no way to know which one has more damage. Many times one item needs to be dropped to pick up a better one, however, because I didn’t know the damage of my items I couldn’t decide if I should drop a more damaged item as opposed to one that is less powerful.
Character involvement and quest lines are another plus. Hardcore fans of the series will recognize some familiar faces (if not a bit more wrinkled). The personalities of the characters range widely and this is part of what kept my interest. Nintendo has added voice acting to the characters of the main story line. It is well done and a nice change. Quests involve the main plot line, shrine quests, and mini-quests. I found out early that just because they are mini-quests doesn’t mean they aren’t highly involved. Completing the harder ones usually involves a rare prize that is well worth it. Horses are a main point to some quests, is there a fastest horse? A horse with more stamina than any other in the game? Many times mini-quests involve getting useful items, weapons, clothing, or rupees. Completing them before facing calamity Ganon isn’t just useful, but necessary. Shrine quests involve running loops to gain entry to a hidden or locked shrine. For instance, one shrine in the desert has a thirsty traveler who refuses to move until you bring her a certain drink. Some shrines are underground and emerge when a puzzle is completed. I seemed to always have a list of quests to complete in my menu.
The games balance is unprecedented, considering the scope of the title. A game this big could easily become too easy and I’ve seen it happen in the past. Usually, it starts off harder because the main character doesn’t have any powers and as the game progresses the character gains so many powers they become almost invincible. Every power related aspect Link gains, there is a counteraction. For instance, Link eventually gains ancient arrows which when shot at some of the stronger enemies will defeat them in one shot. If the arrows are used as intended, Link will be able to take on more powerful foes. However, if they are used for a middle ground enemy, the enemy will implode and die but they are sucked into almost a type of black hole and they do not drop any items for Link to collect. In general, the game begins in the middle of the map and is designed to be more difficult the closer to the edge of the map you get. There are some exceptions to this but considering that it takes many hours to access the outer ends of the map this makes sense. It creates another good balance. Link will come across enemies that are too strong from the very beginning, but it creates motivation for Link to come back around and explore his previous surroundings.
The map is gigantic! I’m going to be honest. I knew I wouldn’t actually finish this title before reviewing it. If I had it would have taken me until next month. I made the decision early on that I would review the title once I’d accessed all parts of the map. It took me until the day before I wrote this review to do so. The game released three weeks ago. I began to realize how big this game was when I’d opened about three areas. I already had endless hours into the game and realized that if I multiplied that by the number of portions left on the map this game would take me months to beat. Depending on your play style it could be more or less. I’m one of those “look under every rock” kind of people. With a map this big, things can get boring quick, but they don’t. Around every bend and over every horizon there is more to do. Shrines, hunting, fishing, speaking with characters there is no end to the involvement you will find and there is no shortage of it.
Puzzles and hidden items riddle the landscape. The shrines are puzzles in of themselves. Getting into them or completing them once inside typically takes some forethought and the proper tools. One change from previous titles are the tools that Link uses. In other Zelda titles, Link would unlock the hook-shot, bow, and other items as he progressed through the game. The story-line was more linear so this worked and even though the scope of the game seemed big at the time, it was a lot more limited than this one. Link can now jump on command. For those of you that weren’t around in the 90’s. One of Links signature play aspects was that he would just approach an opening and automatically jump. This worked for decades but with a world this open it wasn’t going to work anymore, and they rid the game of it, which I couldn’t be more thankful for. The hook-shot had to go too. What fun would Link climbing everything be if the player could just hook-shot to the top? This all changes the dynamic of puzzles located in the game. The inner workings of the shrines have a different set of physics than the outside. Because they are somewhat magical, the walls are not able to be climbed and objects have slightly different play than they do in the open world. This is a good thing. Each shrine is like a mini dungeon skill test.
I’ve seen some complaints about the dungeons not being as involved as previous titles and I agree. It doesn’t lower the score though because the open world is much more involved and the Shrines act frequently as mini-dungeons which is a new addition. The dungeons are no less satisfying to complete and the enemies and workings inside are still vastly challenging.
If you’re an Amiibo collector the lineup available for this title are fantastic. Most Zelda themed collectables from the past work in this title, which is really a cool deal for people who have been saving them. New Zelda: Breath of the Wild amiibos are available as well. They unlock common items, rare items, modes of transportation (I’m trying not to give away a spoiler there), and even characters. I’d say of all the titles available, this one has more amiibo involvement than any and it’s significant.
In closing, if there is one game you need to pick up in the history of gaming it is this one. This title is going to go down in history as one of the best of its kind and a favorite of all time. The care in detail that has been shown comes through from beginning to end. There hasn’t been such a masterpiece for quite a while. Even if you don’t agree, you must agree that this is at least one of the best launch titles ever coupled with a new system. It is a perfectly smooth example of how successful the Nintendo Switch can be when taken to its full potential. I have been playing video games for over two decades now. Very rarely has a title taken me back to how I felt as a child experiencing true adventure for the very first time. As I write this review I need to relay that it’s not just the many aspects of the title which are well done, but the feeling the game gives me as a whole. This game is one of a kind, a true masterpiece, and isn’t just a good game. It has replaced my all time favorite game which next year will be ten years old. This isn’t just the best Zelda of all time, it’s the best game of all time. Period. On fire. Real talk. Legit.
Zelda: Breath of the Wild Gets:
5 out of Five
+ Sound: Music and Effects
+ Visuals and Art Style
+ Items and Weapons
+ Character Development and Personal Interaction
+ Voice Acting
+ Balance and Scope
+ Puzzles and Cooking
+ Amiibo Use
– Wii U frame rate has rare slow down
– Joycon controls may be too small for some players. Several options are available to resolve this.
– Camera rarely has trouble cooperating
– Weapon damage not displayed as part of inventory tracking
– Dungeons are not as involved as past Zelda titles, however, there are other more involved aspects to this game not available in the past.