Platforms: Switch (reviewed); Wii U
Release date: March 3rd
FEW series come with the kind of heavy baggage that The Legend of Zelda carries. Nintendo’s series stretches back over 30 years, seeing a range of classic entries during its long run. Despite this, Zelda was a series needing directional change for nearly half that time.
Thankfully, Breath of the Wild is what the series desperately needed, safely sitting as one of the most charming and delightful instalments in the franchise to come along in years.
Gone is the linear structure of going through eight or so dungeons, gathering whatever MacGuffin needed collecting. Breath of the Wild drops you straight into the massive fields of a massive, new Hyrule; one were a hike from one side to the other is a serious undertaking. After a brief tutorial, you’re immediately left to your own devices, leaving it up to you about where to head next.
The dungeon structure of old has been replaced by shrines. While there’s still a handful of (quite excellent) dungeons, shrines make up the bulk of the game. There’s over a hundred to find throughout Hyrule, all making for terrific, bite-sized puzzles. The puzzles are incredibly varied, bringing to mind the physics-bending sections of games like Portal.
For all this talk of change, the game echoes the original NES Zelda in how it simply throws you into the action, leaving you to fend for yourself. There are still plenty of pointers, but ultimately the player can do as they please – you can even head straight to the final boss if you want (though it won’t end well).
Nintendo have taken on-board the open-world nature of recent RPGs, letting you approach combat how you like, climb towers, and even set forests on fire if you want. Link is limited by his stamina and health early on. While the relatively strict stamina meter might seem annoying, it gives the world a sense of danger and difficulty that few games tackle. Early on, I decided to climb one of the tallest mountains in the game, and the process of doing that was incredibly difficult but ultimately thrilling, creating a great sense of adventure.
Breath of the Wild isn’t afraid of open spaces, and Hyrule makes for an incredibly relaxing space to inhabit. While there are some dodgy textures – and the game’s performance certainly leaves a lot to be desired – its lighting effects and colour palette are wonderful. It ultimately makes for a world that is amazing in scope, if a bit muddy up close.
With Nintendo taking on so many new ideas with Breath of the Wild, it would be easy to be cynical about its success. Instead, Nintendo has taken on board the tropes of modern, open-world games and created something that is completely different, yet ultimately familiar.