It is the small touches that allow The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to captivate so readily. Squirrels scramble up trees, lizards scurry underfoot, and blades of grass gently sway with the wind as you energetically bound across Hyrule’s open plains.
Here is an adventure that not only promises to be so grandiose in scale but breaks free from many of the conventions that have seemingly shackled the series for far too long. Their removal has allowed Nintendo to breathe new life into Link’s latest, reinvigorated with a renewed sense of purpose to present a quest with unrivalled freedom.
But if there was one word that summarised the experience, it’s choice. Nintendo, having long been overly protective when it comes to player direction and nurturing tutorials, has made the most daring choice that any parent can ever face. Choosing to let go of your hand.
It is, therefore, apt that this comes as The Legend of Zelda celebrates 30 years since the green-clad hero first dared to go alone. The series has grown immeasurably in such time, but, as it reaches such a pivotal year, never have we seen such a radical shift away from that which has come before.
Nintendo still continues to coin their own genres, seeing Breath of the Wild labelled as an “open-air adventure.” That evidently hints at the heightened ambition that has driven the game’s development, and it has become a project so large in scope that Monolith Soft has been called on to help. That comes as no surrpise, given that The Legend of Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma has shared that Breath of the Wild’s overworld is 12 times larger than that seen in Twilight Princess.
That was cause for enough excitement alone, and, if there is one aspect that Breath of the Wild will already be remembered for, it will be the game’s reception at E3 2016. After mere minutes of the doors opening, the booth attracted queues that, despite having more than 60 consoles to play Breath of the Wild, took longer than four hours to clear each day. Such enthusiastic demand certainly wasn’t matched by any other publisher at the show.
For those that chose to queue, their patience was rewarded in having an early chance to explore the most serene setting to have ever graced the series, but one that piques curiosity at every turn. And, more impressively, everyone that tackled the two-part demo had different stories to tell. Some sought out the highest peak, some spent their time eliminating Bokoblin encampments, while others rushed to complete nearby shrines, but all collectively became lost in the overwhelming thrill of adventure.
That there is so much to do in the demo build – said to represent just 1 percent of the game’s broadened scale – is tantalising to comprehend, and rightly saw that Breath of the Wild dominated conversation throughout E3.
What excites me most is that there is still so little that we know. Nintendo has been playfully coy on giving away too many plot details, but we see Link awake in a Resurrection Chamber – stirred from his sleep after 100 years by a mysterious voice. Wandering outside, we meet an Old Man who points to the Calamity Ganon swirling Hyrule Castle that had once brought ruin and corruption upon the kingdom.
It is clear that the Sheikah will play an important role in Breath of the Wild, in which they are positioned as an advanced civilization who had once saved Hyrule many times. While they disappeared long ago, the remnants of their technology remain to be scattered across the land, and, with the Sheikah Slate, it appears that Link will steadily awaken it on his quest.
Nintendo’s objective at E3 was clearly to introduce the shift in gameplay concepts that are now in play, which has certainly allowed the entire experience to feel so unquestionably refreshing.
The Sheikah Slate is one such element, a tablet device that is key to success on your quest. This taps into Breath of the Wild’s ambitious physics engine, seeing players collect runes that will unlock several abilities that let you interact with the world around you. The abilities known so far are: Magnesis, which allows Link to lift and move metallic objects; Stasis, that freezes an object in place to then absorb any kinetic energy applied by players over time; Cryonis, that lets players create pillars of ice in water to help traversal; and Remote Bomb, which come in round and cubed shapes.
These all use Sheikah magic and are collected in Shrines spread across the game’s starter area, the Great Plateau, which, in many ways, acts as a more open-ended tutorial sequence. Once you have beaten the four Shrines, the Old Man will reward you with his Paraglider, and that is the only way that players will have to leave the floating island that Link wakes on.
Other than that, Breath of the Wild strides away from other expectations that players expect from the series. Hearts and rupees won’t be uncovered when mercilessly slashing at grass, instead requiring that players gather food from the wildlife that roams Hyrule. Whether that be clambering trees to gather apples, collecting mushrooms or sneaking to take aim at a grazing deer, these ingredients can then be cooked to produce hearty meals and potions.
Rather than simply restoring health, these can empower Link with more hearts, make him more resistant to colder regions, or to expand the stamina gauge – which had first appeared in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
Once you descend from the Great Plateau, Breath of the Wild presents a relatively boundless experience. You can run toward or climb anything in sight, but, as Link will strengthen over time with the equipment he gathers, there is some limitation on what is immediately possible. Scaling tall, rocky faces will require more stamina than Link normally has, and that is where the cooking mechanic essentially becomes necessitated.
Link will also make noise – designated by a gauge measuring sound waves on-screen – which, if you take note, lets you move silently to catch enemies unaware or avoid combat entirely. Waiting to attack at night can also see players sneak past slumbering enemies, while environmental hazards such as bee hives can be shot down to see enemies flee and abandon their weapons for you to nab before they even spot you.
When the Wolf Link amiibo is scanned, the twilit beast form seen in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess will accompany Link on his quest in helping to take down marauding foes. Players have some control over Wolf Link, commanding the heroic beast to wait at a location before cupping their hands and whistling for him to return to their side. This companionship felt rewarding, and will now spur players to conquer the Cave of Shadows in order to boost Wolf Link’s heart meter. Aonuma was silent on what the new Archer Link, Rider Link, and Guardian amiibo will unlock, but I am excited to see what Nintendo has planned.
We knew that Nintendo had looked to deliver a “newborn” iteration that rediscovered the “real essence” that the series was built upon, but I had never expected The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild to be such a startling departure from Link’s more recent adventures.
Gone is the linearity that has plagued the series for so long, and, in its place, we are now left to be captivated in childlike wonder as we explore every nook and cranny in the overworld’s expanse. It is a bold redirection for one of the company’s most cherished properties, but one that doesn’t stray too far from the beaten path – especially when parallels are drawn to the early vision set out on Nintendo Entertainment System. Wherever this burning desire for change first flickered from, the result is a breathtaking experience that promises to redefine our expectation for the next 30 years.