Over at DoomRocket, I’ve recently written a couple of pieces that reflect my time in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. My first piece, written after only a handful of hours of play, exhibited a theme that I later felt would certainly be a fleeting feeling of excitement as I entered, and enthusiastically explored, the land of Hyrule. It was my first real and meaningful experience in the series. Though I had dabbled in games of the series’ past, none of my interactions had ever been substantial. My reflections at this point were charged and ardent. Retroactively, I wondered if my high praise was reflective of my first taste of the enjoyment that everyone had been in on, influenced by the overzealous joy that die-hard fans were parading about every corner of the internet.
A side-effect of an anxious brain is sometimes second guessing yourself despite any level of self-assuredness. And that was my only cause for doubt in my initial feelings.
As I continued to play my doubts washed away as my enthusiasm only grew. Learning the initial systems in Breath of the Wild is only a small piece of the puzzle that makes up the game. Stacking the systems, making new discoveries, seeing strange corners of the map and becoming familiar with them — It all only heightened my enjoyment of the game and in the end, I think I concluded the game higher than when I had begun.
Here’s my full review:
The Legend of Zelda — If you’re familiar with video games then undoubtedly it’s a name you’ve uttered no less than a handful of times. Whether engrossed in every release or having dabbled in only a few, a respect for the series is all but demanded, having been consistently producing entries for longer than many of us have graced this planet. It’s a series that has always had a certain air about it, a mystique that for some has made it difficult to penetrate and for other is the fuel to their constant need to defend even the worst installations in the series.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is Nintendo’s newest take on the series and it’s one that tries many, many things in an attempt to diverge away from the trappings that have previously defined the franchise, intelligently categorizing what is imperative and what is simply old-hat. As someone who has spent their entire life standing just outside of Zelda fandom, never quite understanding the series or what made it great (though constantly trying), the changes are immediately welcome to me as a necessary step towards making the first truly great Zelda game that anyone can enjoy.
A Breath of Fresh Air
Breath of the Wild tells the story of a hero’s journey to save Princess Zelda and Hyrule from the imposing clutch of Calamity Gannon… but you probably already knew that. It’s not an unfamiliar set up and somehow, the implied nostalgia surrounding this managed to weigh even on me. Here you are, to do that thing that you’ve done so many times, but this time it’s different. There’s a sombre darkness in the tone of this installation that I’ve never felt in the series’ past. It’s refreshing.
As Link awakes from the Shrine of Resurrection, the realization that his memories have faded introduces the only real means of delivering the heavy pieces of story. Wait, a Zelda game that’s not bursting with predictable narrative exposition? That’s right. Photographs of landmarks imply forgotten moments in the past and finding these locations will uncover the memory. A conversational moment with Zelda or instance of foreboding realization — these moments all paint a picture of the world one hundred years ago, as an impending confrontation with Ganon loomed in the not so distant future and Hyrule struggled to prepare itself for battle.
What’s utterly brilliant is that these memories are completely ignorable, but hat’s not to say they’re ineffective. They serve as the backdrop and while this unfolding of Link’s memories holds a real weight through the words and actions of the characters in the past, the games freedom is on display in that choice, “Do I want to do this?”
The freedom in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild hearkens back to what made the original installations so great. Though things happen very differently in Breath of the Wild, it manages to capture that sense of exploration and enables each player to tell a story completely independent from everyone else. No two players will have the same adventure. Allowing the player to unlock each ability right out of the gate, while belittling that Metroid style gating, allows the player access to all of the tools to puzzle their way through any scenario. Without any instructions, Breath of the Wild equips its players with everything they need and unleashes them into a sandbox to write their own adventures.
An Adventure of Adventures
Following Link’s descent from the opening area plateau, he will find himself equipt with quite an arsenal of abilities. Bombs to be summoned and thrown, time manipulation for immobilizing objects, magnetization allowing for large metal items to be picked up and slung around at will, and a freezing touch that allows Link to summon ice pillars from any source of water — all can be used anytime and anyplace, as long as the limited requirements are met. The bombs even sport spherical and cubed versions for maximizing on the player’s intent. Want that bomb to roll down the hill? Nintendo’s got you.
It’s easy to look at the introduction to these abilities and assume limitations, but let’s talk for a moment about emergent systems in Breath of the Wild. While your obvious uses will be a dime a dozen, every once in awhile a solution occurs in which the player might find themselves asking, “I wonder if I could just…? Surely that won’t work…” And it almost certainly will. That’s because in every moment, whether it be the puzzles of a shrine or just manipulating the environment, Breath of the Wild is a yes-man. If you can cobble together some means of stacking the abilities to accomplish a goal, the game will usually meet you in the middle. Need to climb a cliff side to get to a vantage point? Spawning a bomb and using magnesis to pile a metal door or crate atop it, climbing on board, and blasting yourself into the heavens is surely a more satisfying means of travel. This has made for some remarkable moments of seemingly breaking puzzles, forcing the assumption of a need to restart, but instead the game allows the different approach for reaching the solution. Rewarding creativity, it’s a moment of triumph every time and the feeling of pride that follows never seems to diminish.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild does so many things, that it feels like there’s no amount of words to encompass all that it gets right. I’ve listened to so many critical voices in the games journalism/criticism space try to nail it down and it feels like everyone’s right, but no one can pin it. That’s because of something I said previously, no two players are going to have the same adventure. There’s so much to be seen and everyone will find there own bread and butter here — whether it be dynamic storytelling or complete narrative absence, objective based gameplay or dizzying open-world freedom, finding the intended solution or creating your own — Breath of the Wild caters to it all.
In a moment shortly after I dove into Breath of the Wild, I wanted to talk to someone about my findings thus far. Calling upon a Zelda-fan-friend, I found myself frantically trying to explain all of the incredible moments I had already witnessed. As I described the utter freedom to explore and form your own style, to make each choice and to play at the pace that suits you, he says, “That’s what I loved about the originals.” And it clicked. In changing so much of the formula to fit the current mold of open world game design, Nintendo found what made the original Zelda titles so strong. It’s a return to form without holding onto those characteristics that felt dated — doing away with weighty narrative and hours of hand holding tutorial in exchange for the ability to simply embark on your own adventure with complete freedom. And it’s that freedom to explore that allows for a sense of wonder around every corner.
I went on to describe Breath of the Wild as “possibly the most fun game that I’ve ever played” — A statement that felt only slightly hyperbolic at the time.
I’ve now seen over sixty hours in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and I stand by that sentiment with assured confidence. I can redact the “possibly” and I no longer feel it to be hyperbolic. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the single most fun game, moment to moment, that I have ever played.
Though I’ve posted my uncut review here, things over at DoomRocket must be a tad more brief. If you’d like to see the DoomRocket edited review, we’d love to have ya! Head over here for that! Give us your precious page views!