Review by TendaShy
Nintendo starts Breath of the Wild with hardly any intro at all, as the big reveal of the untamed world is exactly the opening they want to hit you with, leaving your jaw on the floor way longer than it should be for hygiene reasons. They know you're itching to have that Hyrule Field moment all over again, from Ocarina of Time for the N64, and they also think they can top it. No, actually, they know they can. Had Nintendo failed, the beginning of the game would likely be a disaster, certainly a bit underwhelming, but they didn't fail. The reason why Nintendo gets away with having such a simple opening is due to how much of a triumph the Great Plateau area really is, eventually taking you to the true intro once you have your bearings and solve a few shrines. It works, perfectly, and it's the kind of gutsy move only a talented developer like Nintendo can pull off this well.
However, while Breath of the Wild is certainly a game with the kind of breathtaking immensity and scale to make your eyes pop out to take it all in, it is also a game that excels in many subtle moments. This subtle serenity often gives way to moments of interesting intensity, creating a roller coaster ride you won't soon forget.
Let's take a moment to discuss the soundtrack and some early expressed fears concerning a lack of overworld music. Imagine 50, 60, or even over 100 hours of gameplay, much of it spent exploring out in the open. I don't see it as a mistake to not have much overworld music like other Zelda games opted to do, instead I think Nintendo is employing subtlety and in a sagely, expert manner. The sound of the environment is a key part of how you experience the untamed world in BotW. Solitude will instantly switch to a riot of activity as enemies approach Link, and it is then you can expect the soundtrack to kick in and enhance the mood totally on cue. This is an example of masterful understanding of subtlety in gaming, and I applaud the outcome. Although its more subtle, the soundtrack knows its place in this open world.
As I already mentioned, Breath of the Wild does not waste time with a long and involved introduction. Instead, you start off without much to go on compared to previous Zelda games like Ocarina of Time or even Wind Waker. You aren't introduced to any family or friends, it's just a fairly desolate world you wake up to. Hyrule is almost immediately laid bare for your enjoyment (the Great Plateau that is), a little surprising but definitely a welcome change of pace. Looking back, though, the Great Plateau is actually a subtle tutorial and once again this is the more subtle game design you can expect to see throughout Link's new adventure. It is a microcosm of Hyrule, a miniaturized version for Link to play around in and discover the dangers of the wild, like cold temperatures and sheer cliffs.
The huge scale of the landscape hits you right away, and remember, 3D Zelda games are usually extremely contained when you start your adventure. You had Kokori Forest, Outset Island, Skyloft, Clocktown, all of which pretty much lock you in for a long while and even force a few tutorials, and it seemed to be getting worse. Now that's all gone...it's refreshing!
But what is there to do in this giant world? Far more than Nintendo has ever put into their overworlds in the past.
After leaving the Great Plateau, the paragliding ability comes in very handy. I find that traveling from peak to peak is an extremely efficient way to explore the map if you are being careful to avoid any major combat moments too early. I was able to fly past two formidable guardians encounters on the way to my first town, as well as locate a lot of useful loot hidden up high. Later in the game, I no longer have to avoid fights, and yet, taking the road less traveled is still a delight as there are many hidden Koroks and treasure chests, as well as Shrine quests to stumble upon in the wild.
Most of what you find, of course, matters in how you will eventually expand Link's capabilities. If you want to carry more weapons, shields, bows, or maybe just have enough materials on hand to make a campfire anywhere you wish to spend the night (or sleep through the day and hunt after dark), then your wanderlust will certainly reward you in this way.
Climbing the towers in the game is also important, although you must survive the perilous climb to earn the perk of fast travelling to these large objects. You can spot shrines all over from up there, and they make excellent spots to begin paragliding to a new landmark. The Hateno tower climb lead me to my first wild horse, which was a really memorable moment. I was able to tame it after paragliding onto its back and then I registered my new steed at the nearest stable.
To address how different this feels, Zelda games have never allowed freedom on this level before, and it feels incredible to no longer be locked into a mostly linear dungeon romp. While Link Between Worlds experimented with this on 3DS, the huge map size in Breath of the Wild is like nothing else by this company. Nintendo has finally delivered a totally nonlinear Zelda game to the fans, and they didn't just hit a homerun, BotW is a grandslam that will not soon be forgotten.
Weapons have durability and eventually break, a somewhat controversial change to the series, and you don't start the game with any weapons whatsoever. The first weapon I located was a weak tree branch that was lying out in the open as I exited the starting cave, the resurrection chamber. After several hours, I find that the key to success early on is to simply grab whatever works in the moment to win battles, or run away if you must. Although the bokoblins aren't all that tough, it won't take long before you encounter enemies far more deadly. I encountered a Stone Talus, which is a great stone monster, early on and died several times before I bested the beast. I forced myself to stop being afraid and beat this behemoth, as I know that Zelda games always have some kind of weak point on the really tough enemies. After practicing Link's climbing ability, I was able to get on top and target his weak spot with my iron sledghammer. Honestly, this battle felt amazing and it wasn't a forced encounter. It was all up to me, my path as I chose it, lead me to this.
I was surprised how little the story moments interrupt the early game, and even the ending is remarkably brief. Just as you are about to leave the Great Plateau the first time, a small story dump hits and you finally get some perspective on what is happening in Hyrule, a rather short and to the point summary of what has been the state of things since Ganon brought Hyrule to its knees, and suffice to say, Link is in for one hell of a quest. Gone are the days of story cutscene, A->B, story cutscene, then B->C. The game puts markers on your map to give you some guidance, a very welcome bare minimum effort to keep players from feeling completely lost, but this world is totally untamed. Fortunately, it's up to you tame the world in BotW however you want, as it's your adventure.
A major concern to consider about the new direction presented, gamers who expect the game to feel like a train on steady tracks are going to have a rough time. I must also point out, complete freedom means the game won't stop you from taking on the grandest moments the game has to offer immediately. I suggest players do not go for the premature climax route and instead take as much time to slowly build to it as possible. You'll be happy you saved the best moments for last if you do.
While the story is not the best in the series, as well as the dungeons feeling a bit condensed instead of fleshed out like usual, Breath of the Wild still packs a ton of content to keep you busy. Do not fear change and embrace, at least for now, the rebirth of Zelda, both a tribute to its roots and a bold new direction in gameplay.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (US, 03/03/17)
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