Time has taken its toll on an ancient civilisation, beset by the deep wounds caused by the actions of Calamity Ganon one hundred years ago. Crumbling and torn, Hyrule begs to be whole again in Breath of the Wild. But in its monster-driven world, there’s still a beating heart that pumps life into its surroundings, giving fans an incredible journey that will go down in gaming history as one of the finest Zelda games ever made.
One of the great American poets of the early 20th century Robert Frost once wrote, “freedom lies in being bold”. It’s about being smart, making the right choices and being allowed to freely make mistakes to learn from them when the time comes. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild presents just that sentiment. When Link is awoken from his deep 100-year slumber, he doesn’t remember who he is and what he was, he’s just a regular Hylian completely free from his legendary status. Yet his freedom comes at a cost. When the ancient Sheikah slate activates the Great Plateau Tower, its Shrines and the sleeping Guardians, the people of Hyrule, Lanayru, Eldin and Faron are now afraid Calamity Ganon will strike once again.
Seeking help from Lady Impa, Link travels to Kakariko Village in the hopes of recovering his lost memories. Impa – now old and similar to her Skyward Sword counterpart – tells Link that the four Divine Beasts are under Ganon’s control and he must get aid from the leaders of the Gorons, Zora, Rito and Gerudo in order to assuage their temper and forge the broken alliance between them. Once Ganon’s spell over the Divine Beasts is broken, they can help to tear down the behemoth boar-like creature and free Princess Zelda from his grip. Tasked with this great mission, Link travels to each area of Hyrule in the hopes of tracking down all 18 of his lost memories and the Divine Beasts.
Produced by Eiji Aonuma and directed by Hidemaro Fujibayashi, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a great departure from the series’ usual linearity. While there is a set path in terms of storyline, there is very little restriction in where you can or cannot go. Between foraging in the field, desert and mountains to fighting off enemy camps in exchange for rare weapons and items, the game is often relentless and a little daunting with its unforgiving nature. But with its autosave feature, players can easily jump back in and discover an entirely new way to take down a harder enemy or encampment.
While Zelda games over the years have given a bigger emphasis on stealth, Breath of the Wild cements it. Being able to take down a guardian with one killer arrow by aiming directly in its eye from afar, hiding from a Lynel – a half man, half lion creature – and stealing his shock arrows, or even crawling through the Yiga Clan’s hideout and placing bananas as lures to sneak past them are just a few ways stealth can be used to great effect. And like any other Zelda game, there’s still clever wit and humour involved, particularly when facing the Yiga Clan boss and talking to NPCs.
There’s also plenty to do and see while not taking on the main story mission. Talking to characters will often result in side quests, Shrine quests and additional mini-games such as horse races, the glide challenge and snowball bowling to name but a few. There’s such a meaty amount of extra content outside of the main mission that players can easily just explore, collect and discover instead. You can even find mini puzzles outwith the Shrines and main dungeons too. If you see something suspicious, it’s likely to be a Korok. Once you complete their puzzle, they’ll hand you a Korok seed which you can exchange with Hetsu – the fun-loving, giant travelling Korok – to get additional weapon, shield and bow slots. Plus, if you happen to have a Wolf Link amiibo, he can join you on your travels and act as a great distraction for mountain wolves, deathly Stalnoxes and giant roaming Hinox in the game’s many regions.
When exploring in Breath of the Wild, players will need to make a stop at the Great Towers placed in each of the segments of Hyrule. Climbing to the top of the towers and activating the Sheikah slate will allow Link access to the region’s map. You can certainly progress with the main story mission without getting to these beacons, but there’s a distinct advantage to climbing each tower that makes it worth the extra effort. And that’s Shrines.
Locating each new Shrine from higher ground is much easier than blindly walking to one, even with the Sheikah Slate Shrine sensor upgrade. Hit your scope button to zoom into the land and pinpoint exactly where each Shrine is from afar by marking it on your map with a pin or stamp. These are incredibly handy to use as each stamp or pin marks itself as a beacon of light on your map, allowing you to see at all times where the Shrine is located. You can mark anything on the map as well, such as hidden puzzles for Korok seeds, chest locations or even good places to forage for food.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Breath of the Wild – as a series fan – is the removal of pieces of heart. Sadly, these have been replaced by Spirit Orbs, which are rewarded to you after successfully completing a Shrine. Collecting four orbs allows you to upgrade your health through heart containers or stamina through green vessels when praying at the Goddess Statues littered across Hyrule. The Shrines, though, are fantastic mini puzzles that pose remarkable ways to obtain these orbs, as each one I’ve completed so far is quite different to the last.
As always though, Zelda games are made for those who love to think, and this game is no different. When tackling the main story mission, Link will uncover four Divine Beasts, each of which has a dungeon attached to it. Putting tradition aside, these dungeons focus on one main puzzle to locate various shrine terminals inside the beast’s belly. Activating each shrine will obliterate the connection between Ganon and the Divine Beast, culminating in a boss fight. Not only are these dungeons puzzles hard, even for logical thinkers, they are also supremely entertaining. Plus, the tricky and intricate battles with bosses means Link can use any weapon or, quite possibly, a rune – namely Magnesis, Stasis, Cryonis and Bombs which you acquire in the early stages – to defeat them.
Breath of the Wild is practically flawless. But the one minor nitpick falls upon the game’s lighting while playing on the Nintendo Switch. At times, the day and night cycle can be breathtaking but in other moments it can paint the land in a strange hazy hue, often limiting your field of vision. Without sharpness, those with poorer vision can find it tricky to focus on certain game elements. By no means does this become detrimental to the quality of the game, though it does make me wonder how much the lighting differs when playing the Wii U version in comparison. Adding to Switch playability though, the joy-con connectivity issue has seemingly been fixed with Nintendo’s patch – yet another moment to rejoice.
With a heart-warming storyline filled with emotion, drama and love in every cutscene, Breath of the Wild is the defining cornerstone of the series’ future. From the very first Legend of Zelda to Skyward Sword, the series has been moving towards this level of freedom since its incarnation. It may be dangerous to go alone, but this bold move from Nintendo has certainly paid off, and it’s worth every single rupee.