The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild breaks almost all conventions of previous Zelda games and as such is a throwback to the original NES game. It has been a long wait for a new console Zelda game and with it moving in a bold new direction, will it be worth the wait?
Zelda games used to follow a very fixed and curated progression. There was always a new item you would find in a dungeon or area and that item would then be used to solve puzzles and defeat the boss in that dungeon. In that sense, Zelda games were becoming too predictable and in a way stale. The only reason why Zelda games remained so popular and well received came down to how well polished and designed those Zelda games were. The dungeons were so well designed that it helped to offset and disguise the staleness that the series was starting to show.
With Breath of the Wild, Nintendo took a different approach and changed up the entire structure of the game. Gone are the linear story progression and dungeon design. After the first hour or so, you get all the tools you need to embark on your new adventure in Hyrule. And if you so wanted to, you could immediately head off to face the last boss. There are still a series of mainline quests that you can follow but the game does not limit or force you in anyway and the bulk of my time was just spent exploring the world in its entirety.
This new approach that Breath of the Wild has taken really drives home the adventure aspect that Zelda games are so famously known for. My playthrough of the game will likely be quite different from another person’s playthrough and our experiences will be different as well because of how the game is structured now. This made it feel like it was my own unique adventure that I was experiencing because of the almost limitless ways of progressing through the game.
With this new approach however, certain elements of what made Zelda so well known had to give way. With music, Breath of the Wild went for a much more subtle and organic approach. There isn’t the familiar over world Hyrule theme and most of the music are ambient sounds of nature. Some fans will be missing the familiar jingles and music but in this case I really feel like less is more, and the times where there is constant music playing in the background, it further accentuates the moment and makes the moment(not so much the music) that much more memorable.
The next thing that has changed are the dungeons or lack thereof. Gone are the brilliantly designed dungeons that were one of the hallmarks of previous Zelda games and in their place are shrines that act like mini dungeon puzzles. Each shrine often revolves around a certain theme for its puzzle and felt like split up and more condensed versions of dungeons. Some of the shrines can be challenging and would often require you to use a combination of your abilities to solve the puzzles.
There are also combat shrines where you test your combat skills instead of puzzle solving ones and while it provides a nice change of pace during the beginning portions of the game, these combat shrines didn’t provide much of a challenge as you progressed further and obtained stronger gear. The reward for clearing these shrines are spirit orbs which can then be exchanged to increase your health or stamina. There still are the traditional style dungeons in the game but they are nowhere near as intricately designed as previous instalments which is a shame.
Combat in BOTW has undergone several changes as well, Link will not only be able to use a sword but will also be able to wield a nice selection of weapons. They include 2 handed weapons such as powerful hammers, big swords, axes as well as the long reaching and fast hitting pole arms. Each weapon type feels distinct and offers different advantages and disadvantages when dealing with different foes.
The biggest change however is that equipment in Breath of the Wild will degrade with usage and eventually break. When I first heard of this change I was afraid that having to manage my equipments would be an unnecessary annoyance but it doesn’t take long for it to become 2nd nature. It also helps that there are an abundance of such equipments throughout the game so you won’t be running out anytime soon. Link can now also equip various types of armor each offering various sets of buffs. There are armor sets suited for various terrain as well as armor sets that grant Link attack bonuses, making Breath of the Wild the closest it’s ever been to being an adventure RPG.
In terms of combat mechanics, Breath of the Wild has added parries and flurry rush. When timed correctly, Link can deflect or parry any incoming attack with his shield. Flurry rush happens when Link dodges right before an enemy attack and when done correctly, Link can unleash a barrage of attacks in slow-mo. It’s nothing revolutionary but it adds a nice layer of depth to combat.
What prevents Breath of the Wild from being an absolute perfect game are it’s technical shortcomings and storytelling. The game on the Nintendo Switch runs at 900p and 30fps while in docked mode and for the most part it achieves that. However at areas where there are a lot of foliage or effects, the frame rate dips and it looks very jarring and distracts from the experience which is unfortunate. The confusing part in all these is that when playing the game in it’s handheld portable mode on the Switch, these frame rate drops don’t exist and you get a very smooth and consistent experience. Hopefully someday Nintendo will put out a performance patch to fix these issues but I’m not putting too much hope on that.
The way the plot is presented in Breath of the Wild is mainly done through flashbacks which makes sense for the story it’s trying to tell but doesn’t quite work as well. Majority of the plot are optional and are accessed by reaching certain locations on the map that will trigger the flashbacks. Because of the way the game progresses, with it’s non-linearity, the flashbacks you get will unlikely be in chronological order which can end up feeling confusing and unfocused.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild breathes new life into one of gaming’s most beloved and revered series by making bold new changes and switching up its formula. There are some issues with it’s performance and the way it does it’s story-telling, but all these are easily out-shined by stunning art direction, and a complete sense of freedom that is rarely ever seen in any video game. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one adventure I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.