After thirty years of The Legend of Zelda, the latest entry in the series isn't just innovative; it's a transformative, essential gaming experience that demands to be played whether you are a longtime fan or if you aren't quite sure if Zelda is the boy or the girl. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a masterpiece, plain and simple. It is a game of boundless fun and limitless possibility, with the whole of Hyrule spreading out before you, just waiting to be explored. While The Legend of Zelda series has always been open-world, Breath of the Wild truly puts the player in the driver's seat, offering little in the way of hand-holding or unnecessary exposition. Instead, the game prefers to let you find its loose threads and pull at them until you unravel its myriad mysteries on your own terms.
Much as Link seemingly has no memory of the world which he now inhabits, playing Breath of the Wild requires no familiarity with the franchise, even though the game contains loads of easter eggs for seasoned fans. The result is a game that is endlessly replayable and wholly engrossing. After spending dozens of hours within the sprawling realms of Hyrule, I still feel like I have only scratched the surface of what the game has to offer. Fans of expansive action RPGs like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will experience a sense of delightful deja vu as Proustian memories flood their consciousness after spying a far-off mountain or spire, then going to clamber up its towering heights.
Yet where a game like Breath of the Wild surpasses its predecessors is in its attention to tiny details. For example, when you climb to the snow-capped peaks of a mammoth mountain, your body temperature will plummet and you will incur damage if you aren't wearing the appropriate gear. But like everything in Breath of the Wild, there is more than one way to approach an obstacle. If you don't have winter gear, use the game's robust crafting and cooking system to fry up some spicy peppers, which will raise your body temperature to a degree that prevents hypothermia. Just don't try this in real life or you're going to have a bad time and a failed lawsuit on your hands.
Much hay has been made about the game's difficulty level, and based on my own experiences I can affirm that it won't be a cakewalk. With the addition of durability mechanics, combat becomes a frantic, tense experience as you must battle not only the game's diverse hordes of enemies, but also smartly manage your resources. There are few things more terrifying in Breath of the Wild than coming across a screen-filling monster only to find that you're armed with little more than a tree branch. The game challenges players' intellectually too with a variety of savvy, clever puzzles to solve. Maddening motion control puzzles and an occasional lack of obvious context clues on how to proceed through shrines aside, this hands-off approach by the game designers is refreshing and it makes every victory, no matter how small, feel like something that deserves a ticker-tape parade.
Having only played it on the Switch, I cannot comment on the Wii U version, but it handles beautifully on Nintendo's new console in spite of being locked to 900p when the system is in TV mode. Whether or not you want to spend $300 on what is arguably just a Zelda machine is another matter entirely, but the game looks gorgeous whether you're playing it on the go, or you're lounging on the couch at home and playing it on your big-screen TV. With an art style that feels like a clever blend between Twilight Princess and Wind Waker with a dash of Studio Ghibli thrown in for good measure, Breath of the Wild is a sumptuous, dazzling world in which to roam. Quite often, I found myself getting distracted from the game's main quest, which is compelling in and of itself, because I spied a volcano in the distance or an interesting-looking landmark that was just begging to be explored. More often than not, my curiosity was rewarded with a secret that would have gone otherwise undiscovered.
There are very few game I would describe as perfect, and Breath of the Wild is not without its share of minor flaws (i.e. the in-game menu system, which much like Skyrim's is clunky and difficult to deftly navigate). However, Breath of the Wild's shortcomings are so far and few between that it comes closer to perfection than most. It is an exquisite gameplay experience and one that will stick with you long after you "finish" the game (because with so much of Hyrule at your fingertips, it's doubtful you'll ever truly be done). It will go down in the annals of history not only as one of the greatest launch titles and Zelda games of all time, but one of the best games period. It's that much fun, and I strongly urge you to embark on your own journey into the heart of Hyrule at your earliest convenience.
Rating: 5 out of 5 legendary burritos
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is available now on Nintendo Switch and Wii U.
Editor's note: This game was reviewed using a copy and Nintendo Switch system supplied by Nintendo of America.
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