A Fresh Breath (of the Wild)

Like many old school, die-hard Zelda fans, I’ve been waiting with bated breath for the release of Breath of the Wild.

Unlike most fans, I tried to stay out of spoilers and gawking at every snippet. I didn’t want to be TOO hyped when I got the game and be put off like I was with Wind Waker.

While I was here debating when to get the game and running the numbers with everything going on (read: conferences, conventions, and SCA events), my wife decided to take action into her own hands and buy a copy of the game on the Wii U for me.

I know I married the right woman when…

Needing a break from things, I decided park myself in front of the TV for most of the weekend and play this game as long as possible.

Note: This is unlike my other reviews, but is more of a hands-on review. I don’t think I have enough time to grade it, but what I have to say may be worth reading for some of the old guard Zelda fans.

==What I Played==

I sunk about twelve hours into the game this past weekend, and will use that as my basis of the review.

==Immediate Thoughts==

My first thought was “Okay, what’s going on?”

We have Link in a weird cave and finding out that he’s been there for a century, sleeping, and is now out to stop Ganon…if he had the memories to do so. We have a now-classic Zelda starting point here, only he’s not waking up in his bed this time. Small change, but still the same Legend of Zelda trope that’s been popular since 1991 (with A Link to the Past).

The story is a bit paper-thin at first, but it does begin to expand as you work to meet the various NPCs that progress the story along.

As I began to play the game, I had a different realization: “This is the illegitimate love child of Legend of Zelda, Assassin’s Creed, Skyrim, and Dark Souls.”

Only with, you know, less bloody death and vulgarity (outside of your own)

Like every Zelda game prior, you are given an open world to explore, but the biggest difference is simple: there’s nothing stopping you after you complete the first zone. The entire world can be explored with just a handful of runes and the paraglider; there’s no hookshot to keep you away from getting across that pit, or flippers stalling your water adventure. The world is literally open to you within the first short time, and it’s amazing.

One thing that did stand out (or rather, didn’t) was the music. Instead of the bold music we’ve heard over the years, we get more subtle tones. I’m still not quite sure how I feel about that; it’s a drastic step away from the usual, to be sure.

==Secondary Thoughts and Experiences==

Once I got to running around the world, my thoughts on the game shifted a bit.

As I mentioned before, Dark Souls plays a part in the review of this game. There’s plenty to explore, but there’s always the risk of running into an enemy.

I remember one point, early on, in which I came across a field with a few scattered rocks and tons of mushrooms to gather. As I started the gather the mushrooms, the rocks suddenly came to life and formed a monster called a Stone Talus.

Not my own screenshot, but pretty solid to what I saw.

I spent far too many deaths trying to figure out the best ways to defeat this. In the first round, I used every bomb arrow I had and barely scratched it. In another, I tried throwing weapons at the weak spot on it’s head after weakening it with every arrow I had. By the fourth round, I learned I could climb it after hitting it once (and realized repeated hits don’t stall it), but if I didn’t move correctly, it would knock me off and then crush me with a single blow.

Eventually I overcame it, but I’d run into other problems with enemies. Some I could figure out, like how to not get ambushed by bokoblins, while others I had to mark for later, such as the Guardians.

The last part of the above brings up an interesting design choice: weapons will break over time. Granted, it’s an interesting design choice and it does mean you have to learn to be creative (for example, I love using bombs, arrows, and the environment in these fights), but it is a bit of a hassle when you are trapped in a room with one enemy, waste all of your high-end weapons, and haven’t even taken away half of it’s life.

These guys are the causes of my grumbles for now until I find better ways to kill them.

The Guardians also play a bit of a surprise tactic; they are scattered throughout Hyrule, often broken so you can scavenge from them, but some will activate and start shooting at you until you defeat them or run away. It’s…pretty intimidating.

Not only do you have enemies like the Guardians to worry about, as well as the issues of breaking weapons (which you can thankfully claim from enemies; it’s one of my favorite parts about the bomb rune), but Link himself is a bit of an enemy. In this game, you have a Stamina meter which depletes as you run, use special attacks (whirling blade technique), coasting on your paraglider, and more importantly, climb. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve fallen from a mountain or tower due to running out of Stamina and Stamina-regaining food. It’s one of the more frustrating parts of the game, but it does add a bit of a challenge to find alternative methods; I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve climbed a mountain only to learn there was a proper walkway not too far away.

==So What’s New and Different?==

Outside of the aforementioned weapon breaks, an in-game reason why enemies respawn (a Blood Moon allows Ganon to bring them back), and the lack of loot in dungeons (like the hookshot): quite a bit, honestly.

The world we are given is very much like the Elder Scrolls series or, more recently, the Fallout games. It’s an open world without level restrictions, and level-ups only help make things more interesting. There is a cohesive story here, but said story is in the hands of NPCs that are a long distance away from each other, but that distance is VAST.

Travel plays a HUGE part in this game, moreso than before. Yes, you are trekking across Hyrule like before, but there’s so much MORE to Hyrule now. Want to climb that mountain? DO IT! Want to jump from a tower and land on that building? DO IT! Want to climb a mountain and then use your shield to shred down the snowy peak? DO IT! There are a few limitations at first, but overall, the entire world can be explored without weird little game blocks keeping you from doing something, and it’s great.

BEEFED!

Travel, thankfully, isn’t limited to just walking and running. You can get a horse to assist you with your travels (and even in combat), and fast travel is available at shrines and towers (both WELL worth finding for this element alone). Travel does take some time, even if you aren’t getting distracted by exploring and even with using a horse, so expect lots of gameplay to be spent moving around.

The grit factor in this game is also intense. Death is something that happens often and easily, but it’s a bit more forgiving; instead of putting you at the beginning of a long dungeon or at the last opening you came through, the autosave and manual save functions cut your footstep retracing down. It’s great when a random Stone Talus comes out, kills me because I didn’t notice it, and then I restart right next to where it killed me. Excellent.

Hell, the grit-factor gets dialed up to an eleven when you realize that an enemy using fire against you can burn your wooden weapons and shields, and if you are in a lightning storm, your metal weapons (and armor!) will attract lightning bolts. How crazy is that?

One little perk I’ve enjoyed so far is the Amiibo support. Like Twilight Princess HD and Hyrule Warriors, your Amiibo are used to gain in-game items and bonuses each day. While in the previously mentioned titles these aren’t as major (like gaining arrows), the items in Breath of the Wild really change the game for you. I only own five Amiibo (Peach, Smash Bros. Link, Wolf Link, Ocarina Link, and 8-Bit Link), and each has given me something amazing in the game. Sure, most of what I’ve gotten are articles of clothing that give Link the appearance from a different game, but others (like a free wolf companion in the form of Wolf Link, Epona, and even arrows) are like a gift from the Goddess Hylia herself.

Upgrades in general are handled MUCH differently than previous games. Instead of finding heart containers, searching for bottles, scrounging for rupees for those few upgrades, scouring Hyrule for people to trade with, and looting dungeons for the item needed to progress the game, Breath of the Wild turns most of this on its ear. Instead of Heart Containers, you complete Spirit Shrines to gain Spirit Orbs that are exchanged for an additional Heart Container or more Stamina. Instead of having to wait to get bombs from a dungeon, you get them early on to allow you to explore better. Armor is purchased (or found) with various bonuses to make your explorations easier or more interesting. Weapon and Shield upgrades are a matter of finding them and hoping they don’t break.

Really, this game is more “Go ahead, do it” instead of “You’ll have to wait.” Yes, there are times that you will have to wait due to not having the right weapons for certain bosses or having to backtrack to unlock something due to not having the right item or rupees, but these tend to be more exceptions than rules.

==Final Thoughts==

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild defies everything I would do with a review, and takes the classic Zelda franchise in a direction I didn’t expect to enjoy. I’d need weeks of game time to properly give it justice and, even then, I’d only be scratching the surface. 12+ hours in, and I’ve only just gotten the storyline started by trying to “recover” Link’s memories and slowly taking the first steps to stop Ganon. Most of the time I’ve been spending exploring, cooking (sadly, didn’t know the way to skip the animation at the time), and finding shrines so I can gain more stamina and health.

If you are a fan of Legend of Zelda, you may find some of the puzzles are a bit different, but the freedom to solve things in your own way is appealing to me. You may also be put off by the long travel, the time is takes to pick up story elements, and the lack of some of the more “traditional” items (boomerang, hookshot, flippers, ocarina/recorder, etc), but I can assure you that even with these differences, there’s some great elements of Legend of Zelda hidden away here.

Just as many fans were worried about the franchise with Ocarina of Time and the changes the game implemented, fans have been worried about the same with Breath of the Wild. While there may be some that hate this style of game and the new way to explore, I find it refreshing and interesting. As someone who dislikes Dark Souls, I was wary at first, but it’s tough enough to be a challenge, forgiving enough to not feel like trench warfare, and amusing enough to keep experimenting.

If you have a Wii U or a Switch, and are a fan of the Legend of Zelda franchise, you may want to give this a shot. If you haven’t gotten into a Zelda game ever (or haven’t played one recently), but you are a fan of Assassin’s Creed, Fallout, Skyrim, and/or Dark Souls, you should do yourself a favor and pick this up.

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