Genre: Action-Adventure, Open World
Original Release: March 3, 2017
Platforms: Wii U, Nintendo Switch
Played on: Nintendo Switch
I’ll admit, this is one of those games that I was more than a little hesitant to revisit. Breath of the Wild isn’t a bad game at all, but I don’t remember all that much from my first playthrough about three years ago. A few key points, some interactions, but that’s it. For the longest time, I was just burned out on games with open worlds and so I didn’t really have the urge to play it again even though I knew I needed to cover it eventually. So what changed?
Masae Anela started streaming it. At first I still felt a little burned out, but as I watched her play through more and more of it, that itch to play returned and I found myself getting into it more than I had before. The Let’s Play effect (as I’ve heard it called, I’m not honestly sure if that’s the actual name) is very strong. So if you’ve been looking forward to me covering Breath of the Wild for any length of time, be sure to thank Masae. I sure will.
So let’s talk plot, at least the introductory points. You guys know by now that I don’t like to spoil plot if at all possible. Anyway, Link wakes up in a sort of stasis pool, kind of like the Warm Liquid Goo™ they used to thaw out Austin Powers in the first movie. He has no memory of how he got there or how long it’s been, but it’s soon revealed that he’s been healing for the past 100 years and Hyrule is more or less destroyed. I’d say this is what happens the one time Link fails to defeat Ganon, but there’s that whole split timeline thing and that’s another can of worms that I really don’t have the spoons to work out right now. Regardless, Link is awake and he hears Zelda’s voice providing some basic instructions to get him started.
And this is where I got thrown for a loop my first time playing: unlike previous installments, Breath of the Wild doesn’t have an entire menu dedicated to an assortment of gadgets Link can use to navigate dungeons or solve specific puzzles. In fact, there aren’t really any dungeons in the traditional sense. Rather, Link has a set of five runes available on his Sheikah Slate that he can use to solve most any problem: two different shapes of remote-detonated bombs (I like the cubes personally), Magnesis to move metal objects of any weight, Cryonis to create pillars of ice, and Stasis to momentarily freeze objects in place and build up energy to send them flying in a specific direction. You’re given these runes as part of the introductory segment via four shrines to help you get your feet wet, but after that how you use them and when is more or less up to you. Try them out as you go and you’ll find all sorts of neat stuff!
As for the lack of dungeons, they’ve been more or less replaced by shrines (aside from four story beats, but I’ll leave that to you to find for yourselves). Scattered across Hyrule are 120 individual shrines, each with their own challenge. Some are combat trials of one of three degrees of difficulty, some have puzzles inside that you need to solve, and some require a puzzle in order to enter them in the first place. In the case of the latter, you’re rewarded once you enter rather than needing to solve additional puzzles more often than not. Each shrine will award you one Spirit Orb, which you can trade in for additional heart containers or stamina vessels as you prefer, each costing four Spirit Orbs.
There are also fifteen towers scattered across Hyrule that, when activated, will uncover regions of the map and let you see more of the topography. These also serve as fantastic vantage points that you can use to scout out shrines you haven’t activated yet, allowing you to place pins in your map to mark their location. Furthermore, once a shrine or tower is activated, you can fast-travel to it at any time using your Sheikah Slate. I’m not normally keen on fast travel because of long load screens (thanks Skyrim), but somehow it’s not obnoxious in Breath of the Wild. Maybe it’s because Link physically teleports using the Sheikah Slate, lending a diegetic feel to the process. I’m not absolutely sure, but I do like that the load screen shows you how many shrines you’ve cleared, the current number of Spirit Orbs in your possession, and the total number of Korok seeds you’ve found. Hyrule is just littered with collectibles.
I mentioned the 120 shrines earlier, but there are also 900 Korok seeds to find. That’s a crazy number, but you only need 441 total. What do you even use them for? Well, you can use them to expand your various weapon stashes. More melee weapons, more shields, and more bows! Trust me, as frequently as your weapons break (and they will, that was a point of contention when the game first came out), you’ll be hard-pressed to have enough space after a time, especially if you start experimenting like I tend to. At least, if you find the NPC that expands your weapon stash. Don’t worry, they’re on a main road. The only reason I never found them is because at the point where you would normally find them, I usually just climb over the nearest mountain or glide to where that path leads, skipping the whole thing entirely. Both times I’ve played Breath of the Wild, I’ve done that. This time I actually found them and it was a massive quality of life improvement for obvious reasons. I could actually carry a torch, hammer, and axe and have plenty of room left over for things I actually wanted to use in combat, like various monster arms!
Yeah, I think it’s safe to say that I really enjoyed my time with Breath of the Wild after a long hiatus. There’s DLC that I didn’t do a whole lot with: one that adds armor sets that provide a nice throwback to earlier titles, one that enhances the Master Sword that I never got around to finishing but got pretty close with, and Master Mode. Master Mode is basically hard mode: enemies are stronger, regain health over time, and it’s entirely possible to be one-shot if you’re not careful. I meant to get around to it, but after beating the main game I just didn’t feel like it right away. It’s unfortunate, but hey if you decide to try it out for yourself that’s more for you to discover on your own!
Honestly? Breath of the Wild is incredibly good, it’s well-made, it’s vast without being empty like some other open-world games in recent memory, and it just feels good to play. Combat has a sort of Dark Souls-esque feel to it with the focus on dodge timing and parrying, but with the added feature of creating an opening to deliver a flurry rush if you get it right. It’s neat and really clicked with me given how much I love Dark Souls, but you can also tell that this is the result of just under two decades’ worth of iterative refinement since the shift to 3D Zelda with Ocarina of Time in 1998. Locking onto enemies is responsive and the camera stays focused except in specific fights (but even then you can just reset your lock and that usually fixes it), and you have a good sense of your arsenal’s reach in the middle of a fight. It may not be for everyone, but it’s nice to see Link be able to use more than a sword over the course of his adventure. It’s solid and I love it, but it isn’t without some bugs.
So with that in mind, I feel more than comfortable providing Breath of the Wild my personal seal of approval.
Nintendo’s always done a pretty solid job when it comes to making their games. Zelda, Metroid, Mario, you name it and there’s almost always at least one installment that brings in newcomers. The company has a bit of a struggle making their early library more accessible, but that’s not a discussion I feel properly equipped to have here, nor is it relevant to the game.
So yeah, check out Breath of the Wild if you need something you can play in small or large doses, or just in between matches in another game. I looked around for shrines between Dead by Daylight matches, for example. And if you prefer to have something of a primer before going into a game like this, might I suggest SuperButterBuns’ “For Beginners” video?