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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch) artwork

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch) review

"A masterful entry in an open world of similarly minded titles."

Nintendo revitalized the gaming industry at a time when its leaders didn’t know what to do with what they had. The Atari 2600 "Video Computer System" was unfocused, but Nintendo realized what the hardware was for: Entertainment. It is in the name, after all. Thus is makes complete sense for them to revitalize a flagging platform, even when it was their invention. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild would not have been the world wide smash hit it was without the portable, convertible Switch.

Breath of the Wild became, over the course of its four years of development, a sacrificial altar for the established conventions of previous titles. Like the features of any product, an extensive list of add-ons and third party accessories can all but obliterate the purpose of the original idea. Imagine a watch with its own accessories and add-ons. No? That's exactly what the BotW team realized.

BotW is an pared down experience, with just two player directives: 1) Defeat Calamity Ganon. 2) Explore Hyrule. All of its quests are optional, even though most players wouldn't stand a chance against Ganon with just three hearts and a cloth suit of "armor". The point is the power was put in our hands, and beyond that, it was done in a way that encourages natural exploration and exploits the raw enjoyment of wanderlust. Or, as my Mom would say "noodling".

Aesthetically BotW the wild is both regressive in its lower than par fidelity and breath taking in its attention to detail. By setting you on your heels and essentially letting you wander whereever you please, the journey becomes your own. That does necessitate an introduction to BotW's systems and primary means of transport, though. Call it a tutorial if you will, but in no way does it feel like one.

You're not going to get yourself killed by overwhelmingly powerful enemies at the outset, not at least until you earn the means of transportation alluded to. Once you have come to grips with the game's mechanics, you are turned loose on the map with your newfound masteries and courage. That's when you begin to experience the vast depth of BotW's world. Much like one who thinks of a car as being freeing, taking it onto the highway educates you about the truth of the matter: Everything is so much farther away than you first believed, and your stamina wheel empties out pretty fast.

All is not lost, however, even if you are. Along the way, observant players will have been collecting the many fruits, herbs and other literal shinies that you will prepare to meet your needs. Nintendo has been teaching you to gather and manage the resources you'll need throughout your adventure. Climbing for apples, for instance, rewards you for risk taking. While a frustrating process at times - thanks to rain - the reward is almost always equal to the risk. Naturally, you'll improve your stamina with temporary food buffs, permanent stat upgrades and even gear.

The first thing you'll notice about gear is that some wears out and shatters after just a few uses, whereas others do not at all. I was a little dismayed at first to have the weapons I picked up break so quickly, but it introduced me to a dynamism of combat I have rarely experienced. There is a natural flow and even layers of strategy to be found in BotW's combat that could be the pinnacle of the industry.

Remember, Nintendo has years of mistakes behind them, and BotW is a grand showcase of lessons learned from those mistakes. A willingness to be flexible and self examine their own paradigms has introduced the world to an open world adventure unique amongst its predecessors and peers. Sometimes the wise owl waits until all of the other prey have fed before swooping in. See what I did there? There is a good reason why BotW doesn't have any tutorial owls in it, after all.

If music is a mainstay of Nintendo's franchises - which it is - then BotW's targeted implementation of dramatic themes sets it apart from its predecessors. You will at times wonder why there isn't a host of trumpets and tom drums accompanying your quest to restore peace to the Kingdom, but if you consider the nature of the game, you might begin to understand why silence is important. BotW doesn't interject into your train of thought, but rather allows you to determine the next course of action - even if it isn't the best for Hyrule's future. Music, as a primary component of tone setting, would influence your choices. BotW is content to support moments of drama and excitement with well orchestrated themes that fade out should you remove yourself from the scene.

You see, there aren't any artificial gates, and no walls you can't just climb over for the sake of your own investigation. You might run into a situation you aren't prepared for, but that's the key to BotW's success. If some game theories are to be believed, the Triforce of Courage enables Link to keep trying until he gets it right, rather like Dr. Strange. If you've only to learn from your failures, how can you not help but be victorious, even eventually?

Yes, I am a proponent of Matpat's theory about Link's triangular wedge of godly power. Nintendo's mum on the subject, but to me it just makes a lot of sense. The remaining component of the puzzle is how Link's Adventure is desirable and entertaining. Which brings me to the pieces of that puzzle.

Visually speaking, BotW is undeniably scaled to its mobile-centric hardware, but you'll cease to notice that when your focus is drawn to the breadth of interaction it provides. Combat is as open ended as the world itself, fleshed out by an infinite supply of bombs, a standard variety of arrows, shields, melee weapons such as swords, pikes, boomerangs, lances, hammers and axes. While they break easily, you are thus encouraged to experiment by snatching up your opponent's weapon. I never cease to amuse at their frustrated and sometimes clever reactions.

Layered upon that is the map system, which gives you the ability to set travel markers - for random destinations - quest guides and a way of locating mission essential crafting resources. It seamlessly integrates with the gatherables and shiny distractions that will stock your inventory for the times you do decide to pick up a quest. Believe you me, Ganon is easier to fight when you're equipped with the right tools and gear. Some of those quests grant powerful magical abilities that make the game more enjoyable, if easier.

Nintendo has taken the hard knocks, and for once in its history, gotten up off the ground brow beaten and bruised with an idea in its head how not to get knocked out of the arena. If there's anything less predictable than people, Nintendo has elected to allow players the freedom to make what they want of Link's reality. Be it grand or sheer tomfoolery, the controls and mechanics are in your hands, and the result is the finest open world adventure this particular player has ever experienced.


hastypixels's avatar
Community review by hastypixels (March 29, 2018)

Just a guy plonking away at a keyboard containing wit no greater than his own.

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Fiddlesticks posted March 30, 2018:

Interesting review for an interesting game I hope to review here within the next few weeks. I’ve been playing Breath on and off for a month and really admire all the details and intricacies the game has on offer. However, maybe since I’m not playing it with a sense of urgency, I almost feel like the whole package is too ambitious at the expense of its own storyline since here’s no penalty for deviating from the main quest by spending an inordinate amount of time “goofing off.” It seems like Calamity Gannon came out of the depths just to ominously swirl around Hyrule Castle but not cause all that much new age Calamity since most everyone else in the game seem to be going about their business as usual. Too bad a lot of open world games seem to have this pitfall where the main quest often becomes just another side quest. Still, I’m enjoying it quite a bit because it’s, you know, Zelda.
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honestgamer posted March 30, 2018:

To BotW's credit, at least it explains why Ganon isn't attacking just yet, as Link goes about his business building up the strength to stand a chance in a showdown. If you haven't already, Fiddlesticks, you should make sure to seek the places throughout Hyrule that unlock more of Link's memories with Zelda and address the matter. But anyway, Zelda games have never been heavy on plot, which is precisely why they're so much better than a lot of other games. They give enough details to provide a purpose and let you fill in the spaces between by having a fantastic time in the game world. Too much mandatory plot would be a crippling liability.
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Fiddlesticks posted March 30, 2018:

I’ve stumbled upon one story driven memory. Just wish the bad guys did something bad for once rather than stand prone at their posts.
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hastypixels posted March 30, 2018:

It's quite natural for a conquering force to become complacent after the work has been done, so to speak, and its also made clear that Ganon is preoccupied, and thus not paying his kingdom any mind. It's easy to over analyze a story and find pitfalls... for instance, why didn't Ganon ensure that Link was found and his body destroyed?

There are answers for that question in the game - or potential answers, but the truth of it is there wouldn't be a game if the villain was able to follow through to that extent. I'd suggest getting into the game as the impulse hits you. Don't push yourself to experience it, that's actually the opposite of what the goal is.

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