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

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

"Breath of the Wild reinvigorates the open world genre the Zelda franchise helped to create."

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is my pick for the best adventure game yet created, and I'm not optimistic that any development team--at Nintendo or any other studio--will produce a superior experience I prefer to it anytime soon. This is the Zelda game I've been asking the company to produce for literally decades. It accomplished the seemingly impossible, made me fall in love with a post-2005 game as much as I did The Legend of Zelda on the NES.

I could give you all sorts of reasons why Breath of the Wild is such a monumental accomplishment, a joy to play for the dozens of hours you'll have to spend just to properly explore even half its content. Ultimately, I credit most of its successes to the incredible world design and the supporting play mechanics that make the most of that vibrant world. Hyrule has never felt so alive, so full of wonder and adventure. There's a new surprise around virtually every corner, sometimes even if you've passed that way several times before. A spectacular highlight is never more than a few hours away. My favorite aspect of the game, though, is the way that each minute you spend between stunning set pieces is thoroughly satisfying for reasons of its own. There's enough wonderful on hand to fill dozens of great games.

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

The adventure begins as Link wakes from a 100-year slumber, in the Shrine of Resurrection. His body was carried there after he fell in battle against a dark force known as Calamity Ganon. As he returns to life, Link finds a world that is surviving the aftermath of a great tragedy. He remembers virtually nothing of his past, though, and must rely on what people tell him. He also must let his allies groom him for a second confrontation with the same menacing force that once bested him.

At first, it's difficult to get a proper sense of the game's scale, to appreciate the enormity of the project Link has undertaken. Players emerge at the center of a tutorial area, the Highland Plateau, where they meet a mysterious old man. The bearded stranger walks them through the basics of survival in this harsh world: hunting, fishing, food preparation and exploration. There's not a lot of dialogue, and busy work is kept to an absolute minimum. Most of the initial chores can either be skipped, or they are easily completed within a few seconds. All of them are highly relevant to the play that follows. Instead of spending your first few hours herding goats or running chores for villagers, as you might have in past Zelda console titles, you are immediately free to wander an interesting region as you see fit. I spent several delightful hours doing precisely that. Along the way, I found runes that gave me abilities I could use whenever I liked throughout the remainder of my journey. These included bombs, the power to briefly freeze certain objects in place, and a magnetic tether that allowed me to manipulate heavy metal objects.

Once those introductory hours end, you can finally leave the Highland Plateau. By that point, it already feels like you've enjoyed a grand adventure, but you're just getting started. Some dialogue points you toward the east, where you'll find a destination that advances the core plot, but you don't have to head there straightaway. The entire world map is technically available, and you can (if you like) spend dozens of hours exploring other possibilities before you follow the prescribed course... even if that's not technically a good idea.

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

Survival in this new version of Hyrule is a feat all its own, even during the gentler first few hours. As you travel, you'll find well-worn paths that lead through ruins. Crumbling walls tell you where an outpost once stood, or a village, or even a spectacular theater. Now they are rubble, with moss growing across their surfaces and fearsome monsters patrolling or camped among them. You can rush at the mobs, try to sneak around them by hiding in the brush and wandering from the road, or you can wait until they fall asleep or are distracted. You can even find a metal crate nearby and hurl it into their midst, or grab one of their weapons that they've carelessly left propped against a wall, then carve your way through the group before it can mount a proper defense. The choice is yours. Just know that if you do face some of these monsters head-on, they might mop the floor with you. Some of them do more damage with a single hit than your puny armor and limited life meter can withstand, and that's not even counting the wandering guardians that will fry you to a crisp with their laser beams.

If you survive a harrowing early battle, your first thought will likely be health restoration. In Breath of the Wild, you eat food to regenerate life. Apples dangle from trees. Mushrooms grow in shadowy places. Fish swim in streams. And there are animals you can hunt with your bow. Then you can roast their meat on a campfire and it'll help you out even more. This isn't a world you pass idly through; it's one you come to view as your virtual home. As I played, I found favorite streams where I could dive in and catch fish, and convenient forests where the best fungi grow. I learned to budget my resources, got a feel for when I should risk conflict and when it made sense to avoid it.

Exploration became my obsession. Placed around the world, there are huge towers. You can climb them to gain access to more of the map, and to establish a warp point if you want to return later. I know that sounds like Assassin's Creed or Far Cry, but the implementation feels more meaningful here. Just having a new vantage point often points the way to a dozen possible next adventures you'll want to experience, not just skip over on the way to something better. It's exhilarating.

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

You'll soon find shrines besides just the few that you encountered in the Highland Plateau. There are more than 100 of them, spread throughout the world. Some are hidden quite deviously and others are right out in the open. When you venture inside one, you'll find either a challenging battle with an armored foe known as a guardian, or a surprisingly devious set of puzzles that generally require you to use the runes you collected during the game's opening hours. You can rest assured that if you enter a shrine while carrying a decent supply of weapons, you have everything you need to clear the challenge that waits for you. It just might not feel like it at first, because this is a Zelda game that holds your hand only enough to help you find your bearings, then expects you to figure out the rest on your own.

Just a moment ago, I mentioned carrying a decent supply of weapons. That might sound like something you would never have any trouble doing, especially as you progress deeper into your quest, but the game also introduces one design element I typically hate with a fiery passion: weapon degradation. Here, though, I somehow don't mind it. Enemies carry blades and axes, bows and spears. You can beat them down, then steal their weapons and wail on their comrades. Eventually, your favorite tool will break, but a replacement is seldom far away. You're forced constantly to think on your feet and try new techniques. Thus, a normally unwelcome mechanic is used to its greatest potential, actually enriching the whole experience in the process.

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

I've gushed a lot in this review, and there's so, so much I haven't had time to even briefly address. Virtually all the stuff I haven't mentioned works in the game's favor, though, to contribute to the most expansive and intriguing world I've ever encountered in a video game. There's more rain than I would like, which makes things difficult when Link is free climbing and searching for new shrines and towers, but there are ways around that particular obstacle. After playing for around 45 hours, I also encountered an instance of severe slowdown, but it lasted only briefly and then I was back in action. And yes, I sometimes wish my favorite weapons didn't feel like they were made of glass.

Any concerns I have with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are decidedly minor. They melt away in the face of the utterly absorbing and peerless experience the game is as a whole. If you don't have the hardware that will let you play this essential title, address that oversight as soon as you reasonably can. You'll be glad you did.

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (March 13, 2017)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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RubberDuck posted March 14, 2017:

Can i ask, how many shrines you've completed ? I've completed 64 shrines, upgraded the bomb and statsis runes, and unlocked the ancient armor and weapons and yet haven't got around freeing any of the Divine Beasts. do you think 64 shrines would be enough to defeat the final boss or should i add more ? Thanks in advance.
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honestgamer posted March 14, 2017:

I had cleared right around 60 shrines at the point when I "beat" the game, and had spent souls on 5 stamina upgrades before devoting the rest to heart containers. I was equipped with the fully upgraded stealth armor. For your own run, I would say just bring along a lot of healing items (I had around 5 meat skewers that restored max life), and be good at using your full range of combat skills (including skillful use of your shield). You'll likely be able to scrape by, in that case. And of course, you want to have freed the Divine Beasts, as well. Good luck!
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bwv_639 posted March 18, 2017:

Puzzle-wise and progression-wise, is this appreciably less simple than Skyward Sword and more like Twilight Princess and the other earlier ones?

Skyward Sword made me vow I'd never go back to the series.
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honestgamer posted March 18, 2017:

I didn't complete Skyward Sword, because it never quite captured my interest and I finally gave up probably a quarter of the way through (though I haven't entirely ruled out returning to it at some point). Twilight Princess never really got me going, either. Therefore, I can't address your questions as fully as you might like. However, I can say that progression-wise, the games are worlds apart. Breath of the Wild reminds me a lot of the early Zelda titles, most notably the first game and A Link to the Past, and is also one of the most challenging entries in the series.
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Genj posted March 18, 2017:

Breath of the Wild is basically the best game Nintendo has made in decades. It's hard to put into words what makes the game so magical. I think the big thing and I've certainly noticed it more after subsequently playing through Horizon: Zero Dawn and starting NieR: Automata is the huge degree of freedom you have in BotW. Namely you can pretty much go anywhere you want with very few boundaries keeping you out. Namely you can climb mountains and avoid extremely tough enemies (like Guardians). There aren't many invisible walls if any. The game's progression is more about finding the tools to succeed - better gear, materials, shrines, the Divine Beasts. The dungeon puzzles are on the simple side. The combat is pretty difficult in the beginning (like Zelda 1 & 2 hard), but you can become really overpowered by the end (especially if you get your armor set of choice to level 4).
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jerec posted March 19, 2017:

I liked Twilight Princess enough to finish it, but I never got far with Skyward Sword. The forced motion control was just too tiring.

Loving Breath of the World. It's definitely something special, and a standout of the series. I've been playing the Wii U version - have about a thousand words of preliminary notes written for a review. Unfortunately I got sent off on a work trip for 2 weeks and couldn't take it with me, so I'm going to be behind on finishing it.
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KennedyEthan posted March 20, 2017:

Hi!! im Kennedy Ethan Smith. Actually im First time here and i saw The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, sounds good and since i read about that game im interested now!! the series was nice and One day I'll have to properly play through this series and see what it's all about.
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raandi posted September 12, 2017:

This was easily the biggest disappointment of the year and I honestly, truly cannot understand what any of you see in it.
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honestgamer posted September 13, 2017:

Luckily, I explained some of what I saw in the game in my review. For the record, it's my current pick for game of the decade, and now ranks as one of my favorite games of all time. I've played a lot more of it since I reviewed it, and there's barely a day that passes when I wouldn't be up for playing more of it. Just living within the world Nintendo has created, even without doing anything of import, feels too good to resist.
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hastypixels posted April 05, 2018:

Having reviewed it, I'm not sure what I could have said that you didn't cover quite precisely. I'm glad I came at it "my way", though I do understand your point of view for Game of the Week.

As for Breath of the Wild, in a way there was nothing new about it, just a really, really fresh take on the game that started it all. It's how you go about the quest and the mechanics thereof that are distinctive. At first I was convinced I wouldn't have the time... but now I see time wasn't the question. It was really, "why not?"

I am satisfied that this is better than the NES Legend of Zelda, a game I barely understood and enjoyed even less. It was fun, but it didn't click. BotW on the other hand, again... my favorite pick for the year. Easily.

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