The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review
By Daniel Lein
So, I’m running through Hyrule fields when a large robotic spider, known as a Guardian, springs to life and begins chasing me down. Whatever I was doing is instantly replaced by the sole desire for survival as I hear the manufactured monster charge its powerful ray. I’ve been hit by it before, and wasn’t keen on losing all my hearts again, but as the ray gets closer to full charge I’m starting to run out of options. I turn at nearly the last moment and fire a single arrow in its eye, slowing it down. It didn’t kill the creature, but it gave me enough time to think of something else. I quickly drink a speed boosting potion and sprint for a small nearby forest, the Guardian’s ray charging again. I’m close to the forest. The ray is almost fully charged. Just as I get behind the cover of the trees, the blast fires, knocking me several feet deeper into the woods, and burning the tree I was hiding behind. I got up and began sprinting again just as another laser shot through a tree to my right, causing it to crash down as well. I kept running, but no more sounds. No more lasers. The Guardian was too big to follow me into the woods. I had escaped. Breath of the Wild is sewn together by these water cooler moments of brilliance, but is such patchwork sturdy enough to support a full Zelda game?
Breath of the Wild is unique from its predecessors in a thousand different ways, one of the most notable of which is the story telling, which is done mostly by the player. Set 10,000 years after an unfamiliar battle with Gannon, Link wakes up from a 100-year sleep and now must recover his memory and save Princess Zelda. For me, it was the memory aspect that was most rewarding. Littered throughout Hyrule are locations which will trigger memory cut scenes, revealing more about Link and Zelda’s past. These well shot and beautifully animated moments, that can be found in any order, do well to bring out the great writing and character development that Breath of the Wild has to offer, in spite of the poor voice work. The real pull of the story is Zelda herself and the emotional character arc she follows, full of twists and turns that feel fresh for the franchise. Most of the other chief characters are charming and lovable, though not nearly as deep or interesting as Zelda. This causes some of the more story centric sections of the game, specifically those revolving around the divine beasts, to feel hollow and unmemorable. This hollow nature can also be found in the main antagonist of the game, Gannon, who, though pervasive and threatening, never feels like a character and therefor loses a lot of his thematic punch.
Beyond the big central story lies countless smaller stories. Though not all are home runs, the tales that surround side quests and shrines are filled with interesting and lovable characters and novel ideas that are a joy to experience. Some of these little moments are funny, while the best of the bunch tug at your heart strings, but all of them add to the character of the world, making it feel like it lives and breathes around you.
The visual style of Breath of the Wild is distinctly Japanese, taking on a nearly anime approach, with big expressive eyes, bright colors, and plump cartoon-like items. This cohesive style brings all the beautiful parts and places of Hyrule together in a way that feels both fresh and familiar. It also reflects the open and adventurous nature of the gameplay, keeping things positive and exciting in even the tensest of combat situations. Despite the visual beauty of Breath of the Wild, the music feels distinctly unremarkable, choosing to repeat a few simple songs and sprinkling out some unique ones, none of which hold the weight or grandeur the franchise is known for. In place of excellent music is excellent sound design. Moments of natural silence found their way into my play through, letting the rustling leaves, flowing rivers, and singing birds take center stage. All of which add to the world, making it feel alive and genuine.
Though both the story and presentation fall short of perfection, the gameplay of Breath of the Wild somehow surpasses perfection. Perfection doesn’t really exist in terms of entertainment creation due to the subjectivity of entertainment consumption, however when I talk about perfection I’m talking about the ability to execute a certain style of gameplay or gameplay loop in an increasingly enjoyable way. In this context, perfection is about the execution of a format. Breath of the Wild takes the classic open world format of exploration, side quests, and leveling up and improves upon it in ways that will hopefully change the format forever. The biggest improvement that Zelda makes is in mobility. Unlike its genre predecessors, Zelda has almost no invisible walls, an accomplishment made possible by climbing. Nearly every structure, be it mountain face, building, or tree, can be climbed. Not only does this open up new ways to explore, but also allowed the game devs to design a new kind of world. This exploration ability would be lost if it there weren’t things worth exploring or things worth doing once there. Thankfully Breath of the Wild is chock full of activities that not only provide valuable rewards, but are fun in and of themselves. Most of the gameplay comes in the form of shrines, which are mini-dungeons that usually focus on one puzzle or combat idea. It’s the shrines where Breath of the Wild shows its creativity and really allows the player to be creative. This mainly comes in the form of puzzle solving, which is uniquely physics based. What I love about it, is that you are given every single physics altering, puzzle solving tool at the start of the game. This really lets you get creative when solving puzzles and makes every answer you come to truly feel like your own. I can safely say that puzzle solving has never felt more satisfying in a Zelda game, or perhaps any other game.
This satisfaction is reward enough, however Spirit Orbs, which can be spent on Heart Containers or the stamina wheel, and valuable loot are also awarded in these shrines. The fun of the shrines, the loot of the shrines, and the shrines job as fast travel points, cause you to eagerly explore every nook and cranny of Breath of the Wild’s massive world for just one more shrine. While exploring, you will come across many exciting and special-feeling moments like the one that I described at the start of this review. These moments expertly blend combat, puzzle solving, and your knowledge of the world to deliver natural and enjoyable adventures time and time again. Speaking of combat, Breath of the Wild uses a form of fighting that blends classic Zelda with something that comes close to Dark Souls. By using great swords, broadswords, spears, and shields you can deliver combos, navigate around enemy defenses, and dodge devastating attacks. Though perfect timing isn’t necessary for success in these encounters, it definitely improves your chances by rewarding skilled players with extra damage. Breath of the Wild is also the first Zelda game to deliver a customizable outfit for Link, and though playing dress up can be fun, it can also be rewarding with special abilities and increased armor ratings. Weapon durability is another new addition to the Zelda format, and though it can be annoying in the early stages of the game, it ceases to be a problem when you learn how to farm good equipment. The big bonus durability brings is in the variety that it forces upon you. The last big addition made to Zelda’s gameplay formula is cooking, which acts as your potion making. Different recipes yield different health gaining and bonus giving effects, which encourages you to experiment with the different ingredients you find littered throughout Hyrule. Cooking, much like puzzle solving, feels creative and rewarding calling you back to the activity time and time again.
The only real downside to the gameplay of Breath of the Wild are the proper dungeons that it presents. These areas are called Divine Beasts, and there are only four of them. Each Divine Beast boasts an ancient tech aesthetic that is interesting only the first time. They also all act like big interactive puzzle boxes, which is an inviting idea that becomes tired out after the fourth time. The bosses of these short dungeons are enjoyable from combat standpoint, as they call on your reaction time and puzzle solving skills, but are visually indistinct from one another, making them feel unconnected to the dungeons that they guard. The low quality of dungeons came to me as real surprise, considering Zelda’s pedigree. I kept expecting the formula to be switched or get interesting, but it never really did, making these dungeons the stand-out low point of the game.
What few shortcomings Breath of the Wild faces in music, story, and dungeons, it quickly overcomes with brilliant writing, an amazing artistic style, and fun twists to the classic open world formula. The Legend of Zelda is a franchise marketed for its adventure, and though previous titles like Wind Waker have comes close, nothing has quite captured that indescribable feeling quite as well as Breath of the Wild has.
Breath of the Wild earns a 9.5/10