Released in 2017, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was simultaneously one of the launch titles for Nintendo Switch as well as the swan song of the Wii U. As such, this game marked the rebirth of Nintendo and a return to form for the company. Breath of the Wild captures the essence of what has made Nintendo an industry leader since the release of the Famicom in 1986. It’s so influential and well-received that it will be compared with every title that comes after it.
Yet, Breath of the Wild is far from innovative. Instead, it’s a distillation of everything that made the Zelda series a hit up to that point. In many ways, it’s the logical modern update to the formula set down in Ocarina of Time, the first 3D entry in the franchise. It’s familiar enough to tickle the sense of nostalgia in long-time Nintendo fans, while introducing enough new features and content to make the experience feel brand new again.
The chronology of the Zelda series is a confusing one. Breath of the Wild is one of the first to introduce the concept of multiple Links and Zeldas. The crux of the plot is that at some point in the past, Link is locked away in a cave. He awakens with no memories. He must explore Hyrule and piece together exactly who he is and why he’s in a cave. Of course, being the hero of Hyrule, Link ends up getting mixed up in a fight against Ganon.
Breath of the Wild has a more complex plot than most entries in the series. Instead of just collecting X number of medallions, triforce pieces, or jewels, there’s a lot of lore to be found. You must uncover Link’s history and the mystery behind the calamity that left Hyrule in ruins.
Each little settlement in Breath of the Wild has its own story. As such, this version of Hyrule feels more intimate than in previous games. It makes you want to get to know each villager you meet and go out of your way to discover anyone living out there in the vast wilderness.
Breath of the Wild goes well beyond previous entries in the series when it comes to gameplay as well. Combat and item usage are similar to other 3D titles, but the scope has increased tremendously.
One of the most significant changes is that Link no longer wields a permanent weapon. Instead, there are over 100 swords, spears, clubs, and other melee arms scattered throughout the world that you can pick up and use or obtain from a treasure chest of felling a bad guy. Each enemy has a weapon that fits its character. A lowly Bokoblin can be found with just a simple wooden club, but a more advanced enemy, like a Guardian, might drop a sword with a blade made of pure light.
Between fights, most of your time will be spent exploring. Breath of the Wild is a true open world game. While there are prerequisites to entering certain areas, you’ll find your way blocked a lot less often than in the past Zelda games. While some areas of the map have easier enemies than others, you’re free to head in any direction after a brief tutorial period.
This freedom is not only exceptional for a Zelda game but is awe-inspiring in general. Only games like Skyrim have provided a similar experience in the past. Link’s high mobility, with the ability to climb almost any surface and glide using the Korok Leaf, allows for a true feeling of open exploration. If you can see a place in Breath of the Wild, then odds are you can get to it.
Breath of the Wild is a beautiful game, but the one place it somewhat falters is the visuals. What Nintendo has done with the game is impressive, but the Switch just doesn’t have the hardware specs to match other consoles or the PC. For the most part, the art direction and terrain placement mask some of the system’s shortcomings. However, sometimes tricks to avoid loading textures like haziness in the distance are incredibly evident.
But mostly, Breath of the Wild is gorgeous. Despite the technical issues of the Switch, Nintendo has optimized the game fabulously and managed to get some incredible visuals out of what is essentially an Nvidia Shield with a screen and a bit more RAM. The art style leans on the pastel side with an attractive cel-shaded look. It’s like a blend of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, giving the game a realistic fantasy look.
If you own a Switch, buy Breath of the Wild. If you own a Wii U, buy Breath of the Wild. This game is a system seller, and it’s a smart idea to purchase a Switch just to play it. It’s all the things that make The Legend of Zelda such a great series, distilled into a sublime experience.
Somehow, Nintendo managed to nail it with one of the launch titles for the Switch. Nintendo consoles have previously had great games available when its consoles came out, like Super Mario World and Super Mario 64. However, we usually have to wait until around midway through a system’s lifespan before we start seeing titles like Breath of the Wild. Almost two years after launch, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is still a major selling point for the Switch. It’s a game you’ll frequently find yourself returning to, long after the credits have rolled.