The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild review – Zelda like you’ve never seen it before

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild starts very much as it means to go on. As Link emerges from a cave high up on Hyrule’s Great Plateau struck with amnesia we, the players, are left standing in the same shoes. The great, vast world of Hyrule is laid bare before us and nobody knows what to expect.

You may think that, despite this wildly different opening, Breath of the Wild drops back into the standard tropes of Zelda relatively quickly but you’d be wrong. This isn’t simply a gust of wind to ruffle up the dusty feathers of a series now in its 30th year of existence.

No, Breath of the Wild is a hurricane tearing up the tried-and-tested Zelda template allowing a new order to arise. Simply put, this is the Zelda game that Nintendo fans have always wanted and one that shows that four years of waiting was worth it, even if you’re playing it on the Wii U instead of the Switch.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – A legendary journey

As The Legend of Zelda games go, Breath of the Wild is bigger than anything that’s come before. If you thought Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess were vast visions of Hyrule, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Here, Nintendo has mapped and built a gigantic, truly open-world map of Hyrule for you to explore at your leisure. Because of this, some of the fundamental mechanics of Zelda have been taken to the axe-grinder.

The most notable difference is how Nintendo has decided to tell Breath of the Wild’s story. Here, there’s no real hand-holding and nobody’s forcing you to do anything you don’t particularly fancy doing. Once you’ve left the game’s Great Plateau starting area, Hyrule truly is your oyster. You could, if so inclined, run straight to Hyrule castle and take on the final boss – although you’d be in your pants and only have three hearts.

Instead, Breath of the Wild lets you piece the story together yourself as you explore. It’s up to you how much you fancy diving into the tale, but by doing so you’re rewarded with extra hearts, more stamina and ultimately an easier final boss fight. Nintendo does this through an intriguing “Memories” system, where you have to locate parts of Hyrule’s landscape as shown in photos to trigger memories of Link’s forgotten past. Not only is this a fun treasure hunt, figuring out each location almost feels like you’ve been let in on some hidden Zelda secret.

My total avoidance of all things story-related in this review isn’t an oversight. Not only do I want to avoid spoilers, but the world of Breath of the Wild is so entwined with its story that divulging anything too much could ruin the experience.

However, Breath of the Wild isn’t some aimless adventure. Unlike Assassin’s Creed or even Skyrim, Breath of the Wild’s world continually reminds you of the plight befalling the people of Hyrule; it has far more in common with CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3 than you might expect. Thanks to that, you feel compelled to follow the main narrative: that of reawakening ancient machines known as Divine Beasts to help aid your fight against this entry’s Ganon.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Free-form gameplay

The biggest change to the Zelda template is the removal of big, multi-room temples. They’re not completely gone, per se, as Breath of the Wild’s four Divine Beasts function as a reasonable substitute, while around 100 Shrines dotted across Hyrule will sate any desire you might have for combat and puzzle challenges.

This might seem a strange decision, but it works wonders. And Nintendo has also removed the series’ traditional tools, traditionally obtained in each temple, instead boiling everything down to the mysterious Sheikah Slate on Link’s hip.

This technological multitool allows you to create bombs, freeze objects in time, manipulate magnetic objects and freeze water or destroy ice. It may sound limiting, but this small selection of tools can be used in powerful ways to solve excellent puzzles across Hyrule. It also means your progress across the land isn’t hampered by the tools you possess; instead it’s about your armour, currently held weapons and number of hearts – although even when ill-suited to a situation, no-one’s going to stop you if you want to persevere.

If you do decide to persevere, you’ll discover that Breath of the Wild is the toughest Zelda challenge yet. Enemies are brutal, regularly delivering blows capable of taking off five or more hearts in a single swing and, since your weapons and shields can wear out and break, you’ll find yourself reduced from all-powerful to complete weakling in the space of one tough skirmish. Link has never been more fragile or more human, even with a health bar numbering in the teens of hearts.

We’re not talking Dark Souls level of difficulty here – this is still a Nintendo game, after all – but you do have to be more careful in combat, as one mistimed jump or parry can mean a quick and messy death. This is where Breath of the Wild’s foraging, hunting and cooking system comes into play. By brewing up elixirs you can make up for Link’s shortcomings and take on tougher foes or venture into more extreme climates.

And, as with everything Nintendo does, even these foraging and cooking systems are good fun. Chuck your various ingredients together into a big stone pan and jaunty music will accompany Link’s cooking session. Throw in a dodgy combination and you’ll be greeted with the crashing of pots and pans and deflated accordions, but top-drawer food gets a wonderful little jingle and an extra boost in power. Not knowing what works well together is also part of the fun of Breath of the Wild’s cooking system, allowing you to experiment and hone your own recipes.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Hours of boundless fun

I dread to think how many hours I’ve racked up playing Breath of the Wild so far. It’s unfathomably huge and an absolute joy to immerse yourself in.

It can’t be overstated how much fun it is to explore the vast land of Hyrule as Link, being able to run up and tame a wild horse or venture into a wood to hunt boar for food. Setting fire to grass so the flame creeps towards an explosive barrel to take out a Bokoblin encampment from afar is brilliant. The thought that’s gone into every aspect of Breath of the Wild’s world is mind-boggling. The moment I first discovered I could set fire to grass and use my paraglider to ride the hot air current upwards was astounding – it all just made sense.

In all honesty, I could chat for days about the intricacies of Breath of the Wild; it has so much to give. Stumbling across Hyrule’s more quirky denizens is wondrous, and finding peculiar challenges – such as a desert island that puts you into a Lost-style survival challenge – never fails to put a smile on your face.

It’s a good job, too, since Nintendo has a lot riding on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Not only was the game promised to Wii U owners almost four years ago, but it’s also a title that’s supporting the launch of a fantastic new piece of hardware. Thankfully, Breath of the Wild isn’t just good – it’s easily the best Zelda yet and one of the best open-world RPGs ever made.

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