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MMOExamined: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

On today’s segment of MMOExamined, we’re going to be taking a lengthy look at the launch title for the Nintendo Switch. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is arguably one of the most eagerly anticipated games ever developed. Nintendo first teased the title back in late 2013, followed by an official announcement at E3 2014. This announcement sparked a lot of interest, because Aonuma, the game’s producer, was incredibly vocal about the fact that the game would be breaking away from the traditions and conventions that the series had become all but bound to up to that point.

The game was only just given an official title last June, when we received an in-depth look at the game. Some of you may remember that from our E3 coverage. The trailer rocked the world, putting the game on the radar of just about every gamer you’d meet. But did the title live up to its expectations? The bar was set, but was it met?

A disguised stealthy Link approaches some horses to gain a new steed.

Breath of the Wild delivers on its promise to break away from the conventions of the previous games in the series. This title is completely open world, and from the time you exit the “Shrine of Resurrection” the world is yours to explore. There’s an early game element that you’ll want to complete in order to be able to enjoy the greater freedom of the world, but otherwise, everything is yours to explore at your own pace. There are no invisible walls or arbitrary barriers keeping you from reaching your dream destinations, it’s only a matter of your will and resolve to make it beyond hordes of powerful enemies, with makeshift weapons and armor alike.

From the moment the game starts, it becomes clear that unlike previous titles in the franchise, Link won’t have his trusty default sword at his disposal. In fact, Link doesn’t get any sort of weapon or shield to start with. This is consistent throughout the entire game, and allows players to experience a real sense of creativity in the way they choose to do combat. From hunting and gathering weapons and armor, to using the environment in battles, it truly comes down to the perspective and thought processes of the player, and in the end, even if that style hasn’t been defined, there’s more than enough opportunity throughout the game to find it.

Difficulty is easy to come by in this title, as there are numerous factors to pay attention to constantly throughout the entire game. This includes weather, lite status ailments, the sound you’re making, the armor you’re wearing, how far you fall, how much stamina you’ve expended. There are innumerable ways to die in this game, and most players will no doubt find most of them. Yet rarely does this experience ever feel unfair. You usually get an understanding of your weakness early on, and it becomes easy to develop an understanding of the tactical mindset necessary to approach battle in Hyrule.

A lot of the key learning aspects of this title can be found simply by exploring the world. Before you enter key cities, before you watch major cutscenes, before you enter the dungeons and shrines scattered throughout the world, simply traveling through various types of terrain and battling enemies introduces you to all of the game’s major mechanics, and shows you a lot of your own limitations, before you’re forced to battle against them.

The narrative of this game is minimal, but what is there is incredibly interesting, and told through the relationships between many interesting and uniquely designed and portrayed characters. This is especially delivered upon by the cast of legendary champions who fight alongside Link against the evil Calamity. Many different races from all over Hyrule will return from various games throughout the Zelda series. This is without a doubt, a real culmination of every lesson learned by developers throughout the creation of this franchise. From the open world nature of the first ever title, to the powerfully desolate yet vibrant environments from the likes of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, to the beautiful cell-shading of Wind Waker, Twilight Princess’s mature storytelling, and some of the best limiting mechanics from Skyward Sword. 

As for the Switch version of the game specifically, the mechanics of this game are incredibly complimentary to an on-the-go experience, as well as a home console adventure. While Hyrule is vast and full of places to explore and do battle, it’s also worth noting that the game has a lot of smaller elements that can be accomplished in smaller bursts if done correctly. There are small enemy camps guarding treasure chests, for instance, that can be hunted and taken care of. There are towns to explore, and tons of shrines to complete as well.

Link surveys this terrain to figure out the best way to navigate the area.

As for gripes, fans of classic Zelda titles will find certain elements of this game to fall short for them. While several shrines are riddled throughout the land, offering smaller experiences similar to the dungeons of old, actual dungeons are few and far between, and offer very little challenge. A lot of the puzzle solving elements of previous games have been exchanged for physics-based puzzles. This isn’t inherently bad, but those who were hoping for a non-linear Zelda with creative puzzle solving skills based entirely on the baseline mechanics, that simply isn’t found here. Rather, players will have to manipulate the environments of dungeons in order to create different chain reactions. It’s different, but still manages to find a way to be compelling.

There are far fewer variations of enemies in Breath of the Wild than in previous iterations in the series, but this is supplemented by them being able to wield many different types of weapons with elemental effects attached to them. The soundtrack also stands as one of the greatest, but unfortunately, tracks are few and far between. While some may find the simple addition of ambient sounds to supplement an actual soundtrack, perhaps having a few more tunes dedicated to specific scenarios or bouts in certain areas might have increased the importance of moments throughout the adventure.

Breath of the Wild is one of those rare games that affords players one of those almost divine senses of pure progression. You might find yourself starting the game, unable to accomplish even the most simple of tasks, and perhaps every task you do accomplish is by the skin of your teeth. Yet as you move forward you find yourself being capable of so much more, in combat, in exploration, in hunting and gathering. The sense of progression is also represented in a very powerful way, as you get to watch yourself look far cooler while doing certain actions. From incredible archery stunts, to the general aesthetic of late game clothing, to finally figuring out how to achieve the perfect parry on most enemies, you’ll find your abilities and the visuals of the game reflecting your talents in an incredible way.

Replay-ability is arguably Breath of the Wild’s most definitive trait, with hundreds of hours of content riddled throughout the experience beyond the main quest. There are side quests and shrines to explore and conquer, but simply traveling the world and getting into conflicts is enough fun to allow a player to get truly lost in the beauty and marvel of this world and its combat.

Finally, Breath of the Wild offers a true tribute to its predecessors, with constant homages that any long lasting fan will recognize. The content here is substantial in a way that perhaps no other Nintendo game has ever been. Whether you’re a fan of Zelda or just jumping into the series for the first time, this is without a doubt the strongest experience the franchise has to offer. Whether you’re playing on the new Nintendo Switch or the Wii U console, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a title you simply have to own.

Written by Mustapha R. Price

Mustapha is a young yet spirited university student majoring in Game Art and Development. While he’s but a senior in college, he has an extensive history with the art of gaming journalism. Managing his own game review blog for several years, as well as attending events such as Boston FIG and PAX East has given him extensive experience in covering game news. His knowledge of game design also serves as a tool to develop finite understanding of what makes games work.

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