The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (NS) - ReviewEvan Norris , posted on 31 March 2017 / 14,335 Views
The Legend of Zelda is a storied franchise in the video game industry. Upon its arrival in Japan in 1986 it set the standard for non-linear action-adventure games, combining arcade-style action with the open-endedness of CRPGS like Ultima and Wizardry. It inspired more than a dozen sequels, including A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time — often celebrated as two of the best games ever made — and influenced scores of modern action games like Grand Theft Auto, Okami, and Shadow of the Colossus, to name just a few.
Yet the franchise's single greatest contribution didn't come in 1986 or 1991 with A Link to the Past, or even 1998 with Ocarina of Time. It came this year, 2017, with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a strong contender for greatest game of all time.
How Breath of the Wild reached these lofty heights and outclassed its contemporaries has a lot to do with the series' origins on NES. Whereas most modern Zelda titles have followed faithfully the blueprint of A Link to the Past, Breath of the Wild skips over the seminal SNES title and draws its inspiration directly from the franchise's premiere game, The Legend of Zelda.
By looking backward into the series' past, producer Eiji Aonuma and his team have, ironically, brought the Zelda franchise forward with Breath of the Wild. The predictable, linear nature of recent installments is gone, replaced by a true open world with few signposts and the freedom to tackle objectives in random order — or to delay the main quest indefinitely.
Series staples are still intact, however. Breath of the Wild may have drawn inspiration from modern RPGs and open-world titles like The Elder Scrolls and Far Cry, but it also built off lessons learned over three decades of Zelda games. As always, there are three tentpoles: exploration, real-time combat, and problem-solving. That said, each tentpole is not created equal. The creative minds at Nintendo have redistributed the weight of each pillar, producing a Zelda title that's heavier than normal on exploration and combat, and lighter than average on problem-solving.
Exploration is the backbone of Breath of the Wild. Yes, enterprising speed-runners can skip most of the main story missions and side quests and head directly for a showdown with the game's final boss, but risk missing out on the sense of discovery that forms this newest Zelda's raison d'être. The number of things to do, see, unlock, and unearth in Breath of the Wild is staggering. Every corner of the game's astonishingly large world — 12 times larger than Twilight Princess, according to Nintendo — is populated with a monster to beat, an animal to hunt, a resource to gather, a person to meet, or a riddle to solve.
There are several towns and dungeons in Breath of the Wild, around which most of its plot points revolve, but so much of the wonder in the game comes from stumbling across something strange on the way from point A to point B. Dozens of optional shrines, each with its own puzzle or challenge, dot the landscape. Hundreds of impish Koroks hide under rocks, among tall grass, and atop trees, waiting to be found. Intelligent monsters like Moblins and Lizalfos erect camps and garrisons, defying intrepid adventurers.
The size and scope of the world is impressive, but so too is the physics engine that underpins it. Elements, materials, and objects react to each other in predictable, realistic ways. Those predictable reactions, however, open up for players the freedom to experiment with unpredictable combinations.
Take lightning, for example. When roaming the countryside during a lightning storm, the hero Link will attract lightning bolts if he's wearing metal armor or carrying metal weapons. Using that knowledge of the physical realities in the game, players might toss a metal weapon among monsters during a storm or fire a lightning arrow into a pool of water to electrocute submerged enemies.
This same physics system informs combat and puzzle-solving, the other two ingredients of Zelda's success. Aonuma and company had made significant strides in tactical sword-fighting in 2011 with Skyward Sword, but have now outdone themselves with Breath of the Wild. The combination of realistic physics, artificially intelligent monsters, and breakable weapons makes for tactical combat opportunities that reward improvisation and unconventional thinking.
Players have the freedom to engage enemy encounters according to a wide variety of strategies. Some might drink a stealth potion and pick off monsters silently one at a time; others might charge head-first into the fray, swinging a heavy weapon; some others might survey the environment for a boulder to roll into the encampment or an explosive barrel to ignite, thinning the enemy's ranks before a frontal assault.
Breakable weapons, a point of contention for some, make combat all the more improvisational. Swords, staves, shields, and bows will decay over time from use, setting up situations where players will need to switch weapons on the fly (using the quick menu on the d-pad), hurl almost-broken weapons at monsters, and loot the battlefield mid-skirmish for usable weapons. It's reminiscent of the spontaneous fighting in Halo: Combat Evolved.
Puzzle and problem-solving is back, also, although it's limited mostly to the game's four main dungeons and 100-plus shrines. Again, the game's robust physics system plays its part, providing a foundation for interesting puzzles and outside-the-box solutions. In shrines, players may need to use special Sheikah powers to stop time, move magnetic objects, and freeze water to move forward. Sometimes, unfortunately, puzzles require the use of motion controls. These are frustrating and tedious, and one of the rare blemishes on this entry's mostly spotless record.
Puzzles in dungeons, which take the form of four hulking colossi, rely similarly on physical challenges. The most notable difference is Link's ability to rotate and contort each colossus from within to uncover treasure chests and find out-of-reach consoles. In some ways, each of these colossi recalls Stone Tower Temple in Majora's Mask.
These colossi, called "Divine Beasts," play an important part in Breath of the Wild's wistful and unexpectedly poignant story. Players join the hero Link as he wakes from a 100-year slumber. The kingdom of Hyrule has suffered for a century under the power of an ancient evil called Calamity Ganon. Link is tasked with freeing the Divine Beasts which fell under enemy control years ago and liberating the trapped souls of the champions who operated them at the time of Ganon's coup. He must also save Princess Zelda and, ultimately, face Ganon.
By allowing 100 years to pass and by putting Link in stasis for a century, the writers at Nintendo created a plot heavy with regret, longing, and loss. Link may not have aged a day over the decades, but his old friends are now wrinkled, bitter, or, in some cases, dead, and the kingdom he swore to protect has fallen apart. Via flashbacks players learn more about the relationships among Link, Zelda, and the four champions. These vignettes are short but bittersweet, and give players a reason to care deeply about the heroes of Hyrule — past, present, and future.
Despite Nintendo's ambition with Breath of the Wild — or, perhaps, because of it — the game suffers from some technical flaws. In areas busy with NPCs or particle effects the framerate can drop or dip briefly. Pop-in is another issue, especially noticeable on wide, open paths. These technical quirks are easy to forgive, however, when considered next to the game's mechanical and physical audacity.
Don't mistake that audacity for originality, though. Nothing in Breath of the Wild is especially new or innovative. Its physics engine isn't groundbreaking; its weather and artificial intelligence programming don't break the mold. Yet much like its acclaimed predecessor Ocarina of Time, Breath of the Wild weaves together existing mechanics and gameplay scenarios to create something far greater than the sum of its parts.
The brilliance of this latest Zelda game doesn't come from any one system or framework. It comes from the intentional, planful organization of many systems working together to create results both expected and unexpected. Emergent gameplay, improvisational combat, and player mobility combine to form an open-world sandbox second to none, and a video game experience that ranks among the greatest ever conceived.
This review is based on a retail copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the NS