By Greg Hill
The Legend of Zelda has come a long way since it was first released on the Famicom in 1986, and has been seen to push the boundaries of video game creation further with every hand-crafted instalment. Over the years, it has evolved from a 16-bit format, which saw the beloved hero Link taking on enemies that were nothing but pixelated sprites, to a sprawling open world game—this being the key concept which takes centre stage in the series’ latest installment, Breath of the Wild.
Set 100 years after a devastating conflict, Breath of the Wild sees Link awaken in a strange shrine as an amnesiac. His slumber has lasted the entire century, and upon his reintroduction to Hyrule, he soon learns that he and four others Champions elected from various tribes were defeated by the evil force known as Calamity Ganon. Inside Hyrule Castle, Ganon holds Princess Zelda hostage and threatens to overspill his darkness into the entire realm. It is up to Link to liberate the enormous, Ganon-infested mechanical animals known as the Divine Beasts and save Zelda once again.
While Twilight Princess and The Wind Waker have featured free-roaming elements to provide a limited sense of liberty, Breath of the Wild takes this formula to a whole new level, providing you with a seemingly borderless expanse to explore. Link’s map, viewable on his somewhat iPad-like Shiekah Slate, is empty to begin with, leaving it up to you to fill in the blanks by scaling the various towers which dot the landscape. Doing so will give you a more detailed understanding of the terrain within that region, and makes planning your next move that little bit easier. Shrines, these sort of mini puzzle temples that you’ll find dotted around the place, are perhaps the most integral part of the entire game and become fast travel beacons once activated. This can save you a drawn out horse ride to your next destination—if you’re lucky enough to be a near a stable, that is.
Thinking ahead has never been the priority of any Zelda player in the past; there has usually been enough health potions and heart containers available that there’s no real need to worry about imminent death. However, unlike in previous games, Link is incredibly fragile in Breath of the Wild, making it essential to formulate a plan of action for your next excursion. Cooking meals, finding suitable weapons and ensuring you are thoroughly prepared for any eventuality are gameplay loops that have found their way into the series and, for the most part, are very welcome. Swords, bows and shields can all break in this latest instalment, and while this fact may infuriate some, the risk of my strongest weapon being rendered permanently unusable kept me frugal—I found myself preserving my most powerful pieces of arsenal for boss battles, and using lowly sticks and grunt weapons on all other sorts of enemies. All of these features make Hyrule a far crueler world than before, but it is hard to deny the thrill you’ll get when you make it through a rough night to see the light of day.
The Divine Beasts act as elemental beacons for each region of Hyrule, with the various races found throughout the world being troubled by their Ganon-controlled violence. Massive mechanical creatures in the shape of animals, their innards act as main temples once they have been successfully tamed. Inside, Link must manipulate the body of the Divine Beast to solve the various puzzles inside—for example, you can control the elephant titan’s water-spouting trunk to turn certain cogs and wheels to aid you in your solving. The designs of these Beasts are really quite ingenious, and appear as a refreshing take on the series’ somewhat dated elemental temples. Once conquered, the Divine Beast will take its place at the highest point in the region and aim its laser at Hyrule Castle, ready to make an all-out attack on Ganon when you finally feel ready to rescue Zelda.
I could go on for another 5,000 words on the mechanics of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but alas, journalists are obliged to be concise. While the story still woefully relies of the tired trope of a damsel in distress, Breath of the Wild’s open world is expansive, deep and bursts with life and humanity. As the only major-name launch title for the Nintendo Switch, it checks almost every single box a fan of RPGs could hope for. Remaining true to its roots while reinventing the series’ more mechanical and cosmetic elements, Breath of the Wild is by far one of the best games of the decade, and is a must-play for fans and newcomers alike.