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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild review

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Summary

Our Score:

10

Pros

  • Beautifully realised and huge open world
  • Incredible depth
  • Very satisfying gameplay
  • Beautiful art direction
  • It's tough, but always fair

Cons

  • So-so voice acting
  • Minor performance dips

Key Features

  • Release Date: March 2017
  • Platforms: Nintendo Wii U, Switch
  • Genre: Action-adventure
  • Manufacturer: Nintendo
  • Review Price: £48.00

Available on Nintendo Switch (version tested) and Wii U

My "top five games of all time" list has remained locked for years. The order can fluctuate, but Super Mario 3, Super Mario World, Metal Gear Solid, Ocarina of Time and Dark Souls have stood firm, despite all the other amazing titles there have been in that time.

So when I say Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild not only gatecrashes the list, but probably beats the lot as the greatest of them all, I hope you realise how serious an achievement it is. Whatever your feelings on the Nintendo Switch, it's arguably one of the greatest launch games for any console ever. It's that good.

Where modern games seem hell bent on telling you exactly how to do every little thing, leading you by the nose with cumbersome tutorials, Breath of the Wild unleashes you on a huge world and dares you to explore. It is, in many respects, a return to the ethos of the original Legend of Zelda. It's a refreshing change.

Related: Nintendo Switch review

I won't spoil any of it for you, but the plot is interesting enough to hold your attention without intruding on your exploration of Hyrule. Vitally, it's told through flashbacks, which means you can complete dungeons in any order without it disrupting the flow of the story. It’s a genius move.

It really underlines the total freedom of the game. Right from the beginning, the player is free to approach Breath of the Wild however they choose. Gone is the prolonged prologue that includes the hunt for your first weapon, shield and laying out the now well-established plot. Instead, Link is immediately set loose in the (absolutely enormous) land of Hyrule and is free to explore.

It helps that the landscape is absolutely beautiful. Hyrule is awash with colour, showing off Breath of the Wild’s brilliant visual style. It won't set any technical benchmarks like Horizon Zero Dawn – at times textures may appear blurry both on the big screen and on the Switch's 6.2-inch display – but the art is utterly gorgeous. The variety on offer across the land, from the snow-capped mountains up north to the most beautiful realisation yet of Zora’s Domain, or the volcanic reaches of Death Mountain, is jaw dropping. Hyrule is a beautiful place to be.

This is also the largest Hyrule Nintendo has ever created, in both breadth and depth. Having a simply massive open world wouldn’t mean much if there wasn’t so much to do within it, but there’s tons. There are the 100 Shrines – basically mini-puzzles which reward the player with "Spirit Orbs" to earn new hearts or an increased stamina bar – as well as God knows how many Kokiri kids to hunt for their Korok seeds, stables to find and register horses, and towers to climb to unlock more of the map. You can even take photos of everything in sight to complete the Sheikah Slate’s compendium.

There’s nearly endless content to enjoy. And, once again, the game never encourages you to do one thing over another, nor does it tell you how to do anything, which is why this experience is so memorable and rewarding.

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zelda breath of the wild

Everything I’ve discovered, I’ve learned simply by playing, either through trial and error or through finding secrets hidden in the nooks and crannies. This inductive learning approach to gaming has always been my favourite. It’s why Mega Man X will remain so incredible to me – even to this day I remember how to do everything in that game because I found it out. Nothing is ever explicitly said in Breath of the Wild, only for it to be quickly forgotten, but instead the game mechanics are a series of wonderful lightbulb moments.

For example, the most iconic weapon possibly in all of gaming, the Master Sword, is hidden deep within part of the world and at no point does the game tell you how to get it. I decided around halfway through the game to go and search for it, having studied the map and having a hunch it was found in a particular area. The nearly two-hour journey of solving puzzles and reading the map to finally see Link standing in front of the plinth housing the Master Sword was one of the most memorable gaming experiences I’ve ever had, simply because I learned how to find it on my own.

This sense of reward is further increased by the surprising challenge offered in Breath of the Wild, which is the toughest of the series to date. Every weapon, bow and shield that Link picks up is perishable, be it through wear and tear or environmental hazards. Learning to forage and scramble is key to survival, and every enemy is likely to give you a very tough time if you're lacking sufficient meals and backup toys before embarking on the next quest.

The environment can be as frightening and deadly as the enemies, too. After working hard to collect a series of weapons and shields with great stats, I made my way towards the next dungeon. It was about a 15-minute walk, and in that time a lightning storm had formed overhead. What I didn’t know was that, if Link is carrying metal items in a storm, the lightning is attracted to his weapons and can strike our hero down. The only way to save him is by either hiding under shelter until the storm passes, or tossing all of the hard-earned offending objects. It’s fiendish and unforgiving, but never unfair.

Related: Upcoming Nintendo Switch Games

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Cooking is also one of the surprising joys in Breath of the Wild. There’s no cookbook to teach you which ingredients blend to the greatest reward, meaning you simply have to throw things together in the pot and hope that what comes out is edible. Different mixtures of ingredients will have different outcomes – some will simply replenish Link’s health or increase his resistance to cold or hot climates, while others will offer extra hearts or even an extra stamina wheel. Learning what combinations work best is the key to taking on tougher enemies – but the only way to learn is through experimentation.

There have been plenty of times when I’ve thrown a Lizalfos tail, Bokobilin heart and some mushrooms into the mix, hoping for the elixir I need to fight the next boss, only for the hilarious noise of pots and pans clanging together as glass shatters to inform me that in fact I’ve cooked something rotten. I probably should've guessed from the recipe I used.

The general plot leaves things entirely up to the player in how they choose to tackle Ganon. A century prior to the start of the game, the "Great Calamity" saw Ganon destroy Link and his band of heroes, kidnapping Zelda in the process. In order to protect Link in the hope that one day he'll return and save her, Zelda sends him to a cave to rest and recover. Link awakens with amnesia, and must then undertake a journey of rediscovery, retracing his steps and working out both who he is and who his heroic friends were, in order to take down Calamity Ganon.

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Only a couple of niggles might put you off. One is the somewhat hammy voice acting, though it's only used in cut scenes so doesn't impact the game too much. It's the first time a Zelda game has had voice acting in it, and I think Nintendo's inexperience with this shows.

The other is an occasional dip in performance. While Zelda mostly runs at a solid 30fps on Switch, when things get heated, or in particular when Link is running through a dense patch of grass, it can take a pretty substantial hit.

But neither of these are enough to stand in the way of what is an amazing experience. I’m consistently staggered by how good this game is. The ingenious design of its Shrines and the "big four" dungeons alone will make your jaw drop. I don’t want to spoil them here, but just know you’re in for an absolute treat. It’s staggering how much content there is outside of the main questline, too, and how seemingly innocuous side quests feel compelling in their own way.

I’ve spent several hours trying to chase down "Restless Crickets" through the grass for someone in Kakariko Village so he can impress a girl, and if you ask me I’ll never be able to explain why.

Verdict

If there’s a better game out there than Breath of the Wild, I haven’t played it. Nintendo has created, for me, the greatest game of all time. It’s everything I want from a game and one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.

With the incredible variety of gameplay on offer, it’s understandable why Nintendo cleared the Switch launch schedule for Zelda. There’s a good chance you’ll be absorbed in everything it has to offer all the way up until the release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

For me, there isn’t a better experience to be found on the Switch or anywhere else.

Overall Score

10

Hans Olo

March 2, 2017, 12:06 pm

10?
I would give it an 8 or 9 on graphics alone.
I love Zelda games but they started making this game on the WII U.....then became a port to the Switch. I like other sites that break it down by gameplay, graphics etc.
Zelda games are great.....but sitting this out. Not paying $360 for Zelda

Oliver Wahner

March 2, 2017, 12:10 pm

Just look at the other reviews on Metacritic, 52 magazines have currently released their reviews, the average currently is 98, that says it all, they cant all be wrong, no?

Hans Olo

March 2, 2017, 12:14 pm

Ok I did not see those reviews, that is better. I never give anything a 10...because nothing is perfect. They (other sites) talk about frame rate drops and still give it a 10? That's not perfect to me.

Thumper Vonn

March 2, 2017, 12:25 pm

Maybe it is due to the scope of the game. You said yourself nothing is perfect, which is true. Everything has flaws. But what is the point of a rating scale if nothing ever qualifies for top honors? Something has to be the best. For this reviewer, he goes as far as to say in his opinion the best is this game. It must do everything right that matters to him. Your results may vary. Everyone will have different opinions, but there's a LOT of perfect scores from other publications too. So he's not alone.

Oliver Wahner

March 2, 2017, 12:37 pm

but what if for example everything else is 10 and the framedrops are sometimes (just when the game saves) there but they dont disturb the overall game? then for me it would not make sense, to take something away from the game in terms of points, the overall feeling is the importance I think and that seems the fact where Breath of the Wild is outstanding

Mark Collins

March 2, 2017, 12:48 pm

Clearly a question of taste, I thought The Last Of Us deserved all the credit it got

Scott Tenerman

March 2, 2017, 1:45 pm

I see your point, but the inverse of that is, if a game doesn't have frame rate drops, that should qualify them for a 1 point, or 10% boost, assuming it's out of ten. The question is, do periodic frame rate drops, or the managing to avoid them, constitute 10% of a gaming experience? I would say no. The only way to score fairly and not give a game a "10", which indicates perfection, yet set it apart from 15 games you gave a "9" in the last year, is to go to Pitchfork's rating system, with tenths of points (Breath of the Wild, 9.8 out of 10, lost 0.2 for the frame rate drops)

Strkl

March 2, 2017, 2:21 pm

DOn't you think judging a game on graphics and performance alone is a big reducing ?

Look at Shadow of the colossus, its a masterpieces, but was struggling on a technical side. It did remove anything from the experience, judge game for the experience, not the minor technical stuff.

You don't judge a painting based on the quality of the paper or the glossiness of the painting

Hans Olo

March 2, 2017, 2:32 pm

The point I am getting at is that frame rates drop, Nintendo had many years to put this out. I have not played it, I am sure its good, however a 10 with defects in frame rate...makes it not perfect.

Example (and a bad one) But Gears of War got stellar reviews.....but it wasnt perfect.

Strkl

March 2, 2017, 3:15 pm

I get what you mean, but the reviews points out really some framerate issue but nothing major and nothing that goes in the way of the gameplay.

I definitely wish nintendo will do some patches to get a more stable framerate anyway !

Hans Olo

March 2, 2017, 3:27 pm

Yeah and one I read earlier, I guess I got upset because they gave it a perfect with frame drops Really?

Brett Phipps

March 2, 2017, 3:36 pm

Just a very quick point: perfection is not required for a product to get 10/10. As you said, nothing is perfect, which would therefore make a 10/10 score impossible to achieve, by that logic :)

FabrizioSilveri

March 2, 2017, 3:51 pm

I would give you a "stupid" for marking a game on graphics alone.

Hans Olo

March 2, 2017, 3:51 pm

Now you are talking, I don't think half the video-games should be rated "Perfect"
And nothing is impossible.

FabrizioSilveri

March 2, 2017, 3:57 pm

Well, if you see the other games with the same rating, you find that Ocarina has 99 - which makes sense - GTAIV and soul calibur have 98 as well - which makes less sense, but still pretty much ok - but Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 has the same 98, so it shouldn't be trusted so much.
That said, the fact that it has 10 points more than Horizon while having a graphics a full generation behind does say something, for sure.

Hans Olo

March 2, 2017, 3:59 pm

Graphics aside if you are playing a game and frame rates drop is that game still perfect? Perfect means flawless as in nothing wrong with it. Seems like your perfect world is imperfect and you want everyone else to drink the poisoned kool aid!
Now go get your shine box!

LKS

March 2, 2017, 8:02 pm

You my friend are an idiot. People like you don't deserve anything good.

Vinnie Watts

March 2, 2017, 9:23 pm

All but pointless. You made your point......NEXT!

Hans Olo

March 2, 2017, 9:27 pm

This one is for you Vinnie
Q: What is foreplay for a Liberal?
A: Thirty minutes of begging.

Adam Bodadam

March 3, 2017, 1:37 am

If the dip in frame rate doesn't impact your experience, or it's minimal, then sure, give it a 10. Reviews are subjective. His experience has been flawless, even if the game isn't technically flawless. Gaming is about experience, people get too caught up in specs.

sfn27x

March 3, 2017, 2:58 am

Well deserved. I'll play it on Wii U, and on christmas I'll play it again on Switch

Hans Olo

March 3, 2017, 9:30 am

You just wrote "even if the game isnt technically flawless" So if you are at a restaurant you settle for your steak when its undercooked? No, obviously not a perfect steak. Do you mean to tell men that JUST BECAUSE its NINTENDO they should automatically get a 10 for Zelda and for us to look past one flaw? That's like going to a restroom and using cheap toilet paper and trying to tell yourself its great. If there is a flaw in the game....its not a 10.

Adam Bodadam

March 3, 2017, 3:59 pm

Restaurants and toilets? That's what you equate you game playing experiences to? I am talking about someone's personal game play experience. No, Nintendo doesn't get a 10 just cause it's Nintendo...it got a 10 because this reviewer thinks the game play experience is worthy of a 10. I don't nitpick every little thing about a game, if I did I would have stopped playing games a long time ago, I don't give a damn about graphics, many of my favorite games aren't the most graphically stunning. There's plenty of games that look flawless that suck. I look for games that give me a great experience in playing them, and I rate it on that, whether it's perfect from a technology standpoint or not.

Hans Olo

March 3, 2017, 7:52 pm

You're the type that would get mad when I FOLD IT IN HALF...............and still be 6 inches longer than you!

Adam Bodadam

March 3, 2017, 8:33 pm

Nah, I'd applaud your creativity.

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