Available March 3 on Nintendo Switch and Wii U
Playing a snippet of Breath of the Wild didn’t do justice to the size and scale of the latest vision of Hyrule. It’s only after spending several hours with the final game it becomes clear how massive it truly is, and the freedom Nintendo has given us to explore it. As amazing and exciting as Zelda is to play, it’s clear that it is pushing the Nintendo Switch to its absolute limits, with some notable performance issues that can hamper the experience. These problems don’t significantly interfere with what is set to be an utterly compelling adventure.
Breath of the Wild's freedom is apparent from the very beginning. After Link awakes from a 100-year slumber, I’m basically free to explore the first open area of the game however I choose. I head straight out of the opening cave, grab the Sheikah Slate – Link’s companion device which will act as a map, objective tracker and keycard to access all dungeons – and down the mountain to chat to a mysterious old man.
The hooded man asks Link to head to the first Tower to activate it and update the Sheikah Slate’s map. After this, the old man instructs Link to complete four dungeons if he wishes to obtain his paraglider – the thing required to move on from the Plateau.
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This is the only guidance I’m given. Like the original Zelda or A Link Between Worlds, dungeons can be tackled however the player chooses, in Breath of the Wild. You can even skip all the foreplay and head straight for Ganon, if you so choose, though to do so is suicide.
Each of the four dungeons (called Shrines) includes a piece of tech that unlocks a new Sheikah Slate skill. The first I find unlocks Magnesis, which allows the Slate to lift and move any metallic object. The Shrine doesn’t take very long to solve, and rewards me with a Spirit Orb. Spirit Orbs are the new Heart Fragments, but after collecting four, you can choose whether to spend them on a new heart or on improving Link’s overall stamina.
And this choice isn’t as simple as you may think. While Link’s stamina is incredibly short at first, making climbing obstacles, swimming and sprinting tough going, the game is also immediately challenging to your health.
Every Bokoblin camp I came across proved a tough task. I often had to plan my strategy ahead of time and devise a way of killing them as quickly as possible that wouldn’t drastically deplete my resources and weapons. In Breath of the Wild all weapons have limited durability.
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Fighting the Bokoblin shows how combat in this game is noticeably slower than in previous titles, mainly due to the increased weapon variety. In previous Zelda games you simply slashed until the enemies stopped fighting back, but in Breath of the Wild things can be much more tactical. Choosing whether to attack with a giant axe at the expense of a shield or guarding first then countering is something you’ll have to think about, especially when facing multiple enemies.
There are quite a few different controls to learn, and some of these can get a little fiddly. Sprinting, for example, is B, while Jump is X, which means a run and jump will almost always end in another button or two being pressed (X and B are mapped to the equivalent of Y and A on an Xbox controller). Plus your swords, shields, arrows and Sheikah Slate abilities must all be swapped using the D-Pad. The system regularly requires multiple button inputs to move between each weapon and skill, and as a result can become finicky, especially in intense situations.
Swords, shields and bows can be taken from enemies or found in chests, but even the most powerful ones I’ve picked up don’t last long before shattering. The system forces players to constantly hunt for new and better equipment. Entering new territory unprepared is foolhardy, and proved particularly costly for me as I headed to the second dungeon in the icy mountains.
Not only must Link take into account stock, enemies and stamina, but the weather plays a huge factor too. Heading into the snow-capped mountains I notice Link is shivering in the pause menu and his health is dropping at a rapid rate. This is because I forgot to grab some clothes from the treasure chests in the very first cave, so Link is literally running around in his pants.
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There’s a temperature gauge in the bottom right of the screen to inform you when it fluctuates to dangerous levels, but the genius of Zelda is that there are multiple ways to rectify it, and all can be learned in-game.
After retreating to warmer territories, I stumble across the old man’s hut, and inside are some spicy peppers, the description of which state cooking these will help raise Link’s body temperature and withstand the cold.
I then desperately search for a cooking pot nearby, luckily, there is one, but the fire isn’t lit. There’s a torch leaning against a tree, which I grab, but now have no way of lighting it. Luckily, there’s a Bokoblin camp nearby with a fire, so I run through and steal some of theirs before hopping back to the pot.
There’s no “Breath of the Wild official Cookbook”, you simply have to throw ingredients into the pot and see if magic happens. Luckily, I learn that by simply throwing loads of peppers in the pan a “Spicy Sauteed Peppers” meal is made that gives Link resistance to low temperatures. The more peppers in the dish (up to five), the longer the effect lasts.
The game plays a cool sound effect when a concoction has produced, and a hilarious noise of pans clanging together in disharmony when you’ve made something awful. And the image is even blurred out like something in South Park when the food you’ve made is near-inedible.
After eating the peppers, I head to the next Shrine. Again, as this is The Great Plateau is a prologue area, I breeze through the next three Shrines with ease.
However, while these Shrines didn’t prove too difficult, they were still immense fun to play, and traveling between them provided so much stuff to do I soon realise I’ve become entirely enraptured with Breath of the Wild.
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There’s so much to do, with over 100 Shrines, mini-quests to complete (which I can’t spoil here, unfortunately), food recipes to learn, enemies to fight and items to unlock. It’s quite amazing the scope and depth of the world Nintendo has created. However, because of its size, there are some noticeable framerate drops which occur consistently throughout the game. These can be pretty distracting too, at times it feels like the framerate drops in half, and it doesn’t take an awful lot to be happening for the visuals to take a hit.
That said, the game is a joy to play on both the big screen and the Switch itself thanks to a gorgeous and vibrant visual style. It’s just a shame that the stutters are noticeable and common to at times spoil the aesthetic. I hope tweaks and software updates ahead of the Switch’s launch improve things, but there’s not long to go.
Being billed as the huge system seller I picked up Breath of the Wild with some astronomical expectations that I never dreamed it could match. However, it has managed to, at least in the early going. I feel consumed by the game and am desperate to explore more of it and find all the dungeons I can to make sure Link is well prepared to face Ganon when the time comes.
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