The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – catchup review

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The world doesn’t need another Breath of the Wild review, but it’s getting one anyway.

There’s a reason – many reasons, in fact – that virtually everybody who plays this game hails it as one of the bestest ever made. The main one is, well… it is. That might not be the most helpful or intelligent assessment, but we’ve seen many worse examples of game criticism on the interwebs.

There’s no such thing as a Zelda game that requires you to have played previous titles in order to understand what’s going on or know how to play. Although BotW surely features more subtle nods to other entries in the series than any other game before it, it rewrites almost every gameplay mechanic until the whole experience feels entirely fresh. It’s immediately identifiable as a Zelda game… but a completely new type of Zelda game.

The initial shock to the system for series veterans will be the fact that you have to work for your survival. One comment common to the first round of previews, and even reviews, was something along the lines of “I died constantly within the first few hours”. To be honest, this baffles us somewhat, and we can only presume that these people either aren’t very good at the game, or took a long time to acclimatise. Yes it is, especially at the beginning, very easy to die. If you rush into a battle poorly prepared, the game is ruthless in its punishment. The result is that you need to think differently. For the first time in a Zelda game, you’ll have to sometimes consider if avoiding combat is the better option. If you do attack a group of monsters more powerful than yourself however, and overcome them through good planning, tactics and reflexes, the satisfaction is immense.

Victory in a fight is rarely assured therefore, and the new weapons system means that there’s a huge variety of melee weapons, shields, and bows. Each of these vary in durability and damage, so you’ll have to make sure you’re always carrying the best loadout yet not waste the best weapons on the weakest enemies (or the weakest weapons on the strongest enemies). Things have been balanced subtly yet importantly in your favour in other ways, however. For one thing, it’s much easier to increase your heart count than in a standard Zelda. It’s much more difficult to get your hands on rupees – they aren’t found in foliage, and are very rarely dropped by enemies – but there’s no expansion to worry about, allowing you to essentially carry as many rupees as you can get your hands on. Bombs, that precious Zelda commodity, can be generated infinitely (with a cooldown between each) thanks to one of the powers you are given in the first section of the game. There’s even a cube variant that won’t roll down hills; but as you have a limitless amount of bombs, their effectiveness in combat is generally less than you might expect.

Your best tactic against these things when you’re starting out is, generally, to run away very fast.

There are no dungeons as such but, surprisingly, we don’t miss them at all. Scattered across BotW’s huge world are shrines. Once activated, these work as warp points – but also lead underground to an area that could be as small as a single room. Each shrine is a self-contained puzzle (or in a handful of instances, fight), a hint to the solution of which is often contained in the name of the challenge. Make it to the altar of one of these shrines, and you are rewarded with a ‘spirit orb’. Find a goddess statue, and you can swap four of these for an extra heart or an extra chunk of stamina. Stamina incidentally is drained by running, charging up a melee attack, using the paraglider, aiming your bow for slow motion mid-air… and climbing. Though it sounds like a minor addition, the ability to climb any surface in the open world gives an enormous boost to the sense of freedom.

Is it a perfect game? Of course not, perfect games don’t exist. While being able to climb surfaces within shrines would break the game in terms of puzzles, removing the ability with no excuse or explanation initially feels a little cheap. The inclusion of climbable towers to fill in the map – an overly familiar idea – is slightly disappointing. The changing weather means sometimes it rains and, when it does, climbing anything more than twice your height is essentially impossible. This can be irritating at times, especially if you don’t have the materials to start a fire and forward time. There are rare, brief, but immediately noticeable frame rate stutters.

Ultimately, you won’t care about any of that. This is a huge and beautiful game full of wonder that feels as though it was made just for you. You can essentially do what you want when you want to do it, in this world that feels alive every second you play it. Unlike any other open world game you can think of, exploration and experimentation is rewarded every single time. BotW will never hesitate to put obstacles in your way, but nor will it hesitate to reward you for reaching a nook or cranny that piqued your interest. Therefore you’ll want to go and investigate the next time you see something interesting. And the next time. And the next time, and the next time…

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has several important lessons to teach the games industry as a whole, and we can only hope that at least some companies are listening. It’s huge, it’s fascinating, it’s varied, it respects the player, it offers a massive amount to see and do without funnelling you straight to the developer’s favourite parts, and it’s highly unlikely that any two people will have identical experiences in any one day of play. It’s one of the best games ever made, and nothing less than an essential purchase.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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