Is there any other triple-A publisher that could come to E3 with just one game? Only Nintendo could take up a massive amount of show floor space with over 150 stations and dedicate them all to one: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Part of the reason is that while Call of Duty or even Uncharted could build incredible hype machines, it’s been nearly half a decade since Skyward Sword, the last original console adventure of everyone’s favorite green tunic-wearing hero. The good news is that if the 35-minute demo is any indication, the anguish won't be waiting in line, but from knowing we all have to wait until next year to play the final game. I suppose we could play other titles that Wild clearly takes inspiration from, though. Still, despite some obvious ingenuity in "borrowing," nothing fills the Zelda void quite like another Zelda adventure.
As with many other demos at this year’s E3, Zelda is in two parts. The first section is more of a tutorial. Link is in a vast open space with bow and arrows next to a campsite fire. "Survival" has been used to describe many of the new features and as expected, most of this portion is spent getting used to such things. That fire can be used to torch the arrows you've picked up. Also, climbing up a rocky wall displays a timed meter. This meter pops up a lot; while swimming and sprinting, and if it runs out well, hopefully Link isn’t swimming when it happens.
Once you aim an arrow you have to commit, as there is no cancel button. But it’s not a huge deal since you can always just walk over and pick up the arrow if you shoot it in the ground. Switching between weapons is a little different. In, say, Tomb Raider, switching between Lara's bow and an assault rifle is all done on the directional pad. Here, shooting arrows is always with the ZR, but switching a sword to a dagger is done by clicking up on the directional and then selecting the melee weapon by moving the right stick left or right. (See below.) Once I got my first sword, I headed to a patch of grass to cut down blades because, ya know, Zelda.
As someone who doesn’t play on Wii U nearly as much the Xbox One, it did take me a while to get accustomed to the controls. (I kept getting my X and A buttons mixed up.) While the gamepad still feels a tad big compared to a normal controller, it’s not a big deal. In fact, in the game Link is given a similar looking-device that can be placed on shrines in order to open up new areas. Not sure if this means the NX will have a similar-looking gamepad, but I say the odds are now extremely high. In Skyrim shrines tend to give access to power nodes, but this might end up being similar as most dungeons in Zelda have such rewards.
After about 15 minutes, the first demo timed out.
The bigger portion of the demo was the opening of the game. Anyone who’s seen the numerous videos or watched Nintendo’s live stream this week will be familiar. In darkness we hear a woman’s voice say, “open your eyes.” I for one would love it if Penelope Cruz turns out to be voicing Zelda since that is the opening of Vanilla Sky (and the original 1997 Spanish film Abre los Ojos, which means the same thing). Plus, having Link wake up in a tomb wearing only boxer briefs (that’s right, Link is a boxer briefs, fella!) and having the voice tell him he’s been “asleep” for over a century points to some weird stuff. The LoZ series has always embraced time shifts, after all, right? The very notion that the writers of one of my favorite series of all time might watch obscure Spanish sci-fi films is cool to think about.
Once that is done, I equipped pants, but forgot to put on a shirt. Once I realized it, I figured it made Link more primal-looking anyway. The rest of the demo lets players mark their map to head to the first goal, which was beyond an ruined castle. It's sort of perfect to think Witcher 3 players could get to know Epona (if she shows up) like they did Roach.
I fought some similar Zelda-like monsters including the classic can’t fail fighting skeletons. From the skeletons I got a staff, which I used for a bit instead of my sword. Speaking of swords, I was pleased that while some swords might look the same they may have different properties. One sword I had was a diamond cut, for example. This is an area I'm a bit cautious about Nintendo taking form other fantasy games: optimizing and selecting items. Skyrim has a lot of options, too many if you ask me. I hope Breath of the Wild doesn't get too overwhelmed with such things.
The most compelling part of the demo was coming to a Shrine of Trials, of which there will be over 100 in the full game. (This demo is supposedly less than 1% of the full game.) The shrine was sort of a mini-dungeon where you equip this magnet to pick up certain huge metal objects, which feels like a level editor à la Minecraft.
There’s a real sense that Nintendo is taking design mechanics from other successful fantasy games, but this isn’t the first time. Fans will recall that Twilight Princess shared many similar features to Capcom’s Okami like how Wolf Link seemed like Nintendo’s own version of Amaterasu. Having Breath of the Wild feel similar to Tomb Raider or Witcher 3 by having crafting and other “survival” modes makes perfect sense, though.
Still, while actually playing Breath of the Wild, the feeling is pure Zelda. I never once thought that it was plagiarizing anything. Nintendo is a master of making other developer's ideas feel like its own.
I didn’t get very far story-wise since I was all too happy with just being in Hyrule again. Still, if there’s one thing that concerned me a little, it was the resolution. I played on a 50” LED and while the menu screens where crisp, the actual gameplay had jaggies. I looked over afterwards and saw a much better, crisper version running on a smaller 40”. I was told that this version is, of course, not final, and it was running at 720p. (Perhaps the NX version will be much better.) I’m confident Breath of the Wild will look great by 2017, but I figured this was still worth noting. Either way, the next adventure in Hyrule looks to be worth the wait.