Here’s What’s Surprised Me About Zelda: Breath of the Wild So Far

Just like Nintendo consoles, The Legend of Zelda has never been afraid of risk. During the past 30 years we've seen many variations of Zelda, from the novel time-based concept of Majora's Mask, to the motion control bound gameplay of Skyward Sword.

Breath of the Wild continues this tradition with a dramatic shift in gameplay and world design. It is one-of-a-kind in a series that has tried so many ideas, and it does so in an extraordinary way.

Even after watching plenty of pre-release footage, I wasn't completely prepared for what I was about to witness when I started playing Breath of the Wild on Monday. Below I will go over what has surprised me so far, avoiding spoilers along the way.


The sense of freedom is incredible. After a brief introduction, you are released upon the open-world. Not only is the map huge to a point where it takes over 30 minutes to run from one side to the other, but you can go in many directions where a variety of climates and topologies await. Linearity is not a problem in Breath of the Wild, and at times you may feel overwhelmed as you try to figure out what to do next. It's always best to relish in these moments, because although it might slow you down on your way to completing the game, it's the journey that you will most remember.

It's punishing. The Zelda series might be considered family-friendly and beautiful, but it's never really been easy. Breath of the Wild is certainly one of the most challenging installments in the franchise so far, which is saying a lot. You will fight for survival, relying on gathering and cooking to keep yourself alive. The elements will challenge your livelihood, as will the variety of skilled opponents you will have to face.

The puzzles can be mind blowing. There are over 100 Shrines to complete, and a large number of them feature puzzles that require serious problem solving. Breath of the Wild regularly finds clever ways of utilizing physics and the environment to present challenges that require intense concentration and mental computation. In some cases you might even need a second opinion to figure out a solution.

Combat isn't very fun. There is only one button for attack, and many times you're just going to be spamming that button. There is some variety delivered by the large number of weapon types, ranged weapons, and even some unique shield attacks, but for the most part combat becomes one of the least interesting parts of the game. You will likely learn to avoid it when it isn't necessary.

Enemies are smart. At this point I'm used to A.I. in video games having erratic and sometimes stupid behavior. Breath of the Wild has somehow escaped this reality. Its enemies react quickly to Link's movements, and utilize the environment around them to gain an advantage. It's a beautiful thing to see, and goes a long way toward making the combat a little less dreadful.​

Cooking isn't simple. You can use up to five ingredients in a dish, and you don't want to just throw random items together. To get the most out of your materials, you'll need to learn the recipes for various dishes. Some will provide helpful stat boosts, while others will replenish a huge chunk of health. Experimentation is good, but memorizing the best recipes is even better.

It's handheld friendly by design. Unlike virtually every other Zelda game in history, the dungeons (Shrines) in Breath of the Wild are short and concise. The game auto-saves frequently, and presents progression in chunks. This allows you play it on the go without worrying about losing significant progress, which is largely prevented by the Switch's Auto Sleep anyway.

There are performance issues. It's unfortunate that this is the case, but Breath of the Wild struggles to keep a steady frame rate in certain outdoor areas. These areas are usually populated with many objects, including trees which cast complex shadows with their leaves. The good news is this only appears to affect the game in docked mode, so if you plan to play in handheld mode you might never experience this issue.

The physical version doesn't require an install. Many consumers were under the impression that there would be a massive install for Breath of the Wild, which would leave them with only a small amount of space for other games. That's not the case thanks to there not even being an install in the first place. In addition, it's worth noting that game saves are stored on the hard drive, and are very small in size.

It's the biggest Zelda yet. This might seem obvious given that it's the first true open world Zelda game, but Breath of the Wild is even bigger than it appears. With a lengthy story, an absolutely massive world, and plenty of secrets to discover, this is a game that goes well beyond the 25 to 30 hour average of most games in the series. Good luck finding the time to play anything else during March.

 


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