Zelda: Breath of the Wild Preview

Open your eyes and watch your step!

There were lots of news from the Big Three at E3 2016. Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One S and Project Scorpio, Sony showed off a handful of potentially significant games for PlayStation VR, but Nintendo seems to have stolen the show with exactly one game: the next installment of their long-running series The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Now you might be thinking “Wait, are you serious? Nintendo has won E3 with only one game?” Yes, Nintendo had converted their entire space on the show floor into a replica of the demo level fans were willing to wait two hours or longer just to get a brief glimpse of where Link’s next adventure will take him. After spending time both watching and playing the game, I’ve come to understand why this was the biggest game reveal coming out of E3. Nintendo has taken a very serious direction with the new Zelda, revamping much of what you’ve become used to over the last 30 years.

In a first for the series, players are now free to roam in any direction and explore whatever they want at any given time. Every aspect of the game from story progression to the ways that items and weapons are collected and maintained feel more in line with an Elder Scrolls title than a Legend of Zelda game, Link is left to relying solely upon himself with whatever he can find as you wander the expansive countryside. Link can collect mushroom and apples to restore health (gone are the days of endlessly whacking away at tall grass to restore heart containers), and anything found can be harvested and combined with other food or to craft more elaborate items. There are clothes, weapons, and random items that all have their own stats and benefits.

In my time with the demo, Link has been asleep for the better part of 100 years. After waking up and finding some basic clothing, I set out into the world to start my exploring. My view was directed to what seemed to be a guide to offer you a bit of direction. As I made my way to him I was able to gather mushrooms, climb a tree for some apples. and I even stumbled across a very large wood-cutting axe.

I spoke briefly with a mysteriously hooded man and he gave a bit of insight to a nearby location. As I ventured off down the hillside, I encountered a small band of bokoblins gathered around a small cave who were roasting some sort of meat over an open flame. I tried to sneak by undetected but little did I realize there was another lone bokoblin perched upon a sort of lookout tower. Before I knew it, he was blowing some sort of signal horn which startled his comrades and sent them charging towards me. I pulled out that wood-cutting axe I had come across earlier and began to hack away at them. The axe made quick work of the bokoblins. but in the process of eliminating the trio, I was subjected to splash damage from an explosive barrel.

Lucky for me, I had gathered those mushrooms and apples (and that piece of roasting meat), so I was able to combine the meat with mushrooms into a makeshift kebab and, after consuming it, Link’s health was fully restored. I was also able to grab some of the bokoblin weapons and add them to my inventory before once again heading to the destination that the guide had pointed out to me.

One thing that Zelda players all want is that sense of nostalgia and charm that are trademarks of the series. What makes Breath of the Wild feel so fresh is that things don’t feel scripted and methodical as in previous games. It’s refreshing to have no real sense of what to expect when traversing the countryside, climbing up (or down) the edge of a cliff not knowing what may or may not be waiting for you at the top.

The way you interact with the map and the items in your inventory has changed as well. Gone are the assigning of items to the Wii U Gamepad's buttons, Your bow, for instance, is always mapped to the right trigger and, similar to a shooter, you can click in with the left trigger to lock on. Your rune powers are also mapped to a specific button as well as your melee weapon, be it a sword, a stick, a torch, whatever. You can use the D-pad to toggle and select what you want to equip, and it’s easy to discard unwanted items by just throwing them away instead of having to navigate to them in your inventory and drop them.

Link’s ability to run, jump, fight, and explore can all be improved by the items you find during your journey. It’s definitely in your best interest to seek out what's best on your adventure as well as keeping in mind to gather plenty of food to restore your health along the way. As I mentioned before, there are no hearts just randomly waiting to be found and your weapons will wear out and break after repeated use.

While it may not be as evident looking at the screenshots, Breath of the Wild oozes that Zelda charm fans have come to know and expect from the series. The world is alive and full of life. Link can be preparing a cooked meal and while he sways back and forth in anticipation of his meal he hums a familiar tune. You can tell when Link is cold as he shivers. When you can surprise an enemy, it will act startled and fumble for a weapon or just scurry off away from you. You could say that this installment closely resembles a playable, animated movie.

I was told that the vast open world that laid before my eyes was roughly just one percent of the total finished game. As point of comparison, you could fit the entirety of Twilight Princess in Breath of the Wild 12 times over! (So much for Twilight Princess being touted as the largest Zelda game ever.) The demo was limited to the game's opening area and in the given amount of time to play there was no possible way to make it from one side of the map to the other. There were several enemy camps, treasure chests marking the map and what I’m sure will become hours upon hours of area to explore.

The one thing that remains to be seen is how Nintendo plans to release this game or both on the Wii U and the upcoming NX console. The E3 demo makes me wonder and assume that the NX will have some sort of touchscreen and some motion functionality on its controller, as the Wii U version allows the Gamepad to be used for more precise aiming and rune powers. We may get more information on both the game and the NX in the coming months leading into 2017. Without a doubt this is Nintendo’s most ambitious Zelda game in its 30-year history.