The first thing to truly stand out, above all else, was the silence. With no bombastic soundtrack carrying you through the lands, Hyrule surrounds you more than ever before. You hear your boots sifting through the grass, your rickety shield and rusted broadsword clanking against one another, crickets evading your path, and the wind. Many hours will be spent in Breath of the Wild traversing this wilderness, as if pondering a painting.
You awaken in a bizarre, alien environment at first. Within minutes of learning how to navigate this world and equipping some base clothes, the title screen meets you as you wander out to capture the vista ahead of you. While a glowing dot plinks onto your map, encouraging progression, you are perfectly free to ignore it and survey your surroundings. In fact, this is near mandated as none of the tools required to arrive at your destination are handgifted to you.
To survive you must climb trees, pick apples, attain weaponry, and slay beasts. This latter task is no laughing matter, as Breath of the Wild, while not mechanically complex and difficult in its combat, is truly unforgiving. Take one raw hit from a Bokoblin and tumble-down a hill? Your entire journey downwards will see your damage accumulate whilst you ragdoll further; and can be highly lethal. Death is nothing more than a simple slap on the hand however, and the player isn’t reprimanded too harsh for taking risks.
After a brief tutorial, the training wheels are torn off and the curtains are pulled: you are Link, the Hylian Champion of 100 years past. The people of Hyrule, in anticipation of Ganon’s many returns over the ages, created machines to aid in his defeat time and time again, except something went wrong (as is wont to do). Taking control of the Guardians, as well as the four monstrous Divine Beasts, Ganon plunged Hyrule into turmoil and now that the Hero is awoken once again, it’s up to you to set things right. You are thrust from the Great Plateau onto the war-torn land of Hyrule with one goal: Destroy Ganon.
I’m not joking, that is the Main Quest you receive upon completion of the tutorial. And in strikingly elegant display of just how free you are to take Hyrule by the balls, you can feel free and take on the challenge then and there. Make your way toward the devastated ruins of Hyrule Castle and give it a whirl; awaiting you are legions of the mysterious and efficient killing machines known as Guardians. These enigmatic threats become the bane of your journey throughout the land, and inspire genuine dread.
Knowing that these creatures, capable of vaporising you and all of your hopes and dreams in one lazer blast, stand between you and your mission breeds determination and a lust to grow stronger. The game doesn’t tell you to kill these “War of the Worlds” looking assholes, the game drives you to rip these suckers a new exhaust port. While the plot takes a backseat to the gameplay the majority of the time, that’s not to say it’s unsubstantial. Featuring voice acting for the first time, the effort went into truly delivering this tale of a chosen warrior and a self-doubting princess is evident and staggering, featuring levels of emotion unseen to these lands before.
In many ways, as I’ve expressed in previews of the game, Breath of the Wild is a successor the The Legend of Zelda from 1986, not any of the titles since. Rather than the strict, tunnel-eyed guide of your bothersome companions ala Navi, Midna, or Fi, nothing but the sound of the wind itself guides your way as you patrol the kingdom. While there is quite a bit more of a helping hand in place than in that classic, you are free to take the plot at your own leisure completely.
The Four Divine Beasts around Hyrule can be tackled in any order you want, at any time you want. You could go out of your way to hunt down the fabled Master Sword as soon as you like (and have a fun time trying to remove it from its pedestal). The world is your oyster, and there is plenty to do. See that mountain? You can actually climb it. Like, for real this time, this isn’t a joke. From conquering the 100+ Sheikah Shrines around the map to obtain Spirit Orbs and level up your Health or Stamina, to taking on odd challenges with the woodland Koroks and increase your equipment storage. And so, so, so much more.
What stands out about Breath of the Wild, perhaps even more so than just how much is in the game, is what is not. The traditional hunt for Heart Pieces is gone entirely. Enemies do not drop hearts nor rupees when slain, but instead items which can be sold for rupees, or meat which can be used to cook food. The decidedly more “videogame” elements are tossed by the wayside in favour of a more “modern” experience. Strikingly, is Nintendo’s execution of concepts which sound bizarre in a Zelda title, ending up perfectly natural.
Before long you will headshot deer and slap that ass on a campfire with some salt, pepper and shrooms by habit. Mixing the more, unsavory ingredients (slime glob, monster horns, bugs) will allow elixirs to be created which can refill stamina, buff movement speed, increase damage, or kick up your defense. Knowing what items can be used to accomplish your goals at a moments notice is paramount when taking on higher leveled enemies.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild might very well be the most immersive, well-thought out, and cohesive product from Nintendo in years, but perhaps even the entire gaming world. The scope is grand, and against all odds it manages to accomplish every mission on its list with style and flourish.