For example, initial applications of the Cryonis power have you using it to create icy platforms to hop over bodies of water, but you’ll later use it to plug up faucet-like devices and clamber up walls with water trickling down them. The other powers are similar in their multi-use capacities, and perhaps best of all, this is the first time there really are multiple solutions to a given puzzle. Whereas previous tool design left very little room for invention or improvisation, most of the largely physics-based brain-scratchers of Breath of the Wild allow you plenty of wiggle room to come up with your own way of getting through a given situation.
One question likely on the minds of Zelda aficionados is: “What about the regular dungeons?” It’s here that I have to give another round of applause to Aonuma and his team for changing up the formula in a bold new way. You see, aside from collecting better gear, extra hearts and stamina boosts, players can also opt to strengthen themselves by visiting and reclaiming the four Divine Beasts scattered to the corners of the map. These mechanical monstrosities have been taken over by Ganon, and getting them back on the side of good offers benefits in the form of a) a special power that adds navigating and/or combat options, b) an extra Heart Container and c) a secret benefit during the final boss battle.
The twist is that the Divine Beasts themselves basically are the game’s major dungeons. After working with a member of the Rito, Zora, Gerudo or Goron tribes to get the monster to stop rampaging — in battles that are truly some of the best spectacle the series has ever seen — you’ll actually venture inside to take back control of the monster from within. What makes this especially fun is that each Beast has a moving part that allows you to change the shape of the dungeon from the map screen; for example, the elephant creature lets you move its water-spraying snout up and down, while you can rotate the salamander creature’s innards around in a callback to the flip-flopping Stone Temple Palace of Majora’s Mask. Just navigating the Beasts can be a puzzle in and of itself, and I had an absolute blast figuring each one out. I don’t think any of them are quite up there with the best dungeons the series has to offer, especially since their average length and difficulty are so low, but I was once again so happy to see Zelda venture into new territory here.
I mentioned that the game is largely successful at continuing to create surprise for hours and hours into its running time, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that applied to its overall challenge as well. One of the biggest delights of Breath of the Wild is that, by letting go of your hand and allowing you to take your own path, there’s ample opportunity for you to venture into territory where you can absolutely get your butt handed to you. It’s clear from interviews of the developers that this was inspired by the first Zelda’s relatively open map, and it’s great to see again here.
Even players who think they might be frustrated by repeatedly seeing the “Game Over” screen likely won’t be too miffed — this game provides a fair challenge, autosaving often and allowing you to manually save your progress almost anywhere on the map. This ultimately means that, though you will probably die quite a few times, you’ll almost never appear too far from where you got knocked out. This creates a nice balance between the thrill of survival (I felt the “Wild” part of the title all too keenly after venturing into one too many dangerous territories, let me tell you!) and the aggravation that can come with losing progress in games like Dark Souls. For me, that’s the sweet spot.
In terms of graphics, I don’t think I really need to tell anyone that this new Zelda — the first mainline title created in high definition — is absolutely stunning. Like other Nintendo games, these are not going to be the most technically-proficient visuals you’ve ever seen (playing this after Horizon Zero Dawn just about guaranteed that for me, anyway), but a stylized art direction more than makes up for some of the simpler textures and jaggier polygons you’ll encounter. On the other hand, I am quite disappointed that the game encounters frequent frame rate drops when things get busy. It seems as though this happens less often when the game is in portable 720p mode than docked 900p, but it’s a problem regardless.
In terms of other performance, though, Nintendo has set the low bar (in a good way!) for load times in an open world game. Though this map feels at least twice as large as the ones in Horizon and Final Fantasy XV, it loads in just a fraction of the time — 7 to 10 seconds at the most, and I was back on the road to adventure after fast traveling. That’s quite something.
Longtime fans of the franchise will probably find — as I did — that Breath of the Wild is kind of a letdown in terms of its musical score. The tracks that are excellent are really fantastic; the battle theme that pops up every time you encounter a Hinox is one of my favorite Zelda tunes of all-time now. But in another show of taking chances, the developers opted to pull the score far into the background while you’re exploring most of the time, abandoning the catchy overworld themes of games past… in favor of mostly tinkly, light piano tunes that, while serviceable, felt sadly underwhelming compared to the sweeping scores we’ve come to expect from the franchise. I feel inclined to reiterate, though, that I’m glad to see the team trying something new, even if it didn’t quite strike a chord with me this time.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a landmark achievement for both the Zelda franchise and Nintendo as a whole. It’s a brave new step into uncharted territory that continues to offer surprises and challenges long into its massive running time. I can’t overstate how great it is to see the Big N taking risks again — though the vast majority of them do pay off, I have to admit I felt a good deal of affection even when the chances they took fell flat. This is an adventure that people will be talking about for a long time to come, and let’s hope that encourages the beloved Japanese developer to keep trying new things as it moves into a new generation of interactive entertainment.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a landmark achievement for both the Zelda franchise and Nintendo as a whole.