I value ambition above all else. From the smallest indie game with 8×8 sprites and a limited color palette, to a big-budget game with the latest technology at its finger tips, every single game needs to have ambition. This desire for a game to be more than the sum of its parts will be different depending on budget, size of the team, etc… but that doesn’t make it any less noticeable.
When I reflect back on the games which have shaped the industry, it’s the games which aspire to be more. Undertale, the little RPG with retro graphics which sought to redefine a genre, Journey, the game which asked questions about what defines co-operation and multiplayer, or even Dark Souls, a modern take on the elements which once defined older games. All of these games stay with us after we play them because of a desire from their creators to be more. To be different. These games go on to define other games and create ripples throughout the gaming world.
Seeing The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild in action I knew that it would be one of those games.
Breath Of The Wild is a combination of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Dark Souls and the survival aspects of Minecraft. I feel dirty just saying that, because it’s a vast underestimation of what the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild achieves. This isn’t a game which follows in other’s footsteps, so much as struts in front of them, grinning smugly and saying “I can do that so much better”.
The E3 demo begins with Link waking up in a sci-fi water chamber. It looks as though he has been in some sort of stasis. What triggers him waking up, is unknown. Nintendo did a very good job keeping mum on the story elements of the game, saying that they didn’t want to spoil the experience for fans (which is something Mike was worried about when it was first announced that Nintendo would do a Stream for Zelda).
Shortly after awakening, Link is given a Sheikah Slate… basically a tablet. For the first time in Zelda history, there is a focus on technology, not just magic. What happens after is quite extraordinary. Like Skyrim, players are let loose into the world of Hyrule. This is where everything changes.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild doesn’t give any instruction on where to go, simply allowing the player to go out into the world and… well, do.
What is immediately noticeable is how wonderfully interactive the game world is. Pick up a torch and use it on long grass and you can cause a forest fire. Use your shield to snowboard down a mountain. Cut down trees with an axe, put the wood with flint, and then strike the two with your sword and you can create a camp fire. What makes these actions so enjoyable, is the degree of simplicity involved. Every interaction feels natural.
One the of things I really enjoyed was that in order to regain health, you have to eat food, which you can cook. There are apparently hundreds of recipes, a lot of which make plenty of logical sense (but some that are very crazy). Cooking isn’t just to regain health. One of the many things which differentiates this entry in the series is that every puzzle has multiple ways of being completed, and there are many different types of puzzles. Food is one of the many ways in which you can overcome the various puzzles.
The Legend of Zelda series is renowned for its puzzles, and Breath of the Wild is no different. Nearly everything in the world is some sort of puzzle. Travel to a cold area and Link will begin to freeze to death. How do you solve it? Equip warm clothing or drink a potion which warms you up (heck, you can even carry a lit up torch which will keep you warm). Need to get up to the top of a cliff? Thanks to a stamina meter, climbing alone isn’t going to do it. The player is required to be strategic with how they climb the cliff-side, else they’ll fall down.
Whilst these are environmental puzzles, there are plenty of traditional puzzles for Zelda fans. Players can go into “Shrines”, which act as mini-dungeons (there also large dungeons in the traditional, Zelda, sense), which will give players access to special abilities. There is a magnet, which can be used to lift up metal blocks. There’s also another special ability which can create giant ice blocks, which can be climbed on to get to other areas. The ways in which all of these abilities can be used, is incredibly liberating.
Perhaps what’s most interesting, is the addition of equipment. Instead of having basic equipment, which lasts throughout the entire game, players are encouraged to constantly pick up equipment. Weapons break if you use them too much, requiring the player to be calculated with how they use weapons and on what enemies. Thankfully, Link can pick up and use enemy weapons. There are A LOT of different weapons, all of which feel unique. Unlike any other Zelda game, weapons and gear have stats. This adds an RPG element. Thankfully due to the inclusion of elixirs and food, this RPG element doesn’t get in the way of the traditional Zelda gameplay and thankfully doesn’t gate content.
If it’s not immediately clear, there’s a level of care and passion in this new Zelda. Granted gamers used to this degree of depth from Nintendo games, but it’s just so amazing to feel it all come together again. Another thing I want to highlight is that the UI looks wonderfully clean and polished, and gives the whole game a flair of excellence.
There’s too much for me to cover when it comes to Zelda… that’s just how big the game is. Everything felt fresh and wonderful, this is a game which you’ve never seen or played before, despite feeling like you really should have.
I can’t wait to see more of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Easily one of the best games of E3.