I am a die-hard Zelda fan. So much so that I have two Zelda themed tattoos and plan on getting more. However, the formula for Zelda has grown somewhat stale since the switch to 3D from A Link to the Past. A few handheld titles tried working with different mechanics that mainline titles didn't touch. The usual formula for a 3D Zelda that was first really introduced in A Link to the Past was to enter a dungeon, find a new item, use item to beat boss, item opens up more areas, rinse and repeat. A Link Between Worlds on the 3DS was the first Zelda to start to break away from that formula in that you could take on any dungeon in any order if you were to buy or rent the item needed. Breath of the Wild changes all of the notions of what Zelda is while still maintaining that feeling that Zelda has captured since the original Zelda on the NES. This game feels very much like a call back to the original Zelda in ways which really works to full effect.
Zelda has generally had the same formula which hasn't allowed for much change in gameplay outside of a few tweaks here and there. Link can become a wolf, Link can fly on a bird and sailcloth to the areas like specific levels, Link can ride on a boat, and so on and so on. Breath of the Wild's change in how the formula works leads to a magnitude of changes in how this Zelda can be played. Gone are hearts and rupees found in grass and pots, gone is a magic bar, the stamina bar from Skyward Sword remains but is utilized in fantastic fashion, your items you can equip will break, and you can cook to make elixirs and recipes. Recovering health is done by resting at inns, completing shrines and making recipes with ingredients found throughout Hyrule.
The stamina wheel is used when you run, swim, paraglide and climb. Both health and stamina can be increased by exchanging spirit orbs found in shrines for heart and stamina containers. Like in the past when four heart pieces granted you an extra heart; four spirit orbs grants you a new heart or an addition to your stamina wheel. Shrines are found throughout Hyrule and are rewarding to find and then to complete the small puzzle found within. The puzzles range from physics based puzzles using the special abilities that essentially replace magic, to math puzzles and even combat trials. With over 100 shrines, there are a lot of puzzles and each shrine also offers additional weapons and ingredients for solving an extra puzzle or for beating the combat trial. The main theme of Breath of the Wild is exploration. All of these changes reflect upon this theme from increasing stamina to explore more, having weapons that break forces you to seek out more weapons in other areas, and scouring the land for more shrines for equipment and spirit orbs. Everything is done with the idea of pushing exploration to the player and the world of Hyrule is extremely interesting and filled with tons of areas to see and hidden secrets. Every play session I have I still find new things to see and do and I am over sixty hours into the game. There are little Easter eggs hidden everywhere from references in game, music in certain areas, and names of places in the gigantic map that makes up Hyrule. Gone is Epona, your trusty steed who is always around even when she is nowhere to be found. Now you can tame your own wild horse, register them at a stable and take care of them. But be careful because if you take them into a fight, they can die. Horses can die in this game. I found that shocking at first when I heard it but it really shows how this game wants you to explore by making nothing permanent.
The combat in Breath of the Wild is also a great change from how the franchise usually works. Much like games such as Dark Souls, there are a good deal of weapon types available and each one gives certain advantages and disadvantages in varying scenarios. Parrying your opponent, blocking their attacks and knowing what weapon to use is pivotal in surviving. You can also use your special abilities to fight enemies in unconventional methods like picking up a metal block and dropping it on your enemies. Unlike previous games in which no matter how many enemies were around you, it always felt like they would come at you one at a time. If you don't watch your back in Breath of the Wild, your enemies will flank you and will destroy you. This game can be difficult but it isn't an artificial difficulty. Never once did I feel like the game screwed me over. Instead if I died I knew it was my fault and had to rethink my strategy. By utilizing the cooking system I could craft elixirs using bugs, creatures and monster parts that grant buffs and recipes from meat, vegetable, plant, fruit and other options to restore health. In order to get those various ingredients I had to explore to find them, thus emphasis on exploration. There are also a lot of clothing options that give you buffs and survival benefits. The developers do not hold your hand at all outside of the first couple of hours. As soon as you can leave the starting area, you are free to do anything you want to do. You can even go straight to the final boss if you want to. There are still things I am discovering each and every time I play this game. It also helps that the world of Hyrule is vibrant with color, has a very varied terrain in all corners, and there is always a challenge waiting.
Graphics / Sound:
This section may be where the division rests. I have never been one to demand 60fps and the highest quality possible. I seek out gameplay and if a game looks magnificent but plays like a wet noodle and is filled with bugs and glitches, it is not worth it to me. Breath of the Wild has its issues graphically and with its music but not enough to ruin the game for me. Personally I love the cell shaded look that is reminiscent of a more refined and art like update to the children's book like Wind Waker. It really allows the colors to pop with vibrancy and feel like a painting come to life. The lighting in the game is also really nice as well as the water effects. However, for as good as the lighting, the grass and the water look; the mountains can be quite dull at times which is disappointing since you will be climbing them a lot. The framerate also has a few issues, mainly when in forest areas or in areas with a lot of grass. The game uses dynamic wind and when this happens with the grass and forest textures the framerate will dip but it doesn't last for long or is very persistent in any other area besides these. The game does run at 30fps but I am not the kind of person that will notice the difference between 30fps and 60fps. The game also runs at 900p while docked and 720p in handheld mode and because it doesn't have to work so hard to upscale to 900p, Breath of the Wild will run better in handheld mode and still looks amazing.
The music is intriguing. There aren't tons of memorable themes like in previous Zelda games outside of a few Easter eggs to old games and the final dungeon. There is music for battles that is nice but nowhere near as memorable as say Ocarina of Time's battle music. Much of the game makes use of ambient sounds which can be kind of dull but is very fitting of the world Nintendo has built. The Easter eggs I did find with music made me really appreciate them but you won't be humming any of the original tunes in this game like you would Hyrule Market or Kakariko Village from Ocarina and a Link to the Past respectively.
This is another area where Breath of the Wild really shakes up the Zelda formula. Basic formula still applies in which Ganon is taking over Hyrule in Hyrule Castle, Zelda is in danger and you need save her. However, all of the story outside of this is all completely optional. If you want to recover your memories you can do that, if you want to help out townsfolk by doing side quests you can do that, if you want to skip everything and just go to the final boss and beat the game you can do that. I have done all the main quests and recovered Link's memories so I can say a few things but I won't spoil it. The memories are scattered and are not easy to find but they give you the freedom to find them separately and try to piece together the lore. The basic story is pretty vanilla though except for a few cool exceptions that I do not want to ruin for those who may buy the game who are reading this.
Breath of the Wild has some interesting characters as well as the development of a significant few. There are more interactive races in this game than in Zelda's of past, each with their own towns and quests. Link can recover his memories which gives him some character and you can choose what to say which, while not really affecting anything, is nice to see as we are so used to Link as a silent protagonist. The Sheikah are more prevalent in this game as well which is really cool to see as they have been more of a mystery than anything in the past. Zelda is also much more complex than ever before which can be seen through Link's memories and was very interesting to see. The NPCs that fill the world are also quirky and brimming with personality. Ganon is very much like his NES incarnation in terms of character as opposed to modern 3D Zelda titles which wasn't a con for me but some people have really enjoyed Ganondorf becoming Ganon.
This game shines in its post-game because its post-game is however long or short as you want it to be. With over 100 shrines to find, 900 koroks hidden in the world, and tons of Easter eggs and cool locations to see I can see myself putting in another forty hours easily which would put me at one hundred hours of gameplay. On top of that I still have tons of side quests to finish still Not a lot of games can give you that much time of enjoyment out of them these days and I like to get the bang for my buck.
My cons list will be pretty short for this game. For some, the framerate dips and only 30fps can be an issue if you are used to high end PC gaming or are very interested in only the top graphics. The story is also a bit vanilla for my taste but was serviceable enough.
Is it worth it?
If you own a Wii U already, yes. If you are a die-hard Nintendo early adopter than yes. Chances are if you fit into both of these camps than you are already playing it. Is it a system seller for someone who already has a PS4, Xbox or PC? That's up to the individual but I am happy with the game and with the Switch because I value innovation and its sleek design. My two cents would be to wait until winter when Zelda isn't the only title available from the house that Miyamoto built. There will also be a great amount of indies available that will all be portable at that time and if you do pick one up in the winter or on a price cut, make Zelda your first game purchase for it. The massive map, the fun mechanics and all the possibilities of what you can do in this new world of Hyrule overshadow the framerate dips and the vanilla story. In some senses it reminds me of Final Fantasy 15 in that the gameplay and characters save it from its performance and story issues. Ironic enough that the last review I did for DoD was Final Fantasy 15 and these are my all-time favorite franchises. Breath of the Wild falls just short of A Link to the Past as my favorite Zelda based only on nostalgia for ALttP but this for me is truly a masterpiece and the best game Nintendo has put out in a very long time that wasn't Mario Kart or Smash Brothers.