Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
Open worlds have always irked me. In theory, a place in which you’re given free reign – one rich with lore, densely populated by NPCs, monsters, quests and secrets, sounds superb! The problem lies in execution and a lack of confidence in and consequence of the world at large. Almost always do open worlds devolve into barren landscapes with little more depth than a salad sandwich; or gallivanting overly jam–packed set dressings, ticking off lists of never-ending fetch quests. On paper, a world without boundary seems Utopian but given zero consequence, it’s a fantasy quick to fade. Those roots in mind, it’s a damn near miracle The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is so enthralling – so good, in fact, that within the opening hour, I failed to realise that time had folded in on itself and I’d lost half a day to its magic. A much-needed tapping of potential, Breath of the Wild is a remarkable accomplishment and aggressive removal of ‘filler’ from the open world vocabulary.
The first few hours of Nintendo’s newest sees you wandering The Great Plateau – a raised mass of land whose descent, at present, will result in a swift death. The gating is evident but notably, the only artificial barrier to be found. It’s a bold choice from Nintendo and shows just how much they’ve taken on board since Link’s last console outing. Exploring the Plateau rewards four core abilities, some familiar, some even old souls of the series won’t recognise. These tools are integral in seeing everything the world has to offer and it’s here, Breath boldly strides its own path. Forgoing the classic drip feed of items and abilities, the game opts for a full arsenal in the opening hours, eliminating the need for frivolous backtracking. Players can use their toys as much as they’d like before setting off into the great unknown, ensuring a familiarity with how they work and their clever utility in and out of combat. Quest design is also noticeably hands-off. Side missions offer some direction but ultimately, defeating the big, bad Calamity Ganon is the game’s only guiding hand.
Down off the Plateau, size and scope really start to seep in. Realising that the massive tutorial area comprised less than ten percent of the total world map is an awe so aggressive I almost yelled out loud. Coupled with a noticeable lack of loading in the overworld, things are firing on all cylinders. Interactions with minor characters give way to details impressive on their own but more so that they may never be spied by players less curious. Witnessing an NPC sprint for cover as it begins to rain, their shield or satchel a makeshift umbrella, or the raging turf war between a Moblin and Lizalfos as each attempts to claim a patch of land for themselves only strengthens the world’s autonomy, and makes you feel lucky just to be around to see it all.
The game’s personalised pacing is another clear choice. Expanses of grassland, tundra and desert snake for miles, providing much needed respite after a strenuous battle or climb. Marked by futuristic rock formations, puzzles make an appearance in the form of shrines – miniature dungeons nestled in Hyrule’s endless nooks and crannies. Built around a central mechanic, completion of shrines rewards spirit orbs, items used to bolster Link’s health or stamina. Puzzles also spill into the overworld and those stumbled upon can shine even brighter than their advertised counterparts. Glide through a desert and you may notice something conspicuous. Further investigation can yield a riddle or prize imbedded in the landscape. Go at it, there’s plenty more to be found.
A sumptuous art style and plenty of picture-perfect moments, the game does suffer from a handful of technical limitations. A handheld configuration of the Switch sees a reasonably sturdy frame-rate, sticking at 30. Slot in for some big-screen Zelda time however and prepare for serious dips. It’s not nearly enough to detract from the overall experience but the hitching does point to a long-standing promise to Wii U owners and undoubtedly, a compromise made to ensure the game’s compatibility with outdated hardware. A patch could help but as it stands, the fluttery, 900p docked version needs some serious seeing to.
A world of two hour ‘sneak-peeks’ and publishers seldom daring to leave much if not anything to our imaginations, it’s rare that a game can leave this indelible a mark. So what is Breath of the Wild if not a new spin on a familiar tale steeped in such masterful command of game design it seems trite for anyone else to attempt the same? Yes, it’s that good. There’s reason Breath has been touted a ‘system seller’ and if Nintendo continue in delivering experiences of this calibre, Sony and Microsoft are about to be shaken to their core.