The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – First Impressions



[ Quick reminder: I am still in broadcast-only mode while I play through Breath of the Wild, meaning that while I am posting this publicly, I will not be reading any potential comments yet – nor any tweets, emails, etc. ]

[ Also: SPOILERS AHEAD. This is NOT a spoiler-free sort of thing. The latter part of this post will be detailing specific Zelda stuff, although I am not very far in the game by any means. ]

 

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So. Uh.

This new Zelda game is great.

I am not sure exactly how many hours I’ve put into it so far (nor even how to check, if there’s a way), but I’d estimate that I’ve gotten about 15 hours in since getting the game Friday afternoon. Any other games, creative projects are on the backburner right now – playing Zelda is my go-to activity once the rest of the family is asleep, or I can otherwise sneak some time in.

Writing about the game feels like it would follow a similar route to playing it – I could probably go 2,000 words in any particular direction, and still feel like I have 80,000 more in any number of other directions.

I am going to try to split this post into three parts: Some general spoiler-free impressions of this new Zelda entry, one specific experience I’ve had with the game as I shared it with kids, and then some particular moments from within Breath of the Wild that I’ve really enjoyed.

 

First Impressions (Spoiler-Free)

 

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of those games that I would totally respect someone for disliking, because different people enjoy different things and it’s not for everyone. If you enjoy a more linear Zelda, I get that.

But on an objective, stand-from-a-distance basis, it’s just such a well-made game. On a macro level, you can see the effort and intent that went into the big-picture design of it all – then on a micro level, you can appreciate all the tiny details, how every space has been crafted wonderfully.

There is room for criticism, sure. The music is a bit minimalist; if you want a grand adventuring theme to accompany you while you valiantly traverse Hyrule Field, it is not there (but when it does show up contextually, it’s real nice). The graphics… are fine, but as plenty have said, you’re not dealing with super detailed textures or ultra-HD fine-tuned details.

However, this is a gorgeous game. Trying to describe the visuals in text is a disservice. This is a game where I am frequently taking time just to slowly move the camera around and take in the sweeping vistas. It’s a remarkable feat, getting a grand sense of landscape from within an artificial environment. It feels really good.

Also, while Breath of the Wild in many ways surpasses prior Zelda titles in authoritative fashion, you can still prefer differences in things like storyline, or maybe you’re way into the motion controls for the Skyward Sword combat.

Beyond those things, though… it’s just a really solid video game. It’s tough to find any glaring faults, and any further criticisms would feel like quibbling.

I have one gamer friend. He loves the Mass Effect series, greatly enjoyed Witcher III, has gone through phases of Skyrim and World of Warcraft, etc. He’s my go-to for modern-gaming discussion. It was really fun to talk to him about Breath of the Wild, and how it compares to the current gaming landscape.

Basically, I get the sense that Nintendo has put out a AAA-quality product that can hold its own against any other release – with their own particular brand polish (lighthearted writing) and, importantly, decades of built-up associations with the franchise.

Trying to imagine Breath of the Wild as a new, separate IP is an interesting exercise. It’d still be a decent game, sure, but there really is something to be said for Nintendo’s bold choice to say “hey, we can do an open-world action RPG; in fact, let’s do it with the Zelda series.”

About the Switch itself, my friend asked me, “So, you can take it into the bathroom?” That’s funny. I told him it hadn’t occurred to me, but yeah, actually, it would be perfect for that.

Breath of the Wild is also one of those games that I definitely really like, on a deep level, but it’s tough to explain why in a tidy summary. For instance, there are two things that come to mind strongly when I consider why I’m digging it so much:

 

  • Breath of the Wild encourages exploration in a way I have never seen before to an extent that is truly impressive.

The whole game is just a series of standing at Point A, picking a point B to get to, and having a whole adventure just getting there, usually sidetracked by four or five little mini-adventures along the way as you keep seeing little interesting things to check out. Over and over, again and again, the player is rewarded for simply being attentive to the world and checkin’ stuff out.

 

  • Personally, I love how Breath of the Wild poses a challenge on a level both cerebral and visceral.

Prior games in the Zelda canon have gone for this balance before (puzzles are a tradition), but Breath of the Wild achieves a striking harmony that is difficult to describe without putting you through it yourself.

You have opportunities to plan how you approach clusters of enemies, and the more you think of these spaces the more tactical options come to mind. Yet, in the specific conflicts with particularly tough foes, the actual fighting is very satisfying. The Shrine puzzles can be really tricky (there’s one I actually gave up on and stamped on my map to return to later), but whether you’re using your brain or your reflexes, there seems to be a consistent theme of Rewarding in the playthrough.

There is a persistent (constant, consistent) feedback loop of explore, discover, reward – it’s lovely and delightful. It sounds so simple, but is a stark contract to the more overarching “get item, to get to next town, to get to next dungeon” theme in prior Zelda quests.

 

I realize that I am likely echoing the sentiments of plenty of other reviewers out there, but I only read a couple spoiler-free reviews. I doubt I have any real insight, from a critical vantage point. Consider this a confirmation, I guess. Seeing all those perfect scores roll in was like “no way,” but now it’s just like, “Yeah, I get it.”

It’s just a great video game. I like it.

 

Sharing the Switch (One Minor Spoiler?)

 

Sunday afternoon brought me a really cool moment with my Switch and Zelda.

My wife and I were preparing to leave from our house to visit her family to celebrate our nephew’s 3rd birthday, just a lowkey gathering sort of thing. My wife got a phone call from my 12-year-old nephew, requesting I bring the Switch.

Now, I have barely had the thing for 48 hours, it is still shiny and new to me, and this is a setting where there will be 10+ kids (the 12-year-old is the oldest) and food and… basically, my wife made no promises to my nephew, and told me she’d totally understand if I chose not to bring it.

But, here’s the thing: If someone wanted you to show them your SNES, how would you go about sharing it? Lugging it over along with controllers and cartridges and cords to plug in?

I think of the Switch as a home console (almost exclusively, I played it docked on the TV), but at this point, it was nice to be able to just bring it over to the house like it was a 3DS.

After dinner, I found a spot to kickstand the Switch and loaded Zelda. Myself and my nephew were soon joined by one other nephew (his brother) and three nieces.

Six of us, huddled around the Switch, taking turns passing the controller. It was like something out of a Nintendo commercial, and although I still mostly just think of the Switch as my Zelda machine, I have to give Nintendo props for making a system that is so uniquely shareable in this way.

Watching kids play Zelda was waaaay more fun that I expected, I admit, and kinda unfolded even more of Breath of the Wild’s brilliance.

Three of them were complete pacifists – they wanted me to get them to an area they could just walk around in, and enjoy the view, as we all laughed when they would inevitably have to run away from baddies (except for one, who specifically requested a village to poke around in). One niece wanted combat against “easy enemies,” and was satisfied to slay a couple small groups of “goblins.”

Then there was my 12-year-old nephew, who put on quite a show. He paraglided off a tower, only to freefall and scare us all as he pulled the chute just feet from the ground. Clearly, he was comfortable in a 3D gaming environment thanks to his Minecraft experience.

As he explored, he suddenly began triggering a couple story sequences I hadn’t even found yet (I had to go back and do it myself when I got home!), then came across a miniboss that provided us with our crowning spectator thrill.

On a little island in the midst of lakes and other waterways, with its own grove of trees, my nephew found a sleeping Hirox – this giant, forty-feet-tall cyclops guy. He walked over to him, slashed him with the sword, then ran away as we all laughed.

The giant pursued, to the edge of the island, and stopped. My nephew brought Link around to look at him from the nearby bridge, as we all sighed with relief.

But then the Hirox grabbed a friggin’ tree right out of the ground (!), and suddenly began wading straight through the water… waist-deep for the giant.

We all started screaming.

My nephew forced him to fight on dry land, and – actually killed him! We all cheered!

Video games are fun.

Especially when you let your nephew use a really powerful sword that you found in a shrine well outside the usual safer boundaries of your exploration.

Seriously, though – I think there’s something to be said for a game so versatile that it can be enjoyed as both a walking simulator and as the source of memorable, dynamic boss confrontations. It was fun to see my younger family members point excitedly at the screen as they spotted something cool in the distance, and to see how much even a five-year-old can enjoy a tough Zelda game in a supervised spurt.

 

Gameplay Highlights (Spoilers! Or, At Least, Specific Stuff About The Gameplay, If Not Much About The Actual Plot)

 

As a fan of the Zelda series, Breath of the Wild has a rich layer of enjoyment for all the fan servicing, canon references, and callouts to prior games. I think my favorite touch so far was during an early cutscene; when Ganon is mentioned, the game plays the same opening organ notes that you hear in Ocarina of Time as you ascend the staircase to confront Ganondorf. That was a really cool flourish.

Even just speaking in a general narrative sense, I really dig the story idea of waking up 100 years after you were already the hero once before – and having conversations with people who end up talking about you. Granted, half the time that happens it ends up being a Yiga fight… but that, too, is a cool, fun element.

Then again, there’s just so many tons of “cool, fun” moments. There’s a bridge in Hyrule that, at night, I’ve seen an enormous, glowing green dragon just sorta lazily fly around. He’s huge. I tried shooting him with an arrow, he didn’t even notice. I took a picture of him, so I have a name, but I literally don’t know anything else about him/her/it yet.

Definitely had a smile on my face when I walked into Kakariko Village.

My playstyle: Speaking of Kakariko, I’ve been using the stealth outfit, upgraded at the Great Fairy Fountain. I have options for more defense, sure, but being able to have more control over when enemies notice Link is definitely helpful for me. Happy with my choice so far. Died the outfit green.

I enjoy cooking more than I thought I would, and trying to discern the math behind the combinations. I laughed out loud when I made a weird stealth-enhancing elixir – it provides only a low-level boost to stealth, but for over ten minutes.

Through my first few hours, I was honestly struggling a bit with the bow-and-arrow controls. I didn’t want to use motion controls, but the controller aiming felt WAY sensitive, all over the place. When I adjusted the Camera Sensitivity down a notch… boom. Everything clicked into place, and firing arrows felt familiar, like an old friend. I was nailing slow-motion midair kills and it felt glorious.

Weapon degradation: I was always leery of this design aspect, ever since it became public knowledge. I mean, I realize Nintendo wouldn’t just blindly throw it in – I trusted that some thought went into it, and it was be handled as well as could be reasonably expected.

So my impression of that has been intriguing; the actual degradation of the weapons hasn’t bothered me. If anything, it forces you to think about your arsenal much more than typical Zelda fare, and opens up lots of varied possibilities for the melee combat. Having a weapon available has never, never been an issue.

In fact, if anything, I have the opposite qualm! I wish I had more inventory slots… to such an extent that I feel like I might be missing something, in terms of opportunities to expand weapon slots (?!). I don’t want anyone to tell me, I want to discover it for myself if it’s there, but so far, man, I just feel really limited in what I can carry. Maybe that’s just me. It’s not a huge deal (and for some wide swaths of play not an issue one bit), but occasionally leads to some tough decisions.

The one exception: I bought a house? Which is fun and nice? And it came with one weapon display on the wall, so I am using that. Hopefully the blank slate of surrounding walls marks the promise of future upgrades.

The 12 memories to regain from Zelda’s photos, with utterly no information as to where they were taken (yet finding people who gives hints) is a brilliant stroke. It seemed like an eye-wideningly difficult task, like, I wanted to groan at the thought – but without really yet trying very intentionally to hunt them down, I’ve already found two. Nice.

I don’t really get the Blood Moon thing? Sometimes it brings me right back to the game where I was, but sometimes the loading time seems extra long and then it’s 7:30am. In either case, I’ve yet to see the Blood Moon actually have any sort of effect, but I haven’t exactly been hanging around right after I recently killed a bunch of dudes either. If anything, it’s nice to see the theme of A Menacing Moon Overhead make an appearance in a Zelda game again.

Just realized: I haven’t even tried any “shieldboarding” yet. When I’m at a high point of elevation, my instinct is always to paraglide from the peak, rather than shieldboard down into the valleys. A whole different kind of play/exploration style, untapped.

I’ve had a couple really enjoyable moments of returning to the Great Plateau and managing to keep finding stuff I never stumbled across before. I get the feeling you can spend 500 hours exploring this game and not find everything. Some may be intimidated by that – but I love it. Certainly not trying to be a completist or anything (I was never the type to relentlessly hunt down every Skulltulla), but just knowing the game has such rich stores of discoverable STUFF is neat. I dunno. Maybe I’m an easily amused sucker, but it works.

The first time I genuinely laughed during the game was when I had a Skeltal following me, and I dropped a bomb on the ground as I ran… and he picked it up, over his head, just before I detonated it.

I guess I’m glad the Every Region Has A Horse Ranch stuff is in the game, but you can chalk that up as One Of Those Things I’m Just Not Into. I walk everywhere. I don’t understand the appeal of having a horse (or being a wolf, per Twilight Princess). I don’t want animals, I want adventure. I have enough pets in real life – they’re an expense to clean up after, not something to embrace or be excited for. Meh.

I’m at the point where I can kill a Guardian if I really need to, but it’s not a sure thing and not something I seek out. Would still rather run for my life. Or just bomb it from behind a wall if it’s stationary.

The simple possession of 1) infinite bombs that you can 2) detonate at your own control is so @#$%ing refreshing. I am a huge fan. Just call me Bomberman. They’re my go-to for basically everything. Killing enemies, chopping down trees, creating a distracting, hunting wildlife, whatever. “Do it with bombs” is my motto.

I can’t be the only one who finds it amusing, the way Link’s limp dead body slides down slopes after he dies…

I thought it was great to run into so many people just traveling the world like you are, but now I’m thinking it’s kinda weird to keep bumping into the same people repeatedly, but it also makes sense. Anyway, the world feels populated even out in the open.

I’ve definitely had a little bit of a rebellious streak, trying to reach areas well before I probably should be. If anything, my biggest problem is finding Shrines to activate there! Well, that, and dying at the hands of harsher enemies and environments alike. Gosh, this game is fun.

Oh, boomerangs? Having to manually catch them when they return? Ha! A nifty touch.

I found a spiked club made of dinosaur bone, which makes me wonder if I am going to run into any dinosaurs, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever wondered in a Zelda game before.

Speaking of which: The first time I fought a Lizalfos, and it did that head-down sprint where it runs unnaturally fast? Wow! Terrifying, and instantly brought to mind a raptor from Jurassic Park.

The whole opening sequence in The Great Plateau was just so well-done. Feels like a distinctly different chapter than the rest of the game so far, the way the whole world just opens up and unveils before you. It’s weird, feeling a sense of nostalgia and sentimentality, within the game, just for the Plateau and good times with the mysterious Old Man. If I had to be an obnoxious fanboy and applaud Nintendo for one particular thing so far, it might be how the opening chapter of the game is handled, those first few hours. Pitch perfect.

I really like the look of the Spirit Orbs? Like, just, how they look, floating through the air as a liquidy sphere. It’s a little thing, but resonate with me somehow. I even showed my wife. I am very silly.

… yikes, this is becoming quite the insane wall of text. Welp. My bad.

Let me end with trying to describe, by some approximation, where I am in the game.

  • I have upgraded my hearts and stamina meter twice each, have around 23 Korok seeds, and I think around 90 items cataloged in the Compendium.
  • My strongest sword has a 50 rating and I have a shield with a rating somewhere in the 30s. I am saving them for… when the need arises, or until I start finding stronger stuff more consistently, obviously.
  • I just spoke to the Zora prince, who wants me to travel down the ominous road with electric enemies he warned me about. Electric enemies do actually kinda frighten me, so I am trying to gear up appropriately – no metal armor/weapons, use stealth as much as possible, and I’m probably going to stock up on arrows and attack from a distance as much as possible. We’ll see.
  • But first! I kinda wanna see if I can make it to Akkala (sp?!). From what I’ve heard from the research lab, and knowing the homebuilders were transferred there, it seems like a really promising destination. But the last time I tried to find it, I… just… yeah, I’m not sure where exactly it is, I’ll just say that, lol. “North” from one spot, someone said, and I think there was a sign on a road, and… yeah, I just gotta figure it out. Which is fun! It’s a great game, Bront.
  • Also on the to-do list: Try shieldboarding, show that kid the Fire Rod I got, replenish a few decent stamina-healing recipes, invest in the Knight’s set of armor just to have on hand at least, and retry that Shrine I couldn’t conquer the first time.

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Those are some of my thoughts on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild video game for the Nintendo Switch.

One Response to “ The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – First Impressions ”

  1. Nintendojitsu , on March 7th, 2017 at 5:56 am Said:

    *nods in agreement*

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