The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Editor's Choice
Follow
10

Perfect

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Release Date:Genre:, , Rating:Developed By:Publisher:Platform:,

I think you are now ready… ready to hear what happened two weeks ago.

Dear impatient optimists, dear pragmatic skeptics, dear dedicated detractors… I choose to begin this review in perhaps the most declarative and divisive way possible, so buckle up for some hyperbolic blasphemy:

Enchanting.  Sprawling.  Overwhelming.  Groundbreaking.  Mind-blowing.

Masterpiece.

You see, whether or not you can possibly fathom it, when used to describe The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, these words are not an exaggeration.  This is a game which literally redefines our expectations of a genre, as well as possibly a franchise.  It goes places which no other game has gone, and it does so with such grace and fluency that it really never feels contrived or mechanical.  To the contrary, Breath of the Wild is so infinitely organic and alive, it’s impossible not to get lost in the experience, the world.

Sequence broken

And experience it you shall, in practically any way you see fit.  As has been constantly repeated in the past seven months of previews, Breath of the Wild deshackles you at a remarkably early stage in the game.  Directly in contrast to most previous entries in the series, the game tactfully employs what is a cleverly-obfuscated tutorial via the Great Plateau, a playground of sorts wherein the player acquires and learns to leverage the most basic of all his abilities.  Chief among these are the foundational runes, which, specifically, are:

  • Magnesis (magnetically control/pick up/manipulate metallic objects, such as blocks, doors, and chests)
  • Stasis (halt time momentarily for a chosen subject; can also allow for potential energy buildup in the object if it is struck repeatedly in this state)
  • Cryonis (create ~6 ft. climbable ice pillars from any valid water source)
  • Bombs (remote bombs, both square and round form factor)

Remarkably, and in shocking deviance from the Zelda template long embraced, it is solely these four abilities—along with the hang-glider, which is key to exploration—which will be used to solve practically every puzzle in the game.  For most players, roughly one single hour will have passed between the brief introductory sequence and the moment where they leap off the Great Plateau into the uncharted wilds beyond.  And it’s at this point when the game ceases to hold hands and provides only marginal and quite conservative guidance where it’s truly needed.

There is no path, no defined direction or order of operations.  Sequence-breaking does not apply, because there truly is no sequence to begin with.  The final encounter with Calamity Ganon—the great evil which destroyed the world 100 years ago, and which remains the terrifying antagonist against which Link battles in Breath of the Wild—can be invoked within the first couple hours of play if desired.  Naturally, it would be nearly impossible to succeed at this point, but the sheer fact that the game allows it is indicative of its near-boundless open-endedness, its intentional lack of ordinal structure, its sense of malleability and mystery.

Nintendo has said that this was a conscious effort from the very beginning of Breath of the Wild’s development, partially in an effort to rekindle sentiments introduced by the original 1986 Legend of Zelda NES progenitor, which also provided zero direction to the player.  In that game, the player was encouraged—silently implored—to head off, cautiously, in whichever direction they chose, in search of dungeons, hidden caves, cryptic secrets… a path forward, somehow.  And that is exactly—to a tee—how Breath of the Wild feels.  At the start, Link awakens—as he always does—but it’s what follows that’s so unique.  After a couple of short minutes of gathering oneself and picking up your Sheikah Slate (the critical companion item which Link will use for various purposes throughout the adventure, serving as everything from a map to a digital form of binoculars), Link walks out to the edge of a cliff, the camera pans around him for 10 or so seconds, the Breath of the Wild logo and melody fade in, and the game begins.  There is no orientation and no tutorial—at least, not which is obvious to the player.

Open-world 2.0

But there is so much more to what makes this game what it is.  A primary struggle of all open-world games is to produce a world which the player wants to explore, where traversal and exploration itself is the reward as well as the challenge.  The most cumbersome byproducts of the creation of such sprawling and seemingly endless game worlds are A) boredom and a tendency to become stale, and B) a sense of algorithmic or mechanical artificiality.  Both of these side effects are devilishly pervasive stumbling blocks for developers seeking to undertake this challenge, and both of them can be absolutely fatal to the finished product.

Breath of the Wild, however, attacks this endemic challenge with balance and complexity.  And the secret to its success is a living, breathing world that is among the most convincing we have ever experienced in gaming.  What Nintendo has created is an extremely realistic environment, the appeal of which is fundamentally in just that: its incessantly natural feel.  Hours pass (one real-world second per game minute), weather evolves, winds shift, fire spreads, animals and NPCs conduct themselves with amazingly lifelike behavior.  All of this may sound mundane and commonplace in terms of 2017 open-world game design, but rest assured, while it’s been attempted and accomplished to some degree, it’s never been perfected to the extent which Zelda manages.

This is best evidenced by the sheer joy of simply traversing Breath of the Wild’s world.  The player could easily walk for what seems like an eternity and never run out of things to see or do.  Enemy encampments, perplexing geologic features, enchanting landscapes, hidden treasures, shrines, villages, rumors, mysteries, Korok seed puzzles… the game is truly packed with activity.  But even in those necessary expanses of quiet nothingness, where Link can walk and climb for an extended stretch of time with minimal interruption from anything other than wildlife and topological challenges, the game world is so alive and so credible that it renders the journey exciting.

In fact, it’s so good, subsequent trips along the same path don’t even feel the same.  Different NPCs walk the same roads at different times of day, and all of them have something unique to say to Link.  Their dialogue changes to (smoothly!) incorporate commentary regarding current events, such as the weather, the time of day, and even what Link happens to be holding or wearing—it’s unexpectedly detailed.  Some of them peddle commodities and rare goods, some give directions or provide tips, and others might hint at the location of a forgotten treasure.  On top of that, the weather system constantly keeps the player on his or her toes, too.  It might be raining one trip, which makes visibility difficult and climbing tall structures nearly impossible (thanks to slippery surfaces)—but the next time around, it’s sunny and clear.  Time of day also greatly influences the mood and strategy of a given expedition, as the undead rise to attack during the nights (not annoyingly often, but enough to render it more dangerous), while bokoblins and other antagonists take the opportunity to sleep—so you can sneak by, or sneak up.

Progression and direction

So, then, you might be wondering, how in the world does Breath of the Wild truly structure itself?  Subtly, deliberately, carefully.  While the world is indeed a playground and practically any path is possible, the game does silently direct you along a series of hidden, ambiguous paths to try and manage frustration and the overall experience for the average player.  By this, I mean that, while the game does allow complete freedom of exploration and pathfinding, it also heavily yet silently suggests particular locations as the most optimal next destination by way of such devices as challenge.

Since no longer are any areas gated off until Link acquires a particular item (as in previous Zelda titles), this approach was necessary.  It’s obvious as soon as you venture into the “wrong” area: enemies are inherently far stronger, with much more vitality, better weaponry, more complex attack patterns, and longer lines of sight.  Some attack from horseback; others fire electric shock arrows from a half mile away.  But if you choose to attempt to progress through this perilous land anyway, do you have that choice?  Absolutely you do, and it will likely earn you some powerful equipment for this stage in the game if you persist.  Risk/reward is a real phenomenon in Breath of the Wild.

Another item of interest on the topic of navigation and direction is that of progression through the adventure.  While previous Zelda games have always (closely enough) followed the typical [find first dungeon – dungeon – item – find next dungeon – dungeon – item – and so on] formula, Breath of the Wild dispenses with that entirely.  While there are traditional dungeons in the game (roughly half which is normally expected from a Zelda game—more on that later), these dungeons can be located and completed in any order in BotW.

And while the focus and highlights of previous Zelda titles has long been the dungeons, Breath of the Wild’s aren’t even necessary to complete the game.  Instead, their traversal merely provides a serious advantage to Link during his final assault on Hyrule Castle and Ganon—along with some supplemental bonuses in lieu of conventional Zelda items.  Instead, Breath of the Wild’s focus is, well, on the wild.  It’s the adventure surrounding and leading up to these dungeons which most deeply defines the experience.

That’s not to say that the dungeons are no longer excellent or even a focal point in Breath of the Wild—but we’ll come back to that in a bit.

The game’s map is divided into 15 different regions, any of which can be explored in any order at any time.  Within each region, a single observation Tower exists which Link seeks to locate, reach, and eventually climb.  Each one feels different entirely in both its surrounding environment and the challenges of reaching the top.  Once there, Link inserts his Shiekah Slate tablet (a great example of the underlying technological focus which BotW adopts as a fascinating subterranean theme) and receives a regional topological map (yes, much like Assassin’s Creed), with only certain areas named and marked to give him a head start on exploring the region.

Randomly dotting the landscapes, hidden within caves and just generally anywhere and everywhere, are also the aforementioned shrines, of which there are over 100 in the game.  Each of these is on average a five-minute mini-dungeon experience featuring a bite-sized implementation of a particular puzzle concept.  Some of these are longer than others, but none of them exceeds probably 10 or 15 minutes maximum.  However, there are usually hidden treasure chests—sometimes with powerful items—that can be acquired if additional time is devoted to unraveling further mysteries within.  And completion of the shrine earns Link a Spirit Orb, four of which can then be traded at any goddess statue for either a stamina wheel upgrade or an additional heart on Link’s life meter.  Any shrine Link has reached can also be used as a fast travel point, which is an excellent idea.

Perhaps you’ve breathed a sigh of relief after hearing that Link can, indeed, upgrade his attributes throughout the adventure.  Some have decried the lack of RPG elements for character development and progression (e.g., EXP and skill trees) as a deficiency of BotW’s design, but this system more than makes up for it.  Furthermore, whereas most games reward combat (well, and quest completion) in such fashion, BotW rewards exploration.  The shrine system is an unnecessary yet powerful thread which ties together the rest of the explorative adventure, and especially thanks to the rewards for completing them and the ability to travel to/from them at any point, the player is likely to embrace it.

Link can also collect many hundreds of Korok Seeds by exploring even more remote and out-of-reach areas of the world and completing mini Korok puzzles (bow-and-arrow microgames, short races, landscape feature puzzles involving rocks and blocks, etc.).  These can later be traded to a particular character in exchange for additional inventory slots, a prize which is equally treasured by the player.  It’s a very effective design which—again—above all else, incentivizes exploration.

A typical hour of Breath of the Wild might consist of the following:

  1. Step out of village after stocking up on requisite equipment, such as arrows and other consumables.
  2. Warp to the top of a nearby observation tower.
  3. Pick a point visible in the distance and mark it on your map using a colored marker.
  4. Leap off the tower and hang-glide in the general direction of the marker.
  5. Land on the top of a nearby hill and begin your careful navigation of the landscape in an effort to eventually reach your destination.

I found this untethered, completely unaided sort of explorative progression to be incredibly enriching and, quite frankly, downright intoxicating.  While previous open-world games (such as Skyrim, into which I personally sank over 100 hours) have managed to implore this sort of pathfinding strategy in the past, Zelda takes it to the next level—and then supplements it further with a hang-glider.  Inevitably, while loosely following a path to his destination, Link will find himself scaling magnificent landscapes or passing through territory which is fascinating for a wholly different reason.  He might encounter a hidden village, or another shrine, or a giant tree, or a bizarre set of ruins, or an enemy encampment with an alluring treasure chest waiting for whoever might conquer the antagonists within.  And predictably, he will not be able to resist stopping to explore this new discovery along the way, which simply serves to further instill in the world a sense of liveliness, wonderment, scope, depth.

Even if one sticks to the path and heads directly for their destination, they will be inescapably confronted by unscalable or otherwise suboptimal terrain or environmental factors, if not challenging foes along the way.  To step up to the edge of a vast ravine or the foot of a massive waterfall while working toward a waypoint is not an inconvenience, but rather, an experience.  It is as enchanting a discovery as it is a challenge to overcome this world’s topological trials.

A final note in this section, this time regarding story. Breath of the Wild is forced to manage its storytelling differently thanks to its extremely nonlinear design.  You may have heard Aonuma refer to an “idea” he had long ago about how to handle storytelling in a game such as this one.  This is less of a groundbreaking concept than it’s probably been dressed up to be, but it does work very well in Breath of the Wild.  To explain without spoiling anything, envision the methods Metroid Prime and other passive storytelling games employed to convey the backstory of the adventure.  Now add cutscenes and an interesting approach to locating them, and you’ve got Breath of the Wild’s technique.  It’s true that, for the same reasons, some critical plotlines will be repeated by different NPCs as well throughout various parts of the adventure, but it’s easy to understand why this is the case—and all of them do indeed present it in a different style.

Dungeons and critical points

Earlier, I mentioned that dungeons are no longer required or even necessarily primary factors in the overall experience of Breath of the Wild.  Much anxiety has festered as a result of the apparent decision of BotW’s designers to favor exploration and bite-sized shrines over the towering and labyrinthine dungeons of Zelda yore.  But I’m here to allay those concerns in the most unexpected way possible.

Yes, it is true, there are fewer dungeons in Breath of the Wild than in just about any other Zelda game in history.  It’s more of a Majora’s Mask approach in this regard than, say, Twilight Princess.  And you’ve also probably heard that these dungeons are smaller/shorter than those in past Zelda games.

Well, to be honest, most of this is true.  But, as many of you reading this who are concerned about this aspect of the game, I would consider myself to be a serious fan of Zelda dungeons—even to the point where I most remember them over nearly all other aspects of previous Zelda games.  Stone Tower Temple, Eagle’s Tower, Turtle Rock, the Forest Temple… those were some of the most cherished moments in my personal gaming history.  And why?  Because of how eerie, how unnerving, how perplexing, and yet simultaneously how beautiful I remember them being.  They were both brilliant and terrifying.  They are what makes Zelda Zelda.

Guess what?  They’re alive and well in Breath of the Wild, even if the overall composition and theme of the dungeon scene has morphed into something unique.  You see, leading up to each dungeon is a series of events which truly communicates its gravity—and really lends them each individually a personality which was lacking from so many dungeons in Zeldas past.  By the time Link first steps foot in the dungeon, he’s already so emotionally involved with the meaning of the experience that the first glance around him at the sprawling architecture and the puzzles that await is ever more captivating.  And the music… quite in contrast to some early reports, it’s haunting.

There are no items acquired in these dungeons; no big Key, no big treasure chest.  Instead, each dungeon features a gimmick all to itself which must be manipulated to solve the series of puzzles within it.  They are most certainly smaller, but they are also more cohesive and elegant in their design.  Plus, they’re downright evil with respect to some of the physics-based riddles, and as Link progresses through them and further unravels their secrets, the music builds and evolves to swell the emotion.  In spite of the enrichment of the experience surrounding and leading up to their discovery, this is no retreat from dungeon-focused Zelda: Breath of the Wild does it differently, but it does it masterfully.

Combat that’s to die for

Ensuring that exploring a game world as large as Zelda’s is always a challenge, but something which many games fail to do in addition to that is to offer a compelling combat system.  Well, combat in Breath of the Wild is the best of any game in the Zelda series, and better than that of any other open-world game I’ve spent time with.  This is due to a variety of contributing factors.

For starters, enemy AI is really good.  It’s unpredictable and dynamic, as well as logical and cunning.  Enemies will sneak up, attack in groups, grab weapons, light stuff on fire (including their clubs and arrows using nearby torches), pick up objects (and other enemies!) to throw, consciously avoid projectiles and bombs, investigate suspicious noises, chase after and hunt nearby game… it’s impressive.  And it also makes dealing with these guys a whole lot more interesting—and ruining their day a whole lot more satisfying.

The advanced physics engine is the next big contributor to the joy of combat.  Rolling boulders down hills, tossing bombs into an encampment, flinging bodies off cliffsides… Breath of the Wild’s action just feels real.  Planning an assault on-the-fly with the assurance that your intentions will be embraced by the game engine as well as they might be in the real world really enriches the experience to the point of delight.

And the third big contributor to Breath of the Wild’s success in action sequences is the complexity and availability of combat choices for the player to make.  Attacking your enemies in this game often nearly feels as open-ended as the exploration itself.  Sure, you can run in swinging swords recklessly, but if that doesn’t get you killed, it’ll eventually bore you.  Instead, critical hit headshots and covert sneakstrikes from behind heavily incentivize cautious stealth assaults are far more efficient.  And it’s possible to use the environment to your advantage, too: since enemies react naturally to sudden noises, for instance, shooting an arrow to make contact behind a group of enemies can mislead them, as can tossing a bomb and allowing it to roll along some distance before detonating it.  If it seems unlikely to you that you’ll be making these sorts of decisions while playing the game, don’t worry: in time, it comes naturally, and you will.  And it’s awesome.

The game takes great pains to reward skillful combat performance as well.  Dodging at the last moment allows the player to enter a Flurry Rush, which is a devastating series of swipes at the enemy in slow motion.  Blocking with Link’s shield at the last moment produces a Parry.  Leaping off a higher ledge and pulling out his bow allows for a slow-motion aiming interlude where multiple enemies can be taken out before landing.  And, of course, shooting enemies in the head with arrows results in a critical hit, as does throwing one’s weapon at them.

One last important point to make here: a particularly contentious change to the Zelda formula to accommodate the new open-world design was the introduction of weapon durability.  In fact, this element of the game is so prevalent that you’ll hardly ever fight more than a dozen enemies using the same weapon.  If that sounds annoying and overly restrictive to you, consider this: all the while, the game is literally throwing replacement weapons at you (nearly every enemy drops a weapon of some sort, and a good number of these are worth picking up).

Weapons are incredibly easy to assess at a glance thanks to a heavily simplified attack rating system (a single number is shown, as well as an indicator of whether the weapon is an improvement over what is currently held), and switching them out is fast and easy using the quick menu (which applies to all weapons, by the way, including bows and arrows).  Because of this, the durability/weapon breakage system actually works very well.  It serves a very important purpose: to keep the player interested in the actual equipment, and to keep them juggling new options to freshen up combat with each new encounter.

Mystery and enchantment

Breath of the Wild is chocked full of secrets and unexpected content.  It’s also heavily focused on providing the player with do-it-yourself unaided discoveries and countless “aha!” moments.  Many of these take the form of side quests, which are clearly marked on the Adventure Log screen of the menu, alongside the Main Quests and Shrine Quests (quests to reach a special shrine).  Any of them can be used to mark the map to help orient the player and kick off the required exploration.  Of the several dozen of these formally-marked side quests in the game, there are, of course, a handful which are simple and relatively vapid.  But of course, that’s to be expected in any open-world game—and it’s also fairly realistic, as not every request from every person will lead to an enthralling experience.  But they are far fewer in number than most other modern open-world games, and many of them are indeed really interesting to undertake, which communicates a devotion to quality over quantity (a philosophy which Nintendo has long been suspected to favor).

Many of these side quests draw attention to features of the landscapes in their enigmas, such as the positioning of trees, the shape of a mysterious rock, or other such peculiarities.  Some of you might suspect this to be boring, but it really isn’t—it’s enchanting.  And besides, it’s totally optional, like everything else in this game.  Breath of the Wild really is an experience for any child at heart who loves exploring and mystery, but it will be especially treasured by those who love unraveling the secrets of the wild itself.

Even simply exploring the environment is a captivating, often magical experience.  Much conversation has transpired regarding the “empty” feel of the world in some of the videos, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Instead, the world is as it should be: both empty and alive.  There are areas filled with activity—dense, challenging, and unnerving—where the player is forced to move slowly and carefully and stop frequently along the way.  Likewise, there are expansive regions where silence, nature, and wonderment define the journey.  The chirps of indigenous birds and howls of nearby wildlife are accompanied only by the occasional twinkle of a fragmented piano melody, meant to imbue the atmosphere with a particular mood.  Sunlight and moonlight dance along surfaces after filtering through actual natural barriers, such as the leaves of nearby palm trees or wooden blinds covering a window inside a hut—and they are directly affected by the angle of the sun and moon.  Water drips from Link as he dries, footprints are left in the sand and the snow by nearby characters.  The sunsets and sunrises are beautiful enough to evoke memories of family beach trips and prompt the player to pause to simply wait and watch patiently.  This is a world alive, and very much emotional, for the most visceral of reasons.

This also speaks to the lack of overworld music in Breath of the Wild, and oh, what a wonderful decision.  Yet again, complaints have swelled from within the depths of the Zelda fanbase that the lack of memorable explorative themes might harm the experience, but it does just the opposite.  When the player is spending potentially over 100 hours exploring something as vast and varied as Breath of the Wild’s world, it’s a brilliant move to eliminate any X-minutes-long loop of accompanying music.  Not to mention the sheer depth and detail of BotW’s ambient sound design: as previously mentioned, the noises emitted by the surrounding wildlife are central to the experience and the sentiment.  Alongside those, the whirring of the winds and trickling of water down the rocks as you approach each new alcove, each mountain summit, each forgotten nook, sometimes can border on the spiritual.  This is absolutely the best and most believable surrealistic atmosphere ever crafted in an open-world adventure of any kind.

What about the rest of the music though?  Many of you know I’m a bit of a self-described game music enthusiast—and I’m happy to report that those melodic themes that do exist in the game (and yes, there are plenty of them) are very well-composed.  They’re also regularly decorated by live instrumentation from strings, horns, and woodwinds, which only serves to accent the grandiosity of the experience.  So although the exploration and wild battle music is unconventional in the Zelda sense, the rest of the soundtrack absolutely fits the profile—everything from villages to dungeons.  I doubt that anyone will be disappointed.

Challenge and demands

Zelda Souls, it’s been called by some.  While this is absolutely not Dark Souls, there is no denying that Breath of the Wild is easily the most challenging Zelda game in a very long time.  Much of this is a product of the lack of linearity, and thus progressive difficulty curve, of the game itself.  But it’s also a product of the lack of hand-holding and just generally the game’s unwillingness to yield to the player.  It doesn’t need to: the player already feels the need to adapt and to learn.  Cautiousness is a skill taught early on by Breath of the Wild, as approaching any situation without a plan is never a good idea.

The action and combat sequences are often frenetic and unforgiving.  Enemies can and will end your game quickly if given the opportunity; they’ll strike you quickly and sometimes from long distances, they’ll knock you off a cliff, they’ll blow you up and set you on fire.  This is no Ocarina of Time; Game Over screens will be encountered often.  But Breath of the Wild also takes great care to ensure that frustration does not overrule entertainment and adventure.  To that end, death inflicts no penalty apart from a short wait time at the loading screen and a minor regression to the last save point (the game autosaves frequently and intelligently, and manual saves are also possible).  You will begin again with the same equipment and status as you did at that very moment, before death occurred.

Yes, it is indeed a challenging game.  But that isn’t to say that carefree exploration cannot take place; it can, and it often does.  Still, at the same time, the game trains the player to begin paying attention to such enduring variables as temperature management, environmental hazards, noise levels, and all sorts of other intangibles which previously were ignored by Zelda and pretty much every other series.  More complexity and authenticity isn’t always better, but in Breath of the Wild’s case, it is carefully balanced to never feel overly cumbersome, but instead always provide yet another additional layer of necessary strategy and planning.

As I’m sure everyone knows by now, this means that Link will need to spend time cooking (which, by the way, is incredibly easy to get the hang of), managing his body temperature at higher altitudes and colder climates by way of clothing choice and nutrition, and paying attention to his noise levels as he moves throughout dangerous territory.  It also means—as has also been revealed—keeping an eye out for thunderstorms and removing metallic equipment while exploring during one for fear of deadly lightning strikes.  But this is no Far Cry; the game acknowledges the player’s unwillingness to spend time reading through each item’s description in search of hints about its construction, and instead provides a handy electric icon during perilous weather so that the offending equipment can be easily identified and removed.

In fact, this is just one of so very many ways in which Breath of the Wild respects the player’s time and intelligence.  Another one is the aforementioned ability to fast-travel to any shrine… but also any tower or numerous other critical points across the map—and this travel can be invoked at any time by simply pulling up the map and choosing a destination.  Weapon and inventory management is as easy as it could possibly be given the lack of a touchscreen/second screen accompanying the gameplay, with contextually appropriate quick menus available at the touch of a button.  The only thing you can’t easily do is drop an item, but that’s probably for the best, anyway—and as Link’s inventory expands naturally over time, this becomes less and less of a problem anyway.

What about the length of the adventure?  There have already been attempts to quantify this, to assign a typical this-many-hours rating of the real meat of the main adventure itself.  But more so in Breath of the Wild than in any other game in the series, “length” is a misnomer.  If we measured length alone, technically the game would measure up to around 1 hour, since that’s hypothetically how long it would take someone to complete it if they rushed to the end.  Estimates of time to complete the entirety of the main quest line might be slightly more practical, but even this is still heavily misleading, as no one in reality is ever going to skip around all of the other content—shrines, combat, treasure, side quests, exploration, mysteries—just to reach the next primary destination.

Instead, I will simply tell you how long I figure the average person will spend with the game before the primary quest is completed: 60 to 120 hours.  It’s a huge range because how long it actually takes you is so heavily dependent upon your commitment to ignoring all of the other distractions and attractions that surround you throughout the entire adventure.  However, it’s probably possible to complete the entire main quest line and all of the shrines in the game if a player is dedicated to doing so within that timeframe.  As for the side quests and other extras… well, I think it’d be impossible to even provide an estimate if those are included.  Possibly 150 to 200 hours… seriously.

It just is

The foundational framework by which Breath of the Wild is brought to life—this magnificent game engine which is responsible for everything from the realistic physics to the dazzling eye-candy—is a treasure in and of itself.  But in tandem with the extremely realistic behavior of so many dozens of animals and insects, the credibility of the weather system, the perpetuity of the day/night cycle, the authenticity of NPCs, the solemn intricacy of the atmospheric sound design and lighting, and the sheer variety of what’s in store, it creates magic.  These elements taken together concoct an experience which only gets better with its scope—provided, of course, the quality of the environments and the lands themselves does not depreciate as the game expands.

And it does not; although there are literally dozens of different environments and climates to experience in Breath of the Wild, each one truly feels authentic, ranging from the lush and tropical to the dry and desolate, from the sweeping vistas to the dense jungles, from the frigid peaks to the moist swamplands.  As impressive technically as it can be, it is perhaps even more a triumph of art design and careful construction, where seemingly every tree and every rock has a purpose and was placed deliberately and naturally.  I’m honestly not sure how it was all possible.

Open your eyes

This is it, folks.  The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is Nintendo’s Magnum Opus.  It’s not only the best Zelda game ever created, it’s also one of the very best videogames in the history of the art.  Games like this are so rare that it would be impossible to classify it as anything other than a masterpiece.  Experience it at all costs.

 

###

ADDENDUM – Editor’s Note

A 10/10 is a rare achievement; in fact, the last one I awarded was seven years ago in 2010.  It’s also natural to doubt whether any game should deserve such high acclaim, so let me spend a few moments to address any such concerns.

In my 15 years of reviewing games, this is one of the easiest and most certain scores that I have ever awarded, and there is no doubt that Zelda: Breath of the Wild deserves every bit of the acclaim this tremendous score implies.  I tried in earnest to conjure valid criticism of the game every moment I spent with it, but in reality, apart from the usual technical what-ifs and minor quibbles about platform limitations, there is truly nothing much wrong with this game.  It is the first game in a very long time which I have felt compelled to spend 100+ hours playing, and most importantly, every single moment I have spent with it has been something special.

This is a memorable moment for gaming.  Breath of the Wild is a very special product which we will probably not witness again anytime soon—or possibly ever.  Let go of your concerns and prepare yourself: this is the ultimate adventure you’ve been waiting for.  You are in for something unforgettable.

 

ADDENDUM – Random Additional Notes + Companion Article

There is so much to cover about a game as deep as Breath of the Wild that it’s nearly impossible to fit it all into one cohesive review.  As a result of that, I’ve prepared a companion article with even more specificity (but still with careful attention to spoilers) to address some of the myths and misconceptions about Zelda, as well as my response to some of the more common criticisms.  If you’re interested in reading further, as well as viewing lots of additional footage (some with minor spoilers, but marked accordingly), don’t miss my companion article here!

Good

  • Massive, credible open-world
  • Incredibly deep and varied experience
  • Complex, yet accessible and fun, gameplay
  • Ingenious puzzles
  • Truly open-ended in the most authentic sense
  • Hundreds of hours of compelling gameplay
  • Fantastic presentation with stunning visuals and memorable soundtrack
  • Masterful sense of balance

Bad

  • Voice acting could be better
  • Pop-in at great distances, occasional frame rate stutters during heavy activity
  • Optional shrine tracking beep can get annoying
10

Perfect