To me, the most important game of E3 2016 was Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It’s the newest installment in one of the most cherished franchises in gaming history, and it’s simultaneously the swan song for the Wii U and a bold opening statement for Nintendo’s upcoming console, the NX. Not only that, but it promised to completely change the Zelda formula and make an experience that we’ve never seen from the series. This game is definitely Zelda, but in many ways it’s not. There already are a ton of think pieces and analysis based off about an hour of gameplay, but the overall conclusion from everyone is that this could be the biggest leap for the franchise we’ve ever seen.
The changes become apparent right from the beginning, when you discover you don’t find hearts or rupees in grass. This sort of bothered me, as it feels like those are series staples that shouldn’t be messed with. However, it does open up some interesting options to work around their absence. Long time fans of the series might find this to be a little too much of an overhaul, but it works for me. For health, players must hunt for food and cook it. I guess it makes the game a little more difficult than before, and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to Link cooking Monster Hunter-style, but it’s definitely something new. As for rupees, I wasn’t told how to earn them. I hope this means taking odd jobs everywhere, or maybe taking up side quests, but that’s merely speculation.
There should be a lot of options in that regard, considering this is the largest, most sprawling Hyrule we’ve ever seen. The map is gigantic, featuring what looks like close to five or six regions, or even more. The PR rep cursed with sitting with me during my play through said she couldn’t confirm if they were actual provinces like in Twilight Princess, but it did bring back memories of the recently revamped title.
The section I played on was dubbed “The Great Plateau” and it was probably the smallest portion on the map. Even still, it was a large slab of land. I was told I could go anywhere and climb anything I saw in the distance. I could do whatever I want, whenever I want however I want. It was almost overwhelming. Every tree, wall, or mountain is climbable. I guess that’s the big new feature. Skyward Sword introduced running and the stamina metre, and now Breath of the Wild adds to that mechanic with climbing. There are consequences to dilly-dallying on walls, and I can see this as a recurring gameplay system throughout each dungeon.
In many ways, Hyrule could be considered a dungeon itself. The area is full of Moblin camps, reminiscent to how Wind Waker had islands scattered throughout the flooded land. It makes the world feel inhabited, much like the dungeons and their surrounding towns. I also encountered a boss in the middle of a field. He was a massive rock golem with a special weak point on top. I had to climb up him and attack him, or wait for the perfect time to use my bombs. It’s the kind of thing you don’t expect to pop out wandering Hyrule Field, but it’s something players will have to get used to.
I ended up running away from the golem because I didn’t have a proper weapon to fight with. That’s a big change in the series as well; your sword and shield take damage. This adds a bit of tension to combat because at any given point your sword or shield will break. There is a bit of a warning, but there wasn’t any damage metre or some kind of quantifiable explanation for why it was ready to break, but that’s me being a little nitpicky. I asked what this meant for the Master Sword, and was told Nintendo couldn’t comment on that at this point in time, which makes me wonder if the sword is even in the game. Or perhaps that is the main quest—restore the Sword of Evil’s Bane so you can take out Ganon again.
In this game, wherever in the timeline it lands, the wielder of the Triforce of Power broke out of the seal locking him away, and he’s holding Hyrule Castle under siege. This is the biggest, baddest Ganon ever. So much so, he has a new form called Calamity Ganon. His design is perfect for the minimalistic, impressionist art direction of the game. While everything is bright and vibrant, Calamity Ganon stands as a dark splotch of wet paint contaminating the composition that is Hyrule. Because of this, Link awakes from a slumber, or even death, to return and restore order to the land. In contrast to Ganon, Link is colourful, and represents the beauty in the game, which can look gorgeous. Sometimes however, the less detailed art direction hurts Link’s character design and makes him stand out in a bad way. He almost looks jagged at times, which really hurts the soft tones of the game’s art direction.
In reality, that is one small nitpick for a game that is changing almost everything its series is known for. This is probably the most ambitious Zelda title we’ve seen in quite some time in terms of size and how much it’s trying to change. I worry the initial shock will spark some outcry from long time fans, but this is the first time in years that it feels like Nintendo means what they say they’re trying to break the Zelda formula.