There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of reviews of this game online, so why choose mine? Well, like everyone, my experience is unique. This view point also comes from someone who is not all too bothered about open world games. I will also state at this point it is the least Zelda like game I have ever played.
My first ever experience with Zelda, apart from a small stint playing the NES version at a neighbours when I was too young to know what I was doing or what was happening, was Ocarina of time. I enjoyed it well enough, but it never blew me away. I have always had respect for Zelda games, but I have yet to be gripped by what I have played. Until now...
Breath Of The Wild drops you straight into the action. You wake up after a long rest and have nothing. You emerge from the underground shrine of resurrection with nothing of real note. There are no lengthy tutorials or mini tests. You are literally thrown into Hyrule with full access to everything and anything. The game forces you to explore and figure things out. It is this fact that allows people to play the game differently. Amongst all the various smaller things that add up to making the game so in depth, like the weather and day/ night cycle, down to being able to stumble onto a fire or a pot and experiment cooking.
Firstly, the aesthetics of the game are at times breathtaking. The different amounts of terrain, working in line with the different kinds of light coming from the sun and reflecting from the moon are impressive. It becomes very easier to over look this, but you will be playing and all of a sudden just stop and go ‘this looks lovely’ or ‘wow, let me stop a minute and appreciate these water or grass graphics’. The textures on rock (dry and when it rains), tree stumps you have chopped up, and sand, are so well designed it makes the experience very immersive. I could spend a great deal of time describing all the different flora and fauna, along with all the clever weather and vista designs, but I think you get the point. This is a beautiful looking game, and a lot of time, effort, and love has gone into designing it.
Stamina and Health at the start of the game makes you have to be inventive in what you do. You do not level up tens of different skills and strengths with points, but rather are rewarded with either and extra heart container or extra bit of stamina once you trade over four spirit orbs you have earned from puzzles and tests in shrines. This means you tend to be more cautious at first when you approach enemies, especially armed with anything you can find - sticks, Korok leaf, a rusty blade that has been lost of discarded. The stamina wheel at first feels a tad limited, as you use this to run, climb, and glide. This is deliberate, and works really well in making you feel like you are progressing when you beat shrines and build up your stamina wheel. All of a sudden, you can climb higher, glide longer, and run further. Once you have a circle or two of stamina obtained, it makes life in Hyrule a lot of fun.
Another thing that adds to the feel of progression is the fact that weapons do not have infinite durability. I specifically mean that the weapons and shields you find throughout your adventures will break after extended use. This mechanic means you are not reliant on a handful of weapons, and forces you to be selective about which tool you use for any job. This sort of thing in games used to bug me, but I have come to appreciate why this is done, and allows you to be more immersed from the perspective of foresight. You have a cool sword or bow that you enjoy for a period of time, but may need to rely on a ladle or rusty sword in a pinch, because you have gone hung-ho with a sexy piece of equipment. It also encourages you to engage in skirmishes with enemies, who drop weapons and body parts when they are slain.
The main objective can be taken on from the start if you like. Emerge from the shrine, find a weapon, and head straight for Calamity Ganon. The game allows you to do this, but you will be missing out on all the small things in the world that make it worth taking your time. Amongst a load of side quests you can pick and choose from whenever, and some are much more creative than ‘save my family member’ or ‘escort me to place’, you can take on the four guardians. They are four elemental type steampunk-esque machine beasts, that need to be freed from calamity Ganons control. Once you solve the puzzles and beat their bosses, you are then granted a special ability. These range from a revival charm, ability to use lightening on a small area around you, a massive jump, and a protection charm. These devine beasts will then take aim at Hyrule castle under calamity Ganons control, and fire an energy pulse weakening Ganon’s hold on the castle.
Concerning fairies & horses, you have a number of different HUGE fairies around Hyrule that have been trapped in what appears to be some kind of flower trap. Whenever you rescue one of these fairies, in return they will improve the abilities of your clothing/ armour using precious stones and various items you have collected on your adventure. There are smaller fairies to be found, but they are specifically for temporary status boosts of some kind. That brings me onto horses. There are a vast array of horses to be seen and tamed. There are three main types; your more common mixed breed type horse; pure bred looking horses; and your - lets call them - ‘legnedary’ horses. The mixed breed type horses have various colours and patterns strewn across them. These are the easiest to tame. The more ‘pure’ bred looking one colour horses are much harder to tame. The ‘legendary’ horses I mentioned are even harder or require very specific conditions to be tamed.
You have to learn to tame a horse, and it takes a good while to get used to how this is done, as the game does not exactly show you how to do this exactly. The trick is to duck down and sneak up behind your chosen aquestrian, hop onto its back, and tap the left trigger to try and calm the beast. Ultimately, your stamina bar determines how quickly a horse is tamed. If you have a large amount of stamina, you can usually tame a horse in one sitting. However, at the start of the game, when you first encounter horses, it will take a large amount of attempts to tame a horse - trust me on this one. I have spent mere hours dedicated to just catching a horse, which seems so ludicrous in hind site. Now, you do not really need to spend hours doing it, but I set myself the goal of very specific horses early on, and deliberately took time out to do this. So why do this? Well, all horses have different stats. These are Stamina, strength, etc. Once a horse is tamed, you need to register it at a stable, where you can name it and get a saddle, etc. You can improve your bond with your horse by feeding it apples and praising it when it does actions you have told it to.
A quick touch on other wildlife within the game, you will see all manor of birds, deer/stags, and even warthogs and bears. The larger wildlife and temporarily be be ridden, but return to the wild once you dismount. I will let you play around with this, but there are some really cool results! You will also find fish, frogs, lizards, fireflies, and all manor of smaller creatures. All of these again add to the immersion of the game.
Combat is all about timing. Armed with a broadsword and shield, a longsword, a spear, an axe, a hammer, a stick, l ladle, or some other obscure object, the goal is the same. Slash, bang, whallop your opponent, whilst trying to avoid being hit. You can hold your shield out to block, parry, and counter if timed correctly. Not only this, but you can also backflip or jump to the side to avoid being hit. Your shield can also be used to reflect certain energy attacks from guardians, or you can just throw your weapon at them, once it is worn right down. Your bow will be one of your most useful weapons, be it sniping from a distance, or using fire/ice/bomb arrows against elemental enemies. It is even useful when you want a Dragon scale. Yes, that’s right! There are dragons. Seriously, serpentlike drakes fly freely in various areas of Hyrule. You can knock a scale or two free with an arrow. You can even glide past the massive beasts. A very cool feature, and they are integrated into the protection of the land. You will need to free a dragon from Ganons control in a snowy mountain at one point, and this is a lot of fun.
There are certain ‘unique’ conditions to Hyrule. Firstly, aside from the Dragons, once in a blue moon, you will see a shooting star, which will slowly fall to the ground a fair distance away. Sometimes this is easily missed, but if you pay attention and where where it lands, you can traverse over to it and find the fragment! There are certain parts of the land that appear to be under some kind of elemental charm, which will hide some kind of puzzle or test. The most unique feature is the blood moon. Randomly occurring at night time once in a blue moon, you will notice a slight red glow. This glow builds, and you can see various particles of energy float up from the ground. this culminates into a blood moon. During this time, all defeated monsters are relieved for the short time of the blood moon. I think this is a great concept, and at the start of the game adds tension. However, as you progress through the game, the blood moon is a non-issue. I think this could have been improved by some kind of difficulty spike when you reach a certain amount of heart containers or stamina, just to keep it relevant. Maybe even had them occur more often, indicating that while you have taken time to improve your abilities Ganon and still be gaining in power or something. I am at a point where the bloody moon comes, and then just seems to go very quickly with no real concern. It looks fantastic though, and I wouldn’t want to remove it from the game.
We touched on clothes and armour, which also help keep the game interesting. You will find certain pieces of clothing with certain traits you will need throughout your adventure. In fact, some is required not to freeze or burn due to tempreture changes at night or near a volcano etc. Some will allow you to move more quietly, and some will just look cool. Later in the game you meet a travelling shop owner called Kilton. He has a hot air balloon and travels throughout the land selling all manor of monster themed clothing and goods. You even have to exchange monster parts from creatures you have slain for his currency. You can then use this to buy monster masks used to imitate monsters so you can sneak up and get close to them. It is a great concept. There is just enough clothing to keep it interesting, and you don’t get lots of throw away clothing or armour like you do in a lot of games. You tend to have to buy clothing or acquire it a specific way. This keeps it interesting and worth while when you finally get a piece of clothing you have been after. You will even need to take a quest to dress as a woman and try to get into a town that only allows women to enter.
I have gotten this far without mentioning the Shiekah Slate. The Shielah slate is a piece of equipment you obtain near the start of the game. It is an ancient piece of steampunk looking technology, which can be updated throughout your journey. It’s main use, is to act as a map. When you climb to various tower you find strewn across the world, you can update it at the top, which allows you to see specific parts of the map. It also allows you to use ancient technology to grant you certain abilities. This can range from acting as a magnet, to calling up a small energy bomb, or manipulate a small area of water into little ice blocks to aid you in traversing water, etc.
At some point, you can buy and renovate at house in Kakariko Village. In fact, I often store my most prized shields and weapons in mine! At a later stage, you can even help build an entirely new town, and help populate it with different races from around Hyrule. Little touches like this expand on the game, but are not nessisary. Again, if you want to focus on the main quest that is easily done.
I could spend vast amounts of time covering everything there is to do in Breath of the Wild. It truly is one of the best games I have ever played, and the designers have completely changed what the Zelda franchise was and how it played. This game is so accessible to a larger audience now, just because of the way each play through will be very different. Once again, I am not a big fan of open worlds games, but this thing had me taming horses, hunting down massive sand worms, saving dragons, cooking up potions and food, and capturing riding really obscure creatures. On top of all that, it really is a beautiful game to look at. But what are the flaws of the game? No game is perfect. For me, the fact that link does not speak. He will make sounds, but there is no voice actor discussing his side of a conversation. This is odd in modern times, especially when someone you are talking to is fully voice acted, and reacts as if Link has given then some sort of answer. I also feel that Zelda is probably the most boring part of the game. She is mentioned on occasion, and flash backs during the main quests are mostly well done and play into the law, however her voice acting is annoying. It is good, but the voice they chose grates on me, and she comes across more as a pretentious, yet Whiney, princess in need of saving. They have given her a more Galadriel like feel overall, in regard to powers, which is really cool, but I still think they should have had a strong voice actor or lines.
With that said, it does work in tandem with the story and the aesthetics. It’s a just a personal gripe. It does show that she had the power to help save the world, and do all these really big things, but it is tinged with a voice that has nothing to it. It feels devoid of life or proper emotion. Okay, this may have been deliberately done, but still.
BOTW is one of the only games that has me coming back for repeat fun. I don’t mean starting again, which I have done in a lot of games, but carry on with side quests and exploring the world and mining for rare gems etc. It’s a pretty game, it is a game with a lot to offer, but most of all it is immersive.