A Special Report by Agent Parker
During my first weekend playing through “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” I encountered a centaur-looking creature who greeted me with an ice arrow, killing me instantly.
The game’s forgiving autosave function had me respawn outside the area’s gate, and I elected to climb a mountain range to my right to not incur his wrath again. Halfway across the top of the ridge, I discovered a giant cycloptic ogre called a Hinox sleeping near a pond. Before I could devise a plan of attack, I heard a familiar “fhwip.” I turned, only to see the centaur with his bow pointed skyward as I was hit with another ice arrow.
On a third attempt, I crossed the top of the ridge, fully avoided the centaur’s gaze, and decided to drop one remote-detonation bomb after another onto the Hinox for 10 minutes until it died.
In case there was any doubt, you’ve never played a “Legend of Zelda” game like this before.
Through approximately 10 hours of gameplay (I had to share the experience with my 13-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son throughout the first weekend with the game), I can safely say that “Breath of the Wild” delivers on all of the promises Nintendo offered about it and that it fundamentally changes the way fans will look at the series and its future development.
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Some story notes follow with minor spoilers for those still waiting to get their hands on a Nintendo Switch before they play. Meanwhile, I’m thoroughly enjoying playing through the game on the Wii U.
“Breath of the Wild” opens in a familiar way, with Link being woken up by some unknown voice in a place called the Shrine of Resurrection. Waking Link up at the beginning of a Zelda game is a story convention used ever since “A Link to the Past” on the Super Nintendo, and it’s nice that some things don’t change.
We learn quickly that Link has been asleep for 100 years, placed in a cryogenic chamber created by the Sheikah tribe following the rise of Calamity Ganon and a failed attempt to stop his evil from spreading across the land. Long story short, Ganon sort of possesses four machines called the Divine Beasts and an army of automatons called Guardians that litter the landscape. The voice that wakes Link in the beginning of the game is Princess Zelda, and your awakening as the hero of legend marks what the people of Hyrule hope will be Ganon’s end.
END OF STORY SPOILERS
Inside the initial Shrine of Resurrection, you quickly locate some light clothing and are greeted by a giant boulder before you can get outside. Prior Zelda game logic says, “I need a bomb to clear the rest of this staircase.” But without a bomb or rupee to your name, you approach the rock and are able to climb over it to access the outside world, barriers be damned. The game immediately and comfortably breaks with its own conventions.
You are initially locked into the opening area of the game, the Great Plateau, but “locked” is perhaps too harsh a term. The path you take is clearly your own, and the slightest deviation provides new results.
My daughter Taryn jumped into a quick hour of gameplay after I completed the game’s first shrine to obtain the Magnesis rune that allows you to lift metal objects with ease. She first climbed the mountain that the Shrine of Resurrection is dug into – just to see if she could. She then took a different route down the starting hill and discovered a blue Chu Chu that I had not encountered and also ran into a wild boar that she attempted to kill for food before it ran off. Her further exploration allowed her to find a quiet cottage with a pot lid to be used as a crude shield, new types of mushrooms that boost speed or stamina, and a pepper whose residual effects fight off the cold of the nearby mountaintop.
That brings me to my first point about the game.
‘Breath of the Wild’ rewards your curiosity
Combing through the earliest section of the game allows you to pick up a few mushrooms and tree branches to use as melee items. A search through the nearby trees yields some acorns, and climbing into at least one provides you with some eggs, but that’s only if you go looking for them.
Poking around the Great Plateau, it’s easy to find a rusty sword – the first of literally hundreds of weapons that will save your skin and possibly break during a crucial moment of battle.
Searching through the nearby ruins of the Temple of Time allows you to find two types of bows: the first is on the ground, and the second is tucked into a steeple near the front of the temple itself. The one you have to strive to find is obviously sturdier, causes more damage, and – to be perfectly honest – is more bad-ass looking.
This open exploration, coupled with a fair knowledge of video game tropes and cues, will continue to aid you as you travel across the game’s incredibly large map. Does that circle of lily pads look a little too perfectly placed? Jump into it. Does that wooden platform appear to be held up by a brace covered in a piece of cloth with a red “X” on it? Shoot it with an arrow to drop whatever’s on the platform. Find a crack in a wall? Blow it up with a bomb. Every nook and cranny has a secret to hold.
The Great Plateau offers essentially every item you would need to cross a river or clear a road, but a plan of attack in the greater overworld is important.
The game also punishes your bravado
My son John fancied himself a hero that needed no training, and the game technically allows you to storm Hyrule Castle to face Calamity Ganon as soon as you escape the Great Plateau with the paraglider. He was met with an army of Guardians and a swift death.
Spotting a giant lizard creature crawling on the side of Death Mountain, he decided he would attempt to kill that next. Halfway up the mountain, the air got so hot that his wooden weapons caught on fire and broke, nearly killing him at the same time.
I, on the other hand, found myself in uncharted territory as I waited for a lightning storm to pass so I could cross the water that surrounds the island I had reached moments before the storm hit. I watched as the storm took out a grove of trees but avoided another sleeping Hinox.
You’re allowed to do what you want, but be prepared for whatever’s out there. The elements are harsh, but…
Your enemies are smart and brutal
I’m not proud to say this, but one rough-and-tough blue Bokoblin killed me with a single swipe within my first hour of gameplay. It immediately shook my foundations about what to expect from the game. During Taryn’s initial run, she climbed atop a dilapidated set of ruins and caught the eye of a nearby Bokoblin who immediately threw a rock at Link.
I stumbled upon a camp of Bokoblins later in the Plateau. Upon seeing me, two of the three baddies stuck their clubs into their campfire to set them ablaze before coming to attack me. While some of the Bokoblin archers shoot like stormtroopers, Octoroks and other foes have uniquely precise aim.
The environment is as much their friend as it is their enemy. Sneaking around to a different vantage point may allow you to roll a rock onto some explosive barrels to clean out a camp, or you may be able to shoot a beehive out of a tree to attack other enemies. Aside from using magic to lift giant metal boxes or summon blocks of ice from water, the physics of the game are incredibly sound and make for interesting problems with twice as many unlikely solutions – like rolling bombs down a hill to kill an ogre, for example.
There are literal and figurative tones of the Zelda universe everywhere in this game
While opening a treasure chest no longer elicits the familiar music many fans of the series have associated with it, the music is recognized when you unlock maps, download runes, and complete other essential tasks. I recognized notes of “Zelda’s Lullaby” while exploring the Temple of Time and the pleasant tones that play when you discover a new item are reminiscent of gathering rupees from a treasure chest.
Additionally, the game has hidden a yet-unknown number of Koroks throughout the landscape, each discovered by a variety of miniature puzzles. So far, it is a welcome nod to “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker,” the Gamecube title that “Breath of the Wild” owes much of its art direction to, although it’s been improved tremendously over the last 15 years.
The art direction is impressive
Late Sunday night, I struck out on my own to hunt down many of the towers that unlock portions of the map and serve as fast-travel points. I was on a hill high above Hyrule Castle, making a beeline for yet another tower.
Out of nowhere, the game’s music seemed to drop out completely and I was alone on a quiet, lush hillside, suddenly struck by how beautiful the game actually is. The respite was brief, however.
While panning across the landscape to appreciate more of this version of Hyrule, I quickly gained a glimpse of Hyrule Castle literally engulfed in doom to remind me of the task at hand.
Hyrule is at its most beautiful when you can forget your troubles, but they rear their ugly heads quickly. If that’s not art imitating life, I’m not sure what is.
I’m not the only person fascinated by it
Read whatever reviews you want, but the true measure of a game is often how your friends and colleagues feel about it. Since the release of “Breath of the Wild,” I’ve received innumerable phone calls from a friend in Philadelphia who is also playing it.
“Oh, my God, did you find the *redacted* yet?” No, but Taryn found the Master Sword. She’s not strong enough to pull it out of the ground yet.
“If you find a giant rock monster, don’t fight it!” Spoiler: I did find it, I did fight it, and I won! In fact, I want to find another because it has awesome loot drops.
“I’m really bummed that using the Toad amiibo doesn’t just give you a bunch of mushrooms!” Me, too, Mat. Me, too.
Another friend in Philadelphia said his co-worker, a fellow iOS engineer, took off five days to play the game. He called into a stand-up meeting Monday morning and told that group, “It’s one of the best games I think I’ve ever played.”
In short, why are you still reading this? “Breath of the Wild” is available now on Nintendo Wii U and Nintendo Switch. It demands your attention, rewards your intelligence, and deserves all of the praise it has earned so far.
I’m not sure how the story will end, or how Nintendo could ever top this title, but I’m excited to forge my own path to find out.
Agent Parker is a Northeastern Pennsylvania-based artist, writer, father and geek. Follow his nonsense on twitter @PeterParker_Pa and see his pop culture goodies at PeterParkerPA.com.