Nintendo / Nintendo
Switch / Wii U (Switch version reviewed)
This review comes with some disclaimers.
Usually when I review a game I insist on finishing it (or getting as close as possible if magazine deadline restrictions have prevented it) in order to make sure I give the most accurate verdict.
I’ve been playing Breath Of The Wild solid for about a week now and I’m still nowhere close to finishing it. It’s still going to take me a number of weeks. However, this game is unique in that after spending around 40-50 hours with it I’m 100% confident in my verdict, which I’ll get to at the end of the review. I hope you understand when you read it.
This review will also contain no plot spoilers. For the sake of illustrating points made in my review I have had to refer to gameplay scenarios I experienced, but these examples do not mention the plot or explain how these scenarios fit into the story.
The screenshots in this article were all taken using the Switch’s built-in screenshot feature early in the game, in order to avoid major spoilers later. Since SDXC card support is not yet ready at the time of writing (it’s added in the online update tomorrow), I used my PC grabber to capture them from the Switch’s screenshot gallery. I’m happy with the results.
One or two of these screens show characters Link meets early in the game who you may not recognise. I felt the need to illustrate that the entire game is not an empty world with no NPCs. However, I’ve taken great pains to make sure the screens show no dialogue that explains who these characters are or how they fit into the plot.
Long story short, if you watched the Zelda trailer during the Switch presentation in January, that gave away a lot more than I will. That said, on with the review!
Whether I’m sitting in a car, in a greenhouse or on a porch, I absolutely love the feeling of being protected from the elements. Just hearing rain battering against my window is enough to give me a wee shiver of excitement. Not like that, you sick bastard.
At one point in Breath Of The Wild, around 10 hours in, I found myself carrying a flame from a village to another location on the top of a big hill (not telling you why).
As I travelled up the hill, I stopped to light the big ornamental lanterns along the way, figuring they’d help show where I’d already been if I got lost and they’d help me light my torch again if it went out.
About two thirds of the way up the hill, the heavens opened and the rain started hammering down. Within seconds my torch had been extinguished and I was left well and truly flameless.
I quickly ran to the last lantern I’d lit, used it to light my torch again, then spotted a nearby tree. I ran over to it and stood under it, waiting for the rain to pass.
As Link stood there, sheltered by the tree’s leaves, the torch’s light burning despite the storm going on around it, I suddenly felt it.
That shiver. That excitement.
Despite countless games featuring rain, this was the first time I ever felt like I do when it rains in real life.
For me, this is my ultimate testament to the level of immersion Breath Of The Wild’s environment presents. There have been plenty of open worlds set in big expanses of countryside before, but never have I enjoyed exploring one so much from top to bottom.
It’s the random encounters that make it so special too. Yesterday, while gliding off a cliff, I saw a couple of Bokoblins way down in the distance harassing a horse (once again, not like that you sick bastard).
I glided over to them, anxious that they’d kill the horse before I reached them. As I got nearer I used the L button to target the biggest of the group. I dropped out of the sky and bopped the prick on the head with my club before any of them had any idea what was going on.
I used the group’s moment of surprise to my advantage, quickly switching to my big two-handed sword and dishing out some swift justice before they got a chance to gather their thoughts. The horse was free! But it was having none of it. It looked like it was about to leg it so I jumped onto its back.
The horse started kicking, trying to dismount me, but after calming it down with the L button it eventually settled. Having been up a cliff gathering mushrooms five minutes ago, suddenly I was in possession of a horse.
The best thing is, that was a completely random encounter that had nothing to do with the story. You could spent countless hours just wandering the enormous landscape, saying “fuck Zelda, she can wait” and completely dismissing the story altogether.
Not that you should, mind you. Breath Of The Wild’s plot is an interesting one that ensures long-time fans of the series are treated well, while making sure not to alienate newcomers.
Look, I can already tell this review is rambling a bit. I’m all over the place. My trademark structure (“that Chris Scullion has a hell of structure to his writing,” all the kids say) is fucked.
There’s a reason for it, though. This is the way I’ve been talking as I’ve tried to discuss Breath Of The Wild with my wife, my work colleagues, my friends. “And then this happens, and this, and that.”
There are so many different exciting things about this game that trying to choose which to talk about is like going to a world food buffet and trying to figure out whether to start with chicken wings or sushi (incidentally, never start with rice: schoolboy error if ever there was one).
For the first time in ages my head is swimming with thoughts of the things I’ve seen and done in this game, as well as all the things I’ve yet to see and do because they’re in my mission list and they promise to be epic undertakings.
Speaking of the mission list, there’s a huge variety of optional side-missions that you get by talking to the various characters you’ll encounter on your quest. They appear in a separate side-mission section of your Adventure Log and let you set destination markers to them whenever you like, so thankfully you’re never overwhelmed: you can gather a load of side-quests and put them aside for when you’re ready to take them on later.
This convenience extends to the main missions too. I once spent a good three or four hours pissing around on a side-quest involving (being deliberately vague here) rupees, wood and a house listed for demolition, and when I was done with it I’d completely forgotten what I had to do next in the main story.
The Adventure Log saves the day with detailed, lengthy descriptions of where you are in the story, where you need to go next and an option to set a marker. Never again will you have Ocarina syndrome, where you load the game up after a few days away from it and realise you have no fucking clue where you are or where to go.
The mission descriptions are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the game’s writing. Once again, Nintendo’s localisation team have knocked it out of the park with some fantastic dialogue throughout.
There are loads of situations where you get to make Link ‘speak’ to NPCs by choosing dialogue for him ( you never hear it, obviously) and it makes for some genuinely hilarious conversations at times.
The best moments in the game, however, are when you’re talking to nobody and you’re just alone in the wilderness.
Picking a mountain in the distance and deciding ‘right, I want to go there’, then doing it. Gathering fruit and mushrooms, and hunting animals, and experimenting with recipes by cooking them together to find which combinations will give you the biggest reward.
Argh, I haven’t even mentioned the Shrines yet. There are around 100 of them in the game and they each act like little mini-dungeons, containing a couple of themed puzzles. They’re perfectly suited for when you’re playing the game in handheld mode: a cheeky wee Shrine on the bus home from work never did anyone any harm. Unless your job is ‘bus driver’.
Early in the game the first few of these Shrines unlock special powers that can be activated whenever you like during the game. These give you an endless supply of remote bombs and other abilities (which you should discover for yourself), which only increase the possibilities for exploration.
I love this game. I could go on rambling for another 4000 words but I just can’t bring myself to do it. It’s out tomorrow. Wait and get it yourself. I can’t bring myself to tell you much more than I have.
Even if you’ve watched all the E3 Treehouse demos and trailers, you haven’t seen a single percent of what this game has to offer. I’ve put 40-odd hours into it and I’ve only unlocked a third of the map so far. And that’s unlocked: not fully explored. Nowhere near it.
So much of this game has to be discovered yourself. I found an area where someone was playing music that immediately brought a tear to my eye and made me think of my young teenage days, glued to my Nintendo 64, and discovering and falling in love with that music for the first time.
I killed a skeleton (they come out of the ground early in the game when night falls) and took its arm to use as a weapon. But because it was undead, the arm remained alive, constantly trying (and failing) to grab at me as I ran through the forest ‘armed’ with it.
I entered a shop selling clothes that put a massive grin on my face. I immediately spent all my rupees on everything in the shop and committed there and then to finding more things in the wild that I could sell in case I found similar treats later.
This is a game that is constantly defying your expectations by rising above and beyond them over, and over, and over again.
Every nook and cranny of its map is another secret waiting to be explored, or another completely random situation conjured up by a chance encounter with a deer or a mini-boss emerging from the ground beneath you, or another throwback to the past that comes out of nowhere and strikes you with laser precision right in the heart.
It isn’t perfect, because of course it isn’t. No game is. There are some framerate issues when playing on the TV (it runs much smoother in handheld mode thanks to the drop to 720p resolution), but while they’re undoubtedly noticeable they don’t really detract from the experience. The Shrines also look a bit too similar aesthetically, but at least the puzzles they offer feel fresh every time.
But just fucking LOOK AT IT.
I’m still so far from finishing the game, and in any other situation I’d be loathe to give a definitive verdict at this point.
But I’ve already seen so much, and done so much, and felt so much that I’ve already come to a conclusion that I’m almost scared to say because I’ve never said it before in any review as I knew I would have to spend the rest of my days defending it.
But I’m not scared to say it this time, because I’m 100% certain of it.
This game has put a massive smile on my face. This game has made me cry actual tears of nostalgic joy for the first time since Super Mario Galaxy. This game’s rain made me shiver.
The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild is the best Zelda game to date.
The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild is the best game I’ve ever played in my life.
The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild is available on Switch and Wii U on 3 March.
In order that I could write this review, I received a free copy of the game from Nintendo. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.
If you enjoyed this review and want to help me write them more frequently, please consider donating to my Patreon account. Alternatively, if you’re a UK reader and can’t afford to support me on Patreon, please do your normal Amazon UK shopping via this link: it won’t cost you any extra, and Amazon will pay me a percentage because I sent you there.