The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is exceptionally well done. The graphics are awe-inspiring and gameplay is solid and reliable. The game doesn’t give you enough opportunities to grow attached to the characters vital to story progression, but it does do an excellent job of otherwise achieving the illusion that Link exists in a living, breathing, vast, and fully realized world. This review contains minor spoilers from here on out.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review – Part 1
In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Link awakens in a chamber, clad in nothing but his skivvies. He’s been brought back to a post-apocalyptic Hyrule to fight and win the battle against Calamity Ganon he was sorely unprepared for 100 years prior. Without any memories of his previous life, Link must find armor, weapons, gather supplies, make new friends, find old ones and piece together how Hyrule was overtaken and what he must do to restore it.
If there’s one complaint about the main storyline it’s that the Breath of the Wild strongly favors exploration over story progression and character development. The vast open world is so expansive that is slows down story progression significantly, making it difficult to achieve emotional attachment to any of the core characters integral to the story. As you regain memories, it’s clear that the Link of 100 years prior had strong bonds with these champions being presented as friends and loved ones, but the Link of here and now has more interactions with Beedle, the travelling merchant. You’ll have to take solace in the concept of Hyrule itself becoming a character in its own right as you get to know it in its entire splendor.
There have long been statements written on the internet around the Legend of Zelda series being sexist. While there is legitimacy to the claim that Breath of the Wild’s plot is misogynistic, as it does fit the hero- saves-the-damsel formula and the game does use save-the-princess language, a deeper examination tells us that we should acknowledge that the princess is the one that’s been holding it down in his absence. Zelda is the one person standing between Ganon and the complete and total destruction of Hyrule. This damsel is only in distress because she’s been holding evil at bay on her own for 100 years while waiting for Link to wake up from his nap, get his crap together and hold up his end of the bargain. While she and the Guardians are passive characters and there is a male protagonist lead, the goal of the game is ultimately to bring together a team of heroes across various species/races and sexes to defeat an evil that’s more powerful than any single one of them could hope to overcome on their own. There’s still a good message in there. We can only defeat evil if we band together.
Breath of the Wild does open world incredibly well. From the moment you activate your first tower, it becomes clear exactly how expansive Hyrule is. The world of every other Zelda game feels small and finite after playing BotW. It makes Ocarina of Time’s open world feel claustrophobic and its dungeons like a rat maze by comparison.
Whereas other games connect the dots for you, BotW provides minimal information and allows logic and your natural curiosity to guide you. Instinct tells you to make your way to high altitude locations, use the scope on your tablet to seek out areas and objects of interest. Pick one and then try to survive making your way there. Oh, that thing off in the distance looks intriguing. Bet you can glide close enough to make it and examine more closely without too much hassle. Only the attempt itself will tell you if you’ve gotten in over your head or not. Is there something under that rock? Well, you better pick it up and find out. Are there treasure chests that you can’t see in that babbling brook? You’ll never know unless you use your abilities to check. What happens when I push this boulder off this cliff? It could be hilarious. Better push it.
As you explore you’ll find yourself stopping to take in the beauty of Hyrule frequently. The sheer number of wallpaper worthy views is astonishing. The game uses day/night cycles, monthly cycles and weather to create an impressive variety in experience. Climb to the top of a mountain and spin that camera around. Watch a sunrise. Take in a sunset. Take a minute to absorb that lightning storm off in the distance. Wow, that snow storm you’re hiking through really captures the feeling of brutal, unforgiving isolation. Is it day time and did you just make it through a rain shower? If you’re patient, maybe you’ll catch a double rainbow.
There’s no game that I’ve played in recent memory that has achieved this degree of immersion in the world of the character you play as. I can only imagine this is what it might be like to explore the land of Fantasia in The NeverEnding Story. I was legitimately caught off guard the first time I hit the end of the accessible map and was told by the game I could go no further.
Breath of the Wild relies heavily on environmental sounds and uses music sparingly, largely for cut scenes and as ambiance in safe areas such as stables and towns. You might have brief snippets played to accentuate the danger of roaming overnight and musical stings to punctuate an action in battle. Some familiar themes do return and the environmental sounds, wind, birds, foxes, water, leaves or grass rustling etc., all effectively contribute to making Hyrule feel like it’ll continue existing long after you stop visiting.
The voice acting is sparse and relegated mainly to cut scenes and character introductions. The voice work is okay. Largely competent, though the delivery on some of the characters is a little flat. The inclusion of voice is still so spread out that it’s hardly a detriment to your overall gaming experience. All of the grunts, harrumphs, laughter and other sounds made by in-game characters convey their personalities effectively. They totally accomplish what they’re supposed to without being annoying. Well, mostly. There are a couple of exceptions. Because there is voice work, you are unable to name your character “Fart Face”. Link is referred to by his given name by all characters and does not speak himself.