The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Assessment

Early in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I discovered a puzzle shrine with a small labyrinth. There was a small ball in this maze. I realized that the goal was to maneuver the ball out of the maze and push it into a nearby funnel. To do this, I would have to turn my Nintendo Switch controller and use motion controls to rotate the maze and let gravity move the ball through each corridor. One wrong move and the ball would fall out, forcing me to start over.

After trying several times to solve the puzzle thanks to Newton's stupid laws, I noticed that every time the ball fell, a new one fell from a canister several feet above the maze. Then I had a wild thought. Just before a new ball fell, I turned my controller upside down and turned the labyrinth 180 degrees. There was nothing on the other side, so I now had a nice flat surface to roll the ball on. I slowly tipped the newly exposed back of the labyrinth and dropped the ball directly into the funnel, skipping the labyrinth completely. Boom. Puzzle solved.

For decades, Zelda games have been about what you can't do as much as what you can do. You can only pick up this stone once you have found the power gloves. You can't go swimming until you buy Zora's fins. Do you see this big gap? You cannot cross it until you get the hookshot. Since Link to the Past, almost every Zelda game has followed the same rhythm: They start in a narrow world that gradually expands over time. You see a wall with cracks in it and make a mental note to come back if you snap a few bombs. Your curiosity is piqued by what you don't yet have access to, and each new dungeon comes with a dopamine boost while you wait to see what helpful new device you can find there and the secrets you can discover.

The legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, on the other hand, is about what you can do. This is a game that says "yes" to everything you ask of it. From the start you can swim in any lake, pick up any boulder and cross any pit. If you try a crazy experiment, the game is committed. You can climb any wall, mountain or tower in the world, giving you the freedom to explore the map in a way that no Zelda game has achieved. Breath of the Wild never prompts you to wait for a new item before uncovering its secrets. It just always says yes.

In 1986, The Legend of Zelda conjured up the illusion that one could explore a limitless world. The areas with a screen were metaphors. Like the city icons on a JRPG's world map, the pixelated mountains and forests of The Legend of Zelda should represent a greater topography. Our imagination has done most of the work. Today the first Zelda may look dusty and primitive, but it's not hard to see why it had such an impact. It felt infinite.

In 2017 we no longer need our imagination. The legend of Zelda: The breath of the wild does not only evoke the feelings of a limitless world. it gives you one. In many ways, the game feels like what Zelda has always wanted. Free from the traditions that the series has followed so rigorously over the past decade, Breath of the Wild emerges victorious. It is groundbreaking. It is the highlight of Zelda.

Zelda games usually follow a common course: you as a pointed adventurer Link sleep in a bed. You are woken up, told that you are a hero, and sent off to find a sword somewhere. After a few tutorial sections, you will learn that there are X MacGuffins worldwide that you need to save / restore / search for. Each of these MacGuffins is associated with a dungeon, and each dungeon contains a different key element. You already know what some of these items will be: bombs, a boomerang, a hook shot. There is always some kind of gimmick, like a mirror that transports you between worlds, or a musical instrument that can control time. There are various quests and secrets between each dungeon. Once you've acquired all of the MacGuffins, fight Ganon. Playing.

When you start Breath of the Wild for the first time, it seems to follow the same pattern. You are awakened from a cryogenic sleeping chamber in a small cave. You are told that you are a hero. You take a multi-purpose tool called Sheikah Slate – your gimmick item – and take a shirt and pants from the nearby chest.

Then you make your way to the exit and find something unusual: a wall that blocks your progress. There are no buttons or switches, no cracks for a bomb or pins for a hook shot. Instead you should jump on the wall and climb on it.

This revelation can inspire a number of exciting thoughts among Zelda followers. Is this a new skill? Is it only situational? If you can climb this wall, what else can you climb? Once you exit the cave and blink in the sunlight, you can experiment with this newly discovered skill and find the answer: you can climb anything. Link can scale almost any surface in the game, from cave walls to cliffs, which is an exciting way to cross the world. Think of it this way: When you explore the massive version of Hyrule from Breath of the Wild, you never have to stop because something is in your way.

Once you get out of the cave, you will probably be ready for the inevitable tutorial section of Breath of the Wild. (You might think: If it has anything to do with the last Zelda console game, Skyward Sword, it will take an hour or two for the actual game to begin.) Then, when you go down the rocky path outside, it will dawn on you : There is no tutorial area. The actual game has already started. You can talk to this important looking bearded man a few feet away or just walk in a random direction and climb over any obstacle you find. You don't have to look for your sword. You can simply pick up a nearby stick or steal the old man's ax or defeat a monster and take his weapon. A blue ghost will not show up and tell you not to go this route until you speak to the old man. Breath of the Wild always says yes. Fi and Navi and Midna are not welcome here.

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Consider the Zelda pattern broken. If you find a boomerang for the first time, Link won't peek into a glowing chest when the music swells. You just kill a monster and take its boomerang. Breath of the Wild has MacGuffins, as you'll learn later, but instead of tracking them linearly, you can hunt them in any order. Or you can ignore them completely and just fight Ganon with three hearts and no clothes (which will undoubtedly lead to incredible speed runs in the next few months).

When you come out of this opening cave, you are on a view looking at the beautiful mountains and ruins of Hyrule while the title "Breath of the Wild" appears on the screen. In another Zelda game, these mountains and ruins would be part of the landscape. If you could go there at all, you would be limited to a specific area. In Breath of the Wild you can cross every inch.

I recommend playing Breath of the Wild with a notebook, not because you need it to solve puzzles (such as you would do in The Witness, a game that resembles this in an unexpected and eye-catching way), but because you & # 39; I want to keep a to-do list. It's easy to get distracted and head for a target to see something tempting in the distance. It is helpful to remember that when you are done exploring the ruins, you really want to examine this strange looking rock ring (but you really should finish this side quest).

A piece of gameplay could look something like this: you are entering a new region. It's themed in some way, maybe based on a desert or a tropical jungle. You'll see a large, glowing tower – one of the structures in each region that you scale to fill out more of your Ubisoft-style map. You mark it with your binoculars and then go in that direction. Along the way, you'll collect some herbs (you'll cook them the next time you find a fire) and kill a few chu-chus by grabbing the jelly they leave behind (useful for elixirs).

Then you see something interesting. Maybe a column of smoke above palm trees in the distance or a huge stump surrounded by hostile lizards. So you make a detour, climb and clear your way to a new destination. You may find a cool new weapon, like a sword that lights up when it flames when it swings. Maybe you will only find a few stones. Perhaps you stumble across a village – one of the many, many villages full of people, shops and quests – or over a huge boss who comes out of nowhere and tears you in half. (You will die a lot in Breath of the Wild. Good news: the auto-save system is forgiving.)

There are a few things to consider when you go. If you climb walls and mountains, your endurance will gradually deteriorate. This is an upgradeable energy meter that you also use when running and using the Link Link kite. If you run out of stamina in the middle of the climb, Link may sink until he dies. You need to be a little careful and dimension mountains and walls to make sure you can actually climb them before you start scaling. However, the rules are flexible. Their movement is based on physics rather than on a "Navmesh" – which means that Link can run on anything in the world – so there are ways to manipulate the way Link moves. When you see small ridges on a mountain, you can often get Link to stop climbing and just stand on it for a few seconds to restore his stamina and keep climbing.

Is this kind of advanced climbing an unintended effect of the game code? A tricky way to make the player feel smart? Or the net result of a video game that is about saying "yes" to everything?

The whole world of Breath of the Wild is based on this philosophy, which sometimes gives the feeling that you are cheating. You can freeze a monster with ice arrows, then smash it with a sledgehammer and kill it instantly. You can light a fire with some wood and flint, and then use the drafts created by that fire to blow yourself up so that you can slide to an unexplored area. You can mess around with gravity, inertia, and all the other physical rules that Nintendo has captured in this game, and use them to manipulate and break the world. There are times when you feel like you are accessing places you shouldn't have reached yet, but Breath of the Wild would disagree with that perspective. Breath of the Wild wants you to go wherever you want.

Breath of the Wild also wants you to feel that exploring is a worthwhile use of your time, accomplished in a variety of ways. First, by letting Link choose from a variety of weapons and equipment. Second, by spreading puzzles and shrines around the world. (Shrines serve as both quick travel points and mini-dungeons. There are approximately 100 in the game, and for every four completed, you can improve your health or stamina.) And third, by making each item useful. There are hundreds of objects around the world that you can harvest and collect, from apples to snails to valuable minerals. If you find a fire, you can combine and cook these objects to make valuable food and potions. The better your food and potions supply, the better your chances of surviving a tough encounter. Survive the tough encounter and you will find more puzzles, shrines and equipment. And so on.

This can make you wonder what Breath of the Wild is. Is it a zelda where you change weapons and cut down trees? What? It's safe to say that you've never played anything like it. Because even if Breath of the Wild differs generously from other games (a long list that includes Far Cry, Skyrim, and even Portal), it never ceases to feel like Zelda. This is not just because you are wearing a tunic and solving problems for stone-eating gorons. This is because Breath of the Wild feels as polished and carefully crafted as Nintendo has mastered in recent decades. The new Hyrule feels huge, but never empty. It feels huge, but never accidental. All over the world there are puzzles and design tricks that are dense and full of secrets. Placing stones also feels conscious.

At E3 2014, Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma told me that he wanted to reinvent the idea of ​​a Zelda puzzle with his next big game. "I think people just assume that there will be puzzles in a Zelda game," he said, "and I kind of want to change that, maybe turn it around." As a player goes through a game, they make decisions. Hopefully you make logical decisions to develop them further in the game. And when I hear "solve puzzles" I think of moving blocks so that a door opens or something. But I want to make these logical decisions, and making information based on that you've previously received and making decisions based on it can also be a kind of puzzle solution. So I would like to somehow rethink or maybe reconstruct the idea of ​​puzzle solving in the Zelda universe. "

For those of us who rank Link to the Past and Wind Waker as the best games ever, this was more than a little alarming. A zelda without traditional puzzles? The main reason to play Zelda was the excitement of finding a new dungeon, taking it apart, and solving a number of increasingly difficult puzzles with the object you would find there. Wasn't it?

Breath of the Wild answers this question with a loud “No”. You won't be pushing blocks on buttons in the latest Zelda (though you may be moving them with magnets), and there are no special dungeon items to break new ground with. However, the game never has too few puzzles. It is, as Aonuma promised, a reconstruction of "solving puzzles" in a Zelda game.

Instead of stuffing all the puzzles into dungeons, the new Zelda scatters them everywhere. Here are some examples of the types of puzzles you'll find in Breath of the Wild:

  • They stumble across an enemy camp. On a tower stands a bokoblin that rotates every few seconds to keep an eye out for intruders like you. Three other bokoblins are sitting around the campfire. On the other side of the camp is a large cliff with a well-placed boulder on the edge directly above the Bokoblin camp. How do you take them all out?
  • You need to access a new region, but it's uninhabitable hot. Walking around in this new region will damage you and set your equipment on fire. What can you do to get through safely?
  • You enter a puzzle shrine. There is an ice cube on the floor. You have to take it across a series of platforms full of jets that shoot down flames. But the flame melts your ice cube. How can you get it where it needs to go?
  • You will find a large metal ball next to a fountain. What is it?

Some of these puzzles have multiple solutions, and some of them can be quite difficult. Occasionally you want to manipulate the physics system to solve a puzzle like I did when I turned this maze around, and sometimes the best option is simply the most logical (put the ball in the well). In other cases, it's best to leave a puzzle shrine and look for something else for a while.

Since you can explore the vast world of Breath of the Wild in any order you want and no gates block your progress, the game cannot offer escalating puzzle progress. Which leads to a dilemma. How can this Zelda introduce new types of puzzles if you don't get new items or skills all the time? How can it increase the difficulty in a way that feels natural?

Of course, this is not the first time that Zelda has tried to become non-linear. With Link Between Worlds (2013), Eiji Aonuma and his crew had already played around with the standard progress formula. Instead of buying a new item in each dungeon, you buy or rent everything in an item store in the middle of the map. Each dungeon required a specific item, and you can do it in any order, with the certainty that, for example, the bomb dungeon does not contain puzzles that require the fire rod. While this led to an excellent Zelda game – and Link Between Worlds had some outstanding dungeons – it also made the puzzles a bit too easy. They knew immediately that bombs were required for every puzzle in the bomb dungeon, so the solutions were quickly identified.

The legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild tries this problem again. You start the game in an area called "Great Plateau" where you get stuck until you get a paraglider that you can use to float into the world below. Before you get this paraglider, you need to complete four puzzle shrines that give you four key skills. Here's how you can: drop bombs, move metal objects with a magnet, freeze time for an object and conjure frozen ice columns out of water. Until you have these skills, you cannot leave the plateau.

Technically, this is the only time the game says "no" since you can't walk until you get the tools. But it is exactly these tools that enable designers to constantly present different puzzles, certainly knowing that you have a variety of possible solutions. It's a brilliant piece of cunning. Now you can go anywhere and the game comes with all sorts of tricks knowing that you can access all four of these skills no matter what. You won't get new items to solve puzzles like in previous Zelda games, but dozens of hours after Breath of the Wild will still find new combinations that will surprise you. It always feels like you're progressing because you're constantly collecting new things, improving your equipment, and finding new secrets.

And then there are the dungeons, the nature of which I will not spoil, but which are very different from those of all previous Zelda dungeons. Instead of introducing a series of independent puzzle rooms, each of these dungeons serves as a large puzzle with its own rules and ideas. Breath of the Wild does not offer the traditional Zelda feeling of moving through dungeons that grow in size and complexity over time, which may make some fans wistful, but this new Zelda has dungeons that are self-contained feel complex. No hookshots or spinners necessary.

And don't worry, there are no block puzzles. Although you may be tired of moving balls.

Here is a complaint about The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild. The “Sprint” button is assigned to X by default. You can exchange them for B. In both cases, however, this is a problem: In order to run and move the camera at the same time, you have to put your right hand in the "claw" position, which is neither comfortable nor sustainable. The L3 key you should sprint with is indeed the squat key. There is no way to remap it. For a game that says yes so often, it is confusing that Breath of the Wild insists on saying "no" here.

It's difficult to review a game like Breath of the Wild without revealing too many of its secrets. Should I tell you what I found on this tiny island in the middle of a lava sea? Should I talk about what I discovered when I was trying to climb a particular landmark that you don't think can be climbed? Should I tell the story of the time I chugged a fireproof elixir and ran through the mountain of death and made it to Goron City when the elixir wore off and my heart started to sink?

I'm not going to tell you more about the dungeons. They are too cool to spoil them.

I won't tell you about the dramatic, optional set piece that my colleague Kirk excitedly urged me to check out. He wouldn't want me to spoil it.

I'm definitely not going to tell you what happened on that one island in the corner of the map because I sat up in our San Francisco hotel room (where we're here for the game developer conference) and said "Holy Shit" to Kirk, you have to go to the island. "(He didn't do it. He hasn't played Suikoden II either.)

This is a game that will dominate dinner conversations. It is a game that will lead to countless anecdotes, discoveries and stories exchanged. Colleagues and I have spent a lot of time comparing notes and talking about how we solved important puzzles. In an early section where you need to find out how to get Link through an ice-cold mountain, three Kotaku authors found three completely different approaches. We talked about encounters with surprise bosses, hidden puzzles, and where to find all the Korok seeds scattered over Hyrule. We talked about the secrets and strange secrets of Breath of the Wild and told stories about the time when one of us jumped into a crevasse that seemed inexplicable but actually contained a new shrine: the way designers reward rewarding curious players .

And when you talk to your friends about Breath of the Wild, there is one word that rarely or never comes up: "Can't". Instead, stories about the new Zelda revolve around what you can do. How you climbed all the way to the top of the Temple of Time just to kick, or how you parachuted down to the lowest point of Hyrule to see what secrets you would find there. How you found a brilliant way to brutally force yourself through the icy, snow-capped mountains, or how you set a forest on fire just to see if you could.

Or how you've tried something so ridiculous as flipping a maze so you don't have to solve it, and the game still lets you somehow complete the puzzle. Breath of the Wild is the best Zelda game so far, and that is achieved simply by yes.

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