The Nintendo Switch is a brand new Nintendo console releasing tomorrow (March 3rd, 2017) as of this writing and although it’s launch window line-up is a bit shaky (honestly REALLY shaky), there’s been a consensus at Nintendo that they have enough to keep us gamers occupied until the holiday season. But the game Nintendo has focused on most to carry their new systems launch is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Originally a Wii U game, BOTW (this will be the short-hand I use throughout the review) has been delayed numerous times, now it has become an introduction to Nintendo’s new system as well as a swan song for their struggling Wii U platform. The delays have come with promises of the series exploring new boundaries, and providing a highly polished experience.
Does BOTW do an excellent job bringing Nintendo’s new console to the market? Are the new ideas for the franchise hit or miss? Will the new decisions sour fans of the series? Most importantly, is the game worth the wait? Let’s find out in this review!
Before we get into the changes, the story may seem very familiar to the average Zelda fan. Ganon is back, now named Calamity Ganon, and he has started a grueling war that has resulted in a stalemate. However, Ganon and his army have started to regain their strength. Link wakes up from a long slumber to see the results of this struggle and encounters a man who tells Link that he had been asleep for 100 years! He also learns that he is the fabled chosen one who will help defeat Ganon.
While nothing mind blowing, this is a noticeable change to the standard Zelda story players are used to. The addition of voice acting also really changes thigns up along with, while irritating, quests to regain Links lost memories and connect the story together. Traits that you would see in western Role-playing and action adventure games.
The Gameplay is where the biggest changes are present. Taking inspiration from Western open-world style games while retaining traditional elements, Zelda throws you right into the action where you can go anywhere you want; there are tons of quests at the ready, intractable NPC’s, cooking, scouring the large world for resources, and weapon deterioration. Many fans of open world games will be familiar with this gameplay style right away and will not leave disappointed with how its executed here. Dungeons (Zelda series tradition) are still in this game but unlike other games in the series they are short and are not the focus of the game, instead most of the game takes place outside of the dungeons.
Combat has also changed a fair bit, while still not too far off the typical Zelda combat which is hit or miss depending on the player, the ability to actually jump and hit enemies, as well as having more control over links movement to dodge and counter are welcome changes. For the most part the combat and the over-world controls work well outside a few issues that will be discussed later, and generally are quite fluid in execution.
The difficulty as you continue your journey ramps up, and sometimes you have to be strategic in how you use your weapons as many in the game will become worthless after awhile, and you will have to use weaker attacks. Luckily, enemies often do drop weapons for you to grab. The Sheikah Slate is basically your “partner” in this game, it can be used to find resources/food, to conjure up bombs, or even freeze time.
The controls for the most part are responsive, though I occasionally notice Link doesn’t move instantly when I press a button when using dock mode. This is only an issue during certain parts of the game. Those areas however are usually more difficult and would benefit from faster input response.
While the game can be quite enjoyable, the difficulty is unbalanced. BOTW misses the point of most open go-anywhere games in terms of difficulty and the result is an unbalanced one that makes many parts of the game anticlimactic. There are certain areas you can go from the start that you really shouldn’t, and some of the difficult areas are only an obstacle for a bit. Once you start getting the hang of it and advance through the quests, large portions of the game become TOO easy and this includes the final boss (and other bosses). The areas that seem like they could have been an enjoyable romp instead seem like an annoyance you can’t wait to quickly get through to finish the game or complete quests.
The game environment and presentation is immersive and well designed. You have day and night cycles that bring in the shadows during sunset, the wind can blow objects around (which plays a part in gameplay for traversal), and the foliage/fire/water effects are really well done. There are a few graphical hiccups with some jags and other graphics related issues that come with making the game intended for Switch hardware and it’s 720p resolution. In dock mode it’s a bit worse, considering it bumps up the resolution to 900P and results in some of these issues are being more noticeable. The attention to detail however is amazing and the art style works well for the Switch’s hardware.
Frame-rate hiccups are common however, as it appears in many areas; (attacking, exploring, etc) The frame rate will often dip and it can become bothersome due to it working against you in multiple situations. Climbing becomes tedious with the frame-rate drops, sometimes inputs register late, and it can mess with your timing doing other interactions. While the dips and chugs are common, only rarely does it cause a significant problem to gameplay. But it does happen, more so when the Switch is docked than in handheld mode.
Outside some pop-in and questionable bland textures and draw distance in certain areas, the game is well designed graphically and it does it’s job well with immersion you into this new world to explore. The result is despite some issues, the game is impressive given the hardware and the unprecedented size of the map.
The Audio was intended to pull you into the world and the sound effects nail that experience. The music however takes a back seat compared to previous entries. You don’t have the pumped up battle & dungeon themes of A Link to the Past and you don’t have the upbeat heart-pumping over-world theme that you saw in Twilight Princess. There are some nice tracks in the OST, however the music is mostly there to serve as atmosphere noise. Not to say the OST is bad, but it is nothing that would have players going to the store to buy the CD or download it on their music app via their smartphone.
The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild changes it’s gameplay and its world to resemble popular open world games like Skyrim while still keeping elements traditional to the Legend of Zelda franchise. It features better and more flexible combat, tons of quests to complete, and an immersive world. There are a few hiccups between technical issues and balance that set it back from becoming a masterpiece but the game does enough to make these faults insignificant in terms of damaging the gameplay experience, however, they do cause problems at times and can be bothersome.
“The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a great game with a few hiccups in graphics, frame rate and balance, but these issues are mostly insignificant. This game takes the series in a brand new direction envisioned by Nintendo for the franchise, and the new mechanics and changes from previous Zelda games mostly hit the mark and provide an engaging experience that is highly recommended!” –Verzu Chase