Nintendo came out bearing their teeth at E3 yesterday, with the company putting its best foot forward and not so much addressing the delayed elephant in the room – but rather slaying it altogether, by revealing the brand new entry in the thirty-year-old Legend of Zelda series: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
If ever a Zelda title lived up to its name, this title would certainly live up to, and exceed, its namesake. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a beast of a different colour. No core, single gameplay mechanic can define this title: no ocarina, no sword, no princess – this game is a breath of fresh air, forcing its way into the lungs and life-blood of the storied franchise. This latest entry is wild, untamed, unconventional; Nintendo showcased this to a shocking extent during their E3 digital presentation on Tuesday.
The reveal kicked off as all great reveals should: absolutely dripping in mystery. Link wakes up in a sealed tomb called ‘the resurrection chamber’, after having been asleep for a seemingly long time. Within his tomb, Link is given the mysterious and all-powerful Sheikah Slate. This item bestows many powers upon Link, with many more abilities being conferred upon the slate as the player progresses through the game. Link’s resurrection is prompted by a voice that guides him out of the chamber and into Hyrule, and from there it’s anything goes.
Reportedly twelve times larger than the overworld featured in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, the Hyrule of Breath of the Wild is utterly staggering in its scope and size. Mist-laden peaks frame the horizon, dilapidated temples and abandoned forts jut forth from the dense forests and deep valleys, and the wayward winds of a distant desert billow across the landscape. Hyrule is alive – a living, breathing environment that responds to Link’s every movement. Various ‘Resurrection Towers’ are dotted around the continents that make up the entirety of Hyrule, and activating each tower gives Link map data that adds detail and landmarks to the map. Having emerged upon the central region of the game map – the Great Plateau – Link is instructed by a mysterious voice to investigate a ruined temple nearby. Perhaps the biggest shock so far – other than the impossible enormity of the map – will be the voice acting. Although only the celestial voice is the sole instance of dedicated voice-over work in the game thus far, this addition marks a series first and may well appear several times over in the retail version of Breath of the Wild. When Eiji Aonuma says he wants to break series conventions, they don’t come much bigger than including voice acting!
Keeping in step with Aonuma’s war on convention, the minute Link leaves the Resurrection Chamber, he is completely free to do whatever he wants. Climbing trees, rock faces, picking up virtually anything that exists within the world (at one point, one of the game testers picked up a skeletal hand that had been cut from an enemy… AND USED IT AS A WEAPON!), Link is left to the wild. Survival becomes the name of the game as soon as the players want it to be, with every effort made to accommodate the player’s decision to not pursue the story or the next major plot point. This freedom is also applied to the combat. Link is now a master of any weapon, able to use enemy clubs, spears, swords and bows once he has disarmed or defeated enemies. Although Link has been able to turn enemy weapons against them – in Wind Waker and Twilight Princess for instance – the level of proficiency Link had with these weapons was minimal. Now, Link can perform unique combos with the arsenal of weapons at his disposal, and he’ll need to keep an arsenal on hand since weapons can be destroyed as a result of prolonged use.
No more infallible Megaton Hammers or Master Swords for Link: his borrowed blades and stolen spears are precious commodities, and as such combat in Breath of the Wild becomes a game in-of-itself, with each enemy yielding resources such as weapons and materials that can be used to increase your odds of survival in the wildlands of Hyrule. Enemies also now possess health bars and sophisticated AI, meaning that they will scramble for weapons if they are attacked at their camps. Grabbing rudimentary clubs and pot lids, should enemies find themselves without such a technologically superior arsenal they will dig up rocks and hurl them towards Link, or simply pummel him with their fists. Such unpredictable AI results in each and every battle being unique and offering up potentially hilarious moments. Should you wish to embrace your inner Big Boss, a meter in the bottom left of the screen tracks the amount of noise you generate, and you can sneak up on enemies and creatures in order to perform stealth attacks, track wildlife or infiltrate enemy camps in order to loot unsuspecting Bobokins of their valuable treasure. Treasure chests, as an aside, can now be destroyed if they are made of wood: an addition sure to appease those who simply hate waiting four seconds for a chest to open…
Hyrule itself yields much in the way of items that will aid Link in his mysterious mission of survival. Vast groves and makeshift camps can be stalked and surveyed, with every nook and cranny rich with flora and fauna that can be used to cook and concoct various potions and foodstuffs that will help Link in his quest. Exotic mushrooms, acorns, apples, and wildlife can be cooked together at camp sites that possess cooking implements al la The Elder Scrolls, with the player left to throw whatever they want together in order to create meals that bestow hearts, heat or cold resistance upon the player. This element, although not entirely a series first, feels like a brand new addition to the series thanks to its expansion and depth, as well as its new-found relevance to the gameplay of Breath of the Wild.
Preparing dishes that grant Link more hearts is interesting, as it might signal the removal of heart containers from the game. Additional hearts are yellow in colouration, and once they are expended they are gone until you eat another meal that increases your base three heart-threshold. Creating potions that ward off the debilitating effects of the frozen and desert climates enables players to explore these regions immediately, even if they do not have the ideal equipment for the task at hand. Should your cooking skills be more Gordon Sham-sey than Gordon Ramsey, clothing can be altered and equipped in order to help you in your quest. Thick, quilted tunics allow Link to wade through the colder regions, and airy, open outfits allow Link to keep his cool in the harsh desert climes. Link can even throw off his kit and wade through Hyrule as the Goddess Hylia intended – of course with a pair of trunks on. Once again, these decisions are left to the player, with customisation being at the forefront of Breath of the Wild’s experience.
Exploration is no longer simply a matter of following the shrill, and endearing, cry of Navi, or the monotone moaning of Fi – the player is transported to the original NES title in terms of this radical removal of the didactic, guiding hand approach employed by various Zelda titles. This exploration is amplified tenfold by Link’s ability to mount any surface in the game and scale it. Assassin’s Creed, but without the visual prompts and questionable architecture, the rock-faces and structures upon Hyrule can be scaled at will. Any surface that isn’t smooth can be climbed, with a stamina bar allowing Link to push himself up the valleys and mountains that you’ll be rapaciously conquering during your time in Hyrule. Aside from climbing and jumping, executive producer and gaming royalty Shigeru Miyamoto did mention “different vehicles” when talking about exploration and traversing the land in Breath of the Wild, with Link’s shield being used as a means of conveyance. By leaping onto his shield, Link can rapidly descend mountains and hills with breathtaking speed, in a similar fashion to his skiing exploits in Twilight Princess. More vehicles were shown in the game demonstration, ranging from wild horses to Link’s paraglider that allows him to descend onto remote areas or islands from a vantage point.
Perhaps Link’s most important tool in Breath of the Wild, the ‘Sheikah Slate’ is as mysterious as it is powerful. An ancient tablet buried alongside Link, this technologically advanced tablet gives Link unprecedented powers that will change Zelda puzzle logic forever. During the E3 presentation, Nintendo of America staff showcased several ‘Sheikah Shrines’ that are scattered throughout Hyrule. These mysterious altars are packed with puzzles that must be overcome in order for Link to obtain ‘spirit orbs’ from the mummified Sheikah Monks who reside within the shrines. In order to complete the challenges within, Link is given a rune at the start of the shrine. These runes give the Sheikah Slate new powers: one rune enabled the slate to freeze bodies of water in order to erect ice columns, while another rune allowed the slate to freeze an item in a temporary state of suspended animation. Furthermore, while an object was rendered in a state of stasis, Link could strike the object multiple times in order to build up kinetic energy upon the object.
Once the object was released from its suspended animation, it spontaneously launched into the air as a result of the energy that was built up by attacking it. This brilliant use of physics allowed for various ways to deal with the puzzles on offer in the Breath of the Wild shrine sections, as well as the overworld interactions. Another consideration regarding physics has been made with the implementation of square bombs. Bombs now come in two forms: traditional circular bombs are affected by inclines and gravity and can be rolled in order to distract enemies, while square bombs can be set in a fixed position. Both bomb types can be remotely detonated too, meaning that traps can be set or timing blasts can be timed in order to deal with puzzles in a new and unique way. With the six shrines that Nintendo revealed during their limited gameplay, the company were keen to distinguish between shrines and ‘dungeons’, the implication being that dungeons will be distinctly different to the shrines.
While Nintendo were keen to show off the overworld, towns and NPCs were deliberately hidden from players experiencing the Breath of the Wild demo available at E3. Producer Eiji Aonuma pointed out the significance towns would have upon the story, with their mere inclusion being enough to give away plot details. Removal of NPCs served a similar function, with the lands of Hyrule being virtually empty, except for the masses of hostile creatures roaming the world. Nintendo were adamantly keeping plot elements to their chest, although from the footage of E3 day one, we know that the Sheikah will play a pivotal role in Breath of the Wild, ‘Calamity’Ganon is the main villain of the game, and the location for the game is certainly Hyrule – not New Hyrule that was founded in the DS titles.
According to a mysterious old man who appeared during several instances of the demo, Hyrule has fallen into decay and has been in this state for 100 years after Calamity Ganon attacked the kingdom. Artwork featuring the Master Sword shows the blade riddled with nicks and decay, while a large portion of the blade is covered in rust, suggesting it has not been used in a very long time. Additionally, although placing Breath of the Wild at a point in the Zelda timeline is seemingly impossible at this moment, the appearance of a certain race very early on in the game will fuel all sorts of fan theories and speculation, leading many to assert this game takes place around the time of Wind Waker. For my own part (because who doesn’t love Zelda speculation!?) the mountain at the centre of Breath of the Wild’s horizon bears a striking resemblance to a certain island that is torn in half at the hands of a certain Gerudo King of Thieves as he searches a certain ocean for a certain great fish *ahem* but I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.
And that’s really what this title is all about: your own conclusions. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild thrusts you into a world without a purpose, without a preordained mission. You exist, and you can define your existence in any way you choose. Climb the highest peaks, conquer the toughest enemies, cook the most delectable meals or simply streak your way across Hyrule – it’s your game. You are free, you are wild, you are Link. Open your eyes and take in the Breath of the Wild… well, when it’s eventually released in 2017 that is!