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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Hands-On Impressions

On the last day of E3 2016, I finally had my chance to play Nintendo’s unexpected gem of the show, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It certainly wasn’t the title I expected to be pining for when all was said and done, but after experiencing the new Zelda, this is the most excited I have been for a Nintendo title in years.

One of the most striking impressions Breath of the Wild left on me had nothing to do with my own, personal experience playing the game. Putting it mildly, Nintendo had an impressive setup at E3. Looking at the map, one had to wonder just why they needed so much space to show one game, but after entering their space it made much more sense. Surrounding the entire block, there were stations to play Breath of the Wild everywhere. Different from previous years with a few rows here and there of different titles, everything was Zelda.

Everyone was playing the same game, but everyone was doing something different. And I believe that alone speaks for how special this new Zelda is.

In its adventure game design, Zelda has always given you maybe a couple of different directions in which you may stray from a dungeon to explore. While disguised well, Zelda has usually been quite linear in overworld progression.

Indicators from what we played and what we were told at E3 points in all directions that this is simply not the case in Breath of the Wild. By now, we’ve all heard that players can run straight to the end of the game if they want, but for those of us who want to explore the most open Zelda title yet, there’s plenty to do.

When I first had my chance to play, I noticed the learning curve was much more difficult due to my history with the franchise. The instinct to run at a ledge and let Link do the jumping for you is overwhelming, and I hate to say that even by the end of my play time I still couldn’t break that habit. Now, it’s up to the player to command Link to jump, lest you die in an icy lake like me for the first half hour.

The stamina wheel from Skyward Sword has made a return. I felt an immediate sense of dread upon seeing it, but it feels a little easier to control this time around. While exploring and fighting, its use felt much smoother and strategic than simply being there for the sake of slowing me down every ten seconds.

Link’s kit has changed too, for better or worse I couldn’t decide, but it has my interest. I like that Link can hold onto enemy weapons to keep for a while instead of automatically discarding them when I wanted to switch. What I didn’t like was the introduction of weapon durability. I’ve never enjoyed that mechanic in any game, and during my time with Zelda I couldn’t see that there was an option to repair these enemy weapons.

Perhaps the game will force you to ration the use of stronger weapons, which I would much prefer to the constant repairing of all weapons, but we’ll have to wait for that one. Loot in Breath of the Wild now has stats, too. We already cover Zelda titles on RPG Site, but the addition of these aorts of elements make it feel a little more at home now.

As for exploration, that’s where experiences with the demo seriously diverge. I had plenty of friends on the show floor to discuss the demo with, but the scope of the area we were allowed to explore was massive. I didn’t see half of what they saw, and things I discovered they also couldn’t recall in their adventure.

I spent much of my time in the beginning throwing Link’s fancy new bombs at unsuspecting patrols in the starting area. Enemies in Breath of the Wild didn’t simply stand in one spot and wait for me to come within range to activate them. They had their own tasks, manning lookout towers and cooking over a fire. Many raids on enemy camps ended with me jacking said location and cooking my own recipes, one of the smaller details to gameplay that I adored.

Of course, there was also amiibo support. When the Nintendo representative asked if I wanted to scan in the Wolf Link amiibo for some additional help in battle, I had little interest. When has an amiibo done anything outside of give me useless ammo in Hyrule Warriors? Thankfully, I did give it a chance, and I was pleasantly surprised by the new functionality. The amiibo gave me a wolf companion, and while it was not the smartest AI in the game, it was a nice addition to combat.

When I grew tired of attacking goblins and stealing their gear, I moved on to just trying to cover as much ground as possible. We were limited to one sector of the map in Breath of the Wild to explore, but even that was too big to cover in an hour’s time.

There was the ability to speed up the exploration process though, and one that didn’t involve calling for Epona. By that time, I had mugged a shield from a goblin, and that shield gave me an excellent tool for scaling down the side of a mountain. Surfing across the map feels surprisingly more efficient than constantly rolling everywhere, so older fans should go ahead and count that strategy out.

Eventually, the adventure portion of the demo came to a close and we were introduced to the store demo. Player experience still differed here, because there were just so many places to go, but we all started the same.

Link wakes up from a long slumber, learning that 100 years ago Calamity Ganon decimated Hyrule. Watching that familiar silhouette swirl around the castle and eventually engulf the area was a highlight of the demo. So much of Zelda has changed in Breath of the Wild, but the essence of what it was is still there.

This Hyrule feels more different than any other. The usual landmarks are still there of course, but this lands feels like a civilization much more advanced than what we are familiar with in Zelda once existed there. The glyphs and ruins of a ruined society still struggle to function as Link interacts with the puzzles, and I could see hints of something that was great before Calamity Ganon struck it down.

Breath of the Wild is moving Zelda in a new direction. Initially, I was hesitant to trust Nintendo to take something I was so accustomed to and change the formula this much. After experiencing it, I’m more excited for the future of the franchise than concerned. For years, I’ve been feeling a sense of fatigue with these repeat Nintendo titles, but I think they’ve found the perfect mix of the old and the new in Breath of the Wild.

 

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