Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild review: Zelda has a new king
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch/Wii U) 5 stars: Age: 7+
FOR once, the marketing poster tells no lies. Often the advance publicity on a game bears little resemblance to the final product, the imagery concocted in the fevered imagination of the suits overplaying the promise of the world within.
But Breath of the Wild brooks no such compromise. The poster depicts Link standing defiantly atop a mountain, eyeing the sweeping vista beneath him. In the distance, a bewitched castle glows ominously as the ultimate destination. But dotted all around lie mysterious forests, towers, bridges and obscure structures.
You can – and will – visit them all because this new Zelda breaks with its long-standing tradition by shifting to an open-world design that means you can head in any direction with no restrictions. Even the final boss awaits immediately, if you choose to be so foolhardy.
After a gentle tutorial level that hands you most of the game’s special powers - from time-stopping to magnetism to infinite bombs, Link sets forth with only the vaguest of hints as to what lies ahead. Knowing only that the great evil Ganon has reawoken, he eventually realises he must visit, literally, the four corners of Hyrule to enlist the help of a quartet of giant guardians in the final battle.
Besides that noble – and non-urgent – goal, Link is free to wander through the richly populated and spectacularly rendered tableau first seen in the poster. Forests, valleys, lush meadows, barren, lava-strewn mountains, snow-capped hills and marshy lakes all beckon to his curiosity. Nintendo’s designers have learned from gaming’s open-world pioneers and carefully hidden all manner of incidental details and challenges away from the main path.
With bows, swords and shields, Link fearlessly engages a glorious menagerie of goblins and wildlife – until you realise that the liberty to go anywhere means the freedom to get out of your depth. Soon, Link meets monsters that can take him out with one swipe and the player learns the value of levelling up and preparing for battle.
Breath of the Wild barely dips its toes into traditional RPG-style levelling – limiting the pursuit of higher numbers to some weapon and gear stats. But Nintendo forces you to invest considerable time into its cooking mini-game, which provides buffs and perks depending on the resources gathered and fried up at convenient campfires.
It’s a bit of a drag, but not nearly as much hassle as the limited durability of practically all weapons, which shatter after a few enemy encounters. This leads to a wearying inventory shuffle as you constantly seek out new swords to survive the next battle.
These inconveniences count as rare missteps in the many enjoyable hours meandering with Link through a constantly intriguing landscape.
Zelda’s trademark dungeons have been reworked, sliced into more than 100 bite-sized puzzles that act as palate-cleansers between the overground action. Some may mourn the loss of the sprawling subterranean spaces but the four giant guardians act as de facto dungeons with bosses of their own.
Breath of the Wild inevitably faces comparison with its predecessors, such as Ocarina of Time, the highest-rated game ever on Metacritic. As reductive as it is to play favourites, my take is that the newest instalment may just have seized the crown.
Link’s latest adventure overflows with personality, comes stuffed with a gorgeous, lovingly crafted open world and – here’s the killer – plays just as well on the Switch in handheld mode as it does on your big screen in the living room.
Princess Zelda has a new king and its name is Breath of the Wild.