Whichever way you slice it, Nintendo developers are an enigmatic bunch. They’re known for their innovation, their balls-out, why-the-hell-not creative attitude (which has resulted in the Wii, the DS, the thundering ballache of a disaster that was the Virtual Boy, and many others). They’re also known for their woefully inadequate approach to third-party support for their consoles.
One thing we can’t fault these guys on, though, is their first party IPs. From Mario to Zelda, the Big N have a monopoly on some of the most beloved and longest-lived names in gaming. Sadly, they seem to take the old 'If It Isn’t Broken, Don’t Fix It' adage a shade too seriously.
The big Nintendo IPs are often criticized for their lack of evolution. Like a lot of AAA titles, they have too much to lose with screwing around with these winning formulas. Namely, money, and who the hell wants to risk the chance of making themselves some major fan cash-tacular? Nobody, that’s who. Which is one of the biggest issues with gaming today; this year’s annual installment of Call of Duty or FIFA can seem pretty much the same as the last. And the next.
As such, you’re excused for not expecting anything too revolutionary from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Sure, the scale of the thing was clear enough from the earliest trailers, but it’s a Zelda game after all. We know how this goes. Except we really didn’t at all.
Breath of the Wild delivers in a big, big way. It delivers like 10,000 UPS delivery dudes all delivering their deliveries simultaneously, actually at the time they said they would deliver their deliveries. Without them arriving looking like they’d been thrown from the top of the Chrysler Building, either (what the hell’s that about? Does that ‘fragile’ sticker on the box mean nothing to you people?). It’s a hell of a thing, is what I’m getting at.
If you just recently bought the game, or just want to know more, settle in for our spoiler-free crash course: Understand all of Breath of the Wild in 15 Pictures.
15 An Open World Hyrule
The first thing to emphasize about Breath of the Wild: the game world is damn big. Zelda players are used to a little ass-hauling across the great outdoors from. After all, Ocarina of Time’s Hyrule Field, as well as A Link to the Past’s twin Light and Dark overworlds are pretty expansive — but they’ve got nothing on this.
That first time you emerge on a clifftop and look down at the massive scope of the land before you, it's a treat for the eyes, ears, as well as that ‘special place’ right there. You can spend hours on end here, fighting goblin crews for loot, chopping trees and grass, swimming, fishing, taking photos of the flora and fauna, anything you fancy. Then you realize that this just the game’s little tutorial area. We’re not talking Grand Theft Auto V levels of detail, but man is this an impressive achievement for the Wii U/Switch.
14 Cooking Is Key
Another major aspect of the game is the whole survival theme it has going on. Our old buddy Link is, more so than usual, kind of a Nomad. As he makes his way across this dizzyingly vast world, he’s got to forage for materials and gear, protect himself against the local slavering wildlife, shelter from the elements, and, most important, keep himself fed.
As I say, cooking is absolutely key. Most items you’ll pick up can be tossed into one of the many cooking pots in Breath of the Wild, and you’ll spend a lot of your time in the game putting together ingredients in the menus. These have all kinds of beneficial effects, which we’ll get into later. For now, just know that cooking is one of the most essential mechanics in the game.
13 Temples? Who Needs Them?
That’s right, friends. Like how Pokémon Sun and Moon changed all the damn rules by removing the fundamental Gym battles, so Breath of the Wild gives long-established rules the middle finger too. You’ll find no temples in this one, buddy boy.
Much like Sun and Moon, though, the replacement is … more or less the same thing, just subtly tweaked a little and with a different name. In this case, we’re talking about Shrines. These are a sort of temple-lite, bite-sized puzzle dungeons that won’t ruin your appetite (Milky Bar’s The red car and the blue car had a race commercial is stuck in my head now, how damn old I feel). There are many of them hidden throughout Hyrule, each presides over by its own sage who set the task. On completion, you’ll be given a Spirit Orb by them, your means of gaining more hearts and stamina.
12 Your (Insert Weapon Name) Broke!
You’ll have to get your butt used to seeing this screen. In another departure, Link can get his hands on a huge range of different weapons in Breath of the Wild. In past games, he’s always been able to nab himself an enormous inventory of items, but his arsenal in Breath of the Wild is on a whole new level. As you dispatch enemies and open treasure chests, you’ll accrue swords, clubs, spears, axes, and all manner of other deathly-death tools just waiting to be thrust deep into a goblin’s man-plums.
You have limited space for them, naturally, considering the rate you find them at. Each weapon also has a durability rating and will break (and be lost) when you’ve worn it out. They can’t be repaired (other than a certain Blade of Evil’s Bane, which repairs itself after a ten-minute cooldown), so you’ll have to think carefully in combat.
11 Climb, Climb, Climb!
I mentioned stamina a while back, so let’s take a look at another fresh new Zelda mechanic they’ve introduced. Link’s spangly new stamina wheel governs the obvious things, like sprinting and swimming, but it also comes into play while climbing. Man oh man, can this guy climb. He’s like an elven Spider-Man.
Most surfaces in the overworld can be parkoured up like they’re nothing, provided it isn’t raining or hasn’t recently (which makes them slick and hard to shimmy up). This adds a further fantastic feeling of freedom to the game, on a level you sometimes don’t get from a big city open world games like Grand Theft Auto. Needless to say, the secrets that are hidden away in high places are many, so it pays to scale all sorts of things.
10 Whip Out Your Sheikah Slate
Another thing we know about Nintendo is, they sure like putting self-referential ‘homages’ to their own tech in their games. In more recent Pokémon installments, our avatar has had a GameCube (hooked up to a GBA, as though there were more than ten people on Earth who ever used that function), or Wii/Wii U in their bedroom. Speaking of, that sure looks like a Wii U GamePad on your hip there, Link.
Stop that heathen talk. It’s a Sheikah Slate. You find this fancy piece of tech right at the start of your adventure, and it’s as trusty a companion as anyone’s smartphone. Like most people’s cells, it remains surgically grafted to Link’s hand throughout the game, and it performs as many different functions as the Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver. Taking photos, opening doors, solving puzzles, updating your map, proving your status as the hero of legend… there’s nothing the Slate can’t do.
9 Make Meals Like A Pro
As we’ve already said, your cooking prowess is as important as your sword skills in this game. In another departure, you won’t be finding hearts dropping from enemies, or magically appearing as you cut down grass. Who the hell needs that? That’s for sissies. In Breath of the Wild, you earn those damn hearts. We’re not going to hold your hand or wipe your sorry butt for you like your mama.
Your primary source of healing comes from the abundance of items you’ll find. Simple apples from trees grant you a little recovery when eaten, but you should really cook them up with other ingredients to get the benefits. A meal including hot peppers, for instance, will grant you time-limited resistance to the colder areas of Hyrule, which would otherwise be impossible to cross. There are meals that will boost your defense, give you extra hearts temporarily, refill your stamina meter, all sorts of things. Collect everything you see, and make sure you have the right food on hand for the right situation.
8 Climbing Those Towers
As we’ve touched on, Breath of the Wild is a very different sort of open world adventure to the big ol’ sprawling city kind that GTA popularized. Hyrule is, by its nature, not an urban setting, which means that there’s a whole lot of grassy nothing to see at times. As a result, you can’t simply orientate yourself with street names and such. Google maps can’t tell you to turn left after 400 yards here, friends.
Out in the sticks with Link, you’ll need to find yourself another way to fill in your map. How? With towers, that’s how. These are dotted around the landscape and have to be scaled. At the top, you can plug your Sheikah Slate into the wi-fi (that’s how I like to imagine it, at least) to update your regional map and enable easier navigation. You’ll want to get into the habit of doing this.
7 (Shield) Surf(ing)’s Up!
With open world games, it’s often the simple little details that keep you busy. It’s super difficult to keep on the straight and narrow with the main quest. On my way through Final Fantasy XV, I found each sidequest I completed spawned three more somehow, like some amazing time-wasting fetch quest Hydra. As a result, that was a slow, slow journey through the campaign right there.
Breath of the Wild has a good amount of that going on as well. In the drawer marked 'Fun But Entirely Useless In Any Real Practical Sense,' you’ll find Shield Surfing. Link can perform this maneuver by jumping on a slope and hitting the button with his shield out. It’s equal parts badass and stupid (you don’t want to waste your shield’s durability), and I can’t get enough of it. I eagerly await the release of Link’s Pro Skater.
6 The Hunt Is On
While we’re on the subject of distractions from the main quest, you’re sure to find yourself hunting the wildlife every now and then. Obviously, there are the usual Moblins, Lizalfos, Octoroks, and such littering the overworld and being pains in your ass, but this is different. You can actively hunt harmless animals for sport and/or meat, and you probably will. The game does have survival elements, after all.
You can use your Sheikah Slate’s camera function to take shots of new species you come across, to fill out the Hyrule Compendium. That’s not nearly as fun as nailing them in the eye socket with an arrow from horseback, though, so make sure to do that at every opportunity. The meat is useful, and different species can give a couple of different drops.
5 Dust Off Those Amiibos
I’ll admit, I was never much of an Amiibo believer (I think, inspired by Justin Bieber’s fans, they call themselves Amiivers). It was a neat enough idea, and the figures do look a little higher quality than the cheap toys I was expecting them to be, but in my eyes, they had ‘gimmick’ written all over them.
The new functionality was shoehorned into all kinds of games where it didn’t belong, just like touch/motion controls, but Breath of the Wild does at least try to make them a little worthwhile. You can scan any individual Amiibo once a day, to receive a sudden drop (literally, it can be hilarious if you’re near an NPC at the time) of in-game goods and a treasure chest. Zelda Amiibos can pay dividends; a scan of the classic Link gets you a classic horse of your very own, and Wind Waker Link can get you special iconic gear.
4 Hi Ho Silver, Away!
Usually, when it comes to horses in Zelda games, Epona is the star of the show. No other horse gets a look in when the Horse of Legend(™) is around. Which is a little sad, really. Link’s so superficial, like one of those snobby celeb-obsessed folks you see on the subway in LA with a pampered chihuahua in their handbags.
In keeping with the whole living-breathing-expansive-Hyrule theme, there’s a whole world of horses to tame. You’ll find wild ones roaming near stables dotted around the region, and can hop on and tame them with a little affectionate riding.
They can then be taken to said stable, customized, named, and called on at any time. You'll have to think about which horse you bring with you, though, as horses have various values in three stats: Stamina, Speed and Strength.
3 Bust Out That Selfie Stick
This, I think, is Zelda’s biggest concession to the modern world yet. Nintendo has a way of lumbering through the gaming world like a huge, stupid T-Rex in a Mario hat, launching fireballs from its tiny stumpy arms and wondering what this new-fangled ‘online play’ thing is. That said, though, even they have to get with the times now and again.
As other open world games have a selfie-taking function, then, so does Breath of the Wild. It’s accessed through the Sheikah Slate’s camera, and has a couple of relatively cool functions. You can hit the button to make Link cycle through a selection of poses, to get your shot to just the right level of 'Attention-Seeking Instagram Bozo.' While you’re focused on a certain area of our heroes body, the camera will also identify the particular equipment he has there (which sword or bow, for instance). It’s the kind of thing you’ll mess around with once or twice and then forget exists, probably, but a neat little addition if this sort of thing is your bag.
2 The Great Fairies Are Back
Of course, they are. Another old Zelda staple, these super generous, skimpily-dressed ladies have been handing out all kinds of bonuses and upgrades to our hero for years. To the player canny enough to find them, that is, as they’ve often been a pain in the butt to find. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, as my papa used to say, but they’re usually worth the trouble.
Without wading too deep into the suspect, sewage-polluted waters of 'Spoiler Creek,' there are four of these ladies in Breath of the Wild. There’s also a bonus hidden fairy, with an exclusive ability that animal lovers everywhere are sure to appreciate. If you can find their dwellings scattered across Hyrule, you’ll have to give them a cash tribute to ‘unlock’ their powers and make them available to you. As always, you won’t regret it.
1 Tell Us A Story, Grandma
Once again, this isn’t something I would dare even come close to spoiling. That said, though, I couldn’t finish up the article without a mention of the real meat and potatoes of Breath of the Wild: the story itself. It can take a bit of a back seat, with all the distractions and sidequests bombarding your senses at every turn, but it’s there, and it’s pretty damn great.
As cliched as the ‘mysterious hero awakens with amnesia in a land in need’ thing might be, it works here. If there’s one thing that Zelda fanatics enjoy, it’s discussing the series’ timeline and where individual games fit into it. The tale of a freshly-awakened-from-a-century-long-restorative-sleep Link and his battle with Calamity Ganon is as intriguing a chapter as any other in this regard.