Video Games

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: The First Few Hours

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a critical darling. It’s not uncommon for video game reviewers to gush endlessly over the Zelda games — in fact, Ocarina of Time is largely considered to be one of the greatest video games ever made — but Breath of the Wild is going beyond even this. According to Metacritic, it’s the fourth highest reviewed video game of all time (Ocarina of Time, unsurprisingly, is number one).

It’s hard to not enter the game feeling skeptical — after all, fourth best game of all time is a hard claim to make when a game is brand new and hasn’t yet settled into its place in video game history. But after a few hours, I can absolutely see why Breath of the Wild is already so universally beloved.

Now, one of the things about The Legend of Zelda series that makes it so special is that every game is filled with a very specific type of magic that no other series has been able to replicate. Sure, there have been attempts at aping the series, both structurally and mechanically, but no one else has done it the way The Legend of Zelda consistently has.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Breath of the Wild is no exception to this, but it takes things a huge step further. The game seems to have captured what was special about each individual Zelda title and has somehow figured out how to stuff all of it into a single game that still manages to feel consistent and coherent.

Death Mountain looms in the background, overlooking vast grassy plains, which immediately brings to mind Ocarina of Time. Link acquires a paraglider fairly early on, which is mechanically similar to the Deku Leaf in Wind Waker. Plus, there are rafting sequences and Koroks hidden all over the map to make the Wind Waker connection even stronger.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

There are some early sequences in which you’ll climb a mountain peak in harsh snowy conditions, dodging snow boulders as you climb. This brings to mind the snowy areas of Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess. Classic baddies like Oktoroks and Bokoblins are back, and they’re rendered in higher detail than we’ve ever seen before.

But even while adhering to some classic pieces of the Zelda formula, Breath of the Wild brings back the explorative freedom of the very first game in the series, The Legend of Zelda for NES. You can’t exactly tackle the shrines in any order you see fit (you’ll need to clear the first four before you can move on), but gone are the prerequisites that would keep you exploring them in a specific order dictated by the game.

Even A Link Between Worlds, which boasted this sort of freedom, kept players locked out of dungeons through equipment-based prerequisites. You could tackle the dungeons in any order you wanted, but you were tasked with acquiring the right type of equipment beforehand.

Yes, Breath of the Wild offers a sort of freedom that the series has been holding back for decades. And it’s breathtakingly liberating.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

And it’s not just freedom in exploration; this version of Hyrule is more reactive than any previous version. You can chop down trees to gather lumber. You can set whole fields of dry grass ablaze with the touch of a torch. You can cook apples by simply setting them next to a fire. You won’t be hindered by an eight-foot-high wall; you’ll just climb over it.

Hyrule is beginning to feel like a real world; not just a video game world.

And Breath of the Wild also borrows elements from other popular games, and is all the better for it. The cooking mechanics feel quite similar to those of Don’t Starve, in that you’re given a wide range of ingredients and you’re tasked with figuring out how to combine them to make meals with powerful effects.

Weapons and tools have a durability aspect that causes them to deteriorate while you use them, which might remind some of Minecraft and others of games like Dead Rising.

There’s even hunting in this game. You’ll find yourself shooting arrows at a wide variety of animals to try to gather their meat, which you’ll cook into all sorts of tasty meals.

And even after all the stuff I mentioned, I’m only a few hours into Breath of the Wild. I’ve barely scratched the surface. Even so, I’m already anticipating that this will be one of my favorite video games of all time. It’s a dangerous claim to make this early in a game, but I think I can safely make it here. Breath of the Wild is a must-play title, and I have a feeling many of  its design decisions will be informing future Zelda titles for years.

Josh Wirtanen owns this place and has opinions about pretty much everything. Follow him on Twitter: @joshuajwirtanen.