I’ll preface this review by saying that this is my first Zelda game. Nothing drew me into the game more than the constant lauding by its fans since its release – and after completing all 120 shrines, 77 side quests, and defeating the end boss, the cult-like acclaim over this game may have compelled me to join their side.
The story begins as Link awakens in the Shrine of Resurrection after a 100-year slumber. The game unveils the bulk of its core mechanics and plot hooks during this phase. Even when I was stuck in this small corner of the map due to the temporary lack of a Paraglider, the shifting landscapes from snow-capped mountains to mossy ruins that I constantly found myself in already drove home the expectation of a greater world just waiting to be submerged in. And the best part is, this game absolutely delivered. The world that awaited was immensely vast and fresh in its constantly changing landscapes and creatures. I firmly believe the map designers exhausted all the possibilities there are for each biome. Because when I say every climate imaginable is in the game, I absolutely mean it.
Needless to say, exploring the world is not the only fun activity to do in Hyrule. Finishing shrine puzzles are important as they can help increase Link’s heart and stamina containers, making him much more formidable against stronger foes. The first set of shrines provided an avenue for toying around with the runes such as the bombs, Magnesis, and Stasis. And the puzzle-solving elements demanded a creative and critical approach that further increases in complexity the farther you are from the Central Tower. Each shrine presented new challenges and loads of goodies to unlock inside. There are also some stunning features that blow my mind in terms of the player’s freedom to act. When certain elements are present in the shrine that acted as the conventional key to beat the puzzle, you are free to use alternative game mechanics or even items that you carried along with you such as Octorok Balloons or Fire Arrows to solve it instead. The feeling of solving a puzzle in that fashion may appear cheap for some, but it just goes to show the breadth of freedom that the developers intended for their players and it sure is gratifying.
Casual players are more likely going to find around fifty to seventy shrines before facing the end boss. The search for the hidden shrines disrupt the idea of simply stumbling across one around the corner or seeing an orange glow from a higher distance. Instead, there are tablets with mysterious puzzles, generational myths, and specific rituals that needs to be solved in order for their respective shrine to appear in the overworld. The amount of thought put into not just the shrines – but Koroks, creatures, and items too – is astounding. The fact that the average player may not even unlock everything in their first run shows an admirable attention to detail and a dedication to craft an experience that covers just about everything.
There are a handful of monsters and creatures that you will often come across in your journey across Hyrule as well. They start off easy enough, but as you grow stronger and gain more proficient weapon and armor, reskinned versions of the same creature will start to emerge that are considerably more difficult to take down. Difficulty scales parallel to the player’s own growth, so dueling a hardened Silver Moblin provided a challenge that felt well-adjusted at the late game. Powerful boss-like monsters such as Lynels also make for a grueling fight if a player wishes to spice things up.
The button mapping felt fluid and precise on the Switch. Playing on both handheld and television mode posed zero issues and once you get a grip of the core button mechanics, the game will slowly introduce to you more advanced techniques such as parrying and flurry rush which makes for a satisfying damage dispenser against bulky enemies.
At some point, however, I found myself avoiding skirmishes altogether because the gratification of defeating a monster and gaining inferior loot did not warrant my rare, valuable weapon from breaking for good. The number of weapon slots are limited and can only be increased by collecting Korok Seeds scattered across the map. While they are abundant, trying to find more and more Koroks per upgrade will more often than not lead you to stumble in mob camps and needing to fight and expend these resources. This makes it feel that the number of weapon slots you can switch around with seem smaller than it actually is.
Aside from facing monsters, scaling mountain faces and trekking grassy fields without having a concrete goal in mind will be where most of your time will come from – and I think the beauty of the game shines during these moments. The vastness of the world enraptured my desire for exploration, and just about every point on the map can be reached – every summit and every recognizable water body. This is a masterstroke of technical and conceptual prowess, not only for the game but the precedent it sets for the open-world genre altogether.
Each discovery in the map, like finding a stable or new town, is supplemented by a beautiful composition of wind instruments and a soothing soundtrack that gives the player a well-deserved breather from all the exploration. The entirety of the sound direction is relaxing and mindful, leaving an impression of peace in solitude, which I believe is characteristic with the game’s intention.
The towns had vastly different atmospheres that made me tingle in excitement as I step foot in each one for the first time. I spent countless hours checking every nook and cranny within the premises, helping out the different townspeople, and admiring the impressive architecture in these towns.
Ten paragraphs to discuss the actual plot of the game should speak volumes of how every other aspect of the game blew my expectations out of the water. Unlike the world design, the lore building and story-driven aspects did not present anything truly groundbreaking, but it was still a good force for exploration should a player prefer a solid push towards a certain direction. Defeating a Divine Beast also comes with its own perks by granting the player a divine power that strengthens them through favorable combat mechanics or better world interaction tools.
Even the minor details and sequences had a considerable degree of charm and substance. Side quests acted as cute little distractions one could do if they wish, and more important than that, it also provided players another avenue for exploration in places that the player may not have considered otherwise. The characters composing the populace across towns, stables, and villages fleshed out the world and made it feel much less desolated, adding vibrancy and color to the towns and villages scattered across Hyrule.
Breath of the Wild is brilliant in the worldbuilding front and is an overall amazing experience. It trusts its players to know what they want and grants them absolute freedom and the tools to make it all happen. Whether you are going a completionist route, a quick trip to the boss, or a stroll across the riverbank – the world is brimming with a near-endless amount of content that can easily rack up hours of enjoyment.
9.5/10 – Incredible