Zelda: Breath of the Wild - 25 minutes of gameplay, dozens of side quests, and everything you need to know

Fast facts

  • Zelda: Breath of the Wild release date: March 3, 2017
  • Platforms: Wii U and Nintendo Switch
  • Price: $59.99 / £44.99

Update 2 (Jan. 23, 2017): Nintendo has sliced off a meaty chunk of its Nintendo Treehouse presentation on Switch, giving us 25 minutes of uninterrupted Zelda gameplay. From soaring over fields to breaking horses to solving shrine puzzles, it's the best look we've had at the game yet. But putting all that new stuff aside for a moment, holy crap does this game look good. Soft pastel grasses swaying in the wind, craggy blue mountains fading into the horizon, stonework ruins crumbling into hillsides… this is going to be a phenomenal way to break in your new Switch screen. We've also slotted in some new details below about the differences between the Switch and Wii U versions and the game's vast selection of secondary challenges.

Update 1 (Jan. 17, 2017): The latest trailer for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild from the Nintendo Switch reveal event has given us so much more to talk about. But the new info doesn't end there - we even have some very solid details about the game's previously mysterious backstory, thanks to some internet sleuthing. Check out the new sections below for more details.

Original story: It's finally 2017, the year of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It's now confirmed: Breath of the Wild will serve as the crown jewel in Nintendo Switch's launch lineup on March 3, 2017; our hearts are full and our bottles are just waiting to be filled with fairies and bugs.

Not sure what all the excitement about? Here's the quickest of primers: Breath of the Wild strips Zelda back down to its barest essentials, then builds an entirely new kind of adventure on top of those solid old bones. No more strict dungeon-item order, now you can explore the world as you wish by running, climbing, swimming, and even hang gliding. No more Master Sword worship, now you can wield any (roughly human-sized) weapon you find in the game. Read on for more proof of just how marvelous it looks.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has a few differences between Switch and Wii U

If you can't get a Nintendo Switch or just don't want to upgrade from Wii U yet, don't worry: you'll still get mostly the same Breath of the Wild experience. According to Nintendo, the main difference that you may (or may not) notice is that Breath of the Wild runs at 900p while docked on Switch, but only 720p on Wii U. The Switch version has "higher-quality environmental sounds", which probably means some of the audio is less compressed and nicer sounding. Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime also said that, in his experience, the game loads faster and there's less visual pop-in (objects suddenly appearing as you get closer to them) on Nintendo Switch.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's dungeons and side quests will be plentiful

There's so much waiting for you out in Hyrule. And thanks to a leaked strategy guide listing, we can put numbers on that scale. Minor spoiler warnings abound, and keep in mind that this information may not be final. But here's the scoop: according to the guide, Breath of the Wild will feature 120 Shrine mini-dungeons, 76 side quests, and "900 Korok seed puzzles". Dang, those little forest spirits have really gotten their seeds in a jumble. Even if puzzles aren't your thing, that's still a ton of stuff to do.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild story and timeline is post-apocalyptic fantasy 

Well, isn't that nice! The entire Breath of the Wild backstory is seemingly laid out on a single tapestry, complete with a handy diagram of the final battle that led to Hyrule's ruin. YouTuber Zeltik and company managed to translate the Sheikah runes on the tapestry (which is on the reverse side of the parchment map that comes with Breath of the Wild's special editions), revealing the story of the kingdom's fall. Stop reading here if you'd prefer to discover these details as you play.

Alright, here's the lowdown: decades ago, Hyrule was in a golden age. Multiple species lived together in harmony aided by the miraculous technologies of the Sheikah. Then Calamity Ganon showed up. The Hero (Link) and The Princess (Zelda) tried in vain to seal the evil force away; when they failed, the Sheikah's mechanical army converged on Calamity Ganon. Though they managed to trap Ganon - likely in Hyrule Castle - this show of power and misuse of royal property made the King and his people fear their former benefactors. The Sheikah were thereby banished from Hyrule. A century passes, Link wakes up in the Resurrection Shrine, and Breath of the Wild begins.

It's still not quite clear where this fits on the Zelda timeline, but given all that high-tech Sheikah stuff, Breath of the Wild may be the furthest future game yet. In other words, it could be on the opposite end from Skyward Sword. As for which branch of the timeline it follows, if any?  We'll have to wait and see.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild characters are both new and familiar

Already trying to figure out who Breath of the Wild's Groose will be? We meet several interesting characters who aren't part of the Link/Zelda/Ganon triad in the latest trailer. That includes a Goron shaman, a bow-wielding birdman, a couple of Zora, a great fairy, a Gerudo woman with a pointy gold hoop thing, and even a hint at the Deku Tree itself. And those are just the ones we meet in the space of a 20-second montage.

As for the big three, Link seems to be an amnesiac 100 years displaced from his time; Zelda is far less restrained than the noble ruler from Twilight Princess, but no less willing to fight to restore her kingdom; and Ganon is, well, Calamity Ganon. He's more of a malevolent force than a discrete entity, and is only temporarily restrained by failing Sheikah magic. Just another day in Hyrule.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's difficulty looks tough

Even if you think you can play Zelda better than the folks from Nintendo in the above video, set aside skill level for a second. Scrub to about a minute in and look at how much damage that Lizalfos does when it lands a lunge attack on Link. Seven and a half hearts! If you don't approach each situation with care - and maybe upgrade your armor first - Breath of the Wild is fine with knocking you flat. Then it'll laugh as it watches you ragdoll around for a while.

With that said, you shouldn't expect the whole game to be as punishing as a Dark Souls. But don't expect that wide open world to greet Link with wide open arms, either.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild release date is March 3, 2017

It's official: Breath of the Wild will be launching alongside Nintendo Switch on March 3, 2017 so you can christen your new console with an epic adventure.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild trailer is breath taking

That is not a pun: the Studio Ghibli-tinged Breath of the Wild trailer, with its sweeping views of pristine natural vistas, is indeed breath taking. As the orchestral score swells, it's hard not to get caught up in the game's natural grandeur. The E3 2016 trailer for the game, the last full trailer released besides brief clips from Nintendo, demonstrates who Breath of the Wild has returned to the wilderness exploration of the 1986 original Zelda.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's open world is yours to explore

Link awakens in a mysterious Sheikah resurrection chamber after a 100-year-long nap (or death), grabs some musty clothes from some old chests, and heads out into the world to explore. That's it. That's the intro. Rather than direct players to the next temple, important NPCs, or significant items with a nagging fairy partner and a linear path, those types of directions are now more like gentle nudges. Right away, you can go and jump off that cliff to the right (not recommended), scale a far off mountain, climb a tree to collect apples, or rush a Bokoblin camp in search of treasure. Before you talk to anyone you already have plenty to do.

Don't worry, you won't have to explore the whole world on foot. At some point a trusty horse whose name probably rhymes with Shamona will come into the picture, and you'll even be able to find a hang glider. But if you choose to, you can skip all the dungeons and items in the game and head right to the final boss of the game if you can figure out how to get to him. Producer Eiji Aonuma said at E3 that you can beat the game without completing the story. Now that's an open world.

Speaking of finding new stuff, mini-dungeons scattered across Hyrule will yield powerful gear, new abilities, and challenging puzzles to overcome. You can access these as soon as you stumble on them, but in addition to these bite-sized labyrinths there will also be larger classic-styled dungeons. And you won't be completely on your own out there. The E3 2016 demo introduced a bearded old man who seems to be Link's guide, giving him important items and advice at specific locations. Also, there's a mysterious voice that gives link his first few instructions at the start of the game. Could it be Zelda calling to Link telepathically like in A Link to the Past? 

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild lets you climb almost any rough surface

Exploring Hyrule's open world isn't about following a path the game makers created for you anymore; with Link's new climbing abilities it seems that nothing is out of reach. Any rough surface can be scaled by the hero. See a sheer cliff? Go climb it. You might find rare items at the summit, or a few high-altitude mushrooms on the way. There are even some larger enemies that require you to climb on them Shadow of the Colossus-style in order to reach their weak spot. Just watch your stamina meter; if it runs out, you're in for a long drop.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild amiibo functionality is fun but not essential

Don't worry: of course there are Breath of the Wild amiibo. Nintendo showed off three little mini figures to tie in to the game back at E3, including Link riding his horse, a Link firing his bow and arrow, and one of those big tentacle guardians. During the Breath of the Wild demo, though, only the Twilight Princess HD Wolf Link amiibo was usable in the game. It was pretty simple: tap the Wolf Link amiibo to the Wii U controller and the wolf was summoned into the game to help Link in fights. Cute, but not exactly worth the $10 price tag of most amiibo.

In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, cooking food is the new catching fairies

Besides solving puzzles and escaping dungeons, Breath of the Wild will reward you for exploring the great outdoors. Expect to spend a good chunk of your play time collecting resources and cooking to prepare for tough enemy encounters or harsh weather conditions. If you find a campfire with a cooking pot -  usually surrounded by a group of hostile Bokoblins - you can combine various ingredients like animal meat, wild mushrooms, and insects to create health power-ups, stamina boosts, or spicy dishes that will keep you warm in the snow.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild weather is dynamic

Yes, weather looks like it's a major concern in Breath of the Wild. If you climb up a high mountain and stay in the snow long enough, Link will begin to freeze - draining his hearts until he collapses and dies. To counteract this, you'll need to stay warm by standing near a fire, eating spicy food, or finding warmer clothing to wear. The reverse also likely applies for hot environments - it's a lot more involved than just finding the Goron Tunic and never worrying about heat again.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild loot system guarantees your inventory won't be boring

So far there has been no sign of Link's classic green tunic and cap, but there is very good reason for that: Breath of the Wild is introducing the series' first full-on loot system. Link will be able to find various types of clothes, each with an armor rating and extreme weather resistance stats, plus a multitude of weapons and shields. We've seen Link carry more traditional one-handed long swords, two-handed swords, heavy hammers, axes, spears, and even a fire rod - this is far and away the most versatile arsenal the series has ever seen. But don't get too attached to the weapons you find because they will eventually lose durability and break.

In addition to clothing that counteracts the weather, Link can also be seen wearing a full suit of plate armor which undoubtedly provides significant damage resistance. While weapons have durability ratings, it appears that armor and clothing do not, making switching armor to suit your current situation a likely strategy. You'll want to switch to warm clothes in the snow, cooler clothing in the heat, and step out of your heavy metal armor in lightning storms - because you're basically a lightning rod at that point. 

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild combat works differently

Because you won't be able to hold on to your weapons for long, you're constantly swapping old weapons for new ones. In addition to the classic moveset, Link is able to throw weapons for critical hits, and perform perfect dodges to unlock the Flurry Rush mode which slows down your enemies and allows you to rapidly attack them.

Even more interesting is what you can do before you enter battle. Link can crouch to sneak around enemies, perform stealth kills, and set up ambushes by doing things like rolling boulders into Bokoblin camps, setting off explosive barrels with a fire arrow, or even lighting grass on fire and allowing the wind to push the flames into an enemy encampment.  

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Link has a brand new magical tool: the Sheikah Slate

The first item Link gets is the Sheikah Slate. It's basically a magic iPad. With it, you can look up your location on a digital map, set waypoints on said map, and use magical abilities by upgrading the device in hidden Shrines. Once you find the appropriate upgrade you can use the Sheikah Slate to lift metal objects with the power of magnetism, create pillars of ice from water, and freeze objects in a time stasis field. Classic items like the bombs are also made available using the Sheikah Slate, and in introduces a bunch of new options: pick a spherical bomb if you want to go Bokoblin bowling, or opt for a cube shape if you'd rather your explosives stay put.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild puzzles are physics-based

Breath of the Wild's puzzles are more open-ended than those in previous Zelda titles. A more thorough physics simulation means you won't just be pushing blocks on buttons; instead you'll chop down trees to create bridges and use the force of a pillar jutting out of the floor to launch a bomb across a room. These physics mechanics offer plenty of new types of puzzles to solve, forcing players to rethink how they'll go about getting through that locked door.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild locations include the Temple of Time

Hyrule is looking pretty different these days. But if you peek under the layers of dust and moss, you'll find some familiar sights. Nintendo's already given us a tour of the dilapidated Temple of Time (which, it turns out, is not itself immune to the ravages of time) and there should be plenty more familiar sights to discover out in the world. Just make sure you don't get jumped by a horde of skeletal Mokoblins while you're reminiscing.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild voice acting lets more than just a fairy companion speak

We've only heard one female voice speaking to link telepathically (presumably Zelda) but it seems that Nintendo will be giving more characters a legit voice, rather than just the simple grunts and "Heeeeeeyyyys," of the previous games - albeit in addition to the traditional dialogue bubbles. Link however will not be voiced. "If Link said something the user doesn’t agree with, that relationship between the user and Link would be lost," director Eiji Aonuma explained. So don't expect to hear more from our hero than his usual grunts, yells, and chattering teeth.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

One of GR+'s news crew, Connor also writes features from time to time and does a lil' streamin'-streamin' on the side. Chrom is his husband and nothing will ever come between them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I've been playing games since I turned four in 1986, been writing about them since 1987, and writing about them professionally since 2008. My wife and I live in New York City. Chrono Trigger is my favorite game ever made, Hum's Downward is Heavenward is my favorite album, and I regularly find myself singing "You Won't See Me" by The Beatles in awkward situations.
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