The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is on the way early next year, and it's been a long, long time since we've been this excited for a Zelda game. After years of quiet about its open-world "The Legend of Zelda for Wii U" project, Nintendo finally put the game in players' hands at E3 2016. It's kept anticipation sizzling since then with enticing tidbits and videos, but it's still playing coy with key details like a specific release date and how its "open air" adventure through a post-cataclysmic Hyrule ties into the rest of the series.
Adding to the unrelenting waves of hype is the fact that Breath of the Wild is the first game Nintendo itself has confirmed for Nintendo NX (though it will also be released simultaneously on Wii U). Barely an official word has been spoken about the console, but multiple reports have pointed to a system that blurs the line between handheld and home console gaming. Taking Link's biggest adventure ever on the go with us, then settling in at home to fight mokoblins on the big screen? Yes. Please. Now.
The story so far
We have very few details on Breath of the Wild's story. Nintendo's keeping tight lipped about the major narrative elements, significant characters, and prior Hyrule Historia events for now. We do know that Link has awakened after 100 years of slumber, Hyrule is in shambles, and there is a dark power called Calamity Ganon growing in Hyrule Castle. It seems Nintendo is saving the character reveals, traditional opening cutscene, and Zelda timeline hints for us to discover when we get our hands on the game - assuming there even are any.
You're free to explore the open world
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.
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?
You can 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.
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.
You'll need to be wary of the weather
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.
There's a loot system
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.
Combat works a bit 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 Sheikah Slate is Link's new magical tool
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.
You'll need to solve puzzles using physics
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.
You'll find familiar locations like 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.
Some characters have actual voice acting
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.
You can summon Wolf Link
If you picked up a copy of Twilight Princess HD and have a Wolf Link amiibo, you can bring the canine hero into Breath of the Wild as your companion. The wolf will follow you through Hyrule, attack enemies, and collect items for you, but you will have to look out for his wellbeing. Wolf Link maintains the number of hearts you had after completing Twilight Princess' Cave of Shadows challenge. If his hearts are drained, you won't be able to use him again until the next real-life day. So, you'd better start working on the Cave of Shadows before Breath of the Wild comes out next year.
Zelda: Breath of the Wild's release date might be March 2017
The official release date for Breath of the Wild on Wii U and NX is still just 2017. But Nintendo has confirmed that it will release the game both on NX and Wii U, and it's also said that Nintendo NX will come out in March 2017. Breath of the Wild would make a pretty tempting launch title for the system, and it seems like Nintendo could probably pull it off - the game was originally meant to come out in 2015, after all. Here's hoping we get to explore the new world of Hyrule sooner rather than later.