The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is only a week away. It’s the most-anticipated Nintendo title of a generation, which will likely be the metric used to measure the success of the Switch. I recently got the chance to play the final version of the game. Can it possibly live up to expectation?
Early impressions? Yes. Yes, with dangling, pirate bells on. After playing it for around five hours, it feels not just overwhelmingly huge, but dense, crammed with more distractions than Fallout, The Witcher or Skyrim. On top of this, there are loads of things that mark Breath of the Wild out as far more than just another Zelda game - not all of which we can talk about here - but I’ve chosen the 10 things that really resonated with me.
1 It's funny
There’s a deep, perilous story we’re not allowed to talk about yet - because of course there is - but this is no gritty reboot. There are deft, humorous touches everywhere, from the way that Link shivers when he’s cold, to the preposterous and brilliant arrival of The Old Man on his glider. It’s a cheerful, warm, amusing experience, that contrasts handsomely with the drab apocalypses found in many open world games. It’s by no means an easy ride - and I’ll talk more about that below - but I’m pleased Breath of the Wild has just the right amount of weird to feel like a proper Zelda game.
2 The weapons all feel satisfyingly different
You pick up a variety of weapons while you play. These include everything from slow, weighty axes to jittering skeletal arms. What struck me is just how different they feel. I especially love spears - partly because I’m a coward, and they let you attack from a safe distances - but also because they work as a smashing, one-shot thrown weapon. Few things are as satisfying as creeping up on a bokoblin through the long grass, then skewering them with a spear before they’ve even seen you. It makes for adaptive, exciting combat, which constantly finds new ways to test you.
3 It’s the Metal Gear Solid V of Zelda games
Okay, that’s too pithy a way of putting it. Let me explain: Breath of the Wild isn’t a stealth game, but there’s loads of scope for inventive, MGS-style sandbox destruction. By pressing down on the Switch’s equivalent of the D-pad, you can summon your horse. If you don’t have a horse, this works as a way of pulling enemies to your location. You can leave a bomb where you were hiding, retreat to a safe distance, and cause havoc without the bokoblins ever knowing you were there. It’s not the most heroic way of dealing with enemies, but by God it feels brilliant.
4 The sound design is wonderful
Zelda games always sound amazing - apart from the occasional, jarring ‘hey, listen!’ - but Breath of the Wild is especially beautiful. As well as the usual sonic tapestry of grunts, shouts and puzzle-solution noises, there’s an achingly delicate soundtrack that recalls the best Joe Hisaishi Ghibli songs. It’s impossible hear this as you stare out over the artful cel-shaded world of Breath of the Wild and not feel moved. It’s really that good.
5 Koroks are everywhere
Every time you see a pile of leaves, or a rock next to a hole, or anything that looks even slightly out of place, investigate. There are Koroks everywhere. We already knew these elusive creatures were returning from Wind Waker, but what’s pleasing is how well they’re implemented. I could have spent five hours just looking for them alone, without any of the other distractions on offer. It hammers home just how full Breath of the Wild is, and adds to the sense that you’re exploring a meticulously crafted world, not just rattling around in an empty sandbox.
6 With imagination, everything can be a weapon
Loads of things you pick up can be used as improvised weapons. By combining items in your inventory, you can discover all new kinds of lethal concoctions. If you want a suitably strange example, here you go: explosives can be attached to floating octorok sacs and wafted towards foes, using a giant leaf. Before long, you’ll be trying every weird combination like some wild-eyed alchemist, in the vague hope of finding something suitably dangerous. Even the environment can be a weapon. You’re equipped with two types of bomb for a reason - a square one, for leaving in place, and round ones you can roll down hills to annihilate distant foes. Or, if that’s too subtle for you, try just pushing boulders on enemies instead.
7 You need to improvise
This relates directly to the point above, and it’s super important. Weapons all have a limited number of uses, so you have to pick the right tool for the right monster. Don’t waste your snazzy farmer’s pitchfork - yes, pitchforks can be snazzy - on a standard bokoblin grunt. You’re better off saving your best weapons for the sternest challenges. Better yet, improvise. Most bokoblin camps have explosive barrels you can hit with flaming arrows, blowing them to bits, or you can tempt enemies into conflict on your terms using infinite weapons such as bombs.
8 Cooking is weird and brilliant
Breath of the Wild might have the most fun cooking minigame ever made. By grabbing an armful of ingredients and throwing them into a pot, you can make a variety of useful dishes. Not only to they dance around pleasingly as you cook them, but they provide a variety of practical effects, too: make a dish of spicy peppers, for example, and you’ll be better placed to withstand cold temperatures. Delicious and helpful. I ended up chucking every single combination of meat, herbs and vegetables into the pot just to see what happened. Expect a recipe-themed GamesRadar feature on this soon...
9 It’s completely unforgiving
If you thought Skyward Sword was too easy, here’s some excellent news: Breath of the Wild will not hold your hand. Not only do you have to mark your own checkpoints and choose your own critical path, but the combat and environment can be relentlessly punishing. Icy water will kill you. Long falls will kill you. Packs of furious bokoblins will kill you. All these obstacles can be overcome with careful planning, but go in unprepared and you’ll suffer.
10 I’ve lost the ability to feel pity for bokoblins
I’ve shot, crushed, stabbed, burned, drowned and skewered bokoblins. Hell, I’ve even wafted them to death. Breath of the Wild encourages levels of murderous invention that make you question your own morality. For me, anything even resembling pity was soon replaced with an all-consuming desire to invent cost-effective ways of butchering my enemies. After five hours, it was impossible for me to walk past a bokoblin camp without planning some ridiculous, abstract way of killing creatures I probably could easily have left alone, and Breath of the Wild is all the more enjoyable because of it.