Breath Of The Wild Is The Crown Jewel Of Zelda Games

I can clearly recall the first time I inserted that shiny, golden Legend of Zelda cartridge into my NES. The game had hardly been out a year and I was too young to understand its complexities, but something clicked with my five-year-old brain. Turning the power on and creating a player name that was clearly gibberish, I was instantly awe-struck by the game’s sheer open-endedness. Its overhead perspective and seemingly endless array of static screens presented a world that was begging to be explored—a place with infinite possibilities. It took me three years to beat Ganon and save Hyrule for the first time, and that was one of the most satisfying gaming experiences of my life. It’s also one that I revisit every five or so years not just to feel nostalgic, but to relive the adventure in a whole new light.

I’ve since completed every Zelda title on a Nintendo console or handheld, multiple times, and I’ve rarely been let down. A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, and Twilight Princess are three of the most trailblazing games ever made, but nothing could prepare me for Breath of the Wild, which bought me back to being five years old and thinking that anything was possible, because now it pretty much is.

We clearly live in an age where the biggest, prettiest, and most polished games are being produced, but few of them have made me feel like I was playing something for the first time. While Breath of the Wild contains glimmers of other open-world classics like The Witcher, Far Cry, and Skyrim, it’s in a league of its own in terms of scope, artistry, and ambition. Nothing has been as consistently ground-breaking as this.

Within the first minutes, Breath of the Wild’s breaking from the shackles of previous modern Zelda games is immediately evident. Link wakes up in a mysterious cave, hears a few disembodied words, puts on some clothes (or doesn’t, up to you), climbs a tiny wall, and exits the cave to find himself atop a hill overlooking pretty much every explorable area the game has to offer. There’s no combat training, no villagers to converse with, no Navi, King of Red Lions, Midna or Fi to tell you where exactly to go, and no longwinded exposition about the game’s new world in and all the rules that come with it. Where we’re going, we don’t need rules.

This took me right back to the enigmatic, daunting, and immensely alluring opening moments of The Legend of Zelda. At least that game started you off with a sword. No such luck here. However, you can pick up a tree branch and some apples. Or you can steal a hammer from a nearby denizen, or you can kill a goblin for a club.  You can even use their limbs and guts for fighting and food crafting.  The amount of wonderful new things incorporated into the game is astounding.

Soon enough, you’ll learn things are scattered everywhere and anywhere, and there’s no definitive order to anything. No mountain is unclimbable, no river is unswimmable, and you certainly don’t need to crawl a dungeon for some special treasure to progress further across the map. Actually, let me backtrack on that. You do need to get an old man to give you a Paraglider in exchange for four orbs (located in four shines that grant you four magical abilities), but after that it’s pretty much up to you, and no two playthroughs will be the same.

The Nintendo 3DS’ A Link Between Worlds introduced a refreshingly non-linear way to play as well, but Breath of the Wild totally reinvents the franchise in terms of non-traditional gameplay. There are times where you feel like you’re cheating your way around one of the game’s puzzles and missions, but its all part of the master plan to create a truly open-world experience that caters to each player’s unique personality.

Giving away too much of this game in a review would be a disservice—it’s the kind you want to discover on your own terms and then share stories with friends. There are so many tucked away areas and rewards to count, and the fun lies in being diverted from one objective for something completely different. You’ll want to keep tab on some of the sights you pass by en route to somewhere else, lest you forget about it in favour of some other tempting new distraction.

The general campaign essentially involves four dungeons and an epic fight with Ganon. None of these dungeons are mandatory, and you can very well head over to your imminent boss battle doom with no pants or shirt on and nothing but a severed skeleton arm to swing around. Surely, the next few months will see some epic speed runs. However, if you’re a sane person, you’ll likely spend a good 50 hours before you want to wrap things up with your formidable foe. Then you’ll spend another 50 hours exploring everything else you missed (and that’s not counting the upcoming DLC). There’s always something or someone to make feel puny and harmless, despite how many orbs (spread across the game’s allegedly 100 shines) you’ve collected to boost your stamina and heart supply.

Don’t get too attached to a weapon or shield, because you’re going to be crushed when it breaks during combat, catches fire, or even gets struck by lightning. On the bright side, there’s usually something better waiting around the corner.

Even weather plays a large part in Breath of the Wild. If you get caught in a rainstorm whilst climbing a massive mountain, you’re going to slip and probably fall to your death. Another thing to get used is dying. Fortunately, Breath of the Wild is generous when it comes to auto saves, but be prepared to go through a lot of trial and error. This is a game that rewards riskiness, so by all means climb up and jump down anything in your path—you could be gifted with some great loot and tips to pass on to a fellow player.

Just when you thought Zelda’s sacred legacy was starting to wane, along comes the best game in the entire franchise, and quite possibly the best game Nintendo has ever made. If you’re on the fence about buying a Nintendo Switch (read our hardware review) and don’t have a Wii U (it’s also on that console, albeit not portable), this is the reason to get one.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is out Friday, March 3, as a launch title for the Nintendo Switch. Check out the latest trailer below, as if you needed further convincing.