“The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” is the first major release for the Nintendo Switch as well as the final Wii U title. When gamers look back at the libraries of these consoles one day, it wouldn’t be shocking if this “Zelda” is the best game on either machine.
That’s not fanboy hyperbole, either. I liked the Nintendo 64 “Zelda” games, but haven’t played any of the new titles. This game is breathtaking on its own merits.
In the grand tradition of “The Legend of Zelda” series, hero Link is tasked with freeing Princess Zelda and the realm of Hyrule from the grip of the corrosive Ganon. This time, Link has risen from a 100-year slumber without his memories, quickly learning Calamity Ganon has been building power within the castle walls where Zelda has contained it.
“Breath of the Wild” doesn’t restrict freedom. All of Link’s abilities and the entire realm are accessible within the first hour. Heck, there’s no invisible wall preventing players from making a run at Ganon before doing just about anything else.
If that’s the path you take, however, be prepared for a beatdown. Hyrule is a challenging world with deadly ancient machines that can kill in a single blast, encampments of minions who will swarm Link if he’s spotted, and elemental dangers such as lightning strikes and extreme temperatures.
Be prepared to lose a lot. “Breath of the Wild” demands players’ respect. There’s no hand-holding, no “win button.” Higher-powered weapons will level the playing field, but just about every one of them shatters after a certain amount of use. Cooking meals, as well as armor with helpful traits, can better prepare Link by enhancing cold resistance or stealth capabilities. Plan accordingly.
Puzzles, which unlock items that lead to health and stamina upgrades, are an interesting diversion from the action. They also come into play during “dungeon” sequences on the larger-than-life Divine Beasts, which can be tamed in order to further cripple Calamity Ganon.
These four Divine Beast main quests are the meat and potatoes of the action for most players — although again, they are technically optional — and each culminates in a thrilling boss battle. That includes the final clash, which I opted to complete after about 35 hours of play. Finishing all side quests could easily double that.
All the while, “Breath of the Wild” produces vivid, gorgeous visuals of a varied Hyrule, with a superb soundtrack and some solid voice acting — a franchise first — in cutscenes. Not to mention horseback riding, climbing, paragliding, and the mighty Master Sword all are done with polish most modern games lack even after several post-release patches. All systems at play are deep, but none are complex.
Simply put, “Breath of the Wild” is a modern classic.