In our third and final hands on preview of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild from E3, Alan Lopez breaks down what makes it a unique new direction for the series. Links to our previous write-ups by Morgan Sleeper and Mitch Vogel can be found at the end.
To really understand the strength of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you've first got to understand that Zelda has always been about basic math. Let me explain.
Picture any Zelda dungeon, your pick. If you add a bomb with a wall, you get a chest. A block and a button get you an open door. This series logic infiltrates over two decades of Zelda titles, with most titles introducing only one major motif per entry: flying, shrinking, transforming, etc.
Here In Breath of the Wild, I began as Link near a campfire deep in the woods. With no direction given to me by anything, I aimlessly walked through some thick brush of trees where I discovered familiar Moblin enemies in the distance. Still unfamiliar with my arsenal but under the assumption they should be defeated, I pressed a random button and pulled out a glowing, blue square, which in my shock I accidentally threw in no direction in particular.
This triggered a massive explosion that threw Link's body violently against a tree with rag doll-like physics, which then caused nearby trees to fall around me in a domino-like fashion; any Moblin not slain by the explosion was pummelled by timber. Slowly, Link animatedly reached to his side in pain before limping up to survey all the damage lying in pieces all around him.
This was just the first minute of my playthrough.
Breath of the Wild has the tried and true Zelda sheen that the world has warmed to, but its internal logic introduces so many new, simultaneously occurring variables that lifelong series fans will be in for a culture shock. This is an absolutely exciting, stimulating game.
Did I mention you could jump? On command? By minute five of my half an hour demo I had slowly learned how to pick up items, dash wildly (which depleted a circular, on screen graph of my stamina), and hop around as if I were Mario himself. According to an on-screen text alert, a blunt club I had picked up from a fallen enemy had degraded, which led me to search for and find a sword early on. Excited to try out the game's new swordplay, I whipped it out and then accidentally threw my sword down a path.
This is an absolutely exciting, stimulating game.
I blinked at the screen before the Nintendo rep playfully suggested that I should probably walk over and pick it back up. You could just lose your sword? Even the smallest details had the power to shock a Zelda veteran such as myself.
The fact of the matter is that there was so much to do in just this tiny area that I couldn't decide what to try or which path to go down, and this is the shining success of Breath of the Wild. Nintendo conducted a Treehouse Live session to discuss the game's similarity with the series first entry: 1986's The Legend of Zelda. Much like that original title, this new entry is ultra light on narrative and highly rewarding to those who are curious.
Throughout Zelda's many successes, not the least of which have included innovative 3D play, ingenious puzzles and touchstone soundtracks, the series has nonetheless lost the original plot over the years by iterating further away from exploration, and closer to narrative story arcs. But not this time.
Speaking of the soundtrack, there simply was none. That is, I explored the world to the organic sounds of my surroundings alone, a series first. Even more, health pick-ups are now completely vanquished, instead replaced with health only replenished via the combining of found items. Example: I cooked myself a meal after making a kebab out of meat I had hunted.
By halfway through my demo, I had additionally chased a lizard that scurried across my path, climbed and jumped off a cliff, died inside some quicksand and found a hidden cave. My experience was dictated by my curiosity and my curiosity alone, and like the very best Nintendo titles the gameplay finds joy in surprising you over and over again.
It's worth noting that this game looks absolutely sublime. Breath of the Wild employs a clever sort of shading technique that's tied to both photorealistic environments and cartoonish character models, which unite to create a vibrant and inviting landscape in motion. This is not only likely the best looking Wii U title, but one of the best looking games of this generation, period. It's the most breathtaking looking title that Nintendo has developed in at least a decade.
This is not only likely the best looking Wii U title, but one of the best looking games of this generation, period.
Among the few times my Nintendo rep interjected to provide guidance, she introduced to me the power of the Wolf Link amiibo. Scanned into my game, it provided yet another fun thing for me to interact with as I whistled for its assistance and guided it through a field. I was also informed that players with Wolf Link amiibo data from Twilight Princess HD would import a more powerful Wolf Link scaled to the progress in their file.
By half an hour in, I discovered a magnet item in my inventory that turned my entire screen red. This highlighted all surfaces with a high-tech looking texture and allowed me to detect the magnetism of anything on the screen. Quite frankly, it seemed like something straight out of Metal Gear Solid or Deus Ex. There was also a sound wave meter in the corner, a thermostat, rivers, towering castles and entire menus that I never even got a chance to look into.
The game kept surprising me even up until the last moments when it was torn out of my hands.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is what happens when a AAA publisher spends all its resources on what makes something fun, even when it flies in the face of what they've established over years of brand building. This is new Zelda math. If the final product is even an iota as inspired as the demo, it will be an instant classic on arrival.