We started the first day of E3 knowing very little about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - not even that name - and have ended it with a lot more knowledge. The Nintendo Treehouse, Eiji Aonuma, Shigeru Miyamoto and all involved excelled at demonstrating a lot of fascinating details while also steering clear of spoilers. Nintendo is stating that the E3 demo area is barely 2% of the game; whether that's entirely accurate or not, it's clear that this is a title with sensational depth.
It's been a heck of a day - especially for UK-based fans like this writer - and we'll have hands-on impressions and extensive feature content to come. We thought, though, as a final sign-off for the first day of E3 we'd summarise some key lessons we've learned about the new entry in The Legend of Zelda's series. Take this as an early shortlist of details that stood out among the crowd of reveals from Nintendo's 7-hour broadcast.
Breath of the Wild is Inspired by the NES Original
It seems, on the face of it, an outlandish claim. Yet Shigeru Miyamoto explained how, philosophically, Breath of the Wild reverts to some of the ideas of The Legend of Zelda on NES. The crux of this is freedom and survival. Nintendo emphasized that the player needs to find a way to survive in the environment, and also find their own way through the world and over-arching story; the narrative was generally hidden away in the presentation. There's even a call-back to the famous old-man that gives early advice and information, in this case stating that the opening area - The Great Plateau - is the 'birthplace of the Hyrule Kingdom'.
The basic idea of waking up in a shrine / cave and starting with nothing is key to the whole experience, yet modern technology naturally takes it a lot further...
Survival and Exploration are at the Heart of the Experience
The world of this game is enormous, Nintendo couldn't stress that point enough. Yet it's not just about charging from one location to the next, evidently you need to explore and utilise the world to get by, and in doing so touch upon entirely new ground.
We'll consider it in more detail in the days to come, but let's just say the following - Link can climb pretty much any surface, weapons and items can break, trees can be chopped down and fires started, you can hunt and forage for food that can then be cooked and combined, you discover new gear by raiding camps and, should you tackle a big foe when ill prepared, you will die quickly. Link is susceptible to the environment in other ways, needing warmer clothes (or a peppered steak, it seems) to safely traverse cold areas, and presumably there'll be a reverse effect in hot climates. Weather can change and pose challenges, and you also have to manage your inventories of clothes, weapons, food and resources; Link evidently has limits to how much he can carry. You can even use your shield as a snowboard.
In other words, there are a lot of gameplay and structural systems at play here, all of which are carefully integrated into the world. This is arguably the biggest game-changer for the series, which before now has typically minimised these aspects and kept things simple. There was dabbling with some extra elements in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, but it was relatively minor. This new entry is going all in.
That could actually be divisive, as some like the simplicity the series has previously employed, and may not appreciate this most modern of revolutions in how we play. Yet for others this level of depth will be bliss, and if balanced well these mechanics could all combine into something truly special.
Shrines Could Play a Key Role
Nintendo shied away from showing dungeons, while also dodging story elements, towns and too many NPCs. That was all deliberate, with Aonuma-san at pains to reassure viewers that all would be revealed later in the year.
We saw quite a few shrines though, which could be a crucial part of the game. They are typically small enclosed areas that consist of two or three puzzles, often utilising neat abilities such as freezing objects or producing ice platforms out of water. Early examples were short and simple, but in the final two shrines that were shared it became clear that they ramp up in difficulty.
Nintendo confirmed that there will be over 100 of these shrines, with players able to "earn special items and other rewards that will help them on their adventure". A 'Spirit Orb' also seemed to be a consistent reward, and it seems these shrines will be key for improving Link's abilities; we can't help but wonder whether those orbs will be required to 'break' a barrier at some point in the story.
We Didn't See it, But There's a Story
Despite all that was shown, it's clear that there'll be a significant plot here, even if the player's engagement with it will vary depending on how they approach the many freedoms they have in exploring and succeeding in the game's world. Treehouse staff couldn't resist remarking that the story is 'amazing', and Aonuma-san re-iterated that there was a lot we are yet to be told about the setting, Link's identity and his role in the world. There will be great flexibility in how we play, like in many enormous modern day RPG adventures, but like those contemporaries there'll still be a narrative thread running through the middle.
That narrative apparently rules out a gender choice, with Eiji Aonuma explaining his reasoning for a male-only Link. In fact the name Link is fixed, it seems, due to an opening voice-over that calls him from his slumber (which it seems was for 100 years, but that may have been loose talk on the Nintendo Minute show). Some snippets did, however, show Link in a variety of outfits (which are heavily customisable depending on what you've found and are carrying) and even sporting a different hairstyle. We'll have some control over how our Link looks, even if the character himself is set in stone.
There'll be Fun Debates Around its Place in the Timeline
All will become clear on where Breath of the Wild falls in the official timeline when the story emerges in months to come, but for now there'll be fun conversations based on what we know. There were plenty of clues in the coverage, from the creatures and items that were encountered, down to the landscape itself, and also the somewhat abandoned, lifeless aspects of The Great Plateau. This writer reckons this could be a direct sequel to Skyward Sword, based on interpretations of that game's finale. Others reckon it's before or after The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and others think clues point to one of the paths after the events of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Stay tuned, it's a topic we'll likely revisit...
Yep, amiibo is Here to Stay
There's no escaping it, amiibo has a part to play in the Legend of Zelda franchise. The Wolf Link amiibo from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD is supported; scanning it brings him into the game as an assist character that can be used once a day. He tackles foes and sniffs out some resources.
Three new figures (above) were also revealed - Link (Archer), Link (Rider) and Guardian; the latter will be the first amiibo with flexible parts. How these amiibo will work is yet to be revealed, though in prototype form they're certainly among the most attractive in the range to date.
Our hope, in order to appease those that find the idea of amiibo meddling in the adventure distasteful, is that these will be optional and rather minor in their gameplay impact. As collectibles, they could be hard to resist.
It Suits the Wii U GamePad Nicely, What About NX?
This one's origins as a Wii U-only game seem readily apparent, adopting mysterious technology with the Sheikah Slate that makes handy use of the GamePad. The second screen map has had a notable overhaul, while elements of motion controls for aiming and viewing 'through' the Slate seem to have remained in place. It seems likely that, like the HD remasters on Wii U, a Pro Controller option will also be bolted in.
It'll be interesting to see how NX fits in, depending on the form the console (and its controller) takes. Will the NX have controller support with a second screen and motion controls, or will it be held back if it lacks those? We're certainly curious.
Those are some key initial points, in any case, as we try and digest all that we saw. Stay tuned to Nintendo Life for much more on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, including impressions of the demos, and also full live coverage of Nintendo's second day at E3 on 15th June.