Breath of the Wild.jpg

I'd consider myself to be quite a traditional gamer; I tend to prefer games that have a simple core structure and a finite length. Now in my 30's I've found that whilst getting older has many benefits it has also restricted the amount of time I spent playing games, typically an hour or two here and there with the occasional weekend-long binge.

Whenever I hear the terms "sandbox", "open world" or "grinding" alarm bells start ringing in my head. With a huge stockpile of games I have never even opened I don't like the idea of starting another when it seems unlikely that I'll actually be able to finish it. Can you even finish a sandbox game anyway? I'm one of those, potentially in the minority I admit, that doesn't understand why you would sink 100+ hours into a game and not even "finish" it - what's the point?

A Link Between Worlds on 3DS delivered an important evolution for the series

It won't come to you as a shock that I'm a Zelda fan, I did setup my own Nintendo website after all. Like many of you, I have extremely fond memories from a number of Link's adventures and multiple entries in the series would rank in my top 10 games of all time. Most recently was A Link Between Worlds, which I felt was a fantastic game that drew heavy influences from past Zelda games but came with a slight twist in terms of structure.

Nintendo deserves some credit for identifying that Legend of Zelda needed to shake things up after Skyward Sword.

For me it was an extremely important twist, the legendary "Zelda formula", whilst tried and tested, was perhaps starting to feel a little stale and predictable. For those that haven't played it, instead of the game dictating the order in which you come across items/weapons you are able to acquire almost any item straight from the get-go from a shop that simply hires them out, giving you far more freedom in how you go about your adventure.

Nintendo deserves some credit for identifying that Legend of Zelda needed to shake things up after Skyward Sword, and whenever the company has spoken about Zelda Wii U (now formally titled The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild) it's been keen to talk about freedom of exploration, size and scale. Initially I was fine with this; obviously the latest Zelda is going to be the "biggest" they've made, right?

Then last month E3 2016 happened and Nintendo Treehouse dropped a mega-ton of footage of the game during the Treehouse Live broadcasts. They talked about the enormous scale of the "Great Plateau" demo area, let alone the size of the full game, the completely changed weapons system, a new health system and mini-dungeon like shrines. To be perfectly honest, without being able to play the game for myself it felt a little like information overload and I wasn't quite sure what to make of it all. I'm a supporter of change, so the new features were welcome, but I was unsure as to where it left things as an adventure game with a narrative, a story, a purpose, to actually progress and "finish" it.

Breath of the Wild2.jpg

Whilst after E3 I kept an open mind about the game there was still a nagging feeling at the back of my mind that this might be too much of a change to the formula for me - remember I'm the kind of gamer that avoids unnecessary side quests and just wants to progress the main objective. So, when Nintendo UK invited Thomas, Alex and myself to come and play the game at their offices I jumped at the opportunity to see for myself what the game is actually like first-hand.

It's a long journey down to Windsor for me and Thomas so we had ample time to discuss our thoughts on the game in depth prior to playing it for ourselves. It was apparent that Thomas also had similar concerns about how the story would fit into the new structure for Zelda and whether or not it was a true "open world" game like others on the market.

On the day I had about an hour or so with the game and interestingly the demo came in two modes, one that followed the story and one that was more of a free-play-and-do-whatever-you-like mode. As you can imagine I was far more interested in trying the story mode and opted for that to begin with.

The opening sequence was short but fascinating - it reveals very little about the Hyrule you find yourself in but crucially just enough to intrigue you and make you want to learn more. Following that you are then guided along a path with clear instructions and of course - at all times - being able to explore beyond the given path. Instantly this felt familiar and reassuring; that original Zelda DNA is still present, giving me back the confidence that the final game will retain that purpose and direction that I crave.

Don't get me wrong though, there is still a lot that is new and different, starting with the control scheme. For me the button layout was a little awkward to get used too, even at the end of my demo session I was still sometimes using the wrong button - hopefully that is just my ability or a matter of time, Nintendo rarely gets this kind of thing wrong in the final product.

Breath of the Wild3.jpg

Almost certainly the order of the day with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is experimentation - everything in the game allows the player to experiment. Countless weapons, abilities, clothes and food items along with the environment itself all have different properties and different ways to interact with each other. That and Link's ability to jump and climb practically any surface on a par with Nathan Drake makes the core game feel totally new and refreshing.

As more and more is revealed about the game I believe a clear narrative will emerge that will appeal to more traditional gamers like myself, whilst also retaining that openness for experimental gamers that just want to play about in a world they enjoy.

When I wasn't playing the game myself I watched others as they toyed around with different elements of the game; it's a great game to simply watch others play and I'm sure Nintendo are aware of this. I will stick my neck out and say that Breath of the Wild will be Nintendo's most popular game with YouTubers and Twitch streamers when it releases next year. It's got a hint of GTA to it in terms of being able to simply explore the world and mess about with the physics engine - I can also confidently predict a subreddit dedicated to Link death GIFs complete with "wasted" meme. You heard it here first.

Nintendo has already announced that Breath of the Wild will launch simultaneously on both Wii U and NX, and whilst we have no confirmation that NX will be more powerful than Wii U it should be seen as a very likely possibility. If there is one criticism I have of the game thus far it's the performance on Wii U - though I believe that the art style Nintendo has developed is wonderful, frankly when it struggles on occasions, even at 720p30, the artist's vision really deserves better. If you were one of the people who played Skyward Sword at 480p and said to yourself "man, this would have been great in HD" you already know the feeling I had when playing this. I almost certainly won't be playing the Wii U version and have my fingers crossed on the NX version.

Overall playing the demo has more or less put my concerns to bed about the structure of the game; it's doesn't feel like 'just' a sandbox game and it's definitely no longer a completely linear game; in fact it already feels like the best of both worlds to me. As more and more is revealed about the game I believe a clear narrative will emerge that will appeal to more traditional gamers like myself, whilst also retaining that openness for experimental gamers that just want to play about in a world they enjoy.

I don't know about you, but I can't wait to play the final game.

Further Reading:

What did you think about Anthony's concerns about the new Zelda? Are you the kind of gamer that wants structure and purpose? Or do you prefer to spend hours and hours just playing in the sandbox? Let us know in the comments below.