With barely a week or so to go until arguably the biggest launch of the year (to date), here’s the full breakdown of everything I’ve seen, played and looked more closely at in person regarding Nintendo’s major Switch launch title, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Bare in mind, I’ll also be comparing what I’ve seen of the Switch edition of the game with its Wii U counterpart too. Dig in.
What a Wonderful World
From the outset, Breath of the Wild is a gorgeous game. Every inch of its colourful world is filled with little details and elements not seen before in a previous Zelda title, on any system. Sure, you may have seen the grass shift as Link shifts through it in The Wind Waker or Twilight Princess, but not in the kind of detail or colour represented here.
Having said that, it’s clear that the inspirations have come from Nintendo’s previous effort, Skyward Sword, with a hint of The Wind Waker. Colours are vibrant and animated not dissimilar to a cartoon than the more adult or darker take on the characters and worlds of Twilight Princess. That’s despite the seemingly darker and more adult story arc that anyone who witnessed the more recent story trailer suggests, so it seems there’s an element of balance between form and function in that regard.
On the Wii U build I played late last year, Breath of the Wild held up rather well. I didn’t notice much in the way of lag or screen tears during play, though it’s quite obvious once you (ahem) switch over to the big brother of the two that the detail has been bumped up just a little bit more. The draw distance has been pulled further back, allowing for a greater level of detail on the Switch than its Wii U edition, though both character animations and general frame rates seem to hold steady on both fronts for the most part.
The Wii U, however, did seem to slow down a tad more when it came to more elaborate scenes, such as blowing up a number of the troll like creatures that filled the landscape as I came across them. It wasn’t too difficult to understand why, and it wasn’t disappointing considering this is clearly pushing the Wii U to its limits.
Handheld vs TV
Having said that, I did notice a few minor moments of slowdown whilst playing for the first time with the Switch build available during the RTX Sydney expo, something that surprised me. It wasn’t too concerned, given that Nintendo has been using that demo for some time now and has no doubt updated it since going gold (hopefully the same can be said of the Wii U release). One thing that did surprise me, however, was how smooth the game played when taken out of the dock and used in handheld mode. I didn’t notice any issues whatsoever, to the point where I felt more comfortable and engaged during play in this form than using the larger TV.
Perhaps that’s what Nintendo were hoping for. Sure, we can complain that the Switch’s screen sits at 720P, but when a game looks as good as Breath of the Wild without any hiccups and still plays exactly the same way, those complaints fall by the wayside rather quickly. I was impressed, both by the handhelds ability to continue seconds after pulling the system out of its dock, and in how it felt while playing.
I think I might still prefer using a pro controller over the Joy-Con system. The controls do fit rather comfortably when the two controllers are attached to the sides of the screen, but given Nintendo are more than happy to say ‘hey, the pro controller is what this was designed for’, I’m probably going to sit the screen up somewhere quiet when I can or shift back to a larger TV whenever possible. At least in handheld form, I can honestly say that it’s beautiful, and a huge step up from anything that’s appeared on both Nintendo 3DS or PlayStation Vita, in regards to a handheld experience.
I will miss the second screen functionality of the Wii U. Having the map available at all times whilst playing on a larger screen was one of its selling points for me, and it’s something that will take a little getting used to having enjoyed both Wind Waker HD and Twilight Princess HD ports to the system. On the Switch, it’s a far more traditional affair, though I will say that the menu’s appear rather quickly and are easy to navigate in either Wii U or Switch form.
More Than Just Looks
The demo used in both Wii U and Switch instances kept to the same script, using the opening of the game to bring you into the world and allow you to explore but a small portion of the experience. Of what I’ve had a chance to play with, there’s a ton of questions left to answer and plenty of content that Nintendo have been wise to leave off any marketing material or trailers. The demos, too, have done a good job of teasing what to expect when the time comes to delve deeper.
New elements to the Zelda universe, like breaking equipment, cooking or acquiring new weapons, feels very much in tune with a Skyrim kind of experience. They do feel rather at home here, and I quickly found myself switching between weapons at will and exploring further out to find something more powerful. I rarely sat down and used the cooking skills on offer, but it’ll play a vital part in keeping you alive too, given that hearts are a thing of the past in loose grass (trust me, I tried).
A couple quick things of note. You can dislodge weapons and break armour of most smaller creatures you come across, then use them yourself. I regularly picked up equipment from those I killed, but it’s handy in a pinch to grab something on the ground that falls out of an enemy hand before they get back to it themselves, giving you the upper hand. Equipment also doesn’t break too quickly, most players that came across the demo would have found a large wood-cutting axe that lasted a good deal longer than most clubs or wooden swords, for example.
I also enjoyed the thought that every corner of this world has secrets to discover. On each play-through I found something new that I didn’t notice before, like a small cave holding a fire rod or a group of enemies camping out in the distance with a hard to reach treasure chest that I just couldn’t jump to. Clearly, there are still those puzzles out there that can’t be solved until the right equipment is found, but it’ll be interesting to see if what I’ve discovered so far is also true of the larger, darker dungeons and treasure zones we’ve yet to see. More importantly, will special pieces of equipment (like said fire rod) appear in multiple areas, instead of just one treasure chest in one puzzle room, as is tradition? Time will tell.
This is still very much a Nintendo product, full of charm and mystery yet wholly original despite this new step forward into a more open world environment. There will be those sceptical of the choice, but I’m all for it, especially if it allows Nintendo to experiment with bigger and bolder puzzles and environments that haven’t graced the universe so far.
It’s also important to note that, yes, there will be a combination of text based conversations like the good old days, and newly added voice overs. Zelda’s calm tones (or at least, what seems to be Zelda herself) awakens you as the demo begins, making further appearances as you progress through the main quest. It’s very possible that any additional voices will be limited to cut scenes or moments of note, instead of the entire world itself. I’ll wait and see myself, but I’m okay if that’s the case.
The DLC Era Beckons
Nintendo announced its DLC plans for Breath of the Wild last week, and though the concept of paying for a harder difficulty is a little tough to swallow, it does look like they’re keen to evolve the product over time instead of cheap cash-ins. New game modes aside, having more to explore with challenges aplenty or an entirely new chapter in the story has me plenty excited, and thankfully the cost seems to be in-line yet somewhat cheaper than Bethesda’s DLC in comparison (granted, it’ll come down to its quality at the end of the day).
The good news is, Nintendo have put together some solid DLC packages in the past, with plenty of new characters and stages for Smash Brothers and a whole new set of tracks for Mario Kart 8, so quality hopefully won’t come under question. What will is the decision to shift to a ‘season pass’ of sorts, instead of releasing these separately as they have previously with Smash and MK8, though one could argue that the cost is still rather appropriate.
I can’t wait to get into the full, complete package once Breath of the Wild launches next week. I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve had with it so far, not just the fact that it’s on a brand new system or it’s a new world, but the fact that we’re playing something so familiar yet so unique and mysterious at the same time. It’s been a while since I can honestly say I’ve felt that way about a Zelda game, since so many have stuck to a similar formula in the past (The Wind Waker being an obvious exception to that rule). Here, everything feels different, broader strokes of gameplay with an unknowing journey ahead.
Better still, there’s the potential to branch even further away from tradition with the inclusion of technology within Zelda’s universe. It will compete rather heavily with Sony’s Horizon: Zero Dawn on that front, and you can certainly make some comparisons with their intentions of mixing the old with the somewhat new, but Breath of the Wild certainly holds itself up and apart from anything else before it. We’ve all be waiting for Nintendo to break new ground and try something bolder, and now we’re on the verge of exploring just that. I, for one, can’t begin to explain how excited I am for that opportunity.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild launches alongside the Nintendo Switch on March 3rd. Are you picking one up on launch day? Let us know and be sure to share your thoughts with us, we’d love to hear from you.