When Nintendo first unveiled The Legend Of Zelda Breath Of The Wild (Switch, WiiU), many people looked at the game’s wide open world and wondered if it was going to be a Zelda version of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It is with this in mind that I — as someone who’s more a fan of the latter than the former — present this assessment of the game.
In The Legend Of Zelda Breath Of The Wild, our hero Link wakes up in what looks like the hot tub at an Aztec themed resort. Running outside, he finds he’s on a bluff overlooking The Great Plateau, a massive open world that’s teeming with possibilities…and questions. Not the least of which is, Should I do something about the evil that threatens to engulf this land? Yeah, why not.
At its core, The Legend Of Zelda Breath Of The Wild is a third-person, open world adventure game with both melee and ranged combat. When not smacking his enemies with swords, clubs, or tree branches, Link can attack them from afar with a spear or his trusty bow. He can even switch between them quickly during combat. That said, combat is pretty basic. When using a sword, for instance, you can do a normal swing or a downward strike if you jump first. Though you can also defend yourself if you have a good shield and some nice armor.
In many ways, The Legend Of Zelda Breath Of The Wild carries on the traditions of other open world adventure games. While wandering around, you may run into monsters you can spar with, and they’ll often drop weapons or supplies when they die. You can also find treasure chests just lying around. Though unlike many adventure games, Link is smart enough to know you can reuse arrows if they’re not embedded in the skulls of his enemies.
There’s also a day and night cycle to The Legend Of Zelda Breath Of The Wild, and you can even pass the time at campfires if you’d rather do your adventuring during a specific time of day. Campfires can also be used to cook some of the food you find, which makes them extra healthy.
But while The Legend Of Zelda Breath Of The Wild shares many mechanics with such open world adventure games as The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and yes, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, it’s actually different in some important ways. The biggest of which is that it’s not focused on combat. Instead, it’s decidedly more about exploration and problem solving.
Take what happens when you go into one of the many shrines that litter the landscape. In such games as The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, you’d spend most of your time battling the creatures that live there. In The Legend Of Zelda Breath Of The Wild, however, it’s more about solving situational puzzles and physics problems than dispatching monsters. Which isn’t to say you don’t engage in some fisticuffs while underground, just that it’s not the main focus of your trip.
The Legend Of Zelda Breath Of The Wild also adds some interesting mechanics that would work well in other adventure games, especially those of the third-person variety. Unlike some, Link can lock onto a specific enemy during combat, which is especially handy when paired with your shield. Link can also climb trees to harvest apples or bird eggs that, in other games, would either go uneaten or would require you to smack the host tree repeatedly to loosen.
It also distinguishes itself from other fantasy adventure games by not being as inspired by The Lord Of The Rings, Dungeons & Dragons, or any other fantasy realm full of orcs, goblins, and trolls. Instead, The Legend Of Zelda Breath Of The Wild features such creatures as cutesy versions of The Blob and some wingless bat people. Though there are some weird ones who look like they may be Cthulhu’s third cousin twice removed.
That said, The Legend Of Zelda Breath Of The Wild is decidedly more cutesy than Cthulhu-esque. From the sound effects to the way things move, everything in this adventure is far more light and cartoony than the usual Game Of Thrones-ish tone employed by Skyrim, et al.
While The Legend Of Zelda Breath Of The Wild puts its own spin on the open world adventure game genre, it’s not without its problems. For starters, characters you talk to aren’t voiced, your conversations are text only. Which may be the Zelda way, but it makes this feel dated and low-rent.
Combat, for all its simplicity, is also problematic. For starters, your melee weapons break after a while, a mechanic we’ve seen in other games, and one I’ve never enjoyed. Though it’s worse here because some weapons break rather quickly.
Sadly, using your bow and arrow is even less effective because the aiming is super loose. As a result, hitting anything during a frantic encounter is difficult at best. Sure, not everyone likes having their aim assisted, but The Legend Of Zelda Breath Of The Wild makes a good case for at least including it as an option.
It’s also irritating that The Legend Of Zelda Breath Of The Wild doesn’t let you turn the music down or off, especially since some people might find The Great Plateau to be a much more immersive place to visit if there wasn’t background music kicking in all the time.
Similarly, The Legend Of Zelda Breath Of The Wild also doesn’t have any options when it comes to the game’s difficulty. Given that this may be someone’s first Zelda game, including some kids, being able to play this on “Easy” would be helpful. Conversely, Zelda vets who are gluttons for punishment might appreciate being able to play this on “Super Frickin’ Hard.” But then, I think every game should have multiple difficulty options, and that the “Easy” ones should really be easy and the “Hard” should be hard.
Also, if you’re planning to play this on the Switch, just know it works best when played on a TV, and is fine if you take the Switch out of its dock and use it like a handheld, but it’s not as good if you use the Switch as a portable monitor because Link is so small on the screen.
So the question remains, how does The Legend Of Zelda Breath Of The Wild stack up against Skyrim, etc.? Will fans of those games appreciate it? Well, maybe. If you’re looking for yet another hardcore fantasy adventure, one that will challenge your bravery and combat prowess as you travel the fabled lands, this isn’t for you. Or me, as the case may be. As a smack first, ask questions later kind of adventurer, I honestly found myself getting bored after a while. This is sadly not The Elder Scrolls VI: Zelda And The Witcher Hunt In The Dragon Age.
But then, it’s not trying to be. And if you’re looking for something that’s more about brains than brawn, something that isn’t just Dungeons & Dragon in video game form, and don’t mind that things can be a bit cartoony — Link does look like a dang Keebler Elf after all — The Legend Of Zelda Breath Of The Wild may provide a nice respite from all the hacking and slashing you usually do. Just don’t ask me to come along.