It’s a secret to nobody that the next Legend of Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, is a big deal. The Legend of Zelda series is–without question–one of the biggest gaming properties of all time, and Breath of the Wild is expanding on the series’ vast lore and gameplay. For the first time, the player’s will experience an open-world environment that not only requires exploration but the ability to survive monsters and the environment alike.
Part of what I find so appealing about this iteration of The Legend of Zelda is that it combines the fantasy and survival genres and puts them in a world that I care about. I’m a life-long fan of the series, beginning my journey with a few steps into the first game before diving in deep with Link’s Awakening and A Link to the Past and then pretty much every entry thereafter. Despite my love for the property, I’ve felt that the games in recent years haven’t offered very much variation in gameplay (motion controls absolutely do not count). Despite mostly having great stories to back up the games, the formula has largely stayed the same except for the constant hand-holding tutorials early on that have plagued most of the newer Zelda games.
Early reviews are claiming that Breath of the Wild has minimal hand-holding, opting instead throwing a naked Link into an unforgiving world that is possibly more dangerous than almost any monster. The environment can kill him just as quickly as anything, as evidenced by footage of an armored Link being struck by lightning during a storm and instantly dying. He can freeze to death if he is not properly clothed (or magically protected), especially if he jumps into frigid waters. Errant fires can cause a field to be engulfed in flames, endangering everything in its path. This adds a layer of complexity that builds off of the old magic tunic in previous games, making it imperative that players prepare for Link’s adventures.
This time around there aren’t any hearts to be found to help replenish Link’s health, either. Damage is healed through eating food, which he will need to scavenge for and cook. Weapons and shields fall apart after enough usage, making the scramble for survival even more desperate. The variety of gear available exceeds anything that can be found in previous Zelda games, though, as many different weapons, clothing, and armor can be found. Each weapon appears to have different combat styles, with two-handed swords, axes, and maces being slower but more devastating than one-handers, and spears allowing for quick, stabby attacks with a bit of reach. Heavy armor can protect Link from attacks, back it slows him down and depletes stamina faster.
Speaking of stamina, Link can now climb almost any surface, the catch being that doing so depletes the stamina meter. Once depleted, Link will lose his grip and fall–sometimes to his death. Players will need to know Link’s limits as well as their own if they plan to survive the most dangerous version of Hyrule ever created. A clever player could use Link’s ability to sneak to outwit his enemies, but a fast-twitch, skilled combatant could possibly attack head-on, or a sharp-eyed and patient player could shoot down enemies from a distance or from the high ground. The potential strategies change even further when magical abilities are thrown into the mix.
These new systems are going to allow for more replayability because there seems to be no one path or playstyle that is better suited for Breath of the Wild. This prospect is exciting to me, both as a lover of the series and a modern gamer. Survival games are all too often lax on their story because of the genre’s open-ended nature, and many fantasy games lack struggle beyond combat, but Breath of the Wild seems to have married the two. Combine this with a Hyrule that dwarfs every previous incarnation in sheer size and scope, and Nintendo potentially has not just one of the greatest Zelda games ever, but one of the greatest action-adventure games ever. Part of what makes the Dark Souls series so popular is that players struggle through the game and earn each victory, and while the combat in Breath of the Wild will probably not be nearly as difficult, it seems to be aiming to put some of that struggle back into the series so that victories feel like less of a certainty and more like they’re earned.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is being released on March 3 along with the Nintendo Switch, which is less than a week away and–oh boy, let me tell you–it’s going to be one of the longest weeks of my adult life. Since it’s dangerous to go alone, I’ll be tweeting throughout the week to take you with me (I will try not to spoil anything), so follow me here.