Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was meant to be the game to define the Wii U. But it’s actually arriving as the Wii U’s last hurrah and the dawn for its successor, the Nintendo Switch.
You again play as Link, our silent protagonist, who's just woken up after a 100-year cryogenic sleep. He's woken by a strange voice that tells him it's time to defeat Calamity Ganon -- a strange and incredibly dangerous beast trapped inside Hyrule Castle. He's given a mysterious technological device called a Sheikah Slate and pushed out into Hyrule.
It's the first truly open-world Legend of Zelda title and is quite a deviation from the traditional gameplay style. But don't fret there's still plenty of Zelda DNA here, so much so that it's quite easy to draw comparisons to the ultimate title in the series, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
In fact, Breath of the Wild might just be better than Ocarina of Time.
The world you'll want to get lost in
Breath of the Wild isn't a game that's going to compete graphically with other open-world games like Horizon Zero Dawn or The Witcher 3. But it has a rather unique kind of beauty. Its cell-shaded graphics ooze charm, with an almost watercolour-like palette of colours that ebb and flow with the game's dynamic day/night cycle.
Initially, you're limited to a small area of the map known as the Great Plateau with snow-capped Mount Hylia behind you and the swirling madness of Calamity Ganon engulfing Hyrule Castle in the distance. But this is just a fraction of the map you'll eventually have access to.
The vastness of Breath of the Wild's version of Hyrule is seriously impressive and to begin with, you're given a totally blank canvas. Hidden under the blank parts of the map are volcanoes and lakes, thick forests and deserts. But, it's up to you to discover what lurks there by exploring, climbing, flying and riding across the map.
And don't get put off by the glowing towers that pop up all over the map in those opening hours. This isn't an Ubisoft open-world game where climbing to the top of these towers is the only way to unlock missions. They act more like watch towers, letting you get the lay of the land and reveal the map. There's nothing to stop you exploring and discovering without doing that climb.
It's almost Nintendo's way of keeping the secrets of Hyrule hidden. In some of the landmarks and the terrain, there are major story points attached to them. Keeping the map under wraps until you're ready to tackle that area keeps the game steeped in intrigue.
Part of Breath of the Wild's charm is in the exploration. It's the kind of world you don't mind getting lost in and actually revel in getting distracted from the main quests by discovering everything that Hyrule has to offer. There will be moments where you feel totally out of your depth, finding yourself on the edge of a volcano and bursting into flames or simply outnumbered in an area thick with enemies.
The wide variety of ecotopes you come across will always catch you off guard. Areas can quickly change in climate or terrain, and unless you're prepared the world of Hyrule is a harsh place to be.
Be prepared or be prepared to die
But being prepared is a major part of the gameplay in Breath of the Wild. In this new open-world adventure, there's a huge focus on hoarding resources and crafting. For the first time, you're not going to find heart refills by slashing through bushes or breaking pots. Instead, it's about working out how to combine ingredients to make meals that give you health, or make you able to withstand the cold or merely give you better defence.
But, Breath of the Wild isn't a game that's going to hold your hand. Working out how to survive is all down to you and the effort you put into experimenting with recipes, the items you collect and how you blend them together. There is a little help out there if you're willing to read the in-game books, or chat to villagers and store owners, but otherwise, it's all you.
And that's absolutely brilliant because you've only got as much knowledge as Link, who has lost his memory thanks to that extra long nap. Actually being able to beat the game is all down to trial and error, experimentation, patience and messing about.
You'll also have to contend with the fact your weapons degrade the more you use them. There are plenty around, but working out when to use your best gear is something you'll constantly think about.
A story of loss and strength
Although we'll refrain from giving any details of Breath of the Wild's story away, it's an incredibly special tale of loveable and often hilarious characters who are always full of personality. It's sometimes emotional and passionate, but it's also a story that you're free to tell in your own time and in your own way thanks to the open-world structure and conversation options.
But, the main crux of it is that you're aiming to defeat Calamity Ganon, the beast trapped inside Hyrule Castle who's growing stronger by the day and wants to destroy the world. You can actually do that at any point in the game -- if you're crazy enough to try. If you actually want to succeed, you'll need to enlist the help of four Divine Beasts. But residing inside these beasts are four bosses controlled by Ganon.
These bosses are so immense that you'll almost have to treat them like Dark Souls foes, dodging, attacking and making sure you're kitted out with enough food, elixirs, weapons and arrows to actually take them on.
But, it's also a story that you can unpack at your own leisure. Ganon will always be there as a throbbing presence in the centre of the map, but there's plenty more to be getting on with.
There are over 100 Shrines littering the map, which offer classic Zelda dungeon gameplay, where you use the Sheikah Slate's various powers to free Spirit Orbs. It's these that you can exchange for more hearts or better stamina, which you'll need for climbing, running, swimming or soaring for longer distances on your paraglider.
And the Korok forest sprites from Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker are back for Breath of the Wild. Yellow flowers, colourful pinwheels and balloons marked with targets seem to be their main calling cards and are hidden all over the map.
Is Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild good?
It's the combination of all these elements that make Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild everything we'd hoped it would be and more. The stunning open-world that Nintendo has created is packed full of things to do and discover. So much so, it makes you less concerned about the launch line-up for Switch because there's enough in Breath of the Wild to keep you busy for months.
Yes, there are elements that frustrate, like wooden weapons catching fire in hot zones or enemies that take you out in one hit, but the gameplay is incredibly rewarding. And what's great about Breath of the Wild is that it's great for those looking for a way into Zelda, but has enough of the usual tropes to appease diehard fans.
It takes everything great about Ocarina of Time and enhances it, adds some extra glamour, and ingrains itself in your memory.
Breath of the Wild is the best start the Nintendo Switch could have had.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is available worldwide from March 3, exclusive to the Nintendo Switch.