I’m still pretty bummed that I missed E3 this year, mainly because Nintendo finally debuted the long-awaited Wii U (and NX) entry in Zelda franchise. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild demo deservedly earned multiple Game of the Show awards (including Fandom’s), and with good reason. At San Diego Comic-Con 2016, I finally got my chance to play the E3 demo, and I can say it was worth all the accolades and then some. I honestly never wanted the demo to end.
This version of Breath of the Wild worked the same as at E3, where Nintendo first took me through a video tutorial on how to get around the world. I paid close attention because I didn’t want to waste a single second of play time figuring stuff out. I’d get to play through two sections of the game, for a very regimented 20 minutes each. The first segment takes place a little further into the game allowing some open exploration.
Immediately I started testing the limits of Breath of the Wild. Could I really climb everything? Could I pick up every item and save it for later? Was the barren world of Hyrule really as sprawling as it seemed? The answer to each was “yes.” Breath of the Wild made Zelda feel fresh in a way it hadn’t since childhood. It didn’t overly explain things or tell you where to go. The adventure was whatever you wanted it to be, with a sense of discovery everywhere you turned.
Soon I came upon a pack of Bokoblins and did my best to take them out stealthily, though I missed the sentry on the other side of the camp and was eventually spotted. But that was fine because Link’s combat abilities are more than capable of dealing with this handful of enemies. After defeating them a nearby treasure chest unlocked with the clever visual cue of the eyes changing colors, and I collected some more precious minerals.
As I was feeling out the world more, I started exploring the woods and took a chance to hunt down a boar using the cool, Bullet Time-like slo-mo effect that happens when Link leaps off a surface with his bow and arrow equipped. Soon after that, I stumbled into a slightly rocky area where an imposing golem popped up. The Nintendo representative warned me that the rock monster would likely kill me, so I chose to run to safety instead.
After a couple more minutes of exploring the outer reaches of the map, I had a couple more Bokoblin fights, then reached the first area with a colder climate. Link was shivering from the cold winds, so I quickly changed him into a heavier shirt. It was a clever moment that showed Link’s different wardrobe choices weren’t merely cosmetic.
And just when I was getting in the groove of this area, ready to see more, the demo ends. I was heartbroken. I wanted to keep exploring and adventuring for as long as I could. Fortunately, there was still a second demo area waiting for me.
Breath of the Wild’s second demo was more familiar to anyone who saw the E3 trailer, with Link awakening from 100 years of sleep to try and return the light to a Hyrule in ruins. I leave the cave with next to nothing to protect myself, and I wander out to meet the mysterious old man offering up advice and some background on what Hyrule used to be. He directs me to the Temple of Time, or at least what’s left of it. I want to explore the ruins of this iconic Zelda setting forever, but I know the clock is ticking, so I head out to the next objective.
When I get to the waypoint the mysterious voice directed me to, I unearth a colossal tower that then sends me far way up into the sky. I’m now high up enough to see the castle that’s infested with Ganon’s miasma, which seems to be the cause of Hyrule’s downturn. As much as I’d like to gawk at the gorgeously post-apocalyptic world around me, I carefully make my way back down to the ground again. It’s there that the old man from before tells me that he’ll give me a necessary hang glider, but only if I collect some minerals for him.
This was when I realized that I needed to move fast to the next waypoint if I was going to find the shrine that held the items the old man was looking for. I started swimming for it when I realized it uses up stamina and I might just drown. I was filled with a real fear that I hadn't felt in a Zelda game in some time. I barely made it to the shore and was ready to take my first steps into the Shrine. Then the demo ended. Never before had the message "Thank you for playing" felt so hurtful.
My time with Zelda was over, and while I was happy to have finally played it, the demos also made me sad because now I knew exactly what I was missing. The wait for The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild on Wii U and NX is going to be a long one, but when its early 2017 release date arrives, I don't know if I'll ever be able to leave Hyrule.