The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the World perfectly mixes old with new and shows that Nintendo has definitely still 'got it,' but is it worth buying a new console for?
The simplest way to compliment The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the World for the many things it does so well is to say it honors the classic franchise while meeting the expectations of modern console gamers. It's familiar but markedly improved, refreshing, innovative and challenging. It's not just a new, layered environment with new mechanics and designs here and there, Breath of the Wild also offers a new type of experience, a much more refined and mature one. It's a new formula and a much needed change for the brand.
The long-awaited new game in The Legend of Zelda series meets the perfect balance of nostalgic, classic Nintendo quality and joy, and modern open-world gameplay but it infuses it with an enhanced sense of mystery and discovery. Breath of the Wild provides a beautiful and detailed world to explore, full of exciting ruins, temples, and creatures. And it puts you in the shoes of a young Link again with a forgotten past who must level up to save Hyrule from a returning darkness, and in this Hyrule, there's more detail to the lore and aesthetic. There's a new type of fantasy that mixes magic with a neat take on fantastical technology.
It's very similar to the just-released PlayStation 4 exclusive Horizon: Zero Dawn in many of these respects, and while Zelda doesn't have as strong as combat mechanics, visuals, or storytelling, it does do what it aims to very well. It's so good in fact, that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the only must-play game on the Nintendo Switch - the brand new hybrid portable/home console that released last week (Read: Nintendo Switch review).The Switch or Wii GamePad itself feels like it's part of the game, even. So, imagine for a second that Breath o the Wild came out "on time" for the Wii U, before the Switch (previously known as the Nintendo NX) debuted and not for the Switch. The Switch would be dead on arrival which raises an interesting question.
It's because of this reality that Nintendo timed the release of Switch when it did, at the end of the fiscal year, alongside their delayed Zelda "killer app," and with enough time before Microsoft takes the spotlight this summer with the unveiling of the new Xbox (Project Scorpio). To its credit, the Switch isn't like these other consoles since it's a self-contained portable that can play big games like Breath of the Wild on the go but for players who still own a Wii U is it worth the upgrade to Switch for this one new game that you can play on your current hardware?
Nintendo pushed the Switch version of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on media and influencers for obvious reasons since the goal is to move users to the Switch, but from all accounts, the Wii U version of Breath of the Wild is largely the same. That means, if you're not a tech-savvy early adopter interested in going through the growing pains of a new console boasting a shallow launch year lineup, shallow third-party support, and a few basic missing features, it's best to wait. The caveat there is you need to have another way to play The Legend of Zelda since Breath of the Wild because it is already is a lock for the Game of the Year award nominations.
Back to the game for a moment, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild features many new types of items and gear, that offer new styles of combat and new gameplay mechanics. Sure, the wearing down of weapons will be an annoyance to some but it's part of the strategy in collecting and choosing when to use gear. As for everything else in the game, Breath of the Wild does not hold your hand. After the introductory area, and even during it, it's up to the player to choose where to go and how to progress. Even the eye-rolling open-world trope of climbing towers to locate the next set of side quests is done differently in this one, putting destiny in the player's hands. You'll know when you've strayed off the beaten path into dangerous territory, because you may not be equipped to handle what's there.
We can't stress this enough: for anyone who holds passion for Nintendo of old and The Legend of Zelda series, this launch is something special. We can only hope Super Mario Odyssey and whatever other "triple-A" exclusives on the Switch live up to this high bar.
We didn't get an early review package for the Nintendo Switch but were lucky enough to get an advanced one-week loan of the new console along with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild so we could test it out pre-release and in time for the review embargo. We've therefore not tested it on the Wii U, the console it was originally developed for, but can say that it runs perfectly on the Switch with one major exception.
In tablet mode, whether playing with the Joy-Cons attached or detached, and in docked mode, Breath of the Wild runs generally smooth. It feels like it belongs and playing a triple-A style game like this, one so vast and deep, was exciting to see come to life on a portable device while out and about. It 100% works as intended on that front and the comparisons are unavoidable that the Switch has the potential to do everything gamers wanted from the PlayStation Vita.
In docked mode, playing in a "traditional" home console fashion, Breath of the Wild also works great, whether using the Joy-Cons on their own or plugging into the grip for a normal-esque controller experience. Here's where the one major issue presents itself and since we only have access to 1-2 Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it's the latter where we suffered from it. When in docked mode, the left Joy-Con frequently has a desync issue and perhaps every 15-20 minutes or so on average there were a few seconds where we lost control of the character (i.e. he'd keep running in straight line or stand still during a fight). This has been widely covered in some previews and media coverage since review units started going out to the press and we explain it in detail in our full Nintendo Switch review.
As for the game itself, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the only reason to have a Switch right now with the caveat that you don't already have a Wii U. It not only meets high expectations, but it exceeds them. Breath of the Wild is arguable the best Zelda game ever made.
Make more of these, Nintendo.
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More: Nintendo Switch Review
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: Prepare for the biggest Legend of Zelda adventure yet, with an open-air style that breaks new boundaries while honoring the origins of the acclaimed series. Explore a world of unprecedented size and discover more than 100 puzzle-filled Shrines of Trials, plus a wide variety of weapons, outfits and gear. Players won’t want to stop playing, and they won’t have to since Nintendo Switch allows them to continue the adventure anywhere, anytime.