Having been invited by Nintendo to its pre-launch event to celebrate the release of its latest console Nintendo Switch (you can read my impressions on the console and other games here), there was no way I was going to leave without getting a taste of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild. After queuing up for what seemed like an age, I finally managed to get some limited hands on with the latest entry in my favourite gaming franchise. Was it worth it? Absolutely, and then some!
Given only 15 minutes (to give others a chance to play it, even though I was asked to leave the queue before; take note organisers, you flopped big time), I dove in and my first instinct was to mess around with the controls. You’ve probably all seen the opening cinematic, in which a mysteriously hibernating Link is awoken in a dark sanctuary by an unseen voice, so luckily there was an option to skip it and get to it. I tried not to waste time but I was so busy feeling out the controls that the nearby staff member had to remind me I was on the clock.
it felt like a proper RPG…
Moving Link around is familiar to veterans of any of the 3D Zelda games, but there were big changes to the mapping of actions. X, the top face button, is a dedicated jump action for example. And there will be a lot of jumping. The Y button was attack but it would be a few minutes until I got to test this properly. The B button at the bottom was used to sprint, and a circular green meter would appear near Link every time it was used, an element taken from Skyward Sword. I wondered if perhaps having a static stamina meter under the hearts would have been better option but having it pop on and off shouldn’t bother most people. The A button was to accept and affirm options of course and I used it to accept my first item: the Sheikah Slate. Effectively a tablet like the Switch itself, this multi-purpose tool acts as compass, map and scope, among other features. Opening some nearby chests, I was asked to equip my newly discovered shirt and trousers and was thus introduced to the user interface, which I found simple to use and intuitive. This was the first reminder that this Zelda was widening its scope; it felt like a proper RPG now and there were several slots available for upgraded clothing and weapons.
Climbing out of this tomb and emerging onto the plateau was a wonderful experience. The music crescendoed as Link ran towards the hill overlooking the vast new open world of Hyrule, and there was a real sense of impending adventure. The camera panned to reveal a bearded man waiting for me at the bottom of the hill. Ignoring him (I’d already seen the YouTube videos), I made a beeline for the nearby axe and grabbed my first weapon. It wasn’t long before I met my first enemy, a Bokoblin who was hiding in some bushes ready to ambush me. I believe it’s possible to tag enemies using the Sheikah Slate but I couldn’t figure it out so I ended up frantically trying to get my axe out and stop staring at him in first person mode. Eventually I killed him in a classic Zelda battle, complete with the familiar targeting system in place. Combos with the axe were good with a satisfying half-pause after each successful hit. It was a little odd having the dodge action mapped to X instead of A but it wasn’t long before I was back-flipping and sideways jumping. Encountering more enemies, I discovered that counter attacks were possible if you evaded at the last second, triggering a slow-motion window of opportunity to unleash a Flurry move. Getting it right was supremely satisfying but it took a while to get used to the strange button mapping. This was most evident when it came to switching up weapons. Acquiring a couple of sticks from chopping down trees (fun), and a club, a tutorial window popped up instructing me how to change weapons on the fly. Holding down the right D-Pad button, a small horizontal weapons menu comes up where you can scroll left and right using the right analogue stick. Again, the D-Pad felt a little off and selecting a weapon this way was slightly ungainly but theoretically no different to a pop up weapon wheel on many modern games these days. The alternative is to press the Plus button and go through your menus. You’re offered more options and more time to think strategically here as I soon realised to my great shame later on.
Clicking in the left stick makes Link crouch for stealth mode. I didn’t get much of a chance to use this feature however, despite my attempts to sneak up on an unsuspecting Bokoblin near some ruins. I did, however, manage to push a large boulder off a cliff, hitting some conveniently placed explosive barrels which blew up some Bokoblins in a valley below me. Towards the end of my time in Hyrule, I stumbled across a skull-shaped dungeon in the distance, which was defended by a look-out on a watchtower. When he spotted me, he blew a horn and several of his comrades came out of the dungeon, brandishing clubs. Among them was a blue-skinned leader who had some kind of mace. I managed to procure a shield from one of my fallen foes and used a club/shield combo to fight them off. Items take damage, so before long my club broke and I was left with my axe which was more durable and powerful but required two hands. As far as I could tell, I couldn’t defend myself so I had to time my evasive manoeuvres and counter as best I could. Not keeping an eye on my health was a mistake, as the Leader killed me pretty quickly and I loaded up the checkpoint which was placed a little before this area.
Breath of the Wild is going to revitalise a series many people claim to have become stagnant…
On my second attempt, I climbed the watchtower and killed the guard but not before he alerted his chums again. Again, I was surrounded and it became apparent that the game was much harder than expected. Combat was quite challenging but the amount of weapons and items could potentially create an environment more akin to Skyrim, which is an exciting concept. I realised that I could eat the apples and mushrooms I had picked earlier to recover my health, but it didn’t occur to me that they may have been accessible in a shortcut menu, like the weapon selection. It might be preferable to some players to use the Plus menu instead, where you are given greater control over the customisation of Link. My friend pointed out that this was similar to his favourite game, Dark Souls, a comparison I would not disagree with. On my third attempt at this particular conundrum, I fought as best I could, recovered some health and then was promptly slain by the Leader in what appeared to be a one hit kill. That’s when the Nintendo employee told me my time was up.
It’s at once a throwback to the ideals of the original game and a major step forward for the series as a whole
I walked away from the demo with renewed excitement and faith in Nintendo. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is going to revitalise a series many people claim to have become stagnant. It’s at once a throwback to the ideals of the original game and a major step forward for the series as a whole, marrying Zelda’s magic and charm with the scope of an Elder Scrolls game and a simplified version of Dark Souls’ RPG elements. A fitting and much needed improvement to the formula.