By Steven Petite
This just in: for the first time in a 3D Zelda game, there’s a sprint button. But wait, there’s more. I never thought this would happen, but Link can jump on command in the upcoming The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Doesn’t sound like much to you? For those who have played the iconic series since its 3D debut on N64 (Ocarina of Time) these new features are big news. You may say, how is it possible that in 2016 it’s revelatory that an adventure game grants the player the freedom to sprint and jump?
The simple answer is that Nintendo has always followed the beat of their own drum. Since they took down Sega in the ‘90s , they have avoided calling any of their industry competitors “competition.” To be honest, The Legend of Zelda has never really had to change its core formula because none of the Zelda console entries over the last two decades have been anything short of stellar. I’d argue that even now, Nintendo could’ve stuck to their guns and rolled out any kind of masterful Zelda experience next year. It would’ve been assuredly well-received and gobbled up by diehard fans. But as they demonstrated during their Nintendo Treehouse stream (in place of a physical presence at E3), Nintendo will utilize their most ubiquitous franchise other than Super Mario to turn the console tides back in their favor. The bottom line is, Nintendo may have never considered Sony and Microsoft as rivals, but make no mistake, they have always known that to be true.
So Nintendo presented Breath of the Wild to the world as if to say: This time around Link not only needs to save Hyrule from evil. He needs to save our home console business.
This may sound like hyperbole but it’s not. That’s especially true considering that Link’s latest adventure will be the Swan song of the underperforming and short-lived Wii U generation and the introduction to Nintendo’s next step, currently codenamed “NX.”
For that reason, Nintendo has revamped a tried-and-true franchise to align with other popular game franchises in hopes of garnering the support of the disenfranchised Nintendo fans. Yet they search for new audiences and maintain the authenticity of their storied series.
Link wakes in typical The Legend of Zelda fashion. This time around, he has been at rest for a century, sealed in a cryogenic container in a dark room. He finds the Sheikah Stone which will reportedly be used throughout the game as a sort of tool for discovery and progression.
Almost immediately, we learn that conventional Zelda trappings have been altered to transform, and hopefully, invigorate the experience. Gear such as pants and shirts have numeric defensive values. Weapons have attack and defense points. And the cycling of inventory is more similar to open-world RPGs like Fallout and The Witcher than what we know to be Zelda. Weapons and shields break but they can quickly be replaced throughout the sprawling landscape.
The Legend of Zelda has always had an open-world vibe to it, but given what we know of open-world games today, a standard Zelda offering would have felt less open. Instead, Nintendo has completely unlocked the world, a beautiful terrain that is said to be twelve times the size of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. By all present accounts, the game world is massive, and the possibilities are seemingly endless.
A survival aspect has been implemented as Link cuts down trees to build a fire, cooks mushrooms over a flame, and takes a moment to rest before venturing back out into Hyrule. Link can now climb as proficiently as Uncharted‘s Nathan Drake, use trees to create bridges, all the while jumping and running his way from enemy cluster to unexplored ground.
Link still does not have a voice, but during dialogue, a stripped down version of options allows the player new ways to engage with the story. As of now, the tale and backstory is rather ambiguous. Nintendo let us view the opening scene, and in some ways this showed how they are remaining different while still taking nods from other successful franchises. There is no backstory or lengthy tutorial. We are asked to learn about the vast world in real time with Link.
The lengthy demos took place on the Wii U, and even with the hardware limitations, Breath of the Wild is breathtaking. With a combination the aesthetics of Skyward Sword and Wild Waker, the upcoming title also takes cues from the bleak nature of Twilight Princess and Majora’s Mask.
Whether the player is exploring unseen land or stumbling into a boss battle, Breath of the Wild has reworked the framework in unforeseen ways. The pattern of simply going through towns to forests and plains en route to the next dungeon has been abandoned for a more play. These components appear to still exist in most respects. It’s just that the presentation is less direct, favoring a more fluid approach in its design.
It’s still too early to say if The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will accomplish all of its ambitious goals: we’ve only seen a company demo the game under controlled circumstances. But I’d say it’s hard to bet against Eiji Aonuma and his team at Nintendo. If early indications of brilliance pan out, Breath of the Wild will be a fitting farewell to the Wii U and a triumphant entrance for Nintendo’s next console.
The winds are wildly shifting in Hyrule as well as at Nintendo. Fingers crossed that it’ll all be one great, big breath of fresh air.