Saturday, March 31, 2018

Tech: The Legend of Zelda - Breath of the Wild review

A lot of video games are called "system sellers," but "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" for the Nintendo Switch is one of the few that deserve the title. For the first month of its release, the game actually outsold the Switch console itself, which can only be explained by (1) the Switch's notoriously scarce availability at launch, and/or (2) eager fans grabbing the "Special Edition" of the game in addition to a standard copy.

For my part, I snagged a Nintendo Switch and "Breath of the Wild" a month after release, and can now confirm that it's so good that it's almost worth buying a $300 Switch just to play it:

The fact that this review is being written in 2018 is one of the big reasons why the game is so special - it's absolutely massive. As Link, you adventure through the largest open world Nintendo has ever made, a devastated, post-apocalyptic Hyrule that has largely reverted to its natural state. As the title suggests, the wilderness is ever-present - you can ride horses, hunt deer for food, or freeze to death on a mountain slope, all without encountering a single traditional Zelda "enemy" or "dungeon."

The audacious scale of "Breath of the Wild" is matched by the bold way in which the game re-imagines Zelda's gameplay. In past 3D Zeldas, things moved along from dungeon to dungeon in rote manner, usually with painfully slow tutorial sequences that explained every jot and tittle of the game's mechanics. Not so here. "Breath of the Wild" takes off the training wheels and gives you almost-total freedom from the start. Link can climb up anything, including trees, houses, and mountains, and you can skip the main storyline altogether and beeline your way to the game's final boss with just your crappy wooden sword as armament.

You'd be annihilated though, and you'd miss the wondrous sights and sounds that Nintendo has spent years crafting. While the Switch is not a technical powerhouse, "Breath of the Wild" has lush cel-shaded graphics that look fine on a TV and absolutely blow away any tablet or cellphone game. And the minimalist score, while not initially as bombastic as you might expect, swells at just the right places:

I have a few minor nitpicks (framerate dips, repetitive sidequests, and a sometimes cumbersome UI), but they are outweighed by more praise than can fit in a blog post (the clever dungeons and shrine mini-dungeons, the physics system, an unexpectedly mature story about the weight of duty). To cut a long story short, this is one of the best games I've ever played, and absolutely worth picking up.

Rating: 94/100


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