On Tuesday, June 14, 2016 at E3, Nintendo revealed to the world just what exactly they had been cooking up for the brand new Legend of Zelda game. After the initial 45 second reveal wet the appetites of fans during E3 2014, Nintendo has remained strangely quiet on the latest iteration for one of their tentpole franchises. Only leaving the fortress known as the Treehouse to announce unfortunate delays and a dual platform launch (like Twilight Princess on the Gamecube and Wii) many were left to speculate what the future of Zelda would be.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the 17 game for the series, based off the timeline Nintendo made by throwing all the games in a blender and serving it up to thirsty fans. With a 30 year legacy, Nintendo has tried lately to mix up the formula, while staying in touch with its roots. It is an odd and difficult balance to achieve.
Games like A Link Between Worlds and HD remasters cash in on the Zelda games of old, while Skyward Sword, Majora’s Mask, and handheld games often experiment with the secret sauce; occasionally with mixed results.
By far Breath of the Wild seems to be the most drastic shake up in the franchise to date. It promises an open world to explore that is 12x the size of Twilight Princess. The expansive E3 demo represented only 1% of the game’s map.
Adopting western open-world RPG practices, Breath of the Wild is going all in. Outfits, weapons, and tools that can all be equipped. There are also destructible items and environments: You can even beat the game’s final boss without completing the story.
Watching the E3 demo from the comfort of my home in my Zelda tee shirt, I saw a game that was simultaneously a tried-and-true Zelda game and a non-Zelda game. The gameplay shown was quite surreal to watch. I saw a traditional Japanese developer stepping outside of their comfort zone. The open-world RPG is a tough game genre to pull off. They can be daunting, dull, or disappointments. Few developers seem to have a true knack for designing large, marvelous worlds for players to explore. Nintendo appears to be succeeding in creating that world with Zelda, but also adding the charm Nintendo is known for. Its newfound direction may just be the shake up that the franchise has been in need of.
My personal experience with Zelda has been documented fairly well on this blog. Even the lack of follow-up posts and, ultimately, failure on my 2015 new year resolution to beat the core games testifies to my minimal experience with the whole series. Despite (still) only having four Zelda games completed under my belt, it doesn’t make me any less of a fan. I have even boarded the E3/Zelda hype train again with a modified version of my resolution to complete before the game comes out. Yet, the presentation of this entry at E3 has struck a cord in me that rings just as loud as the day the game was revealed.
I wanted to write a post about what I have observed, gathered, and learned about Breath of the Wild here in a preview post. Despite not attending E3, I feel confident in all I have to say about the game. I poured over the official Nintendo streams, their digital press kit, previews from press, videos, and even made a podcast reaction with my co-host Logan Moore (@MooreMan12).
Here are some bullet points of obvious, yet key additions or changes that have been made to the series in Breath of the Wild.
- Link has a dedicated jump button now
- Link can climb most surfaces
- Link can use a variety of weapons, shields, and items with different stats and endurance
- Link can cook food to gain health
- The game wastes no time getting players into Hyrule and on their own
- The game is open world
- The game has voice acting
If you followed the game’s steady news drip last week during E3 2016, those bullet points should not be new information. If you are freaking out that Link can now jump on command, I highly recommend watching IGN’s trailer breakdown here and Nintendo’s first initial stream of the game here.
To me, the Zelda series has always been about grand adventures to save the realm, exploration of new lands, and solving larger-than-life, Rube Golderg-esque puzzles. To Nintendo, the Zelda series has been about following the formula from the, at the time, revolutionary release of Ocarina of Time. Rarely in the 3D iterations has the company changed the very structure of the franchise. Mechanics may be introduced to mix it up, such as sailing a boat or 1:1 sword control, but the game design principles are the same. Go here, solve this, new item, fight this, get a gem/power up, repeat and who knows, maybe Breath of the Wild has the exact same format. What has been so crucial in hyping me up for the new Zelda game was the presentation of it from the Big N.
This trailer succeeds on a tremendous scale (just look at the numbers here, provided by Brandwatch) not because it showed the audience how familiar Breath of the Wild is to past Zelda games, but because it shows how entirely different this entry will be.
Immediately, there is voice acting. Good voice acting. Not enough to floor the masses, but it certainly is quality and not cheesy as I assumed it could be if Nintendo made the choice to attempt it. The trailer is quiet. It is exploring the biggest, and arguably, the most important, character in the game: The world.
Hyrule has overrun by nature it seems during the 100 year absence of the Hero of Time. Nature has taken the kingdom back, with moss covering ancient Guardian enemies, the Temple of Time in shambles, and a gripping sense of isolation. No Zelda environment since the Great Sea in Wind Waker has invoked an unshakeable desire to explore within me.
Going hand-in-hand with the world design is the game’s art style. Inspired by Japanese animation and “en plein air” painting (open air painting), Breath of the Wild seems to be the next step for the now iconic style of Wind Waker. The influence from en plein air painting alone makes perfect sense with the design principles shown off. Both the art and game design have openness as a core pillar. This game is all about exploration and letting the player experience the handcrafted world for themselves. Nintendo won’t hold your hand through this quest. It is up to you (and me) to find the beauty, wonder, and spectacle in Breath of the Wild. I couldn’t be more excited to find it.
The design philosophy changes extend beyond the reach of the world itself. Gameplay is getting a healthy makeover as well. The lengthy opening tutorial that has been a crux in Zelda games of late seems to have been scrapped entirely. Nintendo showed the beginning of the game during their first stream. Within a matter of minutes Link is on a cliff overlooking the starting area of the Great Plateau, totally open to him.
Link can use stealth to hunt enemies down. The weather of the environments will determine what clothes you need to equip to Link. The fields can catch on fire and boulders can be used to squash enemies. Regaining health has become more than chopping down tall grass. Gathering food and eating it is now how you fill your heart meter. Combining ingredients over a fire will yield new recipes that can grant more health and bonuses. It takes me back to the days of finding recipes in Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door and cooking them with Zess. T. Never before has a Zelda player been able to approach the same situation in so many different ways.
Not even sacred Zelda weapons are safe from a little re-imagination. It seems the way franchise item staples don’t make as grandiose an appearance as previously. My co-host, Logan Moore, was the first to point this out to me during Nintendo’s first stream. Toward the end the player, Bill Trinen, found a bow in a chest inside the ruins of the Temple of Time. I thought nothing of it, but Logan was taken aback. The bow is a big deal item in Zelda. It typically is a dungeon item. You defeat a mini boss or solve a difficult puzzle to earn the item then it opens up new areas and solutions to the player. This time it seems these items are just found and are breakable too.
I wasn’t worried until I saw IGN discover the Fire Rod out and about. They just stumbled across it.
This causes some concern for me. While I am all for the quiet moments in exploration, along with exciting discoveries, I am all for triumphant moments too. I want a big deal made that I found the Hookshot or Fire Rod. My hope is that there are upgradeable or permanent items make an appearance, possibly a new form of the item system from A Link Between Worlds.
The gameplay has even changed thanks to amiibo! Nintendo revealed a brand new Breath of the Wild line of amiibo. From left to right they are, Link (Archer), Guardian, and Link (Rider).
As you can see in the gallery below, the quality of these three amiibo is off the charts. Highly detailed and have a standout presence. The Guardian amiibo is the first to have articulation in the arms. Nintendo has also seemed to master the plastic stands they use to have more action oriented poses. This is clear in both the Archer and Rider variations of Link, but especially with the Archer model.
While Nintendo did not reveal the in-game details these new amiibo would provide, they did show off how the Wolf Link amiibo from Twilight Princess HD will work. With arguably the most robust amiibo functionality to date, the Wolf Link character actually appears beside the new Link and aids him in combat and exploration. The Wolf hunts enemies, herds prey, and tracks down nearby valuables. I can’t recall the last time a 3D Zelda had a peripheral that changed the gameplay in a big way since the Tingle Tuner in Wind Waker on the Gamecube!
Out of the extensive demo time streamed during E3, no dungeons/temples were shown in Breath of the Wild. Instead of showing off large and intricate temples to explore, smaller, puzzle oriented shrines were shown. There are over 100 of these shrines and completing them will help Link on his journey. Three of them gave Link (and the player) new items to use in the world; a magnet, bombs, and a time freezing device called “stasis.” Each of these items or tools adds to Link’s arsenal like usual, but are found on a much smaller and, seemingly, simpler scale. I doubt that each of these shrines grant a new toy for you to play with. Eiji Aonuma, the Zelda series producer, stated that not all shrines will be puzzle oriented, some will be combat focused.
After some PR confusion, I cannot seem to find a definitive answer if there will be full fledged dungeons in this latest game. My memory says that Reggie Fils-Aimé confirmed that both dungeons and shrines existed together, but I could not find concrete proof. I sincerely hope there are. That would be removing an ingredient from the Zelda formula that is essential to the dish.
While towns and NPCs were removed from the demo to avoid story focused spoilers, some details have emerged about Breath of the Wild’s story. Link has been asleep for 100 years and Calamity Ganon (seen below) has dragged Hyrule into a state of ruin. That is really all we know for sure. Of course, there are fan theories already floating around from the game being a sequel to Wind Waker to it having some sort of Skyloft connection to Skyward Sword. Kotaku did a nice job round up the theories surrounding the game here.
With all this new ambition for the Zelda series and Nintendo as a developer, it really is a marvel that this game is running on Wii U. This game will push the system to its limits. Most fans are eager to see it running on Nintendo’s mysterious system NX, but we all have to wait for that. From the stream, the trailer, and direct images from the press kit, I feel confident saying that this game is meant to run at 720p on the Wii U. With a technical breakdown from Digital Foundry, we also know the game is targeting 30fps. Technical limitations has never stopped Nintendo from making gorgeous and well crafted games, so I personally am not too worried about the game’s performance on the Wii U. It all depends on the NX version and how it runs.
Nintendo fully committed to showing Zelda at E3 2016. I cannot recall a year where the company has been more open with a game they have in development. After nearly two years of silence, the flood of information is refreshing. They handled the presentation phenomenally, showing fans exactly what needed to be shown and nothing more. Spoilers were nonexistent, gameplay was the primary focus, and the game looks utterly fantastic. Breath of the Wild easily was the game I was most excited to see and soak up this year at E3. Like many Zelda fans, I cannot wait to explore Hyule in this latest installment of The Legend of Zelda.