If you’re reading this, you’re probably already riding the Breath of the Wild hype train and don’t need to be told of the arduous wait fans have endured for the entire lifespan of the brilliant but ill-fated Wii U, the many pre-release accolades BotW has received, or the vaguely established premise behind BotW.
As BotW is such a large and epic game, turning out a start-to-finish review early on would be grossly inadequate, so I’m going to be aggressively chipping away at the stone to advance through the game and reporting on my impressions.
Minor spoilers are present in the following commentary. If you’d like to skip to my overall impressions, simply click on sections below. But don’t worry; I sincerely doubt I’ll get into anything so soon that it will “spoil” this epic game.
I step out of the big stasis room into a fancy mudroom entrance way with two chests and open one. Link kicks it with his bare foot to open it and hurts himself, hopping on his other foot for a moment and holding his hurt foot. It’d be funnier if I hadn’t seen it a dozen times in the previews. Old shirt. I do the exact same thing to the next chest. It’s already kind of dumb that he would make the same mistake twice. Maybe spoilers don’t have to be big to cost a game some charm… Also the room is all hazy and dark. I guess that’s supposed to be on purpose, as I’ve just awoken from a long sleep and I’m in a dark haze as to what’s happening around me.
As I exit the chamber and into the bright daylight, it dawns on me, this might be the first core Zelda title where the hero’s name is hard-coded to Link and not selectable. I admit in the past I’ve had fun naming him degrading things that sounded funny, especially given how much of the dialogue is commanding him to do things, but I can’t elaborate without upsetting Marirose.
I pick up my stick on my way down the hill to the old man and an apple tree. Let’s see, I’m wielding the stick as a weapon automatically…Can I hit the apples out of the tree with the stick? No, and now my stick is ‘badly damaged’ from striking the tree. Oh well, I can climb the tree and neighboring cliff like I’m freaking Spider Man, so it isn’t hard to use the controls to get the three apples. I talk to the old man.
‘Look at the temple over there, Link! Loooook at it! Isn’t it neat?! Go explore the temple!’
Whatever. I’m taking your torch. He asks what I’m going to use it for, and says it’s unnerving when I tell him I’m going to set things on fire. Cute. Well, now I feel obligated to be a pyro.
Rise so high, so far to fall
I climb a big tree for no reason. Bird Eggs! This game is going to be just littered with stuff to rival my collection of Skyrim brooms, isn’t it?
Uh oh, my first enemy catches me off guard! I hit him with my stick which SHATTERS in a burst of unnatural effects. It dawns on me, Link has no unarmed attack! Glad I stole the old man’s torch now. I swap through my inventory and equip the torch, but before I can lock on to my foe, he dive attacks me for a quarter of a heart damage, and sends me tumbling down a hill, costing me the other three quarters. A few more hits from my unlit torch and he is dead. The action stops as the mystery female voice that roused me tells me to follow my map.
Looks like I tumbled next to a ruined building, and it has barrels inside! I throw one against the wall and find a steak. Mmmmm… Barrel Steak… Too bad the remains of the barrel didn’t leave me with a board with a nail in it. (Two Simpsons references back to back?) The other barrel, however, refuses to break. Oh well, moving on.
Out of my element
I’m concerned about how far I’m getting from where I started and haven’t obtained a real weapon yet, aside from another stick. Does this game have a death counter, I ask myself. I’m approaching the place on my nav and I spy a hostile. Isn’t there a stealth option? I press buttons until I press left stick and find it, only getting the info prompt about stealth afterward. I approach the enemy and realize I can’t tell which direction he’s facing. Might be a failing of the graphics, or maybe I’m just getting tired, or maybe he’s just that ugly. Sneaky sneaky… it’s convenient that he never turns around or didn’t follow me when I marched in front of him about 100 feet away. Maybe he has bad vision on top of his ugly looks?
I get to charge a power strike at the expense of my stamina gauge and knock him forward with a mighty blow and disarming his shield. Dibs! I’ve no problem landing another such strike, but now I’ve broken another stick. Reequip my torch, hit him again while he taunts me, and he drops a Traveler’s Sword! Sweet! I’m starting to look like the Link I know, even if every single monster feels like an ordeal. Jump attack, and I kill him with his own sword. Now I kind of feel like a jerk… Oh well. I’m here, voice in my head! I put my slate in a glowy slot, and now I’ve triggered an earthquake, a volcano eruption, and made a huge tower shoot up
Moving on up~
Insert Cutscene. The voice tells me to try to remember. I DIDN’T imagine the amnesia angle! Also, I must hurry, or the beast will get us. Ominous black circling clouds in the distance. Well, I’m all the way up here, I’ve no way down, and I’m too tired to progress. Let’s see Link’s crater death animation! Wow, that was pretty weak.
My first impressions are this world feels somewhat lonely and a little too much like a video game tutorial, but I guess it IS a tutorial, so I should try to take it in stride. Still, I can’t help feeling there are some elements that could have done with a little more polish.
Rested and ready to play fresh. I boot up and have options now. I guess that makes sense to have it boot straight to the game the first time. I have to check my stereo because there is ZERO music on the title screen. The cursor clicks when I move it, so I guess it’s working as intended. The overall lack of music in this game so far is strange. It makes some sort of sense in the overworld, but the title screen? Load screen, more silence. I start to wonder if this wasn’t due to budget constraints. There’s been a lot of absent game elements so far I would have expected in any good Zelda, and most games in general.
~To the east shrine ♪
Now, how do I get out of this tower the right way? I slip and fall down to a catch-a-breath platform, but don’t take damage. *Phew*. Can’t do that again on the next drop aaand I’m falling to my death. Gotta take to this game slower and more purposefully…
The old man greets me on the ground when I finally get down safely. Bla bla bla Calamity Ganon Blab la bla quest rail. He shows me how to use the quest log I already figured out and tells me to bring him treasure so I can have is Paraglider key item to proceed. Onto the tutorial shrine!
King of the hill
Along the way, I provoke an outpost of Bokoblins. Their lookout sees me and sounds his horn, not only raising the alarm but seemingly to signal to all of them where I’m located. Well, at least there’s combat music. I dispatch two and take their gear, but their archer gets a shot in and knocks me down a hill into the stream. These ragdoll physics are getting frustrating.
I dust myself off, pick them off one at a time as they come around a hill, and suddenly I feel well equipped with several melee weapons and two bows, as well as a pot to cook in and a skull shaped chest to plunder. Another traveler’s sword. I cook the two eggs and a mushroom I had to make an omelet. I’m sure this will taste great after it sits in my pocket for a few days.
I start crossing a deep stream to get to the shrine and my stamina starts rapidly depleting. Seriously? I personally am grossly out of shape and I could swim this without trouble. There’s a small bit of land to grab onto and rest, defying everything I know about land formations but obviously here for this purpose.
Treasure on a silver platter
Oman Au Shrine, and classical dungeon music. With a herculean effort, I walk over to the growing kiosk, insert my slate, and I have a magnet rune now. So THAT’S how magnets work… I push aside some simple and obvious obstacles and encounter an automation trying to laser beam me. I want to try to drop a magnetized block on him to crush him, but he shoots be before I can, so I just sword him to death instead. A simple bridge puzzle and I meet Oman Au, creator of this week trial. He gifts me with a Spirit Orb and disintegrates. I guess I’m done here for now. Nighttime. The Old Man paraglides to me just outside the shrine, even though it probably would have been easier for him to walk from where he was instead of climbing and gliding from the angle he arrived from.
He tells me I need to bring him more treasure now. Apparently, it’s some kind of metaphor? Oh well. He tells me I can teleport using the slate. I’m beginning to get annoyed with my Wii U game pad. Instead of offering me more interface options, it only lets me move the entire game to the gamepad. I haven’t been this annoyed since Call of Duty did the exact same thing to me at the Wii U’s launch! I’ve come to expect contempt from third parties on the Wii U’s hardware capabilities, but not from Nintendo.
I select the tower to teleport to, but see a red X and R.I.P. there. Apparently, the game does track deaths. Oh well. This isn’t the Olympics.
Going to need new pants soon
On my way to the next shrine. Two bokoblins chilling out in the field. The moonlit shadow of the tower is moving as the moon speeds along the side. I can use it for cover. I take aim at one with my bow, fire, and my arrow falls well short of the target. So much for Zelda missile-arrows. The two are alerted to danger but don’t see me. I sneak around some more and am able to fire an arrow throw a mound of dirt with generous clipping to headshot one. The other turns to face me, and is easy picking for another headshot. Lots of arrows and junk to grab here. I guess I’ll just take my time and OH MY GOD SKELETONS COMING OUT OF THE GROUND AROUND ME!
I kill one with my sword and take his arm as a weapon but I’m low on health. Guess my pocket omelet isn’t going to mature like I thought. I eat it and am disappointed it doesn’t over-heal me like in the preview demos I’d seen online. I climb some random stairs and some keese (one eyed bats) attack me. Easily dispatched with my sword. A third keese’s pathfinding leads him to climbing the stairs instead of proper flying. I guess most groups have a slow one… I quickly discover the reason for these stars. There’s a boulder placed here, and under it is a hill full of explosive barrels and bokoblins. I guess this area is a tutorial after all, but the placement of everything feels very heavy-handed. Explosions, looting, and on to rock climbing. I’ve arrived at the Temple of Time.
There’s clear evidence of conflict, with broken down and mossy automations around the ruined, open building. A sleeping bokoblin to sneak attack, a chest to loot, some empty pots to break, and I get the option to pray to a statue. It tells me to come back when I have four spirit orbs. I climb to the top, or the rood, and find a better bow, but get a notification that my inventory is full. Apparently, that’s a thing. Time to discard some junk.
Back toward the shrine, I start rock climbing but get warning about cold temperatures. Better find a detour. Clear another camp of bokoblins. Here’s a cabin. The old man’s? I find his journal with an entry on cooking and a bunch of food, plus a shiny woodcutter’s ax! This will be useful. I cook some peppers. Hopefully, they keep me warm in the mountain. And here’s the old man again, to teach me about cutting trees. It occurs to me, he must be this game’s Kaepora Gaebora the owl. And here’s the easy tree-bridge puzzle I’ve seen in previews.
Time to scale a mountain. I get about half way up, following the linear climbing path, and as I get to a rest ledge, Link seemingly randomly looses his grip and falls to his death! Starting over…I get to and enter the next shrine, just as night falls and what sounds like the undead start snarling off camera.
Owa Daim Shrine, Stasis Trial. I’m awarded a Stasis rune from a magic kiosk as soon as I enter the shrine. I guess they’re not called dungeons for a reason. There’s a minimum wage-fast food joke in here somewhere.
Anyway, I can use the rune to stop gears to make a platform traversable or stop a falling boulder from Indiana Jonesing me while I take its not so hidden treasure. I might have been confused in this next part if I hadn’t seen previews, stopping time for a boulder blocking my path, hitting it several times, and having the combined strength of the blows sending flying. Oh well. I meet the next monk and get the next orb. Two to go.
I step outside the shrine and two skeletons are there to greet me. I don’t want to waste a good weapon on them, so I switch to a stick. One of them swings a spear around and knocks me clean over the edge to what would have been my third unintentional demise if I hadn’t loaded my autosave before I hit the ground. Reload, beat them, then on to shrine number three.
Rather than climb down the mountain, I teleport to the tower I erected, with the old man waiting there to tell me ‘Two to go.’ I set out and along the way, encounter one of these spiderous death robots lighting up and coming to life. I cut him a wide birth and climb walls to avoid him, entering Ja Baij shrine, bomb trial.
Square bombs in round holes
The preview videos made the bombs look fun, and given the trouble I’ve been having in fair fights, I revel in the idea of exploding enemies. Linear bomb puzzle tunnel takes me to a Traveler’s Claymore! Now we’re really getting somewhere. In the next room, there are some bumpers allowing me to launch myself or bombs across a large room. Wile E. Coyote springs to mind. I get launched across the room to a chest with some amber in it, no doubt for crafting, and a glowy orange ball being shot around by another set of bumpers.
This must be important! It’s easy enough to get myself launched by another set of bumpers to the goal, but what does this orb do… too early to consult a guide… I can find no obvious use for it and the thunder outside my house IRL is getting pretty fierce. Probably best I wrap up for this session.
Impressions from this session: Every Zelda game has some risks when you first set out and only have three hearts, but historically you would be hard pressed to find an enemy that does as much as one whole heart damage until you’ve had a chance to get a few heart tanks. This is a very dangerous world where Link is very mortal and one misplaced grip or one whack of a stick away from brutal death. Sure, I can load a save game, but I can’t recover from mortal blows to my ego. I’ve been playing about four hours now, albeit with a lot of stopping to write, and have so very far to go.
The fourth shrine seems far out of reach. It seems to get there, I have to pass through seemingly untraversable mountains of swim through the River of the Dead. To make matters worse, the sun is setting. Guess I’ll try the river. A teleport and a rock climb later, I arrive at the river. It looks cold. Maybe if I clear this Bokoblin camp I’ll find something to keep me warm. Nothing of note. I realize only after I cleared the camp and burned through some weapons that there were metal boxes all over the camp and I could have used my magnet rune to mess with the monsters. Oh well. Better late than never. I use the metal boxes to smash some wooden crates and find some food. At least I can cook some mushrooms and sit by the campfire until morning.
I approach the icy river. It doesn’t take long for Link to show he’s struggling with the cold. I eat some food to recover my health, but it’s not enough to stop him from dying seconds after touching the water. Seriously? Unless it’s magically chilled, nobody would die that fast in a little cold water. This is the hero someone thought to preserve for 100 years?
I climb a tall nearby tower instead and find a large chest with a small bundle of arrows. Someone has a sense of humor. In any case, they’ll help me attack another Bokoblin camp and drop the bridge they have suspended with obviously-shootable ropes. I charge in and easily dispatch two grunts, but one dark colored Bokoblin one-shots me! Another death.
Reload, try again, I do better but he hits me for over two hearts damage. Four weapons later, I clear the camp for a few nice items, and most importantly, a supply of nine peppers growing under the base. I start cooking. I don’t know how a chicken leg became pepper steak, but I get a food item for eight minutes of cold resistance. I run further down the river, taking some cold damage, but no matter. I have a plan. I eat my item for cold resistance, regaining the hearts I just lost, and now I’m all set for my cold swim! I set out swimming, and die almost instantly from the cold waters.
Apparently, it’s called River of the Dead for a reason. Looks like I’m taking my cold-resisting foods and climbing through the cold Mount Hylia.
Through the icy mountains I rush, thwarting off Bokoblin after Bokoblin, none of which seem fazed by the cold that’s threatening me, and all of which are eating away at my resistance time. I find a stone circle and detonate a bomb in the center of it, but I accomplish nothing but more wasted time. In the final stretch, I remember I can shield surf, and do so to reach the shrine just as my resistance wears off any my hearts start to tick away. Let’s hope the shrine is heated.
Keh Namut Shrine – Cryonis Trial
The reward for my hard journey is a new rune, Cryonis, which boasts I can “Create a pillar of ice from a water surface.” After the trip here, the last thing I want to see is more ice. No matter. There’s a pool of water ankle deep near a short wall I’m intending to climb to advance. Attempting to do so has me slip and fall, but using Cryonis lets me create a big ice stone that…. I can climb… easier than regular stone.. that doesn’t hurt me because it’s cold.. because… reasons… I can also create a pillar under a portcullis to raise it. Pity I can’t create a pillar around the robot spider enemy in the next room.
I find a chest with another spear. It dawns on me, I must have found a hundred weapons by now, but I’ve yet to find ANY clothes aside the starting ones, which I desperately need. Another simple puzzle and I meet the monk to finish the trial.
Coming as no surprise, the old man greets me outside the shrine, and of course wants to talk to me while I’m freezing to death. Figuratively, at least. I’m protected by the magic of the dialogue bubbles. He tells me to imagine lines between the shrines forming an X and to meet him where they intersect, which is the Temple of Time. Why not just say the Temple of Time?
I got to the temple and pray to the statue. It offers me a heart container or stamina vessel for my trouble. Tired of dying so easily, I take the heart. Queue the old man, summoning me to the roof. Blarg, I was already up there! Well, at least this way I can see if the loot I dropped is still up there.
Finally Feeling Familiar
*****Voice acting and important plot information!****
Finally, I feel like I’m really getting into the meat of the game. I won’t give anything away, other than to say I don’t like a certain female main character’s dub voice actress. Regardless, the plot is predictable but exciting and motivating. I’ve been awarded the paraglider and completed the first main quest! Also, the stuff I left here isn’t there anymore, but the chest refilled with another Soldier’s Bow.
Away I go into Hyrule Kingdom proper, with plenty of tricks up my sleeve to massacre the redundant mobs of Bokoblins along the way. I stop to shoot a bird for meat, only to be ambushed by a rock monster! Stone Talus!
I use some hit and run tactics in a foolhardy attempt to fight him. Of course, his hulking rock attacks deal less damage than the tumble down the hill that follows. After two deaths, I decide to come back to him later.
I poke around in the options and realize I now have Amiibo functionality! Horray!
I would summon my Wolf Link companion, but I’m not going to be playing for much longer this session. Instead, I try Smash Zelda, and it starts raining food items and a beautiful chest containing an opal. I try 8 Bit Link. A chest with ice arrows and my first few rupees of the game, along with some barrels that use a skeleton arm and a club to break into.
I try Ganondorf. A chest containing Moblin Guts, an explosive barrel, and some regular barrels. Smash Link? A horse! Yes! I am the 1%! Now we’re getting somewhere!
I mount my new magic horse and cross a bridge, where I meet a man named Brigo. He comments on the towers and the shrine I just went past and forgot to enter in the excitement of testing my Amiibo. He starts doomsaying and names the spider robots Guardians. We part ways and I double back to Bosh Kala Shrine. Wind puzzles for my new paraglider. In under five minutes, I’ve gotten some simple loot and a new spirit orb for completing the shrine.
I’m thrilled my horse is waiting for me when I get out. We make our way towards my goal, but I pause when I find what appears to be a glowing pinwheel embedded in the side of a short cliff. I climb up to investigate, and what several odd targets begin floating nearby. I do the only thing that makes sense and shoot them with my bow. After doing so, I’m greeted by a forest creature named Korok. I’m ashamed of myself for not knowing the name of his species right away (It’s also Korok. Did I get confused?). He gives me a Korok seed and tells me to give it to his friend if I find him. Clearly, there’s lots of little surprises and a wide variety of gameplay to be had.
I find another glowing tower like the one early on, scale it, and activate it, turning it from menacing orange to pleasant blue. I’m rewarded with a better map of the region and a sensor that will react when I’m near a new shrine, in case the aforementioned menacing orange glow isn’t obvious enough. This is a good time for a break.
Impressions from this session: The start of the game is vicious and linear, contrary to the promotion of this game or what one might expect. Still, it’s nothing to reload and try again, right where I left off, learning from the experience. I’m glad the beginning is over and I’m on my way in this open world, feeling a strong sense of adventure start to sink in. Every session I play, I feel like I accomplish more, yet I’m left wanting more. I feel like I could spend a lifetime exploring this world.
If you enjoyed adventuring with me in this play by play, stay posted for Part 2! There is plenty more to come on BoW this weekend.
- Miyazaki-esque art design
- Unpresidented level of polish for an open world game
- Often deafening lack of music
- No real gamepad functionality while playing on TV
- Occational drop in frame rate or draw distance