The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild review: Hands on with the E3 2016 demo, Wii U/NX release date, PLUS brand-new gameplay trailer

Mario might be Nintendo’s most famous mascot, but nothing gets Nintendo fans hotter under the collar than the prospect of a brand-new Legend of Zelda game – and the next one looks to be the best yet. Officially unveiled at this year’s E3, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is easily Nintendo’s most ambitious game yet, and we’ve been hands on to see what’s in store for Link’s latest adventure. Launching on both the Wii U[1] and NX in 2017, Breath of the Wild will be the biggest game Nintendo’s ever created, featuring a completely seamless Hyrule that stretches across huge mountains, icy wastelands, sandy beaches and lush meadows.

To put that in perspective, this Hyrule will be 12x bigger than the one in Twilight Princess, and the Great Plateau area where we were bombing around in during our demo represents just 2% of the overall map. We throw the word ‘epic’ around a lot in video games, but no Zelda game has truly deserved it until now.

Zelda Breath of the Wild paraglider

To whet our appetites ahead of today’s NX reveal, Nintendo’s also released a trio of brand new gameplay trailers. It’s unlikely we’ll get any more news about the game itself this afternoon, such as a more specific launch date or confirmation that it will be an NX launch title (although we can always hope), but you can see all three trailers on Breath of the Wild’s official Japanese site[2].

All show in-game Wii U footage, with two focusing on the world of Hyrule while the third showcases some of the game’s dynamic weather effects. I’ve embedded one of them below, but all three can be played on loop on the site. Admittedly, there isn’t anything massively new here, as nearly every last second of each trailer is limited to the Great Plataeu area I saw during my hands on demo.

However, as you’ll be able to see below, there’s still plenty to sink your teeth into. The best thing about the trailers, though, is the gorgeous music. You’ll be hearing this piano track a lot when you’re roaming through the Great Plateau area, and this was easily one of the highlights of my entire hands on experience.

It’s a beautiful score, and I can’t wait to hear more of it when the game finally launches next year.
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Needless to say, Breath of the Wild is a massive departure for the series in several other key areas, too, as Link’s weapons, the way he travels round the world and the puzzles you’ll be solving within it are all wildly different to what’s come before.

Whereas previous Zeldas have always involved some sort of light RPG element, Breath of the Wild goes the whole hog, throwing in degradable swords, stat-driven clothing, cooking, noise-detecting stealth meters and a hot and cold temperature gauge. It’s a lot to get your head round at first, but arguably the biggest and most liberating change is something much simpler: jumping. For the first time since Zelda II: Link’s Adventure, our hero can prance and skip around the world like there’s no tomorrow, no Z-targeting required.

It sounds silly, but it gives Link an unprecedented freedom of movement that feeds into another big traversal change – climbing. Together, Link can leap and haul himself up sheer cliff faces whenever the mood takes you, and it gives the world as a whole a much more convincing sense of place than any other version of Hyrule so far. Indeed, going back to the tall, corridor canyons and fenced-off pathways in Twilight Princess HD[3]‘s Hyrule Field seems positively crude compared to the sweeping plains of the Great Plateau, and the sheer sense of liberation it brings has me itching to know more about what lies beyond this isolated patch of land.

Video of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – E3 2016 Trailer (Wii U)
However, despite taking up such a tiny portion of the map, there’s still plenty to discover in this small, Hyrulian microcosm. From the dense forests and old ruins nestled near the rim to the chilly, snow-capped peaks of Mt Hylia, the Great Plateau has more quirks and secrets than we could ever hope to uncover in just two hours.

We might not have even found the Fire Rod, for instance, had our demo guide not pointed it out to us, and we almost certainly wouldn’t have known that firing a flaming arrow at a boar would make it drop a hearty seared steak as opposed to a raw one. You can still eat raw steak, but it won’t restore quite as much health as one that’s been cooked over a fire. Indeed, food plays an incredibly important role in Breath of the Wild, as those glowing red hearts that topped up your health bar in previous Zelda games won’t be making an appearance here.

Yes, you read that correctly – hearts are gone. Instead, you’ll be crafting new recipes and potions using mushrooms, meat and other bits and pieces you find in your surroundings. Some concoctions will even be able to extend your health bar beyond its current number of hearts – once they’ve been chipped away, though, you’ll have to cook up another recipe to get them back.

Zelda Breath of the Wild spear battle

You’ll also be able to cook up some recipes that warm up Link’s belly right to the core, providing some much needed protection from the cold when the temperature dips too low.

You can always stick on some extra clothes, such as a quilted tunic, or carry a lighted torch to counter the cold, but when the temperature falls even further during the night, even they might not help Link beat the chill without a little extra help. Clothes don’t just give Link added weather resistance, though, as they also affect his overall defence stat. The rather ragged tunic and trousers you find at the start of the game, for instance, will only provide the most basic kind of safety net against the tools of your enemies, but soon you’ll have a whole wardrobe of different outfits at your disposal to toughen you up, including heavy suits of armour and fluffy snow boots.

The same goes for your weapons, too. In a series-first, each one will have its own attack stat and degrade over time, so you’ll need to keep a well-stocked inventory if you’re planning on tackling every last moblin you see roaming the plains. You’re not just limited to swords this time round, either, as Link will also be able to wield everything from tree branches, spears, axes, clubs, wriggling Stalfos arms, bows, and large two-handed broadswords to name just a few.

Zelda Breath of the Wild menu

Much like western RPGs, you’ll only be able to carry a limited number of weapons with you at any one time, so you may have to leave some things behind if you come across a good find.

However, each one has a profound effect on the way you fight, so you’ll need to become proficient in all of them as the game progresses. The axe, for instance, quickly became one of my fast favourites in my short time with Breath of the Wild. It has a slower wind-up speed than a sword, but it’s immensely more powerful, and its spin attack is truly something else.

Instead of simply whirling it round once, the axe’s spin attack lets you rove around in a cyclone of pain, whacking everything in your path before finishing them off with a devastating ground pound.

Zelda Breath of the Wild weapons

^ Enter chilly areas and Link will visibly shiver on the Pouch screen Weapons aren’t the only thing that change the way you play, though, as Breath of the Wild has completely revamped the traditional Zelda combat system. I often wondered where Zelda could go after the precise motion controls of Skyward Sword, but here we see the logical evolution of Link’s athletic ability.

For instance, strike an enemy at just the right time, and you’ll be able to initiate Link’s brand-new Flurry Rush attack. This slows down time so Link can bombard his foes with several, fast-paced attacks before they regain their footing. Likewise, a successful parry will stun them, and you can even sneak up on them from behind to deliver a super-powered pre-emptive strike.

Admittedly, the armies of bokoblin grunts stationed on the Great Plateau hardly make for very satisfying opponents, but I’ve no doubt there’ll be plenty of more cunning enemies later on that require a much more technical takedown.

Speaking of being technical, the rest of Link’s arsenal has also received a rather ‘techie’ upgrade, as many powers and items now take the form of Runes which can be added to your brand-new Sheikah Slate. Link first acquires this tablet-like device (which looks suspiciously like the Wii U GamePad, I might add) when he wakes up in the Shrine of Resurrection (read into that what you will, Zelda lore fans). It lets you interact with special Sheikah doors and pedestal, but it can also be upgraded with different Runes to give it additional powers.

Bombs, for instance, are no longer consumable and come in both round and square Runes. The latter obviously makes them easier to place, but the former can take full of advantage of the game’s new physics engine, allowing you to roll them down hills and slopes in line with the landscape’s contours before remotely detonating them just at the right moment.

Zelda Breath of the Wild armour battle

You’ll find the Bomb Rune in one of the many Shrines scattered around the plateau, and Nintendo’s said there will be over 100 of these strewn across Hyrule in the final game. Some will involve puzzles – the Bomb Shrine, for instance, is specifically designed to test your new Rune powers – but others will focus on combat.

Others will be a mixture of both. Now this is just speculation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if several of them end up focusing on expanding your heart meter, especially since shrines are not the same as dungeons. These are completely separate.

Nintendo isn’t giving away too much about what the dungeons will entail at the moment, but never fear – they’ll all feature the same kind of experiences we’ve come to know, love and expect from the Zelda series. Completing each shrine will earn you a Spirit Orb, which in the demo can be exchanged for another new item, the Paraglider. This helps Link sail across large gaps and fly through the air, and it’s also his ticket off the Great Plateau.

Before we get there, though, we have to uncover another power to fill our Slate with – the Magnesis Rune. This allows Link to control and manipulate metallic objects, such as iron crates and bridges, and you can move them up and down using the GamePad’s gyroscope controls. While Link can climb most surfaces out in the world, the shiny walls of the Magnesis Shrine don’t provide any grip whatsoever, so you’ll need to create some new pathways in order to progress.

Zelda Breath of the Wild Sheikah Slate runes

The Magnesis Rune plays an equally important role outside the shrine, too, as it’s one of the main tools you’ll be using to delve deeper into Hyrule’s twisting, turning landscape.

For instance, as well as being able to lift up metal crates at the bottom of icy lakes to get new treasures, I also came across an old, discarded gate by the side of a raging river – a prime candidate for forging the river further upstream where a raft lies waiting at the end of a broken pier. You could always cut down a tree with an axe instead to make a bridge, but at least the Magnesis Rune gives you a little more control over the situation. Either way, this signals a much more natural mode of progression than previous Zelda games, and I’m hopeful it will help shake up those all those old, familiar Zelda tropes that have begun to make them more predictable over the years.

Zelda Breath of the Wild bombs

It’s currently unclear how many Runes the Sheikah Slate will eventually hold – the demo shows at least seven – but you can also use the Wolf Link amiibo to bring him into the game as a Rune as well.

Don’t expect it to be quite as smart as your animal companions in Far Cry Primal, though, as Wolf Link will attack anything that comes into his path, throwing stealth firmly out the window. Still, it’s a neat addition, and he definitely provides a handy distraction for your enemies if you don’t happen to have any weapons with you. You can also use the Sheikah Slate to scout out points on the horizon like a pair of binoculars and drop marker tags to help guide you to your next destination.

You’ll certainly need a few given the sheer size of Hyrule, but its draw distance can be deceptive, as you may find that some markers are much further away than you expect. I spotted a floating island in the north, for instance, but the distance that lay between us was roughly four or five times the length of the Great Plateau, which in itself takes a lot longer than twenty minutes to cover end to end.

Zelda Breath of the Wild Sheikah Slate

The Sheikah Slate isn’t just for gazing at the horizon, though, as you can also use it to tag nearby enemies to reveal their health bar. This gives you a good idea of just how strong they are before you wade in and attack, and it will also help you decide whether you’ve actually got enough weapons to finish the job, revealing a much more calculated approach to combat than ever before.

All in all, Breath of the Wild is shaping up to be one of the most impressive Zelda titles I’ve ever played, and I simply can’t wait to get my hands on the full game when it comes out next year. If you thought Ocarina of Time and Skyward Sword were revolutionary, Breath of the Wild looks as though it could blow both of them clean out of the water. It might have been delayed multiple times, but I can tell you right now that it will be more than worth the wait.

Release date

So when can you get your hands on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild?

Sadly, you won’t be playing the next Legend of Zelda game until 2017. Originally slated to launch this year, Breath of the Wild will now pull a Twilight Princess and launch simultaneously on both the Wii U and Nintendo’s new console, which is currently code-named the NX. Whether it will be one of the NX’s launch titles is currently unknown, though.

While Nintendo confirmed that the NX will be arriving in March 2017, it failed to mention the same month when talking about Zelda, simply saying it will launch in 2017.

The new Legend of #Zelda will be the focus of #E3 2016. It will launch simultaneously on both Wii U and NX in 2017 pic.twitter.com/ZMOV1BgmO5[4][5][6] — Nintendo UK (@NintendoUK) 27 April 2016[7]

2015 gameplay trailer

In addition to the new details from E3, we’ve also rounded up Nintendo’s older Zelda gameplay trailers as well, and it’s fascinating to see how much has changed in the intervening year.

As Aonuma explains in the video below, there will be plenty of high vantage points for you to take in the scenery and see the lie of the land.
Video of The Legend of Zelda – Game Awards Footage (Wii U)
From the looks of things, this game world looks as though it’s surrounded by a vast sea on one side, but it’s currently unknown whether we’ll see any Wind Waker-style sailing to help you get around.

There’s also a scattering of lakes and rivers, so hopefully we’ll see more of Twilight Princess’ full underwater swimming.

The Legend of Zelda Wii U world map

Epona will also be on hand to carry Link round Hyrule (at least we think this game will take place in Hyrule), and her riding AI seems to have received huge improvements since we last saw her in Twilight Princess. As Aonuma explains, Epona will be able to navigate densely wooded areas automatically with barely any input from the player, bidding goodbye to all those awkward wall crashes that plagued Twilight Princess. Without the need to worry about where you’re going, this will then free players to concentrate on swinging your sword, using your bow and arrow, or simply change the camera view.

For a more dramatic entrance, you’ll be able to vault off Epona and strike enemies from above in slow motion – just like in the very first E3 cinematic trailer[8] that Nintendo unveiled in 2014. Of course, some enemies will be too large to take down with a simple vault, and if that E3 2014 trailer is anything to go by (which you can view in full below), it looks like you’ll have plenty of opportunities to fight foes on horseback as you tear through the countryside.
Video of The Legend of Zelda – Developer Interview (Wii U)

Pre-order Now from Amazon[9]

References

  1. ^ Wii U (www.expertreviews.co.uk)
  2. ^ Japanese site (www.nintendo.co.jp)
  3. ^ Twilight Princess HD (www.expertreviews.co.uk)
  4. ^ #Zelda (twitter.com)
  5. ^ #E3 (twitter.com)
  6. ^ pic.twitter.com/ZMOV1BgmO5 (t.co)
  7. ^ 27 April 2016 (twitter.com)
  8. ^ very first E3 cinematic trailer (youtu.be)
  9. ^ Pre-order Now from Amazon (www.amazon.co.uk)

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