It’s been six years and two consoles since the last major home console Zelda game, Skyward Sword, and fans have understandably been getting a little antsy about getting their hands on Breath of the Wild. Originally slated as a Wii U exclusive, it’s been delayed enough to become a launch title for the Nintendo Switch (though there’s still a Wii U version too, for non-early adopters). With the rest of the launch lineup looking a bit sparse, it’s probably fair to say that most of Nintendo’s early Switch hopes are hanging on Zelda: so can it bear the weight?
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We’ve thrown ourselves headlong into the Switch version of the game to put it through its paces, and are happy to report that based on the first five hours or so of gameplay, we think there’s a lot to be happy about – and we’ve barely scratched the surface.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild price & pre-orders
There are several pre-order options already available for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in the UK.
Breath of the Wild will be a Switch launch title, and that will be the preferred platform for a lot of fans. You can pre-order it from Amazon for £48/$60, which is the best price we can find. Argos is offering it for £49.99, while Zavvi and Game are charging much more – £57.99 and £59.99 respectively.
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There’s also a Special Edition version of the game for European players. This includes the game, a soundtrack CD, and a Master Sword figurine, but sadly it’s currently sold out everywhere, so you’ll want to try the second-hand market after launch for that – eBay will almost certainly have a few!
While you might expect the Wii U version to sell for slightly cheaper, right now it’s almost exactly the same – £48/$60 at Amazon, £49.85 at ShopTo, and £49.99 at Zavvi. Wii U owners won’t have access to any special edition versions of the game though.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild hands-on review
While Skyward Sword was mostly well received, it also felt a bit tired. It was the latest in a long line of games closely aping the successful format of the N64’s Ocarina of Time, and things were beginning to feel a bit stale. Nintendo was clearly listening, and Breath of the Wild feels like nothing more than a response to that criticism. Instead of a slow tutorial, you’re thrown straight into the world and told to fend for yourself. Instead of picking up a specific item that you use to solve puzzles in each dungeon, you get a range of powers right at the beginning of the game and have to figure out which to use when. And, perhaps most importantly, instead of a rigidly structured set of environments, you’re thrown into a massive open world that you can explore with almost total freedom.
To anyone who played A Link Between Worlds on the 3DS, some of these changes will feel familiar. That game also allowed you to tackle dungeons in any order, and gave you access to almost every item early on, but Breath of the Wild pushes things even further. For one thing, your puzzle-solving tools are no longer tied to specific items like the Hookshot or Bombs. Instead , they’re split between your normal weapons and the Runes – a selection of abilities on the Sheikah Slate, a small tablet-esque device that Link discovers at the beginning of the game.
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Some of the Runes will be familiar, such as bombs, which now come in both sphere and cube variants and are detonated remotely, rather than on a timer. Others are more novel. Magnesis lets you pick up and move metal objects from a distance, Cryonis lets you create pillars of ice on top of water, and Stasis lets you freeze specific objects in time and imbue them with kinetic energy while they’re frozen – whack a boulder a couple of times while it’s frozen, and after Stasis wears off it’ll go flying away.
Other Zelda staples have now been folded into the main weapon system. You can equip a variety of melee weapons, shields, bows, and arrows, and as you play you’ll regularly switch up your gear. Instead of being limited to simple swords, you can equip sledgehammers, spears, boomerangs, and even a mop as your melee weapon – and can swap between them on the fly. They can also all be thrown at enemies, though obviously only a boomerang is likely to come back afterwards. Each weapon, shield, and bow has both a strength rating and a durability, so there’s a constant push-pull between wanting to equip your best (and coolest looking) gear and wanting to save it from eventually breaking. You can also equip, upgrade, and dye various bits of clothing, which also come with their own stats and special effects.
Still, as much as all the game’s systems have changed, most of the basic mechanics have stayed the same. Combat feels instantly familiar, encouraging you to lock onto enemies, guard with your shield, and strike when they’re vulnerable. There are a few alterations even here though. For one, a successful dodge or backflip now lets you perform a slo-mo flurry of attacks for maximum damage, which is a welcome flourish. The introduction of different melee weapon types, including two-handed ones, also shifts the dynamic – Zelda has had varied melee weapons before, but has never encouraged you to use them so often, and players will want to experiment to find their preferred fighting styles and weapons. Oh, and you can no longer lock on with the bow, so you’d better start practicing your aim.
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It’s a welcome point of familiarity as you go about exploring this brave new (open) world of Zelda. Thankfully, the game gives you a gentle introduction through the opening Plateau area, which will take most players two or three hours to complete. This is where you’ll learn the main mechanics and systems, collect the Runes across four mini-dungeons called Shrines (more on those later), and eventually earn the Paraglider, which you’ll need to survive the drop from the edge and make it out into the wider world.
From there, it’s up to you. The game will point you in a specific direction to follow the main questline, but you can completely ignore that and strike off wherever you like. The map is broken into 15 main areas (counting the initial Plateau), each of which is uncharted until you scale the tower at its centre – someone at Nintendo has clearly been paying attention to Ubisoft’s open world titles. Over the course of the first five hours or so we managed to visit an additional two areas beyond the initial Plateau – though they are far from completed, and we’ve barely dented the main story. Simply put, the game and world both feel absolutely massive, and we can easily believe that Breath of the Wild is up there with Final Fantasy XV and The Witcher 3 when it comes to mammoth runtimes.
There’s plenty of stuff to do along the way too. The world is littered with side quests that you can pick up from any of the NPCs dotted around the world. Then there are the Shrines, small dungeons that contain either puzzles, platforming challenges, or combat trials, and reward you with Spirit Orbs – they’re essentially Pieces of Heart, except that once you collect four you can trade them in for a boost to either your health or your stamina, which you use for climbing, sprinting, and swimming. You can also try and track down hidden Koroks littered around the world, search for hidden chests and items, and compete in a variety of mini-games and challenges. That’s not even mentioning the expansive cooking system, which sees you hunting and foraging for ingredients, which can be combined to make meals and elixirs to restore health and provide a few other buffs and status effects.
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The game is beautiful, and it’s a real treat to see Hyrule brought into the world of HD. The landscape is awash with colour during the day, and foreboding and ominous by night. In our playtime we’ve seen lush forests, sparse fields, and frozen mountaintops, and we’re sure there’s more over the horizon left to find. Hyrule is packed with animals and enemies brought to life with fluid, vivid animations – if you can tear your eyes away from the landscape. We have had some very occasional framerate stutters when using some of the visually complex Runes like Magnesis, but otherwise performance is smooth, either docked or in handheld mode. As for controls, we’ve tried it with both the Joy-Con and the Pro Controller (sold separately), and much prefer the latter – it’s a more comfortable size, while the Joy-Con button configuration feels slightly squished in a game like this.
There’s a comprehensive map to go along with the huge world, which allows you to set a load of different stamps and markers to help you remember enemies, chests, shrines, and secrets that you want to go back for later on. Trying to walk across the map would take… well, bloody ages, but in fine old Zelda tradition you can get yourself a horse to speed things up. You won’t be given one though – instead you’ll have to catch a wild horse, break it in, and register it at a stable. You can name horses, and keep up to five at a time, each with their own stats, from speed to temperament – we have no doubt there’ll be some players devoting hours to finding the perfect steed.
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If there’s any criticism we can level at Breath of the Wild, it’s that occasionally it almost feels too expansive. There’s so much to do, and so many options at any given time, that the game feels overwhelming, and you can be a bit paralysed by choice at times, or spend hours wandering around before realising that you haven’t really achieved anything at all. Still, most of the side quests feel purposeful and engaging, and you never feel like you’re just being stuck spending time on filler. The less completionist among us can ignore most the side stuff and dive straight into the main story – it’s even theoretically possible to go straight to kill Ganon after you exit the starting area, but we’d guess that it wouldn’t end very well for you. Still, the Zelda speedrunning community is going to love it.